Thursday, 2 January 2014

Framing the Psalms

The Free Church of Scotland practises inclusive psalmody. Some of our congregations use only psalms, some use psalms and biblical hymns, all use psalms at some point in every worship service.  I am keen to see other presbyterians include metrical psalms in their worship and benefit from the rich resources found in psalms.

However, what do the psalms mean for Christians?  Are we singing with understanding and, if we lead worship, are we clearly explaining what the psalm is about before we use it in praise. In the FCS the preacher often reads the psalm before we sing it, but rarely explains the psalm.  This simple act of explanation has been called "framing the psalm".

I have found many resources that are useful, and in a later posting I will discuss some of these resources and where to find them.

As a starter here are some useful resources for framing Psalm 1.  They are drawn from the writings of John Brown, 18th century Scottish Presbyterian, John Cumming, 19th century Scottish Presbyterian, and William Romaine, 18th century English Anglican.

Psalm 1   John Cumming

This Psalm forms an appropriate Preface to the whole Book.  It contrasts the opposite characters and destinies of those that are grafted in the true vine and planted by the river of living waters, and of those that are yet aliens and strangers to the common weal of Israel. In verse 1 the progressive career of the sinner is depicted; he first walks in the counsel of the ungodly— i.e. those who have many natural virtues, but no godliness or vital piety ; he next stands in the way of sinners ; and, at last, sits down in the seat of the scornful infidel. The pious man feels it his chief delight to meditate on the perfect law of liberty, — which is the gospel of Christ, — and experiences its quickening and transforming power. The expression stand, in verse 5, means, shall not be acquitted. The word known, in verse 6, means, approved.

Sing this Psalm with earnest desires to be united more closely to Jesus, and to be delivered more completely from the ascendancy of sin, and with thanksgiving for Him in whom alone man can be " blessed " and his way " approved."

Psalm 1   John Brown

Perhaps this psalm was added by Ezra, or whoever else was the collector of the others into one book. We have represented to us in it, (1.) The character of the godly; how holy they are, abstaining from every temptation to, or appearance of evil; and with pleasure meditating on, and endeavouring to fulfil the whole law of God, ver. 1-2; and how happy, planted in the nearest fellowship with Jesus, the River of Life, they prosper in their lawful attempts: They never fall from their grace or profession; and they shall stand with approbation at the judgment-seat of God, ver. 3. (2.) The sinfulness and misery of the wicked: How different from, and contrary to the godly in their inclinations, companions, exercises, and ends! How light and unsubstantial, as chaff, and ready to be hurled by the storms of infinite wrath, into the depths of hell, as cast and condemned in the righteous judgment of God! ver. 4-5. (3.) The great reason of the happiness of saints, and of the misery of sinners: The Lord loveth the righteous, and observes and approves of their inclinations and behaviour; but, as an enemy, he brings destructive vengeance upon the wicked, ver. 6.

While I sing these important lines, let my soul lift up her eyes to that great pattern of perfection, Jesus, the man of God's right hand, who was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners; and who fulfilled all righteousness, magnified the law, and made it honourable for men ­ for me. United to his person, clothed with his righteousness, and all inflamed and animated with his redeeming love shed abroad in my heart, let me examine myself as in his sight; let me walk in him as my way, and follow him as my pattern and guide: Let me with solemn awe look to, and prepare for his last, his eternal judgment!

Psalm 1  William Romaine

The first psalm treats of the fitness of Christ for his work, and of his success in it. He was without sin, when he came to put away sin ; and he was the tree of life, in whom believers live as branches, and by grace received from him they grow up into him in all things. This psalm should be sung with faith that we are in him, and with a lively hope, that we shall live on him, and to him for evermore, and then we shall make sweet melody in our hearts unto the Lord.