Archive for June, 2013

Lord’s Day 26: Washed with Christ’s Blood and Spirit

Catechism and Psalter

Various views on the nature of the sacrament of baptism have divided the Christian church for centuries.  Is it necessary in order to be saved?  Should it be administered to children as well as to adults?  Beginning in Lord’s Day 26, the Heidelberg Catechism lays out a thorough Reformed blueprint of the nature and proper administration of baptism.  It’s to this Lord’s Day that we turn now in our continuing series here on URC Psalmody.

69 Q.  How does baptism remind you and assure you that Christ’s one sacrifice on the cross is for you personally?

A.  In this way:
Christ instituted this outward washing
and with it gave the promise that,
as surely as water washes away the dirt from the body,
so certainly his blood and his Spirit
wash away all my soul’s impurity,
in other words, all my sins.

70 Q.  What does it mean to be washed with Christ’s blood and spirit?

A.  To be washed with Christ’s blood means
that God, by grace, has forgiven my sins
because of Christ’s blood
poured out for me in his sacrifice on the cross.

To be washed with Christ’s Spirit means
that the Holy Spirit has renewed me
and set me apart to be a member of Christ
so that more and more I become dead to sin
and increasingly live a holy and blameless life.

71 Q.  Where does Christ promise that we are washed with his blood and spirit as surely as we are washed with the water of baptism?

A.  In the institution of baptism where he says:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father
and of the Son
and of the Holy Spirit.”

“He who believes and is baptized will be saved;
but he who does not believe will be condemned.”

This promise is repeated when Scripture calls baptism
the washing of regeneration and
the washing away of sins.

Suggested Songs

96, “O God, the God That Saveth Me” (Psalm 51)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

“[H]is blood and his Spirit wash away all my soul’s impurity, in other words, all my sins.”  Immediately the words of Psalm 51 come to mind: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (v. 7 ESV).  Blue Psalter Hymnal number 96 sets two of the psalmist’s requests against each other: “Remove my guilty stains” and “Now open Thou my lips.”  The second request comes after the first, much in the same way as baptism—the washing away of our sins—is followed in time by a public profession of faith.

O God, the God that saveth me,
Remove my guilty stains,
And I will sing Thy righteousness
In grateful, joyous strains.

O Lord, now open Thou my lips,
Long closed by sin and shame;
My mouth shall show before the world
The glory of Thy Name.

209, “Unto the Lord Lift Thankful Voices” (Psalm 105)

(Sung by the Protestant Reformed Psalm Choir)

“God, by grace, has forgiven my sins because of Christ’s blood poured out for me in his sacrifice on the cross.”  Psalm 105:7-11 has long been traditionally sung in Dutch Reformed churches at baptisms, but even in its entirety this psalm fits well with the Catechism’s explanation of this sacrament, calling us to praise the Lord for revealing his salvation to us.

Seek ye Jehovah and His power,
Seek ye His presence every hour.
His works, so marvelous and great,
Remember still, and meditate
Upon the wonders of His hands,
The judgments which His mouth commands.

Jehovah’s truth will stand forever,
His covenant-bonds He will not sever;
The word of grace which He commands
To thousand generations stands;
The covenant made in days of old
With Abraham he doth uphold.

The Lord His covenant people planted
In lands of nations which He granted,
That they His statutes might observe,
Nor from His laws might ever swerve.
Let songs of praise to Him ascend,
And hallelujahs without end.

278, “How Good and Pleasant Is the Sight” (Psalm 133)

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

“[T]he Holy Spirit has renewed me and set me apart to be a member of Christ so that more and more I become dead to sin and increasingly live a holy and blameless life.”  In addition to symbolizing the cleansing of our sins, baptism sets us apart as members of Christ’s body, the church.  In its three short verses, Psalm 133 likens the fellowship of believers to a kind of anointing.

How good and pleasant is the sight
When brethren make it their delight
To dwell in blest accord;
Such love is like anointing oil
That consecrates for holy toil
The servants of the Lord.

Such love in peace and joy distils,
As o’er the slopes of Hermon’s hills
Refreshing dew descends;
The Lord commands His blessing there,
And they that walk in love shall share
In life that never ends.

134, “His Wide Dominion Shall Extend” (Psalm 72)

“‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’”  Baptism is not only a covenant sign for children of the family of God, it is also a necessary result of evangelism and conversion.  Psalm 72 reflects the continuing expansion of the kingdom of Christ in anticipation, as it were, of the Great Commission given by our Lord himself.

His wide dominion shall extend
From sea to utmost sea,
And unto earth’s remotest bounds
His peaceful rule shall be.

Yea, all the kings shall bow to Him,
His rule all nations hail;
He will regard the poor man’s cry
When other helpers fail.

The poor and needy He shall spare,
And save their souls from fear;
He shall redeem them from all wrong,
Their life to Him is dear.

So they shall live, and bring to Him
Their gifts of finest gold;
For Him shall constant prayer be made,
His praise each day be told.


The Summer Circuit

I’ve never been able to determine whether the school year or the summer is a busier time.  At least in the realm of the church, the latter season often seems to contain the most chaos.  And this year, that’s proving to be true in my own life as well.

In the broader Reformed world, summer is the season of synods.  The Orthodox Presbyterian Church’s General Assembly convened June 5-10 and included the release of the proposed psalm section of the forthcoming URC/OPC Psalter Hymnal.  (Hopefully more information will be available about the progress of this project in the near future.)  As I write this, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, with whom the URCNA is now in Phase 2 ecumenical relations, is convening its own synod.  And while it’s an “off year” for the URCNA’s synod, this week Mid-America Reformed Seminary is hosting overlapping Pastors’ and Missions Conferences this week with a roster of excellent speakers.

Attendees at the URC Pastors' Conference, meeting as we speak. (Photo credit: Rev. Harold Miller, Kansas City)

Attendees at the URC Pastors’ Conference, meeting as we speak. (Photo credit: Rev. Harold Miller, Kansas City)

Homeschooling always has its unexpected twists and turns, and one of the most ironic is that although I officially graduated on the Saturday before last, I still have piles of remaining homework for my philosophy and world-views course.  It’s fun to brag about having written 2,569 pages of notes, but it’s a little scary to look forward and realize that a few hundred pages more will need to be churned out before summer can truly begin.  Unfortunately, each page of homework that gets written represents a blog post that doesn’t—that’s why the “What’s New” column in the sidebar of URC Psalmody is getting a little stale.

My schedule doesn’t look like it will be lightening up anytime soon, either, but it is full of truly exciting opportunities.  In July I and the other members of the West Sayville youth group will be spending a week in Grand Rapids participating in a Teens Actively Serving Christ mission trip through Reformed Mission Services.  We’ll be hosted by Bethany United Reformed Church in Wyoming, a GR suburb.  Also in July is the week-long Reformed Youth Services Convention, which this year will be held at Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minnesota.  It’s for good reason that these events require all students to abstain from using electronics for the week; however, it also means no blog posts during those times.  During the month of July I hope to accompany the worship services at a few URCNA congregations in the Grand Rapids area, which is always an encouraging experience.  Feel free to contact me if you are interested in these plans.

Geneva College

Geneva College

And I’m thankful to mention that at the end of August I’ll be heading out to Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, to continue my education at Geneva CollegeThe Lord has done mighty things in my life thus far, and I am excited to see where he leads me next.   This will probably further limit the extent to which I can continue to manage URC Psalmody.  It may be hard to be so far separated from my physical family and my church family back on Long Island, but at the same time I’m looking forward to the opportunity to spend a few years getting to know my Reformed Presbyterian brothers and sisters in Christ.

As I transition into this new stage of life, I’ll be trying to bring URC Psalmody along for the ride.  At the moment, I am weighing whether a blog remains the most effective and efficient way of carrying on these important discussions on psalm-singing.  The world of social media has exploded with a growing set of tools for sharing thoughts and ideas.  For now, I think the blog will remain, but here are some new branches of URC Psalmody in which you may also be interested:

  • URC Psalmody is indirectly represented on Facebook through the blue Psalter Hymnal’s page.  “Liking” this page will provide you with encouraging excerpts from our beloved psalm and hymn settings, plenty of good recordings of congregational singing, and occasional opportunities for discussion.
  • URC Psalmody’s YouTube channel continues to draw lots of traffic and interaction, and usually at least one or two new videos of Psalter Hymnal recordings or other items of interest are uploaded every week.  You can subscribe to this channel, even if you don’t have a YouTube account, to receive each new video by email.
  • SoundCloud is a less popular but extremely practical online service which allows me to upload audio recordings almost instantly.  Although most of URC Psalmody’s recordings go up on YouTube, you may want to check out our SoundCloud channel as well.
  • Most recently, I joined Twitter, with the intent of utilizing my account primarily to spread news about the URCNA and psalm-singing.  For important tidbits of news that aren’t detailed enough to merit a full blog post, feel free to follow my feed (@MichaelRKearney), which is tied into URC Psalmody’s brand-new News page (accessible through the top navigation).

So I’d like to apologize that things may be getting a little quieter than normal here on URC Psalmody’s blog.  Although our psalm meditations and Featured Recording posts may slip through the cracks, I hope to still maintain our weekly journey through the Heidelberg Catechism.  And taking into account the avenues I’ve mentioned above, where else would you like to see URC Psalmody go in the next month, or in the next year?  Your thoughts are most welcome.

To God be the glory!


Lord’s Day 25: Holy Signs and Seals

Catechism and Psalter

With Lord’s Day 25 of the Heidelberg Catechism we move into a study of the sacraments, a key aspect of  the Christian life.  Writing in an atmosphere dominated by the numerous extra-biblical and unbiblical rites of the Roman Catholic Church, the authors of the Catechism took special pains to delineate the nature of the only true sacraments instituted by Christ: baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  For the next several weeks in this URC Psalmody series we’ll be considering the connection between the psalms and the sacraments.

65 Q.  You confess that by faith alone you share in Christ and all his blessings: where does that faith come from?

A.  The Holy Spirit produces it in our hearts
by the preaching of the holy gospel,
and confirms it
through our use of the holy sacraments.

66 Q.  What are sacraments?

A.  Sacraments are holy signs and seals for us to see.
They were instituted by God so that
by our use of them
he might make us understand more clearly
the promise of the gospel,
and might put his seal on that promise.

And this is God’s gospel promise:
to forgive our sins and give us eternal life
by grace alone
because of Christ’s one sacrifice
finished on the cross.

67 Q.  Are both the Word and the sacraments then intended to focus our faith on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as the only ground of our salvation?

A.  Right!
In the gospel the Holy Spirit teaches us
and through the holy sacraments he assures us
that our entire salvation
rests on Christ’s one sacrifice for us on the cross.

68 Q.  How many sacraments did Christ institute in the New Testament?

A.  Two: baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Suggested Songs

164, “Lord, My Petition Heed” (Psalm 86)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

“The Holy Spirit produces [faith] in our hearts by the preaching of the holy gospel, and confirms it through our use of the holy sacraments.”  More than anything else, Psalm 86 is a prayer for faith.  Admitting that he is “poor and needy,” David cries out for the Lord to gladden his soul; he turns to declare, “you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God.”  Then the psalmist prays:

Teach me your way, O Lord,
that I may walk in your truth;
unite my heart to fear your name.

–Psalm 86:11 (ESV)

Psalm 86 concludes with another prayer whose language echoes the imagery of the sacraments as signs and seals: “Show me a sign of your favor” (v. 17).  Or, as the blue Psalter Hymnal versifies it:

Show me Thy mercy true,
Thy servant’s strength renew,
Deliverance send;
To me Thy goodness show,
Thy comfort, Lord, bestow;
Let those that hate me know
Thou art my Friend.

202, “Mindful of Our Human Frailty” (Psalm 103)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

Sacraments “were instituted by God so that by our use of them he might make us understand more clearly the promise of the gospel, and might put his seal on that promise.”  How weak and dull-minded we are, how slow to comprehend what God has done for us.  One of the URCNA’s new forms for the celebration of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper contains this wonderful admonition:

Do not allow the weakness of your faith or your failures in the Christian life to keep you from this table.  For it is given to us because of our weakness and because of our failures, in order to increase our faith by feeding us with the body and blood of Jesus Christ.  As the Word has promised us God’s favor, so also our Heavenly Father has added this confirmation of his unchangeable promise.

Psalm 103:14-18 speaks eloquently of our “human frailty” and the “changeless mercy” of our Lord:

Mindful of our human frailty
Is the God in whom we trust;
He whose years are everlasting,
He remembers we are dust.

Changeless is Jehovah’s mercy
Unto those that fear His Name,
From eternity abiding
To eternity the same.

All the faithful to His covenant
Shall behold His righteousness;
He will be their strength and refuge,
And their children’s children bless.

109, “O God, Regard My Humble Plea” (Psalm 61)

“[T]his is God’s gospel promise: to forgive our sins and give us eternal life by grace alone because of Christ’s one sacrifice finished on the cross.”  In times of trouble and distress it is all too easy to forget that we are God’s own children, yet the sacraments are powerful reminders of our identity in Christ.

In Thee my soul has shelter found,
And Thou hast been from foes around
The tower to which I flee.
Within Thy house will I abide;
My refuge sure, whate’er betide,
Thy sheltering wings shall be.

For Thou, O God, my vows hast heard,
On me the heritage conferred
Of those that fear Thy Name;
A blest anointing Thou dost give,
And Thou wilt make me ever live
Thy praises to proclaim.

Before Thy face shall I abide;
O God, Thy truth and grace provide
To guard me in the way;
So I will make Thy praises known,
And, humbly bending at Thy throne,
My vows will daily pay.

54, “How Great the Goodness Kept in Store” (Psalm 31)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

“In the gospel the Holy Spirit teaches us and through the holy sacraments he assures us that our entire salvation rests on Christ’s one sacrifice for us on the cross.”  The latter half of Psalm 31 calls us to praise the Lord for the goodness he has shown to his elect.  These blessings he seals to us through the preaching of the Word and the faithful administration of the sacraments.

How great the goodness kept in store
For those who fear Thee and adore
In meek humility.
How great the deeds with mercy fraught
Which openly Thy hand has wrought
For those who trust in Thee.

Secured by Thine unfailing grace,
In Thee they find a hiding-place
When foes their plots devise;
A sure retreat Thou wilt prepare,
And keep them safely sheltered there,
When strife of tongues shall rise.

Ye saints, Jehovah love and serve,
For He the faithful will preserve,
And shield from men of pride;
Be strong, and let your hearts be brave,
All ye that wait for Him to save,
In God the Lord confide;
In God the Lord confide.


Featured Recording: Luzon and Psalm 121

Featured Recording

Unfortunately, our post on today’s Featured Recording here on URC Psalmody finds itself cut short for lack of time.  Not to worry, however; the Psalter Hymnal Handbook available online at provides a fascinating background story to today’s selection.  “I Lift Up Mine Eyes to the Mountains,” a beautiful and unique versification of Psalm 121, was created specifically for the blue Psalter Hymnal (number 261).  Here’s the Psalter Hymnal Handbook’s explanation of this psalm setting and the choice of its tune name, LUZON:

Dick L. Van Halsema composed LUZON in 1954.  The tune was published with the Zylstra text in the 1959 Psalter Hymnal on whose committee both writer and composer served.  Zylstra and Van Halsema also served together as United States servicemen stationed on the Philippine island of Luzon at the end of World War II (hence the name of this tune).  At that time both men experienced the truth of Psalm 121 in their lives.

The tune and harmonization make use of repeated tones and pedal points to portray the stability and dependability of God’s care; the final phrase of the melody originally repeated one note throughout.  The E-flat chord in the third line provides a delightful touch of color.  LUZON is suitable for either unison or harmony singing.  Maintain one pulse per measure.

Below is a recording of the congregation of Grace Reformed Church (URCNA) in Dunnville, Ontario, singing Psalter Hymnal number 261.  How assuring it is to be protected by the Lord who “nods not, nor slumbers, nor sleeps”!


(Click here for last week’s Featured Recording)

Lord’s Day 24: A Gift of Grace

Catechism and Psalter

“How are you right with God?  Only by true faith in Jesus Christ.”  Through its sixty-one questions and answers thus far, the Heidelberg Catechism has been unequivocally clear: Mankind is sinful beyond hope and deserving of God’s wrath, and our salvation comes only from the completed work of Jesus Christ on the cross.  We can never hope to be saved by our good works.

However, in Lord’s Day 24 (today’s focus in our URC Psalmody series), the Catechism pauses to probe this possibility one last time: Do good works help us not at all, not even a tiny little bit?  These are common challenges from opponents of Calvinism, but the Catechism’s answers are wonderfully sound.

62 Q.  Why can’t the good we do make us right with God, or at least help make us right with him?

A.  Because the righteousness
which can pass God’s scrutiny
must be entirely perfect
and must in every way measure up to the divine law.
Even the very best we do in this life
is imperfect
and stained with sin.

63 Q.  How can you say that the good we do doesn’t earn anything when God promises to reward it in this life and the next?

A.  This reward is not earned;
it is a gift of grace.

64 Q.  But doesn’t this teaching make people indifferent and wicked?

A.  No.
It is impossible
for those grafted into Christ by true faith
not to produce fruits of gratitude.

Suggested Songs

20, “Who, O Lord, with Thee Abiding” (Psalm 15)

“The righteousness which can pass God’s scrutiny must be entirely perfect.”  Psalm 15 opens by asking, “O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent?  Who shall dwell on your holy hill?” (ESV)  Indeed, who can measure up to the perfect standard of God’s law?  If viewed apart from the saving grace of Christ, this psalm leaves us feeling empty and despairing.  The Psalter Hymnal versifies it thus:

He that slanders not his brother,
Does no evil to a friend;
To reproaches of another
He refuses to attend.
Wicked men win not his favor,
But the good who fear the Lord;
From his vow he will not waver,
Though it bring him sad reward.

Freely to the needy lending,
No excess he asks again;
And the innocent befriending,
He desires not praise of men.
Doing this, and evil spurning,
He shall nevermore be moved;
This the man with Thee sojourning,
This the man by Thee approved.

2, “Blest is He Who Loves God’s Precepts” (Psalm 1)

(Sung on YouTube)

“Even the very best we do in this life is imperfect and stained with sin.”  Such a bleak truth clashes horribly with the beautiful descriptions of the “righteous man” in Psalm 1.  But how comforting it is to know that these requirements have been fulfilled by the truly righteous God-man, Jesus Christ—and that we are saved through faith in him:

Blest is he who makes the statutes
Of the Lord his chief delight,
In the law of God rejoicing,
Meditating day and night.

Well the Lord will guard the righteous,
For their way to Him is known;
But the way of evildoers
Shall by Him be overthrown.

303, “O Sing Ye Hallelujah” (Psalm 147)

“This reward is not earned; it is a gift of grace.”  Psalm 147 extols God for his goodness and abundant blessings to those who deserve nothing from him:

O sing ye Hallelujah!
‘Tis good our God to praise;
‘Tis pleasant and becoming
To Him our songs to raise;
He builds the walls of Zion,
He seeks her wandering sons;
He binds their wounds
The brokenhearted ones.

No human power delights Him,
No earthly pomp or pride;
He loves the meek who fear Him
And in His love confide;
Then praise thy God, O Zion,
His gracious aid confess;
He gives thee peace and plenty,
His gifts thy children bless.

His statutes and His judgments
He makes His people know;
To them as to no others
His grace He loves to show;
For matchless grace and mercy
Your grateful praises bring;
To Him give thanks forever,
And Hallelujah sing.

240, “Teach Me, O Lord, Thy Way of Truth” (Psalm 119)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI, by Trinity URC in St. Catharines, ON, and at Synod 2012)

“It is impossible for those grafted into Christ by true faith not to produce fruits of gratitude.”  With an understanding of God’s grace and true faith, passages like Psalms 15 and 1 suddenly make sense.  We do good not so that we can be saved, but because we have been saved.  This is set forth in beautiful terms in “Teach Me, O Lord, Thy Way of Truth,” a Psalter Hymnal favorite from Psalm 119:33-40.

Teach me, O Lord, Thy way of truth,
And from it I will not depart;
That I may stedfastly obey,
Give me an understanding heart.

In Thy commandments make me walk,
For in Thy law my joy shall be;
Give me a heart that loves Thy will,
From discontent and envy free.

Turn Thou mine eyes from vanity,
And cause me in Thy ways to tread;
O let Thy servant prove Thy Word
And thus to godly fear be led.

Turn Thou away reproach and fear;
Thy righteous judgments I confess;
To know Thy precepts I desire;
Revive me in Thy righteousness.


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