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The Glorious Psalms (4)

By Rev. James Gracie

This Editorial was published in the Presbyterian Standard, Issue No. 27, July-September 2002.

THE Psalms are replete with the doctrine of God and the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet their subject matter does not stop there. They are full of Christian experience. As John ("Rabbi") Duncan once said; "Every emotion of the renewed heart Godwards finds adequate expression in the book of Psalms."

The inscription 'To the chief musician' is seen at the introduction of many of the Psalms (e.g Psalm 4, 5, 6, 105, 109). The chief musician referred to was the one who presided over the rest of the musicians and singers in the Temple e.g. Chenaniah (1 Chron.15:22,27). The Psalms were then committed into the hands of the chief of the singers e.g. Heman, Asaph, Ethen and their brethren (1 Chron.15:17-18; 16:7) by whom they were preserved and transmitted to future ages for the use of the church, not only in the former but in the present dispensation. The Psalms were therefore given to be sung in public worship and not simply for private use.

In this the Psalms differ from other songs within the Bible. For example, the first song recorded in Scripture - The Song of Moses (Exodus 15:1-19) - is not included within the Psalter. Neither is Hannah's Song (1 Samuel 2:1-10). God did not intend these songs for the public worship of His name. However, those included within the Psalter, given to the chief musician and cared for by the singers, were particularly suited to address all the ongoing spiritual needs of the Church. As John Gill comments: "The whole book is a rich mine of grace and evangelical truths, and a large fund of spiritual experience; and is abundantly suited to every case, state, and condition, that the church of Christ, or particular believers, are in at any time." (Gill's Commentary: Intro to Book of Psalms)

Psalm 105

Psalm 105 is not the oldest Psalm in the Psalter: that distinction goes to Psalm 90 which was composed by Moses. However, Psalm 105 appears to have been the first given to the singers in the temple (1 Chron.16:7). This Psalm, written by David, was composed and sung at the time of the carrying up of the ark from the house of Obededom. How suitable that this first song of praise should be one that expresses so readily the gratitude of the Lord's people to the goodness of God.

The previous Psalm takes us through the opening chapters of Genesis, whereas Psalm 105 conducts us to the closing chapters of Genesis and into Exodus and Numbers. Some may ask why we do not sing paraphrases? One answer is to be found in the fact that the Book of Psalms already takes us through these other books of the Bible, giving us an infallible commentary on the events. With what enthusiasm the psalmist in Psalm 105 encourages the Lord's people to extol Jehovah. "Give thanks unto the Lord; call upon His name: make known his deeds among the people. Sing unto him, sing psalms unto him; talk ye of all his wondrous works." (v.1-2). The reason for such joy and gladness appears to be two-fold. Firstly, the LORD's guardian care over them in every place and situation. Secondly, the root cause of this goodness found within the Covenant: "He hath remembered his covenant for ever, the word which he commanded to a thousand generations. Which covenant he made with Abraham, and his oath unto Isaac; And confirmed the same unto Jacob for a law, and to Israel for an everlasting covenant." (v.8-10)

Has the Christian any less reason to look back and express such gratitude? On the contrary. The Christian can apply the reality to the type. If the Old Testament saint could sing with gratitude "He sent a man before them, even Joseph, who was sold for a servant"(Ps.105:17), the Christian can sing these words with greater joy, applying them to the one of whom Joseph was but a type - the Lord Jesus Christ.

No doubt the reference within Psalm 105 to the Covenant is due to the fact that the Psalm was sung when the ark of the Covenant returned to Jerusalem. Yet there is surely more to this than is at first apparent. The Lord speaks of the ark of the Covenant (Numbers 10:33), the book and the blood of the Covenant (Exodus 24:7-8), the salt of the Covenant (Leviticus 2:13) and the tables and words of the Covenant (Deut. 9:15; 29:1). In the book of Psalms we surely have the Songs of the Covenant.

While all other hymns or even paraphrases may speak about the Covenant, in the Book of Psalms we have the actual Songs of the Covenant. This is the difference between what is pure gold and that which is simply gold plated; or between hearing the actual voice of someone or listening to an impersonation. No wonder then that the apostle could say, "Is any merry? let him sing psalms." (James 5:13) Let him sing the Songs of the Covenant to express his feeling of joy and gladness.

Psalm 51

While the Psalms give ample material with which to express gratitude and joy, there is also ample material that expresses repentance. Psalm 51 is one of the best known of the penitential Psalms.

What greater example could we have. David, a man after God's own heart, sins with Bathsheba. This sin is aggravated all the more by the attendant circumstances: she was another man's wife; her husband was an honourable man; David had many wives; as God's anointed King he should have been an example to others; and this first sin ushered in others. By the hand of Nathan the Lord sends a solemn message: "Thou art the man." What is David to do? He does not run away, but applies himself to the very God he has offended.

What hymn could ever express the deep sense of repentance experienced in this Psalm. We may not be able to rise to the full expression of the joy experienced by David as the ark returned to Jerusalem i.e. Psalm 105 may prove to be above our experience. Yet how many can descend to the depths of penitence experienced and disclosed in Psalm 51. "Have mercy upon me...wash me throughly from mine iniquity... Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight..." (v.1-4). Perhaps the real question to be asked is not whether the Psalms are adequate for the Christian, but is the Christian adequate for the Psalms?

David's conviction of iniquity does not simply rest on the outward acts of sin. It goes far deeper than this. David recognised the depravity of his whole nature and original sin: "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me." (v.5) This is surely where true repentance will lead us.

Blessed be the LORD who has given us his own words to sing, such words that assure our hearts as no other songs can that there is a place to which the true penitent may come. And on what ground will he come? On what basis will mercy be shown? Is it because of self-merit; merit perhaps in repentance itself? Will it be based on the general goodness of God, the goodness that carnal men so often hope in. Not David. "O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions." (v.1)

Mercy is shown because of everlasting and unchangeable lovingkindness. It is this love that sets mercy and forgiveness to work. God's free and sovereign grace is the source and medium by which we are forgiven. True repentance humbles the sinner in the dust. "But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost." (Tit.3:4-5)

This love is in Christ. "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow."(v.7) Hyssop was used in the sprinkling of the blood of the paschal lamb, the cleansing of the leper, and in the cleansing of one unclean by touching a dead body. The blood sprinkled on the heart cleanses from all sin; the fountain of Christ's blood washed us clean: "Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood" (Rev. 1:5)

"Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish." (Eph. 5:25-27)

To be Continued (D.V.)