1934 Psalter Hymnal

1934 Psalter Hymnal

One resource I have found very helpful in study of the various Psalter Hymnal editions is the Foreword from the very first Psalter Hymnal published in 1934 by the CRC.  Not only does it explain the rationale for the use of both psalms and hymns in worship, but it also offers some very sound advice on how the hymnbook should be used.

Below are excerpts from this Foreword.  For your interest, I’ve emphasized some of the key points in italic type.  Where I’ve inserted an asterisk in the text (*) at references to the Dutch Psalter, chorales, or the French composers, I’d like to clarify that the Foreword is referring to the tunes of the Genevan Psalter, which I discussed in a blog article here.  Note that this text was computer-generated from page scans, so a few errors may be present.  In any case, I hope this is a useful resource.

FOREWORD

The appearance of this book of praise is an event of more than usual significance in the Christian Reformed Church. Up to the present time our Church has always adhered faithfully to its purpose to sing only the Old Testament Psalms in public worship, barring a few exceptions mentioned specifically in Article 69 of the Church Order. This article, until its revision in 1932, read as follows: “In the Churches only the 150 Psalms of David, the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the Twelve Articles of Faith, the Songs of Mary, Zacharias, and Simeon, the Morning and Evening Hymns, and the Hymn of Prayer before the Sermon, shall be sung.” In our American speaking congregations even these few hymns were not all in use since only three of their number were found in The Psalter, namely, the Songs of Mary, Zacharias, and Simeon. During the 77 years of its existence, the Christian Reformed Church has sung practically nothing but Psalms in public worship.

The reason, however, for depriving ourselves, for so many years, of such songs which reflect the light that the New Testament adds to the Old was not the theory that the Church should sing only the inspired Psalms of David. We realized full well that metrical versions of the Psalms can scarcely be called inspired, and that it is hardly consistent to forbid the use of the New Testament in song while we insist that it shall be used in preaching. Practical considerations explain our traditional policy. We were aware of the unsound or unsatisfactory character of many current hymns, and we feared that in an environment where the Psalms are seldom sung, the introduction of hymns in public worship would lead to the neglect of those deeply spiritual songs of the Old Testament which the Church should never fail to use in its service of praise.

Meanwhile, hymns were freely used among us in religious gatherings outside of public worship. The conviction that the Church was not justified in offering resistance to the growing desire for the use of hymns also in public worship gradually became stronger, and no serious opposition was offered when a number of churches voiced this desire in overtures to our synod. Action was first taken at the synod of 1928, which declared that no fundamental objections exist against the use of sound hymns in public worship, and which appointed a committee to study the matter from every angle and to report two years later.

The same committee was also charged “to make a thorough revision of our English Psalter with a view to advising the following synod which of the 413 selections can best be eliminated as unsatisfactory, especially as regards the tunes, and to recommend, as substitutes for some of these, metrical versions of not fewer than twenty-five and not more than fifty Psalms which can be sung to the best tunes of our Dutch Psalter,* these chorales also to be selected by the committee.” Synod desired that “thus our rich musical heritage should be preserved.”

The committee continued its work. The Psalter was subjected to a thorough revision: a large number of unnecessary selections was eliminated, many new tunes were substituted for those which had been found unsatisfactory, and several other improvements were made. Men from our own circle, poetically gifted, were engaged to prepare such metrical versions of thirty Psalms which could be used with the chorales provided for them in the Dutch Psalter.* This material was carefully studied and where necessary revised. As to the hymns, the original number proposed to the synod of 1930 was reduced by nearly one third. Special efforts were made to find suitable hymns for our festive days, and for the administration of the sacraments.  All this material was submitted to the synod of 1932.

This synod not only approved the changes made in the Psalter but also adopted all but a few of the 138 hymns which the committee submitted. Article 69 of the Church Order was revised to read as follows: “In the churches only the 150 Psalms of David and the Collection of Hymns for church use, approved and adopted by synod, shall be sung. However, while the singing of the Psalms in divine worship is a requirement, the use of the approved Hymns is left to the freedom of the churches.” The committee was instructed to publish the new book of praise, together with the doctrinal standards and the liturgical forms, in such a manner that the right of the Church to have full command over the contents would be maintained.

It is a great pleasure to us to be able herewith to present this volume to our churches. We trust our pastors and all others who will use this book in public gatherings will make a careful and persistent study of its contents. Psalters and Hymnals, like Bibles, should be studied diligently by those who lead in public worship, in order that our congregations may receive the largest possible benefit from their use. Song services are often unnecessarily confined to a comparatively small number of selections. Many fine tunes remain undiscovered because they are not tried, while others are sung too often and at last suffer the contempt bred of excessive familiarity. The latter is true in particular of the less solid tunes which often appeal at once to the ear. A too liberal use of such selections is sure to have unpleasant reactions.

This book of praise contains a larger number of the more popular type of hymns than any church hymnal with which we are acquainted. Evidently synod felt that there is a place in public worship for the more simple hymns whose merit is their spiritual and evangelical appeal. We have endeavored to select only such as have abiding value or have already endeared themselves to the hearts of our people.

We hope that special efforts will be put forth to make our people conversant with the chorales offered in this book of praise. If this is done, the beautiful compositions of Bourgeois, Pierre, and Greiter,* so dear to the older generation, will no doubt find a hearty response even among the younger members of our churches.

A number of favorite tunes has been used more than once. This is done today in many of the best hymnals and is fully justified in view of the fact that good tunes are limited in number. It is better to repeat the best tunes than to resort to those which are lacking in vitality and musical character.

The committee could not see its way clear to yield to a popular demand to place all the stanzas between the staves of music. This is impossible in the case of the Psalms, since many selections have a large number of stanzas. Besides, when four or more stanzas are thus placed, the singer easily becomes confused. Some prefer to have no words between the staves, others want only a few stanzas, while some want as many as possible. The committee has compromised in the matter and has followed the policy that when selections consist of more than three stanzas, only two should be placed within the staves, but when the stanzas are only three in number, to place all within the music. In a few cases mechanical difficulties made it necessary to break the rule.

A list of the textual changes which the committee has made in the hymns will be printed in the Acts of the Synod of 1936 for possible future reference. May it please the Lord to make this volume a rich mine of comfort, inspiration, and instruction for large numbers of worshippers.

THE PSALTER HYMNAL COMMITTEE:

H. J. KUIPER

D. ZWIER

H. J. VAN ANDEL

S. SWETS

H. DENKEMA

J. B. HULST

Note: Three of the original members of the committee were unable to serve to the end; namely, Professor W. Heyns, our first secretary, who passed away in 1933; and Professor R. B. Kuiper, our former president, and Rev. J. M. Vande Kieft, who were called to distant fields of labor.

Grand Rapids, Michigan

October, 1934

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