How the Psalter and the ARP Should Work Together For God’s Glory


Taking on our second look at psalm-singing we are going to keep it positive as we consider again why it is a good idea that the church of Jesus Christ not neglect so great a cloud of witnesses. When we think about what it means to be ARP it used be the case that the singing of David’s songs was so dear to us that we actually considered changing our name in the 1880s to reflect that importance. While I think we can all be thankful that didn’t take place (because, honestly, Associate Reformed Presbyterian is a pretty awesome moniker) there has always been a pretty strong love our denomination for the psalms, and a particular psalter. While many of our churches do not use the green Bible Song book anymore, it certainly has a special place in our heart at Bethany. Yet as we walk through psalm-singing again this week we need to be watchful that we do not miss the purpose of the songs through an alliance with the songs themselves. For this week’s prayer and worship help we’ll get into some more thoughts on why God would have us sing His word in the praise of His name on the Lord’s Day with the Lord’s people to praise the Lord’s gospel grace.

You’ve heard me say before that one of the blessings of the psalms is that our forefathers in the faith sang them as well. No one at the Council of Chalcedon was belting out “In Christ Alone”, but they were speaking of the eternal mercy of Jehovah from Psalm 136. There is something to be said about the longevity of this form of praise. The New Testament witness as recorded by Matthew or Luke (Matt. 26:30, Acts 16:25, etc…) shows that the disciples were learning much about the work of Christ from His own singing of the psalter as well as seeing their evangelical use in proclaiming the gospel of grace. We are to continue to use God’s word for His purposes. Matthew Henry wrote about this phenomenon:

Singing of psalms is a gospel-ordinance. Christ’s removing the hymn from the close of the pass-over to the close of the Lord’s Supper, plainly intimates that he intended that ordinance should continue in his church, that, as it had not its birth with the ceremonial law, so it should not die with it.’

It should be noted that any argument against psalm singing that treats the psalms as somehow “sub-Christian” because they don’t use the name Jesus is saying something truly awful about what those people think of the nature of the divine word.

There is a fulness of Biblical teaching to such a degree that Martin Luther would say this about the Psalms:

The Psalter should be precious to us if only because it most clearly promises the death and resurrection of Christ, and describes his kingdom, and the nature and standing of all Christian people. It could well be entitled a “Little Bible” since everything contained in the entire Bible is beautifully and briefly comprehended, and compacted into…a Manual. It seems to me as if the Holy Ghost had been please to take on himself the trouble of putting together a short Bible…touching the whole of Christianity…in order that they who are unable to read the whole Bible may nevertheless find almost the whole sum comprehended in one little book…the Psalter is the very paragon of books.”

John Calvin repeating much the same message agrees noting: 

“There is no other book in which we are more perfectly taught the right manner of praising God, or in which we are more powerfully stirred up to the performance of this exercise of piety.”

Isaac Rehberg continues this sentiment writing:

“One of the earliest benefits I experienced was a greater connection to the whole of the biblical story in general and to God’s people in particular. When singing the psalms, I came to realize that I was singing our family story. In singing our story, I was continuing to participate in that very story as an adopted member of Israel “grafted in” by virtue of the sacrifice of Israel’s Messiah (Rom. 11).

Furthermore, singing has long been understood to be an excellent way for children to learn, whether we are talking about chronological little ones or those young in the faith. Even today much of elementary education is organized around this principle. If we are to honor the call of Ephesians 5:19 to allow the word of Christ to dwell within us richly how perfect, then, are the psalms to fit that bill?

There is also another element to singing that cannot be forgotten in the life of the congregation. For too many churches in the Reformed tradition singing is the filler between other acts we do in worship. Almost a distraction in some ways from the reading of Scripture and the Sermon. Our Lord commands us to sing because it is just a vital portion of worship as any other element. It is part of the reason why we must only sing songs that would bring glory to God, for they teach us much of the ways of the Lord and remind us regularly of His grace, mercy, and love. As Vicky Van Essen has written, “Our singing is more than a warm-up for the sermon or a filler in the service. Colossians 3:16 is clearly laying out for us that: Singing stands alongside of preaching as one of the two great ways that God has ordained for His Word to dwell richly in each one of us!

Lastly, something to remember about psalm-singing that applies to anything we do in the Lord’s Day worship is that while we must take it seriously, it is also more than acceptable for us to have fun and enjoy it as well. As Joel Beeke notes about the men who wrote our Confession of Faith, “Because God’s glory is psalmody’s supreme goal, the Puritans believed that singing in worship should be robust rather than reserved, as some have caricatured their singing. While the Puritans sang out of duty, they did so with profound joy and delight in their souls.

As we have heard much today about some of the purposes not only of singing, but particularly about singing the psalms it is worth closing our time out with some reflections on why we should not only be encouraging ourselves, but other Christians to take up this blessed practice. There is a glorious richness to the Psalter that we should honor in our worship and our life, not for some historical curiosity, but because the Bible is a living word, and the psalms of David it’s life-giving spiritual heart.

Here’s another word:

Blessings in Christ,

Rev. Benjamin Glaser

Pastor, Bethany ARP Church

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