The Ministry of Song 9 (Jesus, the Psalms and Me) 5

When Paul urges us in Colossians 3 to “let the Word of Christ dwell richly in our hearts,” he goes on to say that we’re to do that as we “make melody to the Lord in [y]our hearts” and as we sing and instruct each other in our praises. Now maybe it’s right that our noses should be in our hymnbooks when we’re singing; but it’s spiritually right that we should also have an eye to our brothers and sisters and be praying, “O Lord, sanctify these words I’m singing, in order that my brothers and sisters may be so instructed in their truth, as their lives to be comforted and transformed and centered again on Your glory, and blessed again in genuine fellowship that we enjoy with one another.”

And all of this because the Lord Jesus gathers us as God’s family, and then leads us in the singing of God’s praises.

——Sinclair Ferguson, “True Spirituality, True Worship” (audio message)

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The Ministry of Song 7 (Jesus, the Psalms and Me 3)

The pattern for song in the pages of Scripture [especially in the Psalms] is perfectly suited and balanced to the reality for our humanity. And so we’re encouraged in this different way to sing that which varies in theme, that which differs in mood, that which is different in style, that which is singular, that which is repetitive, that which is long, that which is short. Because in all of these areas, our Lord Jesus Christ is, as it were—and this is to me a very important thing—the Lord Jesus Christ is not squeezing our emotions into some small bottle of grace; but stretching and pulling our emotions in order to fulfill and transform our fallen and broken humanity.

—Sinclair Ferguson, “True Spirituality, True Worship” (audio message)

The Ministry of Song 6 (Jesus, the Psalms and Me 2)

If you make at least a quick survey of the Psalms—and I confess I’ve only done it quickly, you’ll notice a very remarkable thing which is actually perfectly in keeping with the principial teaching of the NT, and that is this: only about a third of the Psalter is addressed to God; another third of the Psalter is addressed to me; and another third of the Psalter is addressed to you. Now isn’t that interesting? Here in the midst often of rather foolish language that has not been tested by Scripture, we are sometimes urged to sing only those things that are directed towards God; and we cannot do that without saying that the Lord Jesus was singing some of the wrong things!

So we need to be very careful, for example, about some of us—you know we all belong to different ends and edges of the spectrum on this—some of us who rather despise songs that have a focus on myself. What is the key thing here? The key thing here is not the question of how many times the first person singular is mentioned, but where those many mentions of the first person singular are eventually going to lead. Are they going to lead me from the first person singular to the three Persons divine? Is it not legitimate for me to sing, “Why are you cast down, O my soul?” so long as I am going to sing, “Hope thou in God, send your light forth and your truth, and let them be guides to me”?

—Sinclair Ferguson, “True Spirituality, True Worship” (audio message)

The Ministry of Song 5 (Jesus, the Psalms and Me)

It’s a marvelous incentive to sing, that you know that it’s Jesus who is leading your singing. [Hebrews 2:12] There’s also I think something that helps us to be calm in the midst of many of the controversies that presently arise about how we sing or what we sing. Because it so happens we know what Jesus enjoyed singing. There are 150 of them that He enjoyed singing—which incidentally is not on my part an argument for exclusive psalmody, although we ought to sing a lot more of them than we do. But doesn’t that teach you something in the midst of the worship wars?. . .

For example, by nature I come to some song that has only six lines in it, and I say, that’s not worthy—until I realize that my Lord Jesus Christ was prepared to sing the 117th Psalm [2 verses].

I get irritated when there is repetition. Now I don’t want to sing “Our God Reigns” 1,009 times any more than you do, but I can’t sing the Psalms with Jesus without knowing that there are lines I’m going to repeat again and again and again and again and again.

—Sinclair Ferguson, “True Spirituality, True Worship” (audio message)

 

Appetite for God

I want to stress what I think that we (or at least I) need more [than instruction about sacrifice]; the joy and delight in God which meet us in the Psalms, however loosely or closely, in this or that instance, they may be connected with the Temple. This is the living centre of Judaism. These poets knew far less reason than we for loving God.  They did not know that He offered them eternal joy; still less that He would die to win it for them. Yet they express a longing for Him, for His mere presence, which comes only to the best Christians or to Christians in their best moments. They long to live all their days in the Temple so that they may constantly see “the fair beauty of the Lord” (Psalm 27,4). Their longing to go up to Jerusalem and “appear before the presence of God” is like a physical thirst (42). From Jerusalem His presence flashes out “in perfect beauty” (50,2). Lacking that encounter with Him, their souls are parched like a waterless countryside (63,2). They crave to be “satisfied with the pleasures” of His house (65,4). Only there can they be at ease, like a bird in the nest (84,3).  One day of those “pleasures” is better than a lifetime spent elsewhere (10).

I have rather—though the expression may seem harsh to some—call this the “appetite for God” than the “love of God”. . . . It has all the cheerful spontaneity of a natural, even a physical, desire.

—C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, 50-51

REFORMATION 500: Hymn Debate

As much as hymn singing has always been one of the most effective builders of Christian community, it has also always been one of the strongest dividers of Christian communities. In the early decades of the Reformation, Calvinists broke with Lutherans over several important matters, but one was existentially apparent at every gathering for worship: the singing. Lutherans sang hymns that with considerable freedom expressed their understanding of the gospel (like Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress” or “From Heaven High I Come to You”), and they often sang them with choirs, organs, and full instrumentation. Calvinists, by contrast, sang the psalms paraphrased and with minimal or no instrumental accompaniment (like the 100th Psalm, “All people that on earth do dwell,” which was prepared by William Kethe for English and Scottish exiles who had taken refuge in Calvin’s Geneva during the persecutions of England’s Catholic Mary Tudor). However natural it may now seem for Protestant hymnals to contain both Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress” and Kethe’s “Old One Hundredth,” in fact it took more than two centuries of contentious Protestant history to overcome the visceral antagonism to “non-scriptural” hymns that prevailed widely in the English-speaking world. It was even longer before organs, choirs, and instrumental accompaniment were accepted.

—Mark Noll, “Praise the Lord: Song, Culture, Divine Bounty, and Issues of Harmonization” http://www.booksandculture.com/articles/2007/novdec/9.14.html