Psalm singing for Christians, a gospel ordinance, a gospel duty, and a gospel delight.
In the Anglican Book of Common Prayer (BCP) there is a fascinating fact. Firstly, there is a reading schedule to cover the entire book of psalms every 30 days. Which amounts to 5 psalms a day. Thus every year the entire book of psalms is covered 12 times! Further, there is also the metrical version of the psalter for singing. In other words a double dose. But why? There are many reasons but one will do for now. As a manual of instruction. Within the psalter every doctrine of the Christian faith is present. With the demise of psalmody, it explains why the Church has become so ineffective, weak, effeminate and downright useless. Which came first I will leave to others. But why is it that the Church has no sense of justice or outrage over the demise of justice? Because it’s too busy singing love songs. The BCP then has something to teach us. What we need is a persistent diet of psalmody. Five drops a day for the rests of our lives. Which brings me to the point at hand as stated in the title. What is the outlook for the Church? Grim? Defeat? Annihilation? Not so according to the Psalms.
As Vos so eloquently reminds us, there are certain editions of the Bible which have the Psalter attached as an appendix which has the curious result of bringing the Apocalypse and the Psalms into immediate proximity (for those who are interested TBS produce such Bibles, go buy). Hence our subject at hand.
Firstly, a linear view of history. The world may sing with the Egyptians- “all my life’s a circle’, the Christian sings in contrast that God is Lord of history and directs it to His own glory and the Church’s good. The world thinks in terms of cycles that repeat themselves. It was from such mythology and irrationalism that God delivered Israel and kept them from it (even when they desired to return to it, such is the foolishness of his people who oft return to their folly (Ps 85:8).
Secondly, there is a work which God is doing in this world that he will bring to perfection (90:16). Central to his work is redemption (114). It is not social work, job centres, legal advice workshops, handling debt and the myriad of other activities that are subsumed under what is euphemistically called ‘ministries of mercy’. Redemption is God’s great work in the world and it’s that the Church continually celebrates. God’s sovereign initiative in a world of enmity against him. Who wins, man or God? The answer is obvious.
Thirdly, our destiny. The psalter holds out to the Church and the Believer the new Jerusalem that is so significant in Revelation. There is a “waiting for the morning” (130:6) where the waiting is in the context of redemption. Waiting is, of course, a NT grace (1 Thess 1:9 &10). Is it not the case that the modern Church is no longer drawing heavenward, or seeking heaven, or longs for heaven? Is it not the case that the modern Christian and the Church is almost exclusively earthbound? It’s gaze is downward.
Fourthly, the Prosperity of the Church. As long as we live in this world there are such troubles, pain, woe, sorrow and afflictions that we say often with the psalmist ‘how long O Lord’, but we never lose sight of the Church and thus we sing with the Psalmist – the set time to favour Sion is come. Alongside that is the sense of judgement. Judgement upon the wicked and the enemies of the Church.
Fifthly, seeing God. How frequently the Scriptures point us to this truth. Do we not say with Job, I know that my Redeemer liveth and I shall see him? John says that we shall behold him (1 John 3:2). The beatific vision is everywhere it seems in Scripture. But alas, how seldom do we hear it sung. The psalmist corrects this defect. In the midst of anguish over the prosperity of the wicked he is brought to see that to have God is to have everything. What is heaven, but to be with him? As the psalmist puts it, “whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire besides thee. My flesh and my heart faileth but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever”.
Sixthly, the glory of God. The ultimate purpose of all things is the glory of God. It is why God made the world. Crassly many think we exist for ourselves. This is the ultimate height of sin (Rom 3:23). In salvation, we are brought to pursue our right purpose, to do all for his glory (1 Cor 10:31). The Psalmist drives it home to us with the phrase ‘for thy name’s sake’.
Seventhly, the triumph of Christ and his Kingdom. None can sing Psalm 72 and not be arrested with the absolute conviction that nations will come and call him blessed. It’s not a prayer or a wish but a statement of fact. Of expectation. His name shall be blessed by nations, His glory shall excel, the whole earth shall be filled with His glory. Anything less than that is defeat.