Posts Tagged 'Creation'

November’s Psalm of the Month: 33

The eleventh installment in URC Psalmody’s Introduction to the URC/OPC Psalm Proposal

IMG_2498

The Lord by His word has created the heavens;
By breath of His mouth made the stars come to be.
The depths of the ocean He heaps up together,
And puts in a storehouse the waves of the sea.

Amidst a season of thanksgiving, this rousing new setting of Psalm 33, which the Psalter Hymnal Committees hybridized from the Scottish psalter Sing Psalms and The Book of Psalms for Worship, will reinvigorate you to give thanks for the abundant manifestations of the Lord’s steadfast love.

Even though the tune ASH GROVE does not appear in the blue Psalter Hymnal, it is well-known in connection with the Thanksgiving-time hymn “Let All Things Now Living” (#453 in the gray Psalter Hymnal). Frequent running lines throughout the vocal parts (especially the bass) impart this tune with an extraordinary sense of energy. Sing Psalm 33 at a rousing tempo fitting for its lively expressions of praise.

Suggested stanzas:

  • 11/1: stanzas 1,2
  • 11/8: stanzas 2,3
  • 11/15: stanzas 4,5
  • 11/22: all
  • 11/29: all

Source: stz. 1 adapted from Psalm 33 in Sing Psalms; stz. 2-5 from Psalm 33C in The Book of Psalms for Worship

Tune only: Revised Trinity Hymnal 125

Digging Deeper

Themes for Studying Psalm 33

  • Why praise is fitting for the upright (vv. 1-3), namely:
  • The Lord’s character (vv. 4-5)
  • The Lord’s creation (vv. 6-9)
  • The Lord’s providence (vv. 10-12)
  • The Lord’s omniscience (vv. 13-15)
  • The Lord’s omnipotence (vv. 16-19)
  • The Lord’s steadfast love (vv. 20-22)

Seeing Christ in Psalm 33

As the Second Person of the Trinity, Christ shares all the attributes of God that are praised in this psalm. He is upright, faithful, and just; the Creator of the universe (“All things were made through him,” John 1:3); the King of the nations; and the Savior of his people. He is the ultimate manifestation of the “steadfast love” of the Lord (v. 5), and it is he who delivers our souls from death (v. 19). Even as we currently enjoy the blessings of the salvation Jesus has provided, we also look forward to the day when the desire of v. 8 is fulfilled, when “at the name of Jesus every knee [bows], in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Philippians 2:10). It is superlatively fitting (v. 1) to praise God for the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Applying Psalm 33

  • Who are the righteous (v. 1)? How are they righteous (cf. Heidelberg Catechism LD 23, Q&A 60)?
  • In today’s context, who are the members of the “blessed nation” (v. 12)?
  • Have you ever looked to a “false hope” for salvation, as the psalmist mentions (v. 17)?
  • How does trusting in the Lord make your heart glad (v. 21)?

When the Psalmist says that all our blessedness rests in the fact that the Lord is our God, he points us to the fountain of divine love as the only source that could be desired to make life happy. For God to stoop down to accomplish our salvation, protect us under his wings, provide for our necessities, and help us in all our dangers, hinges entirely on his adoption of us. But lest we should think that these blessings arise from our own efforts and work, David directly teaches us this: only from the fountain of God’s gracious electing love are we counted as the people of God.

—paraphrased from Calvin’s commentary on Psalm 33:12

Michael Kearney
West Sayville URC
Long Island, New York

(A PDF version of this post, formatted as a bulletin insert, is available here.)

February’s Psalm of the Month: 8B

The second installment in URC Psalmody’s Introduction to the URC/OPC Psalm Proposal

Sunrise over the Beaver River

Lord, our Lord, in all the earth
How excellent Your name!
You above the heavens have set
The glory of Your fame.

In addition to preserving the two beloved versions of Psalm 8 from the blue Psalter Hymnal (#12, 13), the URC/OPC Psalter Hymnal Committees included in the Psalm Proposal this excellent setting from The Book of Psalms for Singing. Explore the use of dynamic contrast as you sing—perhaps strong and joyful for the first and third stanzas, hushed and reverent for the second. Render the rousing 1742 tune AMSTERDAM with excitement that befits worshipping in the presence of such a majestic God.

Suggested stanzas: All

Source: Psalm 8B in The Book of Psalms for Singing and The Book of Psalms for Worship, Psalm 8 in the Trinity Psalter and the ARP Psalter.

Digging Deeper

Themes for Studying Psalm 8

  • Wondering at God’s excellence (v. 1)
  • Wondering at man’s lowliness (v. 2)
  • Wondering at God’s providence (vv. 3,4)
  • Wondering at man’s privileged place (vv. 5-8)
  • Wondering at God’s excellence (v. 9)

Seeing Christ in Psalm 8

If Psalm 8 refers only to the first Adam in his original state, its praise is dampened by the reality of the Fall. Humanity’s crown of “glory and honor” (v. 5) has been dragged through filth and mire. In our sin we abuse our dominion over the works of God’s hands (v. 7), and the whole creation groans as a result (Romans 8:22).

However, according to the apostles’ interpretation (cf. I Cor. 15:27, Eph. 1:22), Psalm 8 points us to Christ, the Second Adam, who promises restoration and reconciliation for our fallen world. The author of the letter to the Hebrews directly interprets Psalm 8:4-6 in reference to Jesus: “Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (Heb. 2:8,9). In awe of this Savior, we can well exclaim, “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

Applying Psalm 8

  • How do the mouths of babies and infants reveal God’s strength (v. 2; cf. Matt. 21:16)?
  • Why does God care for you (vv. 3,4)?
  • In what ways has sin corrupted the “glory and honor” of mankind (v. 5)?
  • Why is it comforting that God has put all things under Jesus’ feet (v. 6)?

The sum of Psalm 8 is this: In creating man, God demonstrated his infinite grace and fatherly love towards us, which should well amaze us. And although that happy condition has been almost entirely ruined by man’s fall, yet the traces of God’s free gifts to us which still remain should be enough to fill us with admiration. True, the proper order which God originally established no longer shines forth in this mournful and wretched overthrow, but the faithful whom God gathers to himself, under Christ their head, enjoy fragments of the good things they lost in Adam—enough to amaze them at God’s incredible grace. While David here focuses only on God’s earthly blessings, we must rise higher, and contemplate the invaluable treasures of the kingdom of heaven which he has unfolded in Christ, and all the gifts which belong to the spiritual life, that by reflecting upon these our hearts may be inflamed with love for God, that we may be stirred up to the practice of godliness, and that we may not allow ourselves to become lazy and negligent in celebrating his praises.

—paraphrased from Calvin’s commentary on Psalm 8:7-9

Michael Kearney
West Sayville URC
Long Island, New York

(A PDF version of this post, formatted as a bulletin insert, is available here.)

“Jehovah’s self transcends His noblest works”

DSCN3019

Over this past week I’ve been awestruck again and again at the beauty of the Beaver Valley.  Although I’ll never lose my love for the unique coastal scenery of Long Island, the setting of Geneva College is just as powerful a witness to the glory of God in creation.

At the same time as I’ve been taking in my surroundings, the instruction at Geneva (through chapel and my Old Testament Survey course) has also been pointing to this idea of general revelation.  Add to that the fact that my personal devotions took me through Psalm 8 and Charles Spurgeon’s commentary thereon, and you have a pretty powerful combination.

Did you know that Spurgeon tried his hand at poetry?  I didn’t until I found these lines which he composed after a journey through the Alps.  They are powerful enough to share here in their entirety:

Yet in all these how great soe’er they be,
We see not Him. The glass is all too dense
And dark, or else our earthborn eyes too dim.

Yon Alps, that lift their heads above the clouds
And hold familiar converse with the stars,
Are dust, at which the balance trembleth not,
Compared with His divine immensity.
The snow-crown’d summits fail to set Him forth,
Who dwelleth in Eternity, and bears
Alone, the name of High and Lofty One.
Depths unfathomed are too shallow to express
The wisdom and the knowledge of the Lord,
The mirror of the creatures has no space
To bear the image of the Infinite.
‘Tis true the Lord hath fairly writ His name,
And set His seal upon creation’s brow.
But as the skilful potter much excels
The vessel which he fashions on the wheel,
E’en so, but in proportion greater far,
Jehovah’s self transcends His noblest works.
Earth’s ponderous wheels would break, her axles snap,
If freighted with the load of Deity.
Space is too narrow for the Eternal’s rest,
And time too short a footstool for His throne.
E’en avalanche and thunder lack a voice,
To utter the full volume of His praise.
How then can I declare Him! Where are words
With which my glowing tongue may speak His name!
Silent I bow, and humbly I adore.

–from The Treasury of David, commentary on Psalm 8:1

–MRK

Psalm 65: Due Praise

Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion,
and to you shall vows be performed.
O you who hear prayer,
to you shall all flesh come.
When iniquities prevail against me,
you atone for our transgressions.
Blessed is the one you choose and bring near,
to dwell in your courts!
We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house,
the holiness of your temple!

–Psalm 65:1-4 (ESV)

"All nature joins in singing a joyful song of praise."

“All nature joins in singing a joyful song of praise.”

Can Psalm 65 be summarized in a single sentence?  If so, it is a song of thanksgiving to God for his abundant providence and faithfulness in both creation and redemption.  The Lord sits supreme above all the (false) gods of the nations because he hears prayer (v. 2), atones for his people’s transgressions (v. 3), has created the world (vv. 6-8), and continues to sustain it with awesome deeds (vv. 9-13).  As a result, how could praise be withheld from him, especially in Zion, the city of his chosen people?

Today it’s time for us to evaluate Psalm 65 as set to music in the Psalter Hymnal.

114, “Praise Waits for Thee in Zion”

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

In my own church at least, “Praise Waits for Thee in Zion” is probably the most familiar setting of Psalm 65 from the Psalter Hymnal.  This praiseful and praiseworthy versification sets to music the first five verses of Psalm 65, which form a fairly complete section of thought in the text.  It begins by extolling the Lord for his salvation, and it ends by stating that “Man finds no sure reliance, no peace, apart from Thee.”

The accompanying tune, MENDEBRAS, is a bouncy German melody arranged by Lowell Mason, and it’s one that I inevitably associate with this psalm setting.  When played too slowly this tune is dismal, but the opposite temptation always lurks to play it just a bit too fast.  Personally, I like a tempo just a touch slower than 120 bpm (2 beats per second).  The only challenge to the singers is the soprano jump to a high F in the last line.  Some hymnbooks have remedied this by lowering the key to E-flat, which I believe ruins the brilliance of the music.  Instead I would suggest that sopranos who can’t reach the F simply sing a D, as is written for the third line directly above.

115, “Thy Might Sets Fast the Mountains”

(Sung by the Protestant Reformed Psalm Choir)

Psalter Hymnal number 115 takes on the remainder of Psalm 65, verses 6-13.  Like its companion, “Thy Might Sets Fast the Mountains” is textually accurate and musically appropriate.  Once again the versification has three stanzas, with a recapitulation of the key theme of this part of the psalm at the very end: “All nature joins in singing a joyful song of praise.”

You’ll probably recognize the tune WEBB right away as the melody of “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus” (Psalter Hymnal number 467).  While this association may be a little confusing at first, I believe this is a very fitting tune with the confidence and jubilation necessary to carry the vivid words of Psalm 65.  Thankfully, the soprano line never goes too high, and the brilliant key of A works perfectly.  Once again, the only challenge to the average accompanist is finding the proper tempo.  If you can attain that, this version of Psalm 65 might soon become a favorite!

116, “Forth from Thy Courts, Thy Sacred Dwelling”

(Sung on YouTube)

“Forth from Thy Courts” is the Psalter Hymnal’s Genevan offering for Psalm 65.  The English text of this 16th-century setting, composed by Rev. William Kuipers in 1931, is much more ornate than our other versifications, and in some cases a little less accurate.  It still forms a powerful paraphrased version of the psalm, however, as evidenced in the second stanza:

A mighty stream of foul transgression
Prevails from day to day;
But Thou, O God, in great compassion,
Wilt purge my guilt away.
Blest is the man whom Thou hast chosen,
And bringest nigh to Thee;
That in Thy courts, in Thee reposing,
His dwelling-place may be.

To modern ears, this Genevan tune in a minor key is far from jubilant; that is a roadblock that may be impassable for our American culture.  However, choosing a befitting organ registration for this selection and playing it at a lively tempo can help dispel any complaints about singing a dirge.  After the very last verse, you might repeat the last line and end in an F-major chord, as done in the recording above.

117, “Before Thee, Lord, a People Waits”

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

While a fourth version of Psalm 65 isn’t really necessary in the Psalter Hymnal, there’s nothing that should detract from its use.  “Before Thee, Lord, a People Waits” includes a solid versification of Psalm 65:1-8, and a lilting, uplifting tune to accompany it.  I find the tenor and bass parts in the first two lines to be rather monotonous, but it would be relatively easy to employ some creative re-harmonizing here.  Once again, the poor sopranos will be confronted with a high F right at the end; I don’t believe the key can be dropped, since the bass part goes down to a G already, but an alternate soprano note of C might resolve the problem.

The year is crowned, O Fount of blessing,
With gifts to cheer the land;
Thy goodness fills the earth, expressing
The wonders of Thy hand.
The hills rejoice; the pastures, teeming
With flocks that skip and spring,
The golden grain, in valleys gleaming—
All sing to God the King.

–MRK

Lord’s Day 9: My God and Father

Catechism and Psalter

We’ve been progressing through the Heidelberg Catechism here on URC Psalmody since the beginning of this year, and now we come to two of the most powerful and beloved Lord’s Days in the entire confession.  Lord’s Day 9 explains what it means to believe in God the Father; Lord’s Day 10 goes on to consider God’s creation and providence in more detail.  Today, the first of these.

26 Q.  What do you believe when you say: “I believe in God the Father, almighty, maker of heaven and earth”?

A.  That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who out of nothing created heaven and earth
and everything in them,
who still upholds and rules them
by his eternal counsel and providence,
is my God and Father
because of Christ his Son.

I trust him so much that I do not doubt
he will provide
whatever I need
for body and soul,
and he will turn to my good
whatever adversity he sends me
in this sad world.

He is able to do this because he is almighty God;
he desires to do this because he is a faithful Father.

Suggested Songs

Where can we find more fitting words for this wondrous confession than in the psalms?  Countless verses from the psalms, like the Catechism, connect the objective reality of God’s existence with our personal awareness of him as Creator and Father—think of phrases like “O LORD, our Lord” (Psalm 8:1) and “O God, you are my God” (Psalm 63:1).   Here are just a few selections from the Psalter Hymnal that echo the themes of this Lord’s Day.

183, “O Come before the Lord, our King” (Psalm 95)

“[I believe] that the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…out of nothing created heaven and earth and everything in them…” Psalm 95, one of the most familiar songs of praise in the Psalter, brings out many of the points of Lord’s Day 9, but most specifically God’s might as manifested in creation:

Almighty power the Lord maintains,
Exalted over all He reigns,
He holds the valleys in His hand,
He makes the mighty mountains stand;
To Him belong both land and sea,
Creator of the world is He.

The natural response to our realization of God’s greatness is a call to worship.

O come and let us worship now,
Before our Maker let us bow;
We are His sheep and He our God,
He feeds our souls in pastures broad;
He safely leads us in the way;
O come and heed His voice today.

260, “To the Hills I Lift Mine Eyes” (Psalm 120)

(Sung on YouTube)

“…[He] still upholds and rules them by his eternal counsel and providence…”  Appealing to God’s power as manifested in creation, Psalm 121 assures its singers that the Lord is our ever-watchful Guide and Helper.

To the hills I lift mine eyes;
Whence shall help for me arise?
From the Lord shall come mine aid,
Who the heaven and earth has made.
He will guide through dangers all,
Will not suffer thee to fall;
He who safe His people keeps
Slumbers not and never sleeps.

102, “O God, Give Thou Ear to My Plea” (Psalm 55)

“I trust him so much that I do not doubt he will provide whatever I need for body and soul…”  The footnote in the Catechism itself points us to Psalm 55 as a prooftext for this bold statement, and for good reason.  The third and fourth verses of this setting afford the believer unspeakable comfort:

Nay, soul, call on God all the day;
The Lord for thy help will appear;
At eve, morn, and noon humbly pray,
And He thy petition will hear.

Thy burden now cast on the Lord,
And He shall Thy weakness sustain;
The righteous who trust in His word
Unmoved shall forever remain.

244, “Thou, Lord, Hast Dealt Well with Thy Servant” (Psalm 119)

“…and he will turn to my good whatever adversity he sends me in this sad world…”  Due to its length, perhaps we aren’t always as familiar with Psalm 119 as with the other psalms.  But if we take the time to study it, we’ll find that this mammoth “wisdom psalm” brims over with sage words for the growing Christian.  This selection, from verses 65-72, sets forth in simple language some of the benefits of divinely-ordered affliction in stanzas 2 and 4.

Before my affliction I wandered,
But now Thy good Word I obey;
O Thou who art holy and gracious,
Now teach me Thy statutes, I pray.

Affliction has been for my profit,
That I to Thy statutes might hold;
Thy law to my soul is more precious
Than thousands of silver and gold.

137, “In Doubt and Temptation” (Psalm 73)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

“He is able to do this because he is almighty God.”  The latter half of Psalm 73 counters the weakness and faithlessness of our human nature with the constancy and steadfastness of our mighty God.  This versification captures the idea beautifully with a well-chosen refrain: “My God, I will extol Thee and ever bless Thy Name; each day will I give thanks to Thee and all Thy praise proclaim.”

In doubt and temptation I rest, Lord, in Thee;
My hand is in Thy hand, Thou carest for me;
My soul with Thy counsel through life Thou wilt guide,
And afterward make me in glory abide.

In glory Thou only my portion shalt be,
On earth for none other I long but for Thee;
My flesh and heart falter, but God is my stay,
The strength of my spirit, my portion for aye.

All they that forsake Thee must perish and die,
But near to my Savior most blessed am I;
I make Thee my refuge, my Lord and my God;
Thy grace and Thy glory I publish abroad.

205, “The Tender Love a Father Has” (Psalm 103)

(Sung on YouTube)

“He desires to do this because he is a faithful Father.”  No psalm speaks more eloquently of the fatherhood of God than Psalm 103.  Psalter Hymnal number 205 focuses specifically on this section:

The tender love a father has
For all his children dear,
Such love the Lord bestows on them
Who worship Him in fear.

The Lord remembers we are dust,
And all our frailty knows;
Man’s days are like the tender grass,
And as the flower he grows.

The flower is withered by the wind
That smites with blighting breath;
So man is quickly swept away
Before the blast of death.

Unchanging is the love of God,
From age to age the same,
Displayed to all who do His will
And reverence His name.

Those who His gracious covenant keep
The Lord will ever bless;
Their children’s children shall rejoice
To see His righteousness.

What a glorious assurance is ours!  How great are the riches of God’s mercy toward us, as this Lord’s Day describes!  How marvelous it is that the almighty Lord of creation “is my God and Father because of Christ his Son”!

–MRK


Welcome to URC Psalmody

We hope you'll join us as we discuss music, worship, the psalms, the church, and much more here on URC Psalmody. You can learn about the purpose of this blog here. We look forward to to seeing you in the discussions!

With this feature, just enter your email address and you'll receive notifications of new posts on URC Psalmody by email!

Join 209 other followers

Categories