Posts Tagged 'Praise'

Doxologies from the Psalms

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How many doxologies can you sing?

I say “doxologies” because the category is far broader than the traditional “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow” that usually comes to mind. “Doxology” is derived from the Greek words doxa (“glory”) and logia (“saying”); thus, a doxology is simply a “saying of glory” or a statement of praise, often in poetic form. In much of English hymnody, this statement of praise appears at the end of a hymn and references the three persons of the Trinity. Even the traditional “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow” was originally the last stanza to a much longer hymn by Thomas Ken.

So while “the Doxology” does fit the trinitarian form commonly associated with hymn doxologies, so do these last stanzas of other hymns. Both are from the blue Psalter Hymnal—do you recognize them?

To the great One in Three
Eternal praises be
Hence evermore.
His sovereign majesty
May we in glory see,
And to eternity
Love and adore.

All praise and thanks to God
The Father now be given,
The Son, and Him who reigns
With them in highest heaven,
The one eternal God,
Whom earth and heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now,
And shall be evermore.

Although references to the Trinity have become commonplace in sung doxologies, it’s not necessary for these references to be explicitly present. Think, for instance, of the last stanza of “By the Sea of Crystal” (#469). Thus, a doxology can be adequately described as any succinct yet powerful statement of praise to God, often occurring at the end of an element of worship.

Given the topic of this blog, you can probably imagine where this particular conversation is headed. If we’re looking for succinct yet powerful statements of praise to God, how can we neglect the divinely-inspired riches given to us in the Book of Psalms? In fact, I must confess that for the hundreds of times I’ve heard “The Doxology” sung at the end of worship, the number of times I’ve heard a psalm setting in that position is relatively small.

As it turns out, the Book of Psalms contains its own internal doxologies that divide the five subsections of the Psalter: Psalms 41:13, 72:19-20, 89:52, and 106:48. Most of these simply urge the people to “Bless the LORD!” and are followed by an “Amen.” In addition, one thinks of the five psalms that close the Psalter, each of which begin and end with “Hallelujah” or “Praise the LORD!” The blue Psalter Hymnal’s topical index lists some of these passages under the “Doxologies” heading: #73 stanza 6; #135 stanza 4 (and #488, from the same passage); #171 stanza 8; #211 stanza 23; and #309-310. But it would be foolish to limit our repertoire of psalm-based doxologies to these passages. To whet your appetite, here are four other Psalter Hymnal psalm settings that (though paraphrased) would be excellent choices for a doxology at the end of worship.

36, “The ends of all the earth shall hear” (Psalm 22)

(Sung at Synod 2012)

Psalm 22 opens as one of the most poignant laments of the Psalter, foreshadowing Christ’s suffering on the cross. But the latter half of this psalm opens up into an exultant declaration of praise, with references to the generations that will come to fear the Lord because of the mighty things he has done. The author of Hebrews interpreted this psalm as being sung by Jesus himself (“He is not ashamed to call them brothers,” Hebrews 2:11), and one can’t help but think of how suitable it is for Christians, those who have been purchased by Christ’s blood, to join in singing Jesus’ own statement of praise. This doxology would be especially suitable after a presentation from a visiting missionary (“The ends of all the earth shall hear”) or after celebrating the Lord’s supper.

The Lord’s unfailing righteousness
All generations shall confess,
From age to age shall men be taught
What wondrous works the Lord has wrought.

All earth to Him her homage brings,
The Lord of lords, the King of kings.

105, “O God, Be Merciful to Me” (Psalm 57)

Because of its strong themes of lament, Psalm 57 may seem like an unusual choice for a doxology. David cries out for God to be merciful to him amidst the “storms of destruction” and enemies that long to devour him. Yet in the middle of these pressing dangers he breaks out twice in a passionate exclamation of praise: “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!” (vv. 5, 11). The last stanza of the Psalter Hymnal’s setting would be a fitting and sensitive doxology even after a worship service filled with confession and lament.

Yea, I will early wake and sing,
A thankful hymn to Thee will bring,
For unto heaven Thy mercies rise,
The truth is lofty as the skies.
Be Thou, O God, exalted high,
Yea, far above the starry sky,
And let Thy glory be displayed
O’er all the earth Thy hands have made.

284, “Give Thanks to God, for Good Is He” (Psalm 136)

(Sung at Synod 2012)

Psalm 136 is notable because each of its twenty-six verses concludes with the phrase, “for his steadfast love endures forever.” This magnificent poem surveys how the Lord’s covenant love was displayed to Israel throughout redemptive history, and how he continues to “remember us in our low estate” today (v. 23). Although it is a fairly free paraphrase, the last stanza of the Psalter Hymnal’s setting of Psalm 136 nicely sums up the doxological thrust of this psalm:

He helped us in our deepest woes,
His grace abideth ever;
He ransomed us from all our foes,
His mercy faileth never.
Each creature’s need He doth supply,
His grace abideth ever;
Give thanks to God, enthroned on high,
Whose mercy faileth never.

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

You may recognize Psalm 147 as one of the Psalter’s concluding statements of praise (Psalms 146-150). As far as singing goes, however, Psalm 147 probably has one of the lesser-known text and tune combinations in the blue Psalter Hymnal. This psalm is a marvelous exposition of the Lord’s power in providing for his people. He fills them with the finest of the wheat (v. 14), but he also does something far better: he gives his statutes to Israel (v. 19), something no other nation has enjoyed. For us who have been grafted into the true Israel, the last stanza of this psalm setting reminds us what a privilege it is to be called into the presence of God himself for worship. (If a more familiar tune is needed, try LANCASHIRE, #364.)

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.

What are your favorite psalm doxologies? Share them in the comments below!

–MRK

December’s Psalm of the Month: 150D

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

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Let everything that now has breath
Sing praise unto the Lord, sing praise.
O praise Him! O praise Him!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

What better way to round out a year of psalm-singing than with the exultant words of the last entry in the Book of Psalms? In addition to some older settings of Psalm 150 from existing psalters, the URC/OPC Psalm Proposal ends with this new versification by URCNA minister Rev. Daniel Hyde.

Psalms 146-150 all begin and end with the command to “Praise the Lord!” (in Hebrew, “Hallelujah!”). But in Psalm 150 the pace accelerates to a climax, with the expressions “Praise the Lord!” or “Praise him!” repeated thirteen times in only six verses. To bring out this facet of the psalm, Rev. Hyde chose the tune LASST UNS ERFREUEN (commonly associated with the hymn “All Creatures of Our God and King”), which includes a refrain of Hallelujahs at the end of each stanza.

Rev. Hyde writes, “The tune LASST UNS ERFREUEN brings out the text’s mood of joy and praise, including the Hallelujah refrain. I’ve also chosen not to artificially rhyme the text so as to aid families and congregations in using this text as a ‘memory verse’ for the entire psalm.”

As you sing Psalm 150D, reflect on God’s “mighty deeds” throughout history, including what he has done in your own life this past year. Think about how you can praise God in all kinds of circumstances, like the variety of instruments mentioned in this psalm. Use your utmost breath for his praise!

Suggested stanzas: All

Source: New setting by Rev. Daniel Hyde, 2001

Tune only: Revised Trinity Hymnal 115, 289, 733

Digging Deeper

Themes for Studying Psalm 150

  • Where to praise the Lord (v. 1)
  • Why to praise the Lord (v. 2)
  • How to praise the Lord (vv. 3-5)
  • Who should praise the Lord (v. 6)

Seeing Christ in Psalm 150

The connection between Christ and Psalm 150 is self-explanatory. Indeed, the salvation we enjoy through Jesus Christ is the most glorious of the “mighty deeds” (v. 2) God has wrought. Moreover, as Charles Spurgeon notes, Psalm 150 should be interpreted in light of “the coming of our Lord in his second advent and the raising of the dead.” In fact, words reminiscent of Psalm 150 are used in Revelation 19:5: “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, small and great.” This is not a song for Old Testament believers only; it is a song for God’s redeemed people of all time, as they look forward to the new Jerusalem itself!

Applying Psalm 150

  • What “mighty deeds” of God might have inspired the psalmist to pen this psalm (v. 2)? What “mighty deeds” of God inspire you to sing today?
  • Why does the psalm mention so many different musical instruments (vv. 3-5)? How might these commands apply to you even if you can’t play a musical instrument?
  • What does the command for “everything that has breath” to praise the Lord mean (v. 6)?

Join all ye living things in the eternal song. Be ye least or greatest, withhold not your praises. What a day will it be when all things in all places unite to glorify the one only living and true God! This will be the final triumph of the church of God.

—Charles Spurgeon on Psalm 150:6

Michael Kearney
West Sayville URC
Long Island, New York

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

November’s Psalm of the Month: 33

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

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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.)

Called to Sing (Part 1)

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(The following is adapted from a Sunday school class I led at the Orthodox Presbyterian Church of Franklin Square, NY, on May 24, 2015.)

The thoughts I’d like to share with you today don’t arise from academic degrees or decades of experience in church music. They merely arise from watching, listening to, and participating in Reformed worship over the past several years. I’d simply like to encourage you through this class to think more deeply about why the church sings and how it can sing better.

Right from the beginning I want to encourage you not to raise the objection, “We’re just not a musical church.” True, many factors may help one church sing much better than another—a big congregation, good acoustics, a large number of musicians, and so on. My home church doesn’t enjoy many of these blessings; maybe yours doesn’t either. But that’s okay.

As an example, I want to point you to the congregational singing of churches in the Reformed Presbyterian denomination, one of which I attend at college. Every Sunday these Christians gather together and sing psalms a cappella as a congregation, and the heartiness and quality of their singing would put most of our churches to shame. Yet they probably have no more musicians in their congregation than we do. The difference is that they have developed a church culture that fosters a love for strong congregational singing: they teach their children psalm-singing from their youngest Sunday school classes, they encourage even non-musical people to learn to sing in four-part harmony, and they let the words of the psalms they sing penetrate their lives outside of worship as well. The results are truly impressive, and I believe denominations like ours can strive for that goal as well—but we need to start now. While I don’t know of many churches that can sing like this, I know of no reason why any church can’t sing like this.

That’s my encouragement for you. Of course, there is a challenge as well: to think about why you sing in the first place. As a little diagnostic, ask yourself what you think about while you’re singing on a typical Sunday morning. I know I’m often disgustingly distracted: the pastor’s tie is crooked, the pianist is playing too slow or too fast, or some other thought is floating through my head preventing me from honestly engaging in worship. Occasionally this distraction is caused by circumstances outside our control. But more often, our attitude towards corporate singing reveals a deeper apathy in our hearts.

To correct this perspective we need to return to Paul’s command to the churches in Ephesus and Colossi to “sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” Yet for the Christian, singing is more fundamental than a command. Throughout Scripture, we see singing as a natural reaction of gratitude in response to God’s work of deliverance. One of the earliest examples of this pattern is found in Exodus 15, where Moses composes a song for the people of Israel to sing after the Lord brings them through the Red Sea. We see numerous other songs of deliverance throughout the Old Testament, sung by Miriam, Deborah, Barak, Hannah, David, Hezekiah, and others.

In the New Testament, the pattern continues with the songs of Zechariah, Mary, and Simeon. And in Revelation 15 we are told that the multitude standing by the sea of glass “sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb” (v. 4). I’ve often wondered what it means that these saints sing the song of Moses and of the Lamb. I’m no theologian, but I’m starting to wonder if the point of this verse is that the two songs are one and the same. The story of salvation sung about by Moses at the beginning of Scripture is the same theme taken up by the glorified believers around the throne of God in Revelation!

As those who have been redeemed by Jesus from sin and death, we too have a part in this eternal song. Singing is a natural reaction to God’s work, and if “we are his workmanship” singing should be fundamental to the Christian’s identity as well. If this is the case, how dare I stand there on a Sunday morning before the living God who has redeemed me from my misery and called me into his presence to receive my worship—and I’m thinking about the pastor’s tie?! Such hardheartedness is ludicrous, and yet I have to be reminded of it daily. Christians, we should need no command to sing. It should already be on the tips of our tongues!

Incidentally, not only is singing fundamental to the Christian’s identity, I want to suggest to you that it also distinguishes the church from the world. What other institution exists whose members (musical and non-musical alike) sing regularly and heartily? Maybe two or three generations ago, this would not have been such an uncommon spectacle. But today, as the church becomes more and more countercultural (or as the culture becomes more and more counter-church), its singing becomes more remarkable as well. We sing in response to the work of God in a way that the world cannot. That realization should be awe-inspiring!

(To be continued.)

–MRK

SparkNotes for the Old Testament

A few weeks ago I found myself at a bonfire in the wilds of western Pennsylvania that featured food, fellowship, and (best of all?) singing from the blue Psalter Hymnal. Far removed from the possibility of any musical accompaniment other than ukulele, we sang a cappella and, to some extent, in four-part harmony. A handful of favorites were requested—378, “I Know Not Why God’s Wondrous Grace”; 317, “Come, Thou Almighty King”; 301, “Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah.” Then someone requested number 211.

“Which verses?”

“All of them.”

Everyone groaned.

With its intimidating 23 stanzas, Number 211 holds claim to the dubious honor of being the longest song in the blue Psalter Hymnal. It’s a rather paraphrase-ish versification of Psalm 106, which is itself one of the more substantial entries in the Book of Psalms. In fact, although coming up with a precise number is difficult, my quick study of Psalm 106 identifies at least eight verses throughout the psalm that are not represented here in the Psalter Hymnal. In other words, this selection could have been even longer!

Why cram the entire text of this psalm into one musical arrangement? Why not, as the blue Psalter Hymnal often does, break the text into bite-size hymn-like chunks? Maybe, I often thought, it was just a compromise to keep the blue book’s number of psalm selections down. Maybe the editors just assumed no one would sing all 23 verses anyway.

But at this bonfire, one of the men identified a more fundamental purpose for this long song. He said, “Look! It’s a story!” And so it is.

Psalm 106 is one of only a few psalms categorized as “historical psalms.” Its purpose is to trace the history of God’s plan of redemption for his covenant people. And this psalm covers a huge swath of Old Testament history, beginning with Israel’s captivity in Egypt (v. 7), continuing through their arrival in Canaan (v. 34), and ending in the midst of their exile among the nations (v. 47). In my generation’s terms, it’s SparkNotes for the entire Old Testament. (In that case, 23 verses doesn’t sound quite so long anymore!)

The question remains, however: Why should we sing about Israel’s history? Simply put, because it is so closely interwoven with ours. In some ways, it is ours. In Israel’s wilderness wanderings, countless sacrifices, and recurring rebellions, we see echoes of our own stubborn disobedience and the need for a way to atone for man’s sin. But throughout this narrative we can also trace the character of a God whose “steadfast love endures forever” (v. 1), who promised to reconcile his people to himself, remaining faithful amidst our unfaithfulness. That promise is fulfilled, of course, in the death of Jesus Christ—“God, their Savior” made flesh (v. 22). Now we too, looking toward our eternal home, can sing,

Save us, O Lord, our gracious God,
From alien lands reclaim,
That we may triumph in Thy praise
And bless Thy holy Name.

As we stood around the fire that night, plodding away through all 23 verses of Psalter Hymnal number 211, I realized that I was enjoying this psalm more than I ever had before. Because Psalm 106 isn’t just any story—it’s our story.

Blessed be the Lord our covenant God,
All praise to Him accord;
Let all the people say, Amen.
Praise ye, praise ye the Lord.

–MRK


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