Archive for January, 2013



Lord’s Day 4: But He Is Also Just

Catechism and Psalter

This past weekend, Reformed Christians in many places across the globe enjoyed a special “fireworks show” of sorts in commemoration of the Heidelberg Catechism’s 450th “birthday” (its preface by Frederick III was dated January 19th, 1563).  There was a small explosion of conferences, webcasts, sermons, and blog posts related to the Catechism and its lasting importance to the church of Christ.  One of the most significant developments was the launching of a brand-new website sponsored by the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary.  Heidelberg-Catechism.com is intended to be a kind of “Grand Central Station” for all things related to this historic document; I heartily recommend it to anyone interested.

Meanwhile, for our humbler part here on URC Psalmody, it’s time to return to our weekly series on the Heidelberg Catechism.  Today we turn to Lord’s Day 4—an exposition on the doctrine of original sin, a stinging reminder for complacent Christians, and a death-knell for those who live in rebellion against God.

9 Q.  But doesn’t God do man an injustice by requiring in his law what man is unable to do?

A.  No, God created man with the ability to keep the law.
Man, however, tempted by the devil,
in reckless disobedience,
robbed himself and his descendants of these gifts.

10 Q.  Will God permit such disobedience and rebellion to go unpunished?

A.  Certainly not.
He is terribly angry
about the sin we are born with
as well as the sins we personally commit.

As a just judge
he punishes them now and in eternity.

He has declared:
“Cursed be every one who does not abide by
all things written in the book of the law,
and do them.”

11 Q.  But isn’t God also merciful?

God is certainly merciful,
but he is also just.
His justice demands
that sin, committed against his supreme majesty,
be punished with the supreme penalty—
eternal  punishment of body and soul.

Suggested Songs

61, “The Trespass of the Wicked Man” (Psalm 36)

“Man, however, tempted by the devil, in reckless disobedience, robbed himself and his descendants of these gifts.”  Psalm 36 contains a candid description of the characteristics of the wicked.  This setting skillfully captures the catechism’s ideas of “reckless disobedience” (in stz. 1) and the loss of God’s good gifts (in stz. 3):

The trespass of the wicked man
Most plainly testifies
That fear of God’s most holy Name
Is not before his eyes.

The words he utters with his mouth
Are wickedness and lies;
He keeps himself from doing good,
And ceases to be wise.

8, “O Jehovah, Hear My Words” (Psalm 5)

“As a just judge he punishes [our sins] now and in eternity.”  With a balance of petition and praise, Psalm 5 declares that the almighty God is the supreme Judge of humanity; it belongs to him alone to reward righteousness and punish wickedness.  For this study, the second stanza of Psalter Hymnal number 8 is particularly fitting:

Thou, Jehovah, art a God
Who delightest not in sin;
Evil shall not dwell with Thee,
Nor the proud Thy favor win.
Evildoers Thou dost hate,
Lying tongues Thou wilt defeat;
God abhors the man who loves
Violence and base deceit.

94, “God, Be Merciful to Me” (Psalm 51)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

“God is certainly merciful, but he is also just.”  While it is not completely literal to the text of Psalm 51, “God, Be Merciful to Me” powerfully brings out the coexistence of the Lord’s mercy and justice, especially in the second stanza:

My transgressions I confess,
Grief and guilt my soul oppress;
I have sinned against Thy grace
And provoked Thee to Thy face;
I confess Thy judgment just,
Speechless, I Thy mercy trust.

294, “Lord, Hear Me in Distress” (Psalm 143)

“His justice demands that sin, committed against his supreme majesty, be punished with the supreme penalty—eternal  punishment of body and soul.”  Psalm 143 is a fitting response to the entirety of Lord’s Day 4.  As we read these sad truths about our condition, our reaction should be one of distress, a “suppliant cry” to the Lord:

In judgment do not cause
Thy servant to be tried;
Before Thy holy laws
No man is justified.

Later in the Catechism (Q&A 127), we learn that we have three principal enemies: the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh.  Thus we can legitimately sing, “The enemy has sought/My soul in dust to tread,” in reference to the depths of our own sin.  We realize that the Lord must have mercy on us, “lest bitter death I taste” (stz. 4).  As we reach the end of this song, however, we rest in the assurance that he certainly will.

Lord, save me from my foe,
To Thee for help I flee;
Teach me Thy way to know,
I have no God but Thee.
By Thy good Spirit led
From trouble and distress,
My erring feet shall tread
The path of uprightness.

–MRK

Psalm 133: How Good and Pleasant

Behold, how good and pleasant it is
when brothers dwell in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down on the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down on the collar of his robes!
It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the LORD has commanded the blessing,
life forevermore.

–Psalm 133 (ESV)

It’s entirely likely that no three verses anywhere in Scripture speak so clearly of the blessings of Christian unity as Psalm 133.  Among the sinful human race, like-mindedness is rare and precious, both among blood brethren and among the brethren of the church.  Of the latter kind of unity, Charles Spurgeon says:

As to brethren in spirit, they ought to dwell together in church fellowship, and in that fellowship one essential matter is unity.  We can dispense with uniformity if we possess unity: oneness of life, truth, and way; oneness in Christ Jesus; oneness of object and spirit—these we must have, or our assemblies will be synagogues of contention rather than churches of Christ.  The closer the unity the better; for the more of the good and the pleasant there will be.  Since we are imperfect beings, somewhat of the evil and the unpleasant is sure to intrude; but this will readily be neutralized and easily ejected by the true love of the saints, if it really exists.  Christian unity is good in itself, good for ourselves, good for the brethren, good for our converts, good for the outside world; and for certain it is pleasant; for a loving heart must have pleasure and give pleasure in associating with others of like nature.  A church united for years in earnest service of the Lord is a well of goodness and joy to all those who dwell round about it.

With these wise words in mind, Psalm 133 is perfect for singing at any occasion where Christians gather—corporate worship, prayer meetings, evangelism projects, synod meetings.  In these cases and in many more, we would do well to remind ourselves of the goodness and the pleasantness of brothers dwelling in unity.

Brotherly unity being put into practice at Synod 2012.

Brotherly unity being put into practice at Synod 2012.

278, “How Good and Pleasant Is the Sight”

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI, and West Sayville URC on Long Island, NY)

Compared to the Psalter Hymnal’s other versification of Psalm 133 just across the page, “How Good and Pleasant Is the Sight” is definitely the more popular song.  Truthfully, neither one is terribly accurate, but number 278 has the upper hand when it comes to a simple text and a memorable tune.  The first and second stanzas contain the entirety of Psalm 133; the third stanza combines the first half of the first stanza with the other half of the second, presumably in an attempt to “wrap things up” a bit.  The tune PRESSLY, composed by Charles Gabriel specifically for this psalm in the 1912 Psalter, is perky and full of joy—perfect for these uplifting words.  A nice bright organ registration, combined with care not to play too fast, will complement this setting beautifully.

279, “Behold, How Pleasant and How Good”

“Behold, How Pleasant and How Good” is a little sibling of sorts to number 278.  The text is much more summarized, with these lines at the beginning of both stanzas:

Behold, how pleasant and how good
That we, one Lord confessing,
Together dwell in brotherhood,
Our unity expressing.

The familiar tune SUCH A FRIEND lends a freer, more gospel-style sense to this psalm setting.  (The same caution—Not too fast—applies to this music as well.)  All in all, both of these versifications are standard Psalter Hymnal fare, but personally I think number 278 is the better of the two.

As we reflect on how Psalm 133 applies to the Christian life, Jesus’ words from John 17 inevitably come to mind:

I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.

–John 17:20-26

Indeed, it is only through the gracious work of our Savior, Jesus Christ, the Friend who sticks closer than a brother, that we can sing of the unity we now enjoy in him.  And while that like-mindedness can only be perfect in eternity, may we never cease to pray for it to increase here on earth!

How good and pleasant is the sight
When brethren make it their delight
To dwell in blest accord;
The Lord commands His blessing there,
And they that walk in love shall share
In life that never ends.

–MRK

Featured Recording: Songs of Praise

In 1964 a new church was founded in St. Catharines, Ontario; its name was the Trinity Christian Reformed Church.  By God’s grace, this flock grew into a large and thriving congregation, and in 1989, Trinity celebrated its 25th anniversary.   Along with its other celebrations, the church produced its own complete music recording.  With masterful instrumentation by Stuart Laughton on the trumpet and Christiaan Teeuwsen on the organ, this album shone in its Baroque selections.  The choir and children contributed a variety of psalms and hymns, and the congregational singing was extraordinary.  (“Trinity always sang well,” one of the church’s former ministers told me.)  The entire album was produced on cassette tape by Audiocraft Productions/Crescendo Records.

Another twenty years or so passed.  Trinity Christian Reformed Church became Trinity Orthodox Reformed Church and eventually joined the United Reformed Churches in North America.  Thankfully, the little cassette tape named “Songs of Praise” survived along with the congregation.  In the fall of 2012, a Canadian friend sent me a copy of the cassette, and I received permission from Trinity to digitize it.

That brings us to today’s Featured Recording here on URC Psalmody.  I’ve chosen the Genevan arrangement of Psalm 98, “Sing, Sing a New Song to Jehovah” (Psalter Hymnal #191), to share with you here, but the entire “Songs of Praise” album is completely digitized and available as a YouTube playlist.

Complete “Songs of Praise” playlist here.

“Sing, Sing a New Song to Jehovah” is an exemplary recording of congregational singing for a variety of reasons.  The first thing to notice is Teeuwsen’s confident and complementary organ accompaniment.  The tempo is steady, but not over-rigid; the registrations are carefully chosen to balance brilliance with a fuller mellow sound; and the embellishments and harmonic progressions accent the congregational singing rather than distracting from it.  As to the singing itself—well, you’ll just have to listen for yourself.

What’s even better is that the rest of the “Songs of Praise” album follows right in line with this selection.  Some songs from the 1987 (gray) CRC Psalter Hymnal might be unfamiliar to some listeners, but even these are carefully chosen and beautifully played.  My only complaint, if it can be called a complaint, is that Trinity didn’t record more psalm settings.  The congregation sings this set so beautifully, I can hardly imagine how a more thorough treatment of the blue Psalter Hymnal would sound!

So, if you’re looking for a rating, I give “Songs of Praise” a hearty five stars.  There’s little doubt in my mind that listening to this album will lift your spirits and encourage you to praise God with even louder voices.

–MRK

(Click here for last week’s Featured Recording)

Lord’s Day 3: Unless We Are Born Again

Catechism and Psalter

Welcome to the third installment of URC Psalmody’s Heidelberg Catechism series, in which we utilize this historic confession to connect the truths of Scripture to the music of the Psalter Hymnal.  Today’s study brings us to Lord’s Day 3, a concise summary of man’s creation and fall into sin.

6 Q.  Did God create man so wicked and perverse?

A.  No.
God created man good and in his own image,
that is, in true righteousness and holiness,
so that he might
truly know God his creator,
love him with all his heart,
and live with him in eternal happiness
for his praise and glory.

7 Q.  Then where does man’s corrupt human nature come from?

A.  From the fall and disobedience of our first parents,
Adam and Eve, in Paradise.
This fall has so poisoned our nature
that we are born sinners—
corrupt from conception on.

8 Q.  But are we so corrupt that we are totally unable to do any good and inclined toward all evil?

A.  Yes, unless we are born again,
by the Spirit of God.

Suggested Songs

13, “Lord, Our Lord, Thy Glorious Name” (Psalm 8)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI, and West Sayville URC on Long Island, NY)

“God created man good and in his own image.”  Psalm 8 begins where any study of Biblical doctrine ought to start: the glory of God.  “O LORD, our Lord, how excellent is your name in all the earth!”  After describing the wonders of God’s creation in land, sea, and sky, the psalmist turns his attention to the one creature made in the Lord’s very own image: man.

What is man that he should be
Loved and visited by Thee,
Raised to an exalted height,
Crowned with honor in Thy sight!
How great Thy Name!

With dominion crowned he stands
O’er the creatures of Thy hands;
All to him subjection yield
In the sea and air and field.
How great Thy Name!

1, “That Man Is Blest” (Psalm 1)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI, and at Synod 2012)

“God created man…in true righteousness and holiness, so that he might truly know God his Creator, love him with all his heart, and live with him in eternal happiness for his praise and glory.”  In its first three verses, Psalm 1 presents the quintessential picture of the righteous man who fulfills these characteristics.

That man is nourished like a tree
Set by the river’s side;
Its leaf is green, its fruit is sure,
And thus his works abide.

“[The] fall has so poisoned our nature that we are born sinners—corrupt from conception on.”  Sadly, Psalm 1 also teaches us the nature of the unrighteous, and their eventual fate.  “Unless we are born again by the spirit of God,” each one of us falls within this second group.

The wicked like the driven chaff
Are swept from off the land;
They shall not gather with the just,
Nor in the judgment stand.

70, “Thy Tender Mercies, O My Lord” (Psalm 40)

“[W]e are totally unable to do any good and inclined toward all evil…unless we are born again, by the spirit of God.”  Psalter Hymnal #70 is a heart-rending excerpt from Psalm 40; the psalmist recognizes the depths of his sin and his desperate need for a Savior.  At the same time, his confidence in God resounds throughout this psalm—a confidence that the Christian can share.

Thy tender mercies, O my Lord,
Withhold not, I implore;
But let Thy kindness and Thy truth
Preserve me evermore.
For countless ills have compassed me,
My sinful deeds arise;
Yea, they have overtaken me;
I dare not raise my eyes.

My sins are more than I can count,
My heart has failed for grief;
Be pleased, O Lord, to rescue me,
O haste to my relief.
Be those who seek to hurt my soul
Dismayed and put to flight,
And they themselves be put to shame
Who in my woe delight.

Let all who seek Thee now rejoice,
Yea, glad in Thee abide,
And, loving Thy salvation, say,
The Lord be magnified.
My lowly state and bitter need
The Lord has not forgot;
Thou art my Savior and my help,
Come, Lord, and tarry not.

As we read this section of the Heidelberg Catechism and reflect on the “lowly state and bitter need” of every human being, may our prayer echo the psalmist’s: “Be pleased, O Lord, to rescue me, O haste to my relief.”  Thankfully, the Catechism does not end here; it will go on to show us God’s ineffable answer to that prayer.  May He be magnified!

–MRK

Psalm 62: In God Alone

For God alone my soul waits in silence;
from him comes my salvation.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.

–Psalm 62:1, 2 (ESV)

The words “only” and “alone” appear so frequently in Psalm 62 that it is sometimes dubbed “the Only Psalm.”  What’s more, these words are central to the overall theme of the psalm: The only God alone is the only Savior of his people and Judge of the world.  David considers his opening statements so important that he repeats them almost verbatim in verses 5 and 6, in addition to rephrasing them throughout this song.  “On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God.  Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us” (vv. 7, 8).

110, “My Soul in Silence Waits for God”

Psalter Hymnal number 110 is one of those tricky “4-star” psalm versifications.  It gets off to a rocky start with some mix-ups of the original text: repeating vv. 5, 6 (which are themselves a repetition of vv. 1, 2) in the second half of the first stanza, yet completely skipping v. 3.  “My Soul in Silence Waits for God” ends on a somewhat better note, however, since its versification of the rest of Psalm 62 is fairly accurate.

What puzzles me most about this setting is how different it is from the 1912 Psalter’s version.  There, “My Soul in Silence Waits for God” comprises nine C.M. (not C.M.D.) verses, all in the correct order.  It seems that the trouble started when the creators of the Psalter Hymnal tried to cut down on the number of stanzas.

I’ve got better things to say about the music used here.  A rousing 4/4 tune, SERAPH has the stability and confidence needed to emphasize the theme of the psalm: “He only is my rock and tower/I never shall be moved.”  My only complaint is that this harmonization is terribly boring compared to the same tune in number 386, “How Vast the Benefits Divine.”  The ascending scales in the tenor and bass parts have an exciting way of notching up the fortitude of this music.

Before we leave number 110, it ought to be noted that the 1912 Psalter also contains a very similar versification of Psalm 62, set to the tune of “There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood.”  This setting has only two stanzas, the same as verses 1 and 5 of the version here.  It has a distinctive “gospel” feel, as opposed to this version’s more dignified sense, but it still presents an interesting alternative.  Below is the Psalm Choir’s rendition.

For God has spoken o’er and o’er,
And unto me has shown,
That saving power and lasting strength
Belong to Him alone.
Yea, loving-kindness evermore
Belongs to Thee, O Lord;
And Thou according to his work
Dost every man reward.

–MRK


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