Tag Archives: Singing

I Greet Thee Who My Sure Redeemer Art

One of my favorite hymns from the Reformation is “I Greet Thee Who My Sure Redeemer Art.” The words are attributed to John Calvin, from the Strasbourg Psalter, 1545. The tune (TOULON) was composed by Claude Goudimel, one of the musicians in Calvin’s church in Geneva. It was originally composed as the melody for Psalm 124 and included in the 1551 edition of the Genevan Psalter.

I Greet Thee Who My Sure Redeemer Art

Calvin has been criticized regarding his convictions about music. One historian (Münz) wrote:

“The Pope of Geneva, that dry and hard spirit, Calvin, lacked the warmth of heart which makes Luther so lovable … is the foe of all pleasure and of all distraction, even of the arts and music.”

A closer look at Calvin’s thoughts on music, however, reveals that this harsh judgment is unfounded. During his ministry Calvin came to appreciate music as a valuable part of worship. He learned that music is a useful means to point our minds and hearts to Christ. He desired the church to sing Scripture and employed the gifts of renowned French poets in his congregation to set all 150 psalms, some of the canticles, and the Ten Commandments into metrical French. Clement Marot began the work on the Genevan Psalter and Theodore Beza completed the work. Louis Bourgeois, Claude Goudimel and other musicians in the church composed tunes to fit the psalms. The first complete edition of the Genevan Psalter was published in 1562 and was widely used. By 1565 it had gone through at least 63 editions.

Calvin recognized the devotional value of music. He encouraged his congregation to sing praise to God, not just in the worship services at church, but in their homes and places of work. In the preface to the 1543 edition of the Genevan Psalter, he wrote:

The use of singing may be extended further: it is even in the houses and fields an incentive for us, like an organ, to praise God and to lift our hearts to Him, for consoling us in meditating upon His virtue, goodness, wisdom and justice, which is more necessary than can be expressed. Firstly, it is not without reason that the Holy Spirit exhorts us so carefully in the Holy Scriptures to rejoice in God that all our joy may be reduced to its true purpose, for He knows how much we are inclined to rejoice in vanity. So our nature causes us to look for all means of foolish and vicious rejoicing. On the contrary, our Lord, to distract us and draw us away from the desires of the flesh and of this world gives us every possible way to occupy ourselves in that spiritual joy which He desires for us. Among all other things which are proper for recreation of man and for giving him pleasure, music is the first or one of the principal and we must esteem it as a gift of God given to us for that purpose.

Calvin’s hymn “I Greet Thee Who My Sure Redeemer Art” is a wonderful encouragement to remember and meditate on the gospel. It embodies a major theological emphasis of the Reformation: Solus Christus (Christ Alone). Our salvation is accomplished only by the mediatorial work of Christ. His sinless life and substitutionary atonement are alone sufficient for our justification and reconciliation with God. Indeed, “our hope is in no other save in Thee!”

I Greet Thee Who My Sure Redeemer Art

I greet Thee, who my sure Redeemer art,
My only Trust and Savior of my heart,
Who pains didst undergo for my poor sake;
I pray Thee from our hearts all cares to take.

Thou art the King of mercy and of grace,
Reigning omnipotent in every place:
So come, O King, and our whole being sway;
Shine on us with the light of Thy pure day.

Thou art the life, by which alone we live,
And all our substance and our strength receive;
O comfort us in death’s approaching hour,
Strong-hearted then to face it by Thy pow’r.

Thou hast the true and perfect gentleness,
No harshness hast Thou and no bitterness:
Make us to taste the sweet grace found in Thee,
And ever stay in Thy sweet unity.

Our hope is in no other save in Thee;
Our faith is built upon Thy promise free;
O grant to us such stronger hope and sure,
That we can boldly conquer and endure.

“I Greet Thee Who My Sure Redeemer Art”
Words from the Strasbourg Psalter, 1545
Attributed to John Calvin
Translated by Elizabeth Smith, 1868, alt. 1961
Music by Claude Goudimel (Genevan Psalter, 1551)
©Public Domain

Download free sheet music for this hymn, including chord charts and an arrangement of the tune TOULON for classical guitar.

See more Hymns from History

How Shall I My Savior Set Forth?

One of my favorite memories attending the National Founders Conference is the singing. From 1991 to 2004 the conference was held at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. During those years at Samford we met in Reid Chapel, an acoustically live and wonderful venue for congregational singing. We filled the chapel each year with the sound of theologically rich hymns sung robustly and predominately by men.

One of songs I especially enjoyed singing at the Founders Conference was “How Shall I My Savior Set Forth?” #55 in the conference hymnal, Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs. The hymn is a declaration of praise for the glories of Christ and the wonder of His grace. And it is a passionate plea to sinners imploring them to come to Christ and find the peace and mercy that can only be found in Him.

Brilliant Sunlight

How Shall I My Savior Set Forth?

1. How shall I my Savior set forth?
How shall I His beauties declare?
O how shall I speak of His worth,
Or what His chief dignities are?
His angels can never express,
Nor saints who sit nearest His throne,
How rich are His treasures of grace;
No! this is a mystery unknown.

2. In Him all the fulness of God
Forever transcendently shines;
Though once like a mortal He stood,
To finish His gracious designs.
Though once He was nailed to the cross,
Vile rebels like me to set free;
His glory sustained no loss,
Eternal His kingdom shall be.

3. His wisdom, His love, and His pow’r
Seemed then with each other to vie;
When sinners He stooped to restore,
Poor sinners condemned to die!
He laid all His grandeur aside,
And dwelt in a cottage of clay;
Poor sinners He loved, till He died
To wash their pollution away.

4. O sinner, believe and adore
The Savior so rich to redeem;
No creature can ever explore
The treasures of goodness in Him.
Come, all ye who see yourselves lost,
And feel yourselves burdened with sin,
Draw near, while with terror you’re tossed;
Believe, and your peace shall begin.

5. Now, sinner, attend to His call,
“Whoso hath an ear, let him hear!”
He promises mercy to all,
Who feel their sad wants, far and near;
He riches has ever in store,
And treasures that never can waste;
Here’s pardon, here’s grace, yea, and more:
Here’s glory eternal at last.

“How Shall I My Savior Set Forth?”
Words: James Maxwell (1720–1800)
Music: Early American Melody
©Public Domain

Download free sheet music for this hymn (PDF), including a guitar chord chart and an arrangement of the hymn tune CONTRAST for classical guitar.

If you have never attended a Founders Conference and experienced the rich fellowship and teaching of God’s Word, don’t miss the opportunity this fall to join us. We will be meeting October 3–5 at South Woods Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee for the 2017 National Founders Conference on the theme: Reformation Truth: Now and Forever.

Find more Hymns from History

Gathered Now We Come to Worship

Gathered now, we come to worship,
Hearts united, singing praise!
We would look to Jesus only,
Letting none distract our gaze.
May we offer music fitting
For the worship of our King.
Let us foremost seek His pleasure
As our voices join to sing.

Worship is not about our efforts, our pursuits, or our offerings. Worship centers on the glory and majesty of Christ Jesus. This hymn is a meditation on 2 Corinthians 4:5 “For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake.”

Check out the lyric video on youtube:

And download the music from band camp:

Click here to download lyrics and free sheet music: including song sheet, chord chart and music arranged for classical guitar.

—Ken Puls

 

Music at Grace 2015

Grace Musicians 2015

Often I am asked by members and visitors at Grace Baptist Church where to find the lyrics or music to the songs we sing in worship. Our music at Grace comes from many songwriters and composers, embracing new songs of our day as well as cherished hymns of the faith.

Listed below are the 10 songs we have sung most so far in 2015:

10,000 Reasons
All I Have Is Christ
Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)
Come As You Are
Come Lord Jesus – Even So Come
He Will Hold Me Fast
In Christ Alone
Sovereign
This Is Amazing Grace
You Alone Can Rescue

Click here to see a complete list of 150 of our current and favorite music for worship thus far for 2015. Each song is linked to a page where you can find lyrics and/or music.

Click here to see our service orders (posted each week) for gathered worship at Grace.

Lessons from the Psalm Inscriptions: Titles of Description

A Song A Psalm

Lessons from the Psalm Inscriptions
In Leading God’s People in Prayer and Praise

Titles of Description

The second type of psalm inscription is a title of description. It indicates the musical or poetic genre of the psalm. Although we use the word “psalm’ to refer to all 150 songs in the Psalter, there are actually more than just psalms in the book of Psalms. The inscriptions suggest that there are at least eight types of musical composition represented. The first four are fairly clear in their meaning: psalm, song, prayer and praise. The last four are less certain: testimony, michtam, maschil and shiggaion.

The use of these terms in the inscriptions indicates that some overlap may exist in their meanings. While 82 psalms employ only one descriptive term, 15 use two in combination, and one, the double inscription in Psalm 88, uses three. Fifty-two psalms have no descriptive title.

Psalm

The most frequent title of description is psalm (mizmor). It appears in the heading of 57 psalms. It is the only descriptive term in 43 headings. [1] In 12 psalms it occurs in combination with song (shir). [2] In the double inscription of Psalm 88 it is used with both shir and maschil. In Psalm 80 it is used with testimony (‘eduth).

Mizmor is a noun meaning psalm or accompanied song. [3] The noun is a derivation of the verb zamar. Zamar has two meanings in the Old Testament. In the context of agriculture it means to prune (pluck) a vine; in the context of music, the verb means to play (pluck) a musical instrument, or sing to the accompaniment of a plucked (stringed) instrument. [4] The verb (associated with music) occurs 45 times in the Old Testament, all in the Pi’el (intensive stem) and all in the context of praise. All but four occurrences are in the Psalms. Twenty-two occurrences of zamar are in psalms that include the inscription mizmor. The Theological Word Book of the Old Testament (TWOT) and BDB Hebrew Lexicon suggest broader meanings for zamar: to make music, [5] or to make music in praise of God. [6] The Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (TDOT) concludes, however, that zamar “is used in OT Hebrew solely in the sense ‘sing praises (accompanied by stringed instruments).’” [7]

According to The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament the original meaning of mizmor is a song sung to an instrumental accompaniment. [8] The TDOT defines the term as a song (with instrumental accompaniment). [9] This accompaniment would be predominantly by stringed instruments. Stringed instruments were especially important for the accompaniment of the psalms in the Temple worship, as Edersheim explains:

That music was chiefly sustained by the harp (Kinnor) and the lute (Nevel). Of the latter (which was probably used for solos) not less than two nor more than six were to be in the Temple orchestra; of the former, or harp, as many as possible, but never less than nine. There were, of course, several varieties both of the Nevel and the Kinnor. The chief difference between these two kinds of instruments lay in this, that in the Nevel (lute or guitar) the strings were drawn over the sounding-board, while in the Kinnor they stood out free, as in our harps. [10]

By the time of the New Testament the term psalm was used especially, though not exclusively to refer to the collection of songs used in worship in the Temple. The title for the Book of Psalms in the Septuagint (LXX) is the Greek word Psalmoi, from which the English title is derived. Jesus used this term when He said that what was written about Him in the Psalms “must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44). When Paul provided a paradigm for music in the church, he began his list with singing psalms (Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16).

Song

Seventeen psalms are described only by the term song (shir). [11] Fifteen of these are the Songs of Ascent, songs that the people of Israel would sing on their way to Jerusalem and the Temple to celebrate the pilgrimage festivals (Deuteronomy 16:16–17). Eight psalms are described by the combination mizmor shir [12] and four with shir mizmor. [13] The double inscription of Psalm 88 has shir mizmor and maschil. One psalm, Psalm 45, is called A Song of Loves and a maschil.

Shir is a noun that simply means song. [14] It has a wide variety of sacred and secular uses. It is used of celebrating a journey (Genesis 31:27) as well as rejoicing in God (Exodus 15:1). While shir appears primarily in joyful contexts, it is also used in the headings of poems expressing lament (e.g. Psalm 88). It describes the singing of one voice (David’s solo in Psalm 18) as well as the combined praise of many voices, “The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad” (Psalm 126:3).

Compared to mizmor, shir is a more generic term with a broader meaning. Kraus explains in his commentary on the Psalms:

A differentiation between [shir] and [mizmor] could be stated only in this way, that [shir] probably originally and preponderantly denoted the vocal, cantillating presentation of a psalm, whereas [mizmor] primarily referred to singing accompanied instrumentally. [15]

While mizmor is a more specific designation indicating a song written for both voice and instruments (see above), shir simply denotes song or singing in general.

Prayer

Four psalms are designated as a prayer (tehillah). [16] In all four psalms, the psalmist expresses a trouble or difficulty. In light of this, Kraus suggests that the term in the Psalter means a prayer of lament or bidding prayer. [17] Psalm 90, for example, is titled: “A Prayer of Moses, the Man of God.” The psalm laments the fleeting days of man and is an extended petition for mercy and help:

Return, O LORD! How long?
Have pity on your servants!
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
and for as many years as we have seen evil.
(Psalm 90:13-15)

In one sense most of the 150 psalms could be titled a prayer, since in the vast majority God is personally addressed. The psalms are valuable models for prayer, exemplifying both praise and petition. Book II of the Psalter ends in Psalm 72:20 with the words: “The prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended.” This seems to indicate that most of the poems at least in the first two books were considered as prayers.

Praise

Only one psalm, Psalm 145, has the descriptive title tehillah, meaning praise, song of praise or praiseworthy deed. [18] Praise, however, is a term fitting for the entire Psalter. Praise is ultimate to the psalms. With the exception of Psalm 88, all the psalms include expressions of praise to God. [19] The Psalter is named in Hebrew tehillim (the plural of tehillah), meaning Praises. Although the Psalter begins with instruction (Psalm 1 contrasts the way of the wicked with the way of the righteous), and continues with many petitions and laments, it culminates in a loud crescendo of praise at the end (145–150). Everything in the book—prayers and teachings, joys and sorrows—moves toward praise to God. The psalm that bears the title of praise stands at the beginning of the final crescendo calling on all creation to glorify God.

The noun tehillah is derived from the verb halal (found only in the intensive stems in Scripture), meaning to praise. [20] Several psalms that center on joy and praise are included in a collection of psalms sung especially during the festival celebrations at the Temple. Sendrey explains:

Among the psalms sung at the high holidays, the group of the Hallel-psalms occupied the most prominent place. To this group belonged the “Egyptian Hallel,” as Pss. 113–118 are called in the rabbinic literature, the Great Hallel,” Pss. 120–136, and Pss. 146–148, specifically called the Hallel-psalms. [21]

As a descriptive term tehillah denotes a poem written to honor and extol the Lord, as Psalm 145:1–2 exemplifies:

I will extol you, my God, O King;
And bless your name forever and ever.
Every day I will bless you,
And praise your name forever and ever.

According to 1 Chronicles 16:4 praise was one of the three primary activities of the Levites as they ministered before the ark in the Tabernacle. The abundant use of praise in the psalms, even in petitions and laments, reveals that praise was an essential element in the music and worship of ancient Israel.

Testimony

The noun ‘eduth meaning a testimony, a witness or covenant is found in the heading of two psalms. It appears in Psalm 60 with michtam and in Psalm 80 with mizmor. The term is often used in the Old Testament to refer to God’s Law, the Ten Commandments. In Psalm 78:5–8 it appears with law (torah) where Asaph reminds God’s people of the command to teach God’s Word to children of each generation “that they may set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God.”

In Psalm 60 ‘eduth follows the phrase ‘al-shushan, meaning literally upon a lily. Some translations of Scripture connect the two headings as one. The KJV, ESV and NAS leave the headings connected and untranslated. The NKJV has Set to “Lily of the Testimony.” The NIV is similar: To the tune of “The Lily of the Covenant.” However in Psalm 80, where ‘eduth follows a similar phrase with the plural noun ‘el-shoshannim meaning upon Lilies, several versions treat the headings as separate titles of description. The plural noun is clearly in the Absolute state rather than Construct state (meaning it stands alone and is not linked to the following term). It can be translated to the tune “Lilies.” A Testimony, but not to the tune “Lilies of a Testimony.” The NKJV correctly reads: Set to “Lilies” A Testimony. As does the ESV: According to Lillies. A Testimony. The NAS also separates the headings while leaving them untranslated: set to El Shoshannim; Eduth. The NIV, however ignores the Absolute state of the noun shoshannim and connects both headings as in Psalm 60. The NIV reads: To the tune of “The Lilies of the Covenant.” The KJV connects the headings and leaves them untranslated.

In both headings ‘eduth should be regarded as a separate inscription meaning Testimony or Covenant. Both psalms bearing this description are similar. They portray the petitions of the covenant people who, due to their own sinfulness and rebellion, have fallen out of fellowship with God. Psalm 60 begins:

O God, you have rejected us, broken our defenses;
you have been angry; oh, restore us.
(Psalm 60:1)

The refrain in Psalm 80: 3, 7, and 19 echoes the same theme:

Restore us, O God;
let your face shine, that we may be saved!

Michtam

Michtam is the only descriptive heading in five psalms. [22] Psalm 60, the longest heading in the Psalter, has both michtam and testimony. The meaning of michtam is less certain, but it likely comes from a root meaning inscribed or written down, denoting a song that is preserved for public use or public benefit. The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon offers the most likely translation of the term, an inscription. [23] Peter Craigie, in his commentary, agrees, stating that the “most probable” meaning is inscribed. [24]

All six occurrences of michtam involve psalms that express some kind of trouble. Marvin Tate in his commentary suggests that these are “all psalms of distress and crisis, in which the speaker moves to confidence and assurance that enemies will receive appropriate consequences for their deeds.” [25] Cragie adds: “Tentative support for this interpretation may come from the six psalms entitled Miktam in the Psalter; four, in their titles, are associated with times of crisis, which might have been events of sufficient moment to warrant recording an inscription.” [26] The michtam was a way for the psalmist to write down or inscribe both his cry to God and his confidence in God, so that when deliverance came, all would know that the God of Israel hears and answers the prayers of His people.

Maschil

This term maschil occurs at the beginning of twelve psalms: in ten headings as the only designation, [27] once with the heading Song of Loves (Psalm 45), and once with shir mizmor (Psalm 88).

The meaning of maschil is uncertain. The KJV, NAS, NIV, and ESV all leave the term untranslated. The NKJV translates the term as a contemplation. Scholars have proposed a variety of possible meanings. Ernest Klein suggests that the term means wise, skillful, or intelligent and refers to ” a kind of didactic poem.” [28] Kraus also calls the term “an ‘artistic song’ or ‘didactic song.’” [29] This is supported by the use of the term as a participle in 2 Chronicles 30:22 where it refers to Levites who were skilled in the worship of God and were responsible for teaching God’s people. A maschil then denotes a lyrical poem used in the teaching ministry of the Levites. These are songs filled with counsel and instruction.

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
(Psalm 32:8)

The use of maschil in Psalm 53 demonstrates some overlap in the psalm inscriptions. Psalm 53 from Book II in the Psalter is designated as a maschil; Psalm 14 in Book I is called a psalm (mizmor). Both have identical texts except for the name used of God in the second verse. [30]

Shiggaion

The meaning of shiggaion is also uncertain. Most modern versions of Scripture leave the term untranslated. The NKJV renders the term a meditation. Kraus suggests the rendering lamentation. [31] The term occurs in the Psalter only in Psalm 7, although it is also used in Habakkuk 3. Both songs compare the wrath of God toward the wicked with the mercy of God toward the righteous.

Shiggaion may relate to a root in Hebrew meaning to go astray. [32] This would suggest the rendering wandering psalm implying an uneven poetic meter or the expression of unsettled thoughts. This would be fitting for the text in which David grapples with the curses spoken to him by Cush. In Psalm. 7:3-5 David prays:

O LORD my God, if I have done this,
if there is wrong in my hands,
if I have repaid my friend with evil
or plundered my enemy without cause,
let the enemy pursue my soul and overtake it,
and let him trample my life to the ground
and lay my glory in the dust. Selah

David resolves at the end of the psalm:

I will give to the LORD the thanks due to his righteousness,
and I will sing praise to the name of the LORD, the Most High.
(Psalm 7:17)

Habakkuk also grapples with a difficult issue, God’s use of the Babylonians as a means to chastise His people. In Habakkuk 3:16 he laments:

I hear, and my body trembles;
my lips quiver at the sound;
rottenness enters into my bones;
my legs tremble beneath me.
Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble
to come upon people who invade us.

Like David, Habakkuk resolves in the end that he will praise God:

yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
GOD, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places.
(Habakkuk 3:18–19)

Conclusion

There are at least eight types of musical composition represented in the Book of Psalms: psalm (an accompanied song, usually with stringed instruments), song (singing with or without accompaniment), prayer (a petition for mercy and help), praise (honoring and exalting God), testimony (a prayer of contrition from God’s covenant people), michtam (an inscription to mark a significant event), maschil (a song of instruction), and shiggaion (a complaint grappling with evil and injustice).

These titles of description are part of the rich diversity found in the Psalter. The psalms are filled with a wide range of expression in worship, from lament to joy, from a single voice to a vast convocation, from quiet and stillness to loud, reverberating praise. Added to this, shaping this expression, are a variety of poetic and musical forms. These forms encourage the worshipper to sing, play music, pray, praise, grapple with injustice, repent of sin, gain wisdom, and write down significant events when we placed our confidence in God. The music of the Psalter stands as the fount of church music and sets a precedent for the rich variety and abundance of poetic and musical forms used in worship through history.

Notes:

[1] Psalm 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 12, 13, 14, 15, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 29, 31, 38, 39, 40, 41, 47, 49, 50, 51, 62, 63, 64, 73, 77, 79, 82, 84, 85, 98, 100, 101, 109, 110, 139, 140, 141, 143.
[2] Psalm 30, 48, 65, 66, 67, 68, 75, 76, 83, 87, 92 and 108.
[3] Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament [TWOT], 1:245; William L. Holladay, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1988), 189.
[4] Holladay, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon, 89–90; Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, trans. and ed. M. E. J. Richardson (New York: E. J. Brill, 1994–2003), 1:273–274. This meaning of the verb occurs in Leviticus 25:3 and Isaiah 5:6 (The Song of the Vineyard).
[5] TWOT, 1:245
[6] The New Brown–Driver–Briggs–Gesenius Hebrew and English Lexicon [BDB], 274.
[7] Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament [TDOT], 4:98.
[8] Koehler and Baumgartner, Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon, 2:566.
[9] TDOT, 4:94.
[10] Alfred Edersheim, The Temple: Its Ministry and Services (New York: F. H. Revell, 1874; reprint, Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1987), 78-79.
[11] Psalm 18, 46, 120–134.
[12] Psalm 30, 65, 67, 68, 75, 76, 87, 92.
[13] Psalm 48, 66, 83, 108.
[14] Holladay, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon, 367-68; BDB, 1010
[15] Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalm 1–59: A Commentary, trans. Hilton C. Oswald (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 1988), 22.
[16] Psalm 17, 86, 90, 120.
[17] Kraus, Psalms 1-59: A Commentary, 26
[18] [BDB, 239; Holladay, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon, 387; TWOT, 1:218.
[19] Even in Psalm 88, the psalmist expresses his concern for the praise of God in verse 10.
[20] Holladay, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon, 80–81
[21] Alfred Sendrey, Music in Ancient Israel (New York: Philosophical Library, Inc., 1969), 176-77.
[22] Psalm 16, 56–59.
[23] Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, Hebräisches und Aramäiches Lexikon zum Alten Testament, 3d ed. (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1967 – 1990), 551. “Aufschift.”
[24] Peter C. Craigie, Psalm 1-50, Word Biblical Commentary, eds. David A. Hubbard, et al., vol. 19 (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1983), 154, note 1.a.
[25] Marvin E. Tate, Psalm 51-100, Word Biblical Commentary, eds. David A. Hubbard, et al., vol. 20 (Dallas, Texas: Word Books, 1990), 66.
[26] Craigie, Psalm 1-50, 154, note 1.a.
[27] Psalm 32, 42, 52, 53, 54, 55, 74, 78, 89, 142
[28] Ernest Klein, A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language for Readers of English. (New York, MacMillian Publishing Company, 1987), 391
[29] Kraus, Psalms 1-59: A Commentary, 25.
[30] Psalm 14 uses Yahweh LORD. Psalm 53 has Elohim God.
[31] Kraus, Psalms 1-59: A Commentary, 26
[32] Craigie, Psalm 1-50, 97.

This series is based on a seminar paper for “Special Research in Church Music” at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (May 1995).

See a Table of Contents (thus far) for this series: Lessons from the Psalm Inscriptions

(Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version (ESV) ©2001 by Crossway)

Lessons from the Psalm Inscriptions: Titles of Designation

The Servant of the Lord

Lessons from the Psalm Inscriptions
In Leading God’s People in Prayer and Praise

Titles of Designation

Many of the psalms suggest by their language that they began as individual expressions of devotion that came out of a personal experience. In time these psalms became corporate prayers voiced by the whole congregation who could relate to common experiences. The use of the first person and the numerous accounts of events in the personal lives of the psalmists, make it clear that the majority of the psalms were originally private prayers. The transition of these prayers from private devotional poetry to public congregational song is preserved in the psalm inscriptions that denote the source or the destination of the psalm.

About half of the 337 inscriptions fit into the category of designation. These are titles using the Hebrew preposition  לֹ. They can denote the author(s) of the psalm, the recipient(s) of the psalm, or in some places, to whom the psalm is dedicated. Having specific names attached to the psalms provides a personal connection and historical context that can be helpful in understanding the words.

Of David (ascribed to David)

Almost half of the psalms (73) are attributed to David; most of these are in Books I and II of the Psalter. The connection of the psalms with the heading of David to events in David’s life supports the interpretation of the inscription as denoting authorship. The extended title of Psalm 18, for example, makes it clear that David is the author: “Ascribed To David, Which he spoke to Yahweh the words of this song on the day that Yahweh delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul.”

To the Servant of Yahweh

Two psalms (18 and 36), along with the designation to David, also contain the phrase to the Servant of Yahweh, which most likely is a further description of David. David is often called in Scripture a servant of the LORD. [1] The NKJV and ESV translate the phrases together as “A Psalm of David the servant of the LORD.”

Of Solomon

David’s son, Solomon is credited with only two psalms (72 and 127). This is striking given the testimony of 1 Kings 4:32 that Solomon spoke 3,000 proverbs and composed 1005 songs. Psalm 72 is an appropriate prayer for a king known for his wisdom. It begins: “Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to the royal son! May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice! (72:1-2, ESV).” Although this psalm is attributed to Solomon, the final verse reads: “The prayers of David, the son of Jesse, are ended.” This may suggest that the psalm was actually composed by David with reference to or for his son, Solomon.

Psalm 127 is also a fitting psalm for Solomon. It concerns the building of the Temple, a task that fell to Solomon during his reign. This psalm begins: “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” Psalm 127 is one of the Songs of the Ascents, sung by the people as they made their way to worship in Jerusalem at the annual festivals.

Of Asaph

Psalm 50 and a collection of eleven psalms (73–83) that begins Book III in the Psalter are attributed to Asaph. Asaph was one of three Levites, along with Heman and Jeduthun, appointed by David to lead the music in the tabernacle in the worship of God. [2] The poetry of the psalms ascribed to Asaph reflects the heart of one whose life was focused on the worship of God in Jerusalem. Psalm 50:2 says: “Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth.” In Psalm 73 Asaph contemplates the apparent prosperity of the wicked and is perplexed until he goes “into the sanctuary of God” and in the context of worship and serving God begins to understand their end. In Psalm 74:2 he prays for God’s people gathered for worship:

Remember your congregation, which you have purchased of old,
which you have redeemed to be the tribe of your heritage!
Remember Mount Zion, where you have dwelt.

Psalm 76 begins:

In Judah God is known;
his name is great in Israel.
His abode has been established in Salem,
his dwelling place in Zion.

Ascribed to the Sons of Korah

Eleven psalms are attributed to the sons of Korah (Psalm 42, 44–49, 84, 85, 87, 88). Korah was the son of Kohath of the tribe of Levi (1 Chronicles 6:22). The psalms ascribed to the sons of Korah may include music they composed as well as music they gathered into a collection for worship. According to 2 Chronicles 6:33–38, Heman, one of David’s three chief musicians, was a descendent of Korah. [3] This Heman, a Levite, should be distinguished from another biblical poet of the same name, Heman the Ezrahite.

Of Heman, the Ezrahite

Psalm 88 presents a difficulty in that it contains a double inscription. It is called both “a Song a Psalm of the Sons of Korah” and “a Maschil of Heman the Ezrahite.” If Heman, the descendant of Korah, is meant here as the author, the difficulty is solved; but the phrase the Ezrahite presents a problem in that it appears to refer to another biblical character named Heman related to Ethan the Ezrahite (1 Kings 4:31 and 1 Chronicles 2:6). This Heman was a descendant of Judah known for his wisdom. If this inscription to Heman, the descendant of Judah, denotes him as author, then the additional inscription to the sons of Korah likely means that the song was also included in a collection that the sons of Korah compiled for worship.

Of Ethan, the Ezrahite

One Psalm in the Psalter, Psalm 89, is attributed to Ethan, the Ezrahite. At least three men in Scripture have the name Ethan, causing some confusion as to who is meant in this inscription. Jeduthun, one of David’s appointed musicians, is called Ethan in 1 Chronicles 6:44 and 15:17, but the clarification in the title, the Ezrahite, makes it clear that he is not the one intended here. One other Levite, referred to in 1 Chronicles 6:42, is also called Ethan. The Ethan denoted in the title, however, is a wiseman of the tribe of Judah, related to Heman mentioned above (1 Kings 4:31 and 1 Chronicles 2:6).

Of Moses, the man of God

Book IV opens with “A Prayer of Moses, the man of God.” This prayer in Psalm 90 is the only psalm attributed to the great prophet and leader of Israel. Moses is certainly portrayed in Scripture as skilled in music. In the first song of praise recorded in the canon of Scripture, he leads the children of Israel in singing “The Song of Moses,” celebrating God’s victory over the Egyptians (Exodus 15 1-18). In Deuteronomy 31:19 God commands Moses:

Now therefore write this song and teach it to the people of Israel. Put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for me against the people of Israel.

Deuteronomy 31:30 declares that Moses obeyed the Lord and taught Israel the song recorded in Deuteronomy 32:1–43. Another prayer of Moses is recorded in Deuteronomy 33 where he blesses the tribes of Israel. The introduction to this prayer is similar to the title of Psalm 90 in that Moses is called in both places “the man of God.”

To the Chief Musician

The heading to the chief musician appears in 55 psalms. [4] The inscription consists of the preposition  לֹ  meaning to or for, the definite article (the) and a Piel (intensive stem) participle from the verb natsach. In the Qal (active stem) the verb means to shine or to be pre-eminent. In the Piel (intensive stem) it means to lead, to direct or to supervise.

The inscription to the chief musician denotes the recipient of the music. These are songs that were specifically designated by David and others to be given to the Temple musicians and used in the gathered worship of God’s people. The KJV and NKJV translate the inscription as to the Chief Musician; the NAS has for the Choir Director; the ESV has to the Choirmaster; and the NIV reads for the Director of Music. The NRSV has simply to the Leader, ignoring the association of the term to music.

To Jeduthun

Jeduthun was one of the chief musicians appointed by David and also one of the king’s seers. [5] He is called Ethan twice in 1 Chronicles, but should not be confused with the other men in the Bible named Ethan mentioned above. His name appears in the headings to three psalms that likely denote him as the recipient (specifying a particular chief musician) rather than the author: Psalm 39 and 62 (both psalms of David) and Psalm 77 (ascribed to Asaph).

Conclusion

The titles of designation offer some helpful insights into the composition of music for worship in the Old Testament.

    1. There is a connection made in many psalms between song-writer and lyrics. The inscriptions remind us that songs are often written in the crucible of personal experience, even painful and trying experience. We will explore this further in the discussion on titles of explanation.
    2. The personal connection between psalm and song-writer is apparent as well in the language of many of the psalms. There is a precedent in Scripture for voicing prayers and songs in first-person (“I” and “me”) even in a corporate setting. Unlike the conventional wisdom of those in our day who discourage the use of first-person in congregational music, those who wrote and compiled the Old Testament psalms did not see a need to change the wording of “I’ and “me” to “we” and “us.” Even in gathered worship, as we lift our voices together, we can express individual cries and praises of the heart.
    3. The titles of designation highlight the ministry of individuals (and groups of individuals) who compose, compile and lead music for worship. They are a reminder that we should be grateful and pray for song-writers, musicians and worship leaders in the church. Pray that God would continue to raise up in every age and in every place those who would invest their musical gifts for the benefit of God’s people.

Notes:

[1] See 1 Samuel 23:10; 25:39; 2 Samuel 3:18; 7:5, 8, 20, 26; 24:10; 1 Kings 8:25, 66; 2 Kings 8:19; 1 Chronicles 17:4, 7, 24; 2 Chronicles 6:16, 17, 42; Ezekiel 34:24.
[2] 1 Chronicles 15:16–19; 16:4–7; 25:1–9; 2 Chronicles 5:11–14; 35:15.
[3] See also 1 Chronicles 15:17, 19; 16:41; 25:5; 2 Chronicles 5:12; 35:15.
[4] Psalm 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 31, 36, 39, 40, 41, 42, 44, 45, 46, 47, 49, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 75, 76, 77, 80, 81, 84, 85, 109, 139, 140.
[5] 1 Chronicles 16:37–42; 25:1–7; 2 Chronicles 5:12; 35:15.

This series is based on a seminar paper for “Special Research in Church Music” at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (May 1995).

See a Table of Contents for this series: Lessons from the Psalm Inscriptions

(Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version (ESV) ©2001 by Crossway)

Lessons from the Psalm Inscriptions: Introduction

To the Chief Musician

Lessons from the Psalm Inscriptions
In Leading God’s People in Prayer and Praise

Introduction: Why Consider the Psalm Inscriptions?

The psalms are a rich source of devotion and worship. Throughout history they have taught God’s people how to sing and pray and praise. They lifted the voice of Israel in worship through the Old Testament, comprising the songbook of the Temple. The psalms spoke of Christ and prepared the way for His coming (Luke 24:44). They are mentioned first among the music of the church in the New Testament (Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16). We are exhorted to sing them in light of their full expression and fulfillment in Christ. The psalms teach us how and what to sing, as our hearts are drawn out and our affections are raised in the presence and power of God. They are a treasure for the Christian and we should turn to them often.

Many of the psalms include inscriptions, headings that appear at the beginning, added when the Psalter was complied and the psalms were ordered for use in worship in the Temple. The Book of Psalms is divided into five sections, each ending with a doxology: I (1-41), II (42-72), III (73-89), IV (90-106), V (107-150). [1] The majority of the psalm titles appear in the first two books as indicated in the following table:

Psalms Titles Chart

As noted in the table above, some of the psalms have more than one inscription. In the entirety of the 150 Psalms there are a total of 337 inscriptions attached to the beginning of 116 of the psalms. Many of the headings were likely fixed to the psalms by the authors. Others may have been added at a later time as the psalms were gathered into collections and finally put into their present form. The headings were attached to the individual psalms to add explanation and clarity as the psalms became part of the corporate worship of Israel. These inscriptions offer insight as we sing the psalms and embrace them as our own expressions of worship.

Unfortunately the psalm inscriptions tend to be overlooked in the study of the psalms. The rich theological content and poetic beauty in the psalms themselves have held the interest of scholars and theologians, but the headings are often subject to mere cursory mentions.

There are several possible reasons for this:

  1. The inscriptions are considered to be secondary additions to the psalms and of limited value.
  2. The inscriptions focus more on musical matters and are of less interest to theologians and commentators than the rich texts of the psalms themselves.
  3. The inscriptions remain the subject of a wide array of speculation.

The meanings of some of the terms and phrases found in the inscriptions are uncertain and elusive. Some of the mystery surrounding the inscriptions lies in a loss of knowledge of the practice and performance of music in the Temple. Even by the 3rd century BC, when the Septuagint (LXX) [2], the Greek translation of the Old Testament, was made, the titles were already regarded as ancient and many of the terms found in the titles were not understood. Some of the translations supplied by the LXX appear arbitrary and misinformed. Commentator Peter Craigie suggests that the poor translations of the psalm headings may “indicate a lack of musical or liturgical knowledge on the part of the translators, or the lack of equivalent or appropriate terminology in the Greek language.” [3] According to Idelsohn this lack of knowledge was exacerbated by the loss of the Temple in Jerusalem.

A short time after the destruction of the Temple the entire art of the instrumental music of the Levites fell into oblivion; and two generations later the sages lost all technical knowledge and all sense of the reality of that silenced music. [4]

Lack of musical knowledge has led some commentators to embrace many untenable theories concerning the meaning of the terms. Speaking of the commentators, Alfred Sendrey comments:

Whenever they were guided mainly by musical considerations, they were able, in most cases, to offer natural as well as logical interpretations. In other instances, they were bound to lose themselves in fruitless speculations, which necessarily ended in a blind alley. [5]

Though the precise meaning of many of the inscriptions remains a mystery, they are still a valuable aid in understanding the psalms. The psalm titles are part of the canon of Scripture. In the Hebrew (Masoretic) text they are included in (or as) the first verse of each psalm which has a title. They are therefore a part of God’s revelation and to some degree profitable for the people of God, especially to those concerned with serving God through music.

This series of posts will explore the psalm inscriptions under five categories.

I. DESIGNATION: Those titles using the Hebrew preposition לֹ lamed.  They can denote the author(s) of the psalm, the recipient(s) of the psalm, to whom the psalm is dedicated, or possibly whom the psalm is about.

II. DESCRIPTION: Titles that state the type of poetic genre or musical composition. [psalm, maschil, song, praise, prayer, testimony, michtam]

III. EXPLANATION: Titles that provide a historical connection for the psalm. They relate the circumstances surrounding the composition of the psalm.

IV. APPLICATION: Titles that indicate the liturgical, devotional or didactic use of the psalm. [For the Sabbath Day, To Bring Remembrance, Of the Ascents]

V. INTERPRETATION: Titles that explain how the psalm should be musically interpreted or performed. [On Flutes, With Stringed Instruments]

[Download a PDF list of Psalm Inscriptions highlighted by category]

The psalm inscriptions present an intriguing study for musicians and worship leaders. As we survey the inscriptions in upcoming posts, we will aim to answer three basic questions:

What do the inscriptions reveal about the use of poetry and music in the life and worship practices of ancient Israel?

Do the inscriptions have relevance for worship practices today?

What can the inscriptions teach us, especially in regard to composing, arranging and planning music for worship?

Notes:

[1] The Doxologies are found in 41:13, 72:18-19, 89:52, 106:48, and 150:1-6.
[2] The LXX was widely used during the time of Christ and is often quoted in the New Testament
[3] Peter C. Craigie, Psalm 1-50, Word Biblical Commentary, eds. David A. Hubbard, et al., vol. 19 (Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1983), 33.
[4] Abraham Z. Idelsohn, Jewish Music: Its Historical Development (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1929; reprint, New York: Dover Publications, 1992), 19.
[5] Alfred Sendrey, Music in Ancient Israel (New York: Philosophical Library, Inc., 1969), 137. For a more thorough survey of suggested meanings for the psalm titles, see, 93-158.

This series is based on a seminar paper for “Special Research in Church Music” at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (May 1995).

See a Table of Contents for this series: Lessons from the Psalm Inscriptions

(Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version (ESV) ©2001 by Crossway)

Worship Piano and Forte

Worship Piano and Forte

Scripture compels us to “Shout to God will loud songs of joy” (Psalm 47:1). But when we lift our voices and play our instruments in praise to God, how loud is too loud? Especially in venues that benefit from amplification and sound systems, is there a right sound level for music in worship? There are many opinions and preferences in our day. Some like the volume turned up; others want it kept at a minimum.

Judgment of volume is both objective and subjective. Objectively volume can be measured with a decibel meter and compared to standards. We certainly want to keep the volume within safe and acceptable ranges for hearing. Also the kind and number of instruments we use will affect the volume. A worship band will put out more sound than a single guitar. A pipe organ can soar to much higher levels than a piano. Subjectively, our judgment can be affected by familiarity and preference. We tend to turn up the volume on songs we know and songs we like. We turn down songs we don’t like. Perception also plays a role in our judgment of volume. A worship band playing at 90 dBA might seem loud to us, while a pipe organ playing at 95 dBA seems glorious.

So when does loud become too loud? While there is no one right level for every venue and every congregation, there are some principles that can help bring clarity to the question of sound levels.

These are five principles to follow in setting volume:

1. Clarity

The first priority is clarity, especially if our music is accompanying text. Aim to make the lyrics clear. In Colossians 3:16 Paul tells us to “let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly.” In the parallel verse, Ephesians 5:19, he speaks of “addressing one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” Our music carries the Word of God as well as our response to the Word in prayer and praise. We must the deliver and respond to the Word in a way that people can comprehend what is being said. Always when music is joined to text, keep the vocals up in the mix so every word is understandable and able to be heard. In all elements of the service—preaching, praying, singing—aim to make the words clear.

2. Variation

Aim to vary the volume in the service, especially during the music. Don’t make every song loud, and don’t make every song soft. Vary the instrumentation as you are able: sometimes voices alone (no instruments), sometimes with only one or two instruments accompanying, and sometimes with a larger group of musicians. We see in Scripture a wide range of dynamics in worship. There are times for quiet and stillness:

For God alone my soul waits in silence
(Psalms 62:1a, 5a)

Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him
(Psalms 37:7a)

Be still, and know that I am God
(Psalms 46:10a)

And there are times to sing aloud and shout for joy:

Sing aloud to God our strength;
shout for joy to the God of Jacob!
and let your saints shout for joy.
(Psalms 81:1)

And praise with loud clashing cymbals:

Praise him with sounding cymbals;
Praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
(Psalms 150:5 )

In Deuteronomy the people of God were told:

Keep silence and hear, O Israel: this day you have become the people of the LORD your God (Deuteronomy 27:9).

In 2 Chronicles:

They swore an oath to the LORD with a loud voice and with shouting and with trumpets and with horns (2 Chronicles 15:14).

At the dedication of Solomon’s temple “120 priests who were trumpeters” join with singers, cymbals and other musical instruments to “make themselves heard in unison” (2 Chronicles 5:12–14).

At the laying of the foundation of the temple in Ezra after the return from exile:

… the people shouted with a great shout, and the sound was heard far away (Ezra 3:13).

And the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away (Nehemiah 12:43).

In Heaven there is both silence and overwhelming sound:

When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour (Revelation 8:1).

And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps (Revelation 14:2).

Even God Himself displays a range of dynamics:

The LORD your God is in your midst,
A Mighty One who will save;
He will rejoice over you with gladness;
He will quiet you by his love;
He will exult over you with loud singing.
(Zephaniah 3:17)

Our worship should exemplify the full range of dynamics found in God’s Word.

3. Appropriateness

Along with variation, aim for appropriateness with volume. Be loud when you should be loud, and be soft when you should be soft. It is the worship leader’s responsibility to give direction for dynamics in the singing. There are times for restraint, times to pull back or not play at all. And there are times to soar, times to play as David did, with all our might (1 Chronicles 13:8).

The volume should make sense with what we are doing and saying in our music. Some songs require softness and gentleness. Others demand energy and loudness. Some can be sung either soft or loud depending on the moment. Music serves to emotionally express and interpret the text. We must be sensitive to and intentional with dynamics and musical texture so the music can serve the Word and not distract from it. Even in the same song, vary the dynamics. Take time to arrange the song in ways that will allow the music to convey and bring out the meaning of the words. Vary the instrumentation and harmonies to create dynamic contrast. Allow parts of the song to pull back and then build as makes sense with the words. Aim for appropriateness with the volume and instrumentation, so the music is fitting and not frustrating, helpful and not a hindrance.

4. Ministry

Aim to serve the congregation well. While you will not be able to suit everyone’s preference for every song regarding volume, remember you are there to help them voice their songs to God in worship. The church is gathered to give glory to God, not marvel at the sounds and riffs of the musicians. Set levels that will serve the church family—that will draw them in and encourage them to participate.

The music should be loud enough, even when soft, to be heard and to the support the singing of the whole church. Most of the time the music should be soft enough, even when loud, so the congregation can hear themselves singing.

5. Excellence

Finally, aim for excellence. Never substitute volume for preparedness and confidence. Volume (too soft or too loud) can certainly affect congregational singing. But volume isn’t the real killer of congregational participation, uncertainty with the musicians is. Be sure the musicians are well-prepared and the songs are arranged and presented well. Take time to practice and rehearse. Be sure everyone knows the songs and knows the arrangements, knows when to play and when not to play. As the musicians lead out with certainty—hearts and minds in tune to praise, the church family will follow. When the musicians seem unsure or unengaged themselves in worship, the people will hesitate and hold back. There are certainly times to bring loud praise to God, but at all times aim for excellence and give your best.

Sing to him a new song;
Play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.
(Psalm 33:3)

Scripture quotations are from the Holy BIble, English Standard Version (ESV) ©2001 by Crossway.

Music at Grace

Music at Grace

Often I am asked about the music we sing at Grace Baptist Church. Are the lyrics available? Where can I find a recording? How can I get the sheet music?

The music we sing at Grace comes from many songwriters and composers, embracing new songs of our day as well as cherished hymns of the faith. Some of our music is composed and arranged in house. The rest comes from many other sources. Most of the songs are available online.

Each year I post a list of 150 titles of our current and favorite music for worship. The list includes composers, publishers and (for some titles) links to help find the music online.

Here is the list of our current and favorite music for worship thus far in 2014.

How Should We Sing the Great Old Hymns of the Faith?

Down through the ages church history has displayed a rich tapestry of praise to the glory of God. Included in the music of the church are many beloved hymns that have stood the test of time and have become lasting contributions to the church’s voice in worship. These are songs that resonate beyond their age, with proven quality and depth.

There is no question that we should continue to sing and cherish the old, established, proven hymns of the faith. They remind us that we are part of something much bigger than ourselves. God is at work in every age accomplishing His purposes and building His church. His Kingdom reaches throughout history and across nations and languages. The old hymns of the faith are the voices and echoes of the past that testify to the greatness and faithfulness of God through the ages.

But how should we sing the great old hymns of the faith? How do we add our voices in the present to songs from the past in ways that will allow us to share in the praise and benefit from the testimony of saints who have gone before us?

Or to ask the question another way: Is it more authentic to sing the great hymns of the faith just as they were written? Should we aim to preserve them in the style and form in which they were composed? Or is it more authentic to recognize that we live in a new day and aim to craft our music to reflect the styles of today? Should we take the old hymns and give them a fresh sound, adjusting and adapting them to fit our voice and our time?

Piano and Drums

Many have strong preferences regarding how we sing the music of the past. Some believe the old beloved songs should be left as is and not “messed up” by making them sound contemporary. Others are convinced that the old hymns are more meaningful and accessible in our day when we re-craft them with new settings and new tunes.

Authenticity is measured differently across styles of music. For classical music an authentic sound might be judged by how close the musicians come to expressing the original intentions of the composer. Deviating from the notation, altering or re-arranging the tune would dilute the song and make it inauthentic and unstylistic. For jazz authenticity might be judged by the musicians’ creativity and skill at improvisation. The idea of playing a song as written, or playing it the same way it was played yesterday (or even a few moments ago) would be absurd.

But authenticity in worship is never a matter of our own creativity or our adherence to musical form. Authenticity is always a matter of the heart. Our aim in worship is glorifying God, not exalting one way of singing over another. We come to proclaim truth, not preserve musical form or flaunt musical talent. We come to magnify Christ, not measure the greatness of our songs.

God’s worship cannot be contained by our preferences, within our comfort zones, and inside our creativity. Paul’s descriptive words for church music, psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, encompass the great breadth and scope of music in the church that God is orchestrating to His own glory.

So how then should we sing the great old hymns of the faith?

The answer is with hearts enlivened by God’s grace and moved by God’s glory. And this can take many forms. There will be times (and places) when we use older and beloved settings of great hymns. At times we might sing new songs that borrow or incorporate older hymns (songs such as Cornerstone from Hillsong that uses the verses from The Solid Rock or Lord I Need You from Matt Maher that quotes I Need Thee Every Hour). And at times we might sing older hymns with a new arrangements and tunes (songs such as Glorious Day – Living He Loved Me, sung by Casting Crowns, that updates One Day or God Moves from Sovereign Grace Music that updates William Cooper’s hymn God Moves in a Mysterious Way). But at all times we must sing from our hearts with passions more enflamed for God’s glory than stoked by personal preferences.

There are some compelling reasons why we should see the music of the church as fluid and dynamic, rather than rigid and inviolate.

1. God has designed our music to be necessarily contemporary. Most of the music of the church only lasts for the moment. It serves its day and then fades to make room for new songs. Even with the Old Testament psalms, thousands were composed and sung in worship in the tabernacle and Temple, but only 150 were set down and preserved in Scripture. Relatively few hymns and songs have continued on to become the treasured music of the church. But whether we sing the music from the past or new songs from our own day, our singing is contemporary. It is the church lifting its voice in worship to God now in the present.

2. With the psalms God gave us a mandate and set a precedent for our worship. We are commanded in Scripture:

Sing praises to God, sing praises!
Sing praises to our King, sing praises!
For God is the King of all the earth;
sing praises with a psalm!
(Psalm 47:6–7)

The psalms continue into the New Testament as a treasured part of the church’s music:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God (Colossians 3:16).

addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart (Ephesians 5:19).

Paul taught the church to include the music of the past. First on his list of what the church should sing are the psalms, music of the Old Testament that anticipated the coming of Jesus and spoke of Him (Luke 24:44). And yet the psalms come to us without musical tunes or arrangements. While some of the inscriptions on the psalms suggest that specific melodies and instruments were used, those original melodies were not preserved along with the words. To sing the psalms, as God commands, the church has had to compose and add its own tunes.

3. Most of the great old hymns are known by tunes that were added later by composers looking for a new sound for great lyrics. For Example:

• The words to Holy, Holy, Holy were written by Reginald by Reginald Heber (1783–1826). John B. Dykes later composed a new tune (NICAEA) for the hymn when it was included in Hymns Ancient and Modern in 1861.

• The words to the hymn Amazing Grace by John Newton were published in the Olney Hymnal in 1779. Verse 6 that begins “When we’ve been there ten thousand years” was added in 1790. The tune NEW BRITAIN (also known as AMAZING GRACE) is an American folk tune that was first published (to different words) in the Virginia Harmony in 1831. It was adapted and arranged by Edwin O. Excell to fit the lyrics to Amazing Grace in 1900.

• The words to And Can It Be were written by Charles Wesley in 1738. The hymn tune most associated with Wesley’s words, SAGINA, was composed by Thomas Campbell in 1825, over 80 years later.

In most cases, we owe the longevity of great hymns of the past to the willingness of church musicians to find or compose new music to accompany them.

4. For most of the history of western hymnody, words were not rigidly connected to specific tunes. Before hymnals that included both words and music, printed together on the same page, became popular in the 20th century, it was common for the same hymn to be sung to several different tunes. Hymnals were printed with words only; tunes and lyrics were matched by poetic meter (C.M., L.M., 7.6.7.6., etc.). Each local church would have a repertoire of favorite and familiar tunes that they would use with the lyrics they wanted to sing in worship. As churches today are moving away from printed hymnals to again sing with words only (now projected on screens), the idea that a song can have only one authentic tune or arrangement is fading as well.

Thankfully there are church musicians in our day who are committed to keeping hymnody alive and well. Tim Challis has provided a helpful summary on contemporary hymns. Several groups are writing new tunes and new arrangements of old hymns, including Sovereign Grace Music, Indelible Grace, Paige CXVI, and Red Mountain Music.
We need to sing the great old hymns of the faith. We need to join our voices with God’s people through the ages and celebrate the boundless scope of His mercy and grace. May God help us to sing them, in both new and old ways, as authentic expressions of our hearts in worship to His glory and praise.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy BIble, English Standard Version (ESV) ©2001 by Crossway.