Posts Tagged 'Perseverance of the Saints'

Lord’s Day 19: This Glory of Christ Our Head

Catechism and Psalter

To me, eschatology (the study of the end times) is probably one of the most confusing doctrinal battlegrounds in all of the Christian faith.  Theologians have presented a dazzling array of perspectives and opinions from every angle imaginable.  For instance, did you know that Israel’s modern status as a leading agricultural producer fulfills the end-time prophecy of Isaiah 27:6?  Or that President Obama’s visit to Israel this March, which supposedly corresponded to the day Christ made his entry into Jerusalem, fulfilled Daniel 9:27 and ushered in the Final Seven Years of World History?  Neither did I.

Compared to the complicated hypotheses of dispensationalism and equally popular evangelical views, the Reformed doctrine of the end times is refreshingly simple.  As we prepare to celebrate Ascension Day tomorrow, we continue our series on the Heidelberg Catechism by considering the comforting words of Lord’s Day 19.

50 Q.  Why the next words: ‘And sitteth at the right hand of God’?

A.  Christ ascended to heaven,
there to show that he is head of his church,
and that the Father rules all things through him.

51 Q.  How does this glory of Christ our Head benefit us?

A.  First, through his Holy Spirit
he pours out his gifts from heaven
upon us his members.

Second, by his power
he defends us and keeps us safe
from all enemies.

52 Q.  How does Christ’s return ‘to judge the living and the dead’ comfort you?

A.  In all my distress and persecution
I turn my eyes to the heavens
and confidently await as judge the very One
who has already stood trial in my place before God
and so has removed the whole curse from me.
All his enemies and mine
he will condemn to everlasting punishment:
but me and all his chosen ones
he will take along with him
into the joy and the glory of heaven.

Suggested Songs

In Sing a New Song: Recovering Psalm-Singing for the Twenty-First Century, Anthony Selvaggio refers us to an article by the Reformed theologian Geerhardus Vos entitled “Eschatology of the Psalter.”  In that work, Vos explains that the Psalter tempers the church’s perspective on eschatology and focuses it on the redemptive work of Jesus Christ.  (For more on this fascinating essay, you may be interested in a URC Psalmody discussion on chapter 9 of Sing a New Song Jim Oord and I wrote last fall.)  Indeed, the psalms have much to say about the confident hope believers can possess for this life and the life in the world to come.

89, “Within Thy Temple, Lord”

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI, and at the 2012 Reformed Youth Services convention)

“Christ ascended to heaven, there to show that he is head of his church.”  Psalm 48 portrays Mount Zion (the church) as a primary testimony to the greatness of our God, as well as the primary place in which we praise him.  This relationship between the Lord and his church is illustrated in the first stanza of this Psalter Hymnal versification:

Within Thy temple, Lord,
In that most holy place,
We on Thy loving-kindness dwell,
The wonders of Thy grace.
Men sing Thy praise, O God,
Where’er Thy Name is known;
By every deed Thy hand has wrought
Thy righteousness is shown.

Furthermore, Psalm 48 ends with an eye to the future.  The psalmist commands his hearers to “walk about Zion, go around her, number her towers, consider well her ramparts, go through her citadels, that you may tell the next generation that this is God, our God forever and ever.  He will guide us forever” (vv. 12-14, ESV).  The Psalter Hymnal provides this beautiful versification in the final stanza of number 89:

For God as our own God
Forever will abide,
And till life’s journey close in death
Will be our faithful Guide.

307, “Ye Who His Temple Throng” (Psalm 149)

(Sung by West Sayville URC on Long Island, New York)

“Through his Holy Spirit he pours out his gifts from heaven upon us his members.”  Whereas Psalm 48 focuses on the church’s relationship to Christ, Psalm 149 exhorts believers to praise God for the manifold blessings he showers upon its members.  Although Psalter Hymnal number 307 is more of a paraphrase than a literal psalm setting, its message is more than worthwhile:

Ye who His temple throng,
Jehovah’s praise prolong,
New anthems sing;
Ye saints, with joy declare
Your Maker’s loving care,
And let the children there
Joy in their King.

O let His Name employ
Your every note of joy,
His praises speak;
He looks with loving face
Upon His chosen race,
And will with every grace
Adorn the meek.

Ye saints, your joy proclaim
And glory in the Name
Of God above;
And when the daylight dies,
Ere sleep shall close your eyes,
Let praise to God arise
For all His love.

189, “Jehovah Reigns; Let Earth Be Glad” (Psalm 97)

“By his power he defends us and keeps us safe from all enemies.”  Turning our gaze from the beauties of the church to the surpassing glories of the One who sits on the throne of heaven, we sing with the author of Psalm 97:

Jehovah reigns; let earth be glad,
And all the isles their joy make known;
With clouds and darkness He is clad,
On truth and justice rests His throne.

Consuming fire destroys His foes,
Around the world His lightnings blaze;
The trembling earth His presence knows,
The mountains melt before His gaze.

Thy Church rejoices to behold
Thy judgments in the earth, O Lord;
Thy glory to the world unfold,
Supreme o’er all be Thou adored.

129, “Thy Lovingkindness, Lord, is Good and Free” (Psalm 69)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

“In all my distress and persecution I turn my eyes to the heavens and confidently await as judge the very One who has already stood trial in my place before God and so has removed the whole curse from me.”  Question and Answer 52 of the Catechism, with its straightforward expressions of faith and hope, is one of my personal favorites out of the entire confession.  And this paraphrase from the messianic words of Psalm 69 complements the comfort of this question and answer perfectly:

Thy loving-kindness, Lord, is good and free,
In tender mercy turn Thou unto me;
Hide not Thy face from me in my distress,
In mercy hear my prayer, Thy servant bless.

With joy the meek shall see my soul restored;
Your heart shall live, ye saints that seek the Lord;
He helps the needy and regards their cries,
Those in distress the Lord will not despise.

Let heaven above His grace and glory tell,
Let earth and sea and all that in them dwell;
Salvation to His people God will give,
And they that love His Name with Him shall live.

151, “In Thy Heritage the Heathen” (Psalm 79)

There’s no question that Psalm 79 applies to the New Testament church just as much as it did to Old Testament Israel, and more so with every passing day.  But while the saints of old would have sung this lament with longing for the coming of their Redeemer, for us Psalm 79 is a bold statement of the Lord’s coming judgment on the wicked, and the indescribable future he has prepared for his redeemed people.  Below I’ve offset the two remaining portions of Q&A 52 with the matching stanzas from the Psalter Hymnal:

“All his enemies and mine he will condemn to everlasting punishment.”

In Thy heritage the heathen
Now, O God, triumphant stand;
They defile Thy holy temple,
They destroy Thy chosen land;
Ruthless, they have slain Thy servants,
They have caused Thy saints to mourn;
In the sight of all about us
We endure reproach and scorn.

O how long against Thy people
Shall Thine anger burn, O Lord?
On Thine enemies, the heathen,
Be Thine indignation poured;
Smite the kingdoms that defy Thee,
Calling not upon Thy Name;
They have long devoured Thy people
And have swept Thy land with flame.

“But me and all his chosen ones he will take along with him into the joy and the glory of heaven.”

O remember not against us
Evil by our fathers wrought;
Haste to help us in Thy mercy,
Near to ruin we are brought;
Help us, God of our salvation,
For the glory of Thy Name;
For Thy Name’s sake come and save us,
Take away our sin and shame.

Let Thy foes no longer scorn Thee,
Now avenge Thy servants slain;
Loose the prisoner, save the dying,
All Thine enemies restrain;
Then Thy flock, Thy chosen people,
Unto Thee their thanks shall raise,
And to every generation
We will sing Thy glorious praise.

–MRK

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Psalm 138: The Work of Your Hands

I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart;
before the gods I sing your praise;
I bow down toward your holy temple
and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness,
for you have exalted above all things
your name and your word.

–Psalm 138:1,2 (ESV)

"Do not forsake the work of your hands."

“Do not forsake the work of your hands.”

Perhaps the best commentary on Psalm 138 comes from the Apostle Paul, who wrote confidently to the church in Philippi that “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).  Indeed, though this psalm contains a mixture of praise, prayer, and exposition, its central theme can be summed up as the Perseverance of the Saints, the “P” in our familiar Calvinistic acronym “TULIP.”

As I mentioned during our study of Psalm 135, this final section of the Psalter freely echoes many phrases from earlier in the book.  Thus, David begins Psalm 138 by bringing whole-hearted thanksgiving to God, much as he did in Psalms 9 and 111.  Next he praises the Lord for exalting “above all things” his Name and his Word, recalling the themes of Psalms 8 (“How majestic is your name in all the earth!”) and 19 (“The law of the Lord is perfect”).  The psalmist also says, “On the day I called, you answered me; my strength of soul you increased,” which serves as a marvelous answer to the numerous requests for deliverance throughout the Psalter, such as Psalm 3:4 and 4:1.

In the next section of Psalm 138, David declares:

All the kings of the earth shall give you thanks, O Lord,
for they have heard the words of your mouth,
and they shall sing of the ways of the Lord,
for great is the glory of the Lord.
For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly,
but the haughty he knows from afar.

–vv. 4-6

Truly the parallels between Psalm 138 and the rest of the Psalter are countless, but this section most closely resembles (and responds to) Psalm 102.  Or, in the words of the Psalter Hymnal’s versification of Psalm 22, “Both rich and poor, both bond and free/Shall worship Him on bended knee.”

Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
you preserve my life;
you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies,
and your right hand delivers me.
The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me;
your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.
Do not forsake the work of your hands.

–vv. 7, 8

As Psalm 138 draws to a close, the beloved words of Psalm 23 come to mind: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…you are with me…Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”  What awes me about Psalm 138 is the seamless transition from the universal greatness of God (“All the kings of the earth shall give you thanks, O Lord”) to a deeply personal realization of God’s goodness (“I give you thanks, O Lord…The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me”).  Because its author rests in the confidence that God will never forsake the work of his hands, Psalm 138 affords its readers an all-transcending comfort.

286, “With Grateful Heart My Thanks I Bring”

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

The Psalter Hymnal contains two complete settings of Psalm 138, one from the 1912 United Presbyterian Psalter and one from the Genevan (Dutch) Psalter.  Both are textually and musically solid, although they do contain a few variants which result from their basis in the King James Version rather than a contemporary translation.

The only significant weaknesses in number 286 are the lack of reference to God’s Name along with his Word at the end of the first stanza, and a rather poor rendering of the very last sentence, “Do not forsake the work of your hands” (versified as, “O Lord, my Maker, think on me”).  Thankfully, both of these flaws should be easy to fix.

The tune of “With Grateful Heart” will be immediately recognized as the music of the gospel hymn “The Solid Rock” (which a glance at the tune name would confirm).  Many newer hymnals have made the decision to lower the key from G to F; this sacrifices brilliance, but it may be the only option for a congregation lacking in sopranos and tenors.  A possibly appropriate compromise would be to play the first three stanzas in F, then rise to G for the last verse.  Stylistically, the only troublesome spot to watch out for is the quarter note at the end of the third line of music, on the syllable “grace.”  The gray 1987 Psalter Hymnal changed this measure to 5/4 with this quarter note augmented to a half note, which I believe is the proper length.  In other words, just make sure you hold this note long enough for the singers have enough time to catch their breath before moving on to “For truth and grace…”  Thankfully, most musicians will take this pause instinctively even if they don’t realize it.

287, “With All My Heart Will I Record”

(Sung on YouTube)

There is nothing like a good, singable Genevan psalm to raise the spirits, and this versification of Psalm 138 fits the bill.  The text is probably one of Dewey Westra’s best psalm settings, striking a much-needed balance between accuracy and poetry.  It must have taken some amount of genius to compose this versification, since it also contains a hidden rhyming scheme:

With all my heart will I record
Thy praise, O Lord,
And exaltation.
Before the gods with joyful song
Will I prolong
My adoration.

For me, the fourth and final verse packs the most powerful punch:

Lord, though I walk ‘mid troubles sore,
Thou wilt restore my faltering spirit;
Though angry foes my soul alarm,
Thy mighty arm will save and cheer it.
Yea, Thou wilt finish perfectly
What Thou for me hast undertaken;
May not Thy works, in mercy wrought,
E’er come to naught or be forsaken.

While the first line of the tune JUBILATION resembles the opening of DUKE STREET (“Jesus Shall Reign Where’er the Sun”), this tune is both longer and much more musically interesting.  On the other hand, it could certainly prove to be a challenge for an unfamiliar accompanist.  The keys to the successful execution of a Genevan tune are a solid rhythm and emphatic melody line; one suggestion I’ve heard for unfamiliar congregations is to play only the melody line for the first verse, even on the pedals.  But while this music may be challenging, I think it flows quite logically, and will probably be picked up in no time.

Commenting on Psalm 138:8, Charles Spurgeon writes:

Our confidence does not cause us to live without prayer, but encourages us to pray all the more.  Since we have it written upon our hearts that God will perfect his work in us, and we see it also written in Scripture that his mercy changeth not, we with holy earnestness entreat that we may not be forsaken.  If there be anything good in us, it is the work of God’s own hands: will he leave it?  Why has he wrought so much in us if he means to give us up?—it will be a sheer waste of effort.  He who has gone so far will surely persevere with us until the end.  Our hope for the final perseverance of the believer lies in the final perseverance of the believer’s God….Therefore do we praise him with our whole heart.

–MRK


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