Today we return to our Wednesdays in 2013 series on URC Psalmody, finding ourselves at the sixth Lord’s Day in the Heidelberg Catechism.
Lord’s Day 6 marks the turning point of the Catechism, the crucial hinge on which the entirety of our salvation swings. It speaks of the one most important message of the Bible—a message sometimes summarized in two words: “But God.”
16 Q. Why must he be truly human and truly righteous?
A. God’s justice demands it:
man has sinned,
man must pay for his sin,
but a sinner can not pay for others.
17 Q. Why must he also be true God?
A. So that,
by the power of his divinity,
he might bear the weight of God’s anger in his humanity
and earn for us
and restore to us
righteousness and life.
18 Q. And who is this mediator–true God and at the same time truly human and truly righteous?
A. Our Lord Jesus Christ,
who was given us
to set us completely free
and to make us right with God.
19 Q. How do you come to know this?
A. The holy gospel tells me.
God himself began to reveal the gospel already in Paradise;
later, he proclaimed it
by the holy patriarchs and prophets,
and portrayed it
by the sacrifices and other ceremonies of the law;
finally, he fulfilled it
through his own dear Son.
Choosing songs for this section of the Catechism is incredibly difficult, not because there are so few, but because there are so many. In a way, the entirety of the Scriptures (and hence the entire book of Psalms) centers on our salvation. Add to this inspired collection a myriad of salvation-oriented hymns, and the number of possible selections becomes staggering. Thus, I’ve chosen six psalm settings that roughly follow the thought progression given in this Lord’s Day.
67, “Lord, in Thy Wrath Rebuke Me Not” (Psalm 38)
“God’s justice demands it: man has sinned, man must pay for his sin.…[but our deliverer must] also be true God.” The desolate words of Psalm 38 speak eloquently of man’s inability to heal himself.
Thine anger wears my flesh away,
And in my bones I feel my sin.
Yea, mine iniquities today
Deprive my soul of strength within.
Such are my wounds, they will not heal,
Corrupted by my foolishness;
Bowed down upon the earth I feel
The pangs of my complete distress.
In every limb lurks foul disease,
Loathsome my flesh in every part;
And I do groan because of these
Disquietnesses in my heart.
At the same time, the psalmist realizes that his salvation can come from God alone—not from himself.
Forsake me not, O Lord, my God,
Be not, O Lord, far off from me,
O haste to my deliverance,
And let me Thy salvation see.
146, “O God, Most Holy Are Thy Ways” (Psalm 77)
“God himself began to reveal the gospel already in Paradise; later, he proclaimed it by the holy patriarchs and prophets…” In the midst of deep affliction and distress, the author of Psalm 77 pauses to recount God’s wondrous works in the past. These are a source of comfort to him, for he knows that God will save him now just as he saved his people in the past.
Thy way was in the sea, O God,
Through mighty waters, deep and broad;
None understood but God alone,
To man Thy footsteps were unknown;
But safe Thy people Thou didst keep,
Almighty Shepherd of Thy sheep.
171, “In Vision to His Saints God Spake” (Psalm 89)
Psalm 89 continues in the same vein of thought. Reflecting on his own life and the history of his nation, the psalmist cries out:
Think on my life; O Lord, take thought;
Hast Thou created man for nought?
What man that lives has power to save
His soul from death, and from the grave?
Where are Thy mercies which of old
Were in Thy promises foretold?
Remember, Lord, the bitter shame
Heaped on Thine own anointed’s name.
What comes next in the psalm is rather surprising: an exuberant doxology. The Psalter Hymnal elaborates on this conclusion as follows:
I sing of mercies that endure
Forever builded firm and sure,
Of faithfulness that never dies,
Established changeless in the skies.
Blest be the Lord forevermore,
Whose promise stands from days of yore.
His word is faithful now as then;
Blest be His Name. Amen, Amen.
135, “Christ Shall Have Dominion” (Psalm 72)
“Our Lord Jesus Christ…was given us to set us completely free and to make us right with God.” All of God’s promises to his people over the centuries are fulfilled in one person, the perfect God-man: Jesus Christ. Psalm 72 speaks of the glorious reign of our Anointed Savior:
When the needy seek Him, He will mercy show;
Yea, the weak and helpless shall His pity know.
He will surely save them from oppression’s might,
For their lives are precious in His holy sight.
Christ shall have dominion over land and sea;
Earth’s remotest regions shall His empire be.
191, “Sing, Sing a New Song to Jehovah” (Psalm 98)
“Finally, he fulfilled it through his own dear Son.” Our joyful response to God’s work of salvation ought to be expressed through words like those of Psalm 98. This exultant psalm exhorts us to—
Sing, sing a new song to Jehovah
For all the wonders He has wrought;
His right hand and His arm most holy
The victory to Him have brought.
The Lord has published His salvation,
His righteousness He has made known;
He showed to every heathen nation
That judgment issues from His throne.
300, “The Lord Upholds the Faltering Feet” (Psalm 145)
I’m always surprised that “The Lord Upholds the Faltering Feet” isn’t sung more often. This excerpt from Psalm 145 is one of the most glorious songs of praise in the entire Psalter Hymnal, with the perfectly bouncy, lilting tune to accompany it. I’ll close with the entirety of this versification:
The Lord upholds the faltering feet
And makes the weak securely stand;
The burdened ones, bowed down with grief,
Are helped by His most gracious hand.
The eyes of all upon Thee wait,
By The their wants are all supplied;
Thine open hand is bountiful,
And every soul is satisfied.
The Lord is just in all His ways,
In all His works the Lord is kind,
And all that call on Him in truth
In Him a present Helper find.
He will fulfil the heart’s desire
Of those that fear Him and obey;
Their cry the Lord will surely hear,
And He will save them when they pray.
His great salvation they shall know
Who love the Lord’s most holy Name;
The wicked He will overthrow
And put His enemies to shame.
My mouth shall speak the glorious praise
Of Him whom heaven and earth adore;
Let all exalt His holy Name
Forever and forevermore.