Home arrow Devotionals arrow Our Christian Psalms arrow Seeing Christ In The Psalms #1 - The Need
Seeing Christ In The Psalms #1 - The Need PDF Print E-mail

“…all things …, which were written in … the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures” (Luke 24:44-45).

If one had to choose one single pragmatic concern back of the decline of Psalmody in the Reformed churches, it would be that its people, through indolence and lack of instruction, gradually came to the point where they no longer saw Christ in the Psalms.

That was Michael Bushell’s assessment in his excellent book,  The Songs of Zion (p, 97).  

Our Australian experience supports this assessment.  Presbyterian churches, for the most part, have abandoned the Psalms in favour of human compositions.  The argument we hear repeatedly is that Jesus Christ is not in the Psalms and the Psalms don’t  breath the spirit of Christ.  Therefore, it is argued, Christians must (through the Spirit which we now enjoy), write Christian hymns and spiritual songs that are more Christ centred, honouring to the Lord Jesus, and reflective of His Spirit.   

This line of reasoning shows (among other things) a lamentable superficiality and lack of appreciation of the relation of the Psalms to Jesus Christ, and to His mystical body, the Church.  It’s understanding isn’t open to see Christ in the Psalms.

William Romaine, writing around 1800, identified that same lack as the principle reason for American Christianity replacing Psalms with human compositions:  “It is not difficult to account for this strange practice.  Our people had lost sight of the meaning of the Psalms.  They did not see their relation to Jesus Christ.  This happened when vital religion began to decay among us, more than a century ago.”[1]

Thank God, we in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church still practice exclusive Psalmody. We don’t do this, I trust, because we are old fashioned and cling to traditions from the past. Nor is it because we have to ...  as if the biblical principle that regulates God’s worship (what is not required by God in Scripture is forbidden) stops us doing what we want to do.  If that were true of us, it would only be a matter of time before we threw the Psalms over for human compositions.  We sing Psalms, I trust, because we know that the Psalms are divinely inspired and in a category all of their own.  And, may it be, that we all do so because we can still see Christ in the Psalms. If that is true of us it is a great blessing! 

It is not, however, something that we can reasonably hope would continue in our generations, if we were to allow that “indolence and lack of instruction”, against which Bushell warns, to gradually bring us to the point where we no longer see Christ in the Psalms. 

There is reason to feel some measure of urgency about this matter, I believe.  It is distinctly possible that our children and youth, singing Psalms with us in family worship and in the solemn assembly on the Lord’s day, do not see Christ in the Psalms as they could, and we aren’t really teaching them how to!  This will leave them open to replacing the Psalms with something new and understandable. For they will want to sing songs in which they can see Christ!  If that isn’t the Psalms, then something else will be looked for. That is not unreasonable to expect. 

It is possible that those of us who have been added to the church and to Psalmody along with “the church package” have not yet learned to see Christ in the Psalms.  This can be true for us when we have been many years in the church. To be singing Psalms when we do not understand them is not a comfortable position. It must leave us unsatisfied and confused – or struggling with what can feel like “a tradition that needs updating.” The Church that cares for us in this situation will want to open our eyes to understand and see Christ in the Psalms.  If it doesn’t, then it would seem reasonable to assume that Psalmody is just a tradition – and the sooner it is jettisoned the better!

And it is possible that those of us who have lived all, or most of, our days in the practice of exclusive Psalmody see Christ but dimly, and when we aren’t clear on how to understand and interpret the Psalms and our experience of the wonder and blessing of the Psalms can be hindered.  We wouldn’t want to lose the Psalms, but we certainly could do with understanding them better.  The fathers who are heads of their home, and custodians of the souls of their family, will sense a need here. 

Perhaps those of us who are ministers, elders or deacons will be among those who would profit most from a much clearer sight of Christ in the Psalms.  It is, after all, for the shepherds not only to feed the flock, but to guard it against that which will harm.

Who cannot see, in such circumstances, (which are rather “ordinary” and perfectly understandable as we are busy with other important truths of our Christian faith and life in the day to day needs of) that quite unwittingly a church can slide away from that vital spirituality that enables it to see Christ in the Psalms? Who cannot see how needful it is for a church to gird itself up to hold its ground against, what really is, a tsunami of man-centred modernization sweeping through the churches? 

It is my firm conviction that, if we do lose sight of Christ in the Psalms, the Psalms will most certainly be washed out of this church too. 

We are in no way immune to this.  We are certainly not above, or somehow stronger or better than the once mighty churches that have lost Christ in the Psalms, or are in the process of losing Him. 

THEREFORE,  into the future we are going to try to strengthen our grasp on the good thing God has given us.  We will work two things into our regular instruction on the Lord’s day.  These will be specifically designed to help us see Christ in the Psalms, and keep Psalmody in spirit and truth alive and well in our midst. 

  • The first thing is, we will sing our way, consecutively, through the 150 Psalms, making use of the second Psalm in the service.  So we can identify this in our fellowshipping  together, we could call this “Our Teaching Psalm” (Col.3:16).
  • The second thing is, we will use our bulletin to help us along.  I will seek to provide an introduction to the Psalm, and explain how we should see Christ in that particular Psalm.   This will avoid lengthy explanations in the service itself.  The bulletin will, necessarily, be very brief and to the point.  But over time, it will, I trust, enable us to grow together in our spiritual understanding and in our delight in the Psalms.  This will take some considerable study and work in the doing, but I feel that it would be labour well spent.  

We will need some flexibility.  On those occasions where it would not be appropriate to sing the particular Psalm at which we have arrived, or when the Pastor is away or unable because of other pressing needs to give the necessary time to preparing an article for the bulletin, we can leave it pass and take it up the next week.  This way, over the long term, we will be working away together at building our understanding of, and delight in, Christ in the Psalms.

Pastor Connors

[1] Cited from Bushell, p. 97.

< Prev   Next >