From Learning to Love the Psalms
In our study, we have made a beginning of learning to love the psalms. We have looked at some of the attractions and difficulties of the Psalter. We have summarized the great themes, subjects, and emotions of these songs. We have examined some of the forms and uses of the psalms. But this book is at best an introduction and invitation to growing in an appreciation of the Psalter. You need to carry on with what we have started together.
One way to continue is through personal reading, reflection, and meditation. The psalms are invaluable for us as they draw us ever deeper into the character of the Christian life, the movement of the history of the church, and the presence and power of Christ for his people. The psalms open the Christian life for us by showing our constant need to grow in faith and by leading us to repentance and confidence before a holy and merciful God. The psalms draw us into the history of the church as we see the people of God advancing and declining in understanding and holiness as they move toward the consummation of all things in the second coming of Christ: first the suffering and then the glory. Finally, the psalms always remind us that our God is our Christ in righteousness and grace and that our Earthly King, sacrifice, and Savior is also our Christ. As we have seen, Christ is everywhere in the Psalter. Those who do not see him there do not understand either the Psalter or the scriptures as a whole.
A second way to appropriate the Psalter is to encourage pastors and leaders in the churches to preach and teach it. As the church together comes to appreciate the Psalter and is led more deeply into it by their leaders, Christians will grow together in wisdom and devotion.
A third way to plant the psalms deeply in the mind and heart is to sing them. Many churches today make very little use of the Psalter in public worship. But many new books of psalms set to music for singing have recently been published, e.g., by the Free Church of Scotland and by the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, or will be soon, e.g., by the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the United Reformed Churches of North America. When we sing the psalms, we fulfill the purpose for which they were written and enter into the practice of meditating upon them.
The practice of singing the psalms has been urged upon us by some of the greatest teachers in the history of the church, such as Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, Abraham Kuyper, John Cotton, and John Murray, to name only a few. Are we wiser than they? God has given us an inspired book of songs. What sense does it make not to use it?
The practice of Jesus and the Apostles also commends the singing of the psalms. They clearly knew the Psalter intimately, as the frequent quotations and allusions in their teaching shows us. But beyond that, they sang the psalms. Indeed, the Psalter was the only songbook that they possessed.
For our encouragement to study and sing the Psalter, we should remember several unique characteristics to this book of devotion and song. First, God commands us to sing the psalms, (1 Chronicles 16:9; James 5:13). Second, the psalms are inspired by God, and so we can be sure to please him in their content and form. Third, the psalms perfectly balance the objective truth about God with subjective response to God. Fourth, the psalms provide us with a full range of appropriate emotional responses to God’s work and our situation. Fifth, the psalms constantly remind us that the world is divided between the Godly (those in Christ) and the wicked. Here are features not found in such balance and abundance in collections of songs outside the Psalter.
As the beginning of your continuing journey into the psalms, consider these words of Psalm 105:1-4:
Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name;
make known his deeds among the peoples!
Sing to him, sing praises [or psalms] to him;
tell of all his wondrous works!
Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice!
Seek the Lord and his strength;
seek his presence continually!
Notice how we are called to praise God and to make him known to others. See the joy that God’s people find in him. Reflect on the intimate fellowship between God and the one who worships him. What else do you find there?