Heart Religion and the Psalms

“under all the circumstances of life, we shall find that these divine songs suit ourselves and meet our own souls’ need at every turn.”[1]

“It seems to me, moreover, that because the Psalms thus serve him who sings them as a mirror, wherein he sees himself and his own soul, he cannot help but render them in such a manner that their words go home with equal force to those who hear him sing, and stir them also to a like reaction.”[2]

“In the law and the prophetic writings, it is God who speaks to his people; in the Psalter, we listen to the saints speaking to God. Hence the Psalter has been at all times that part of Scripture to which believers have most readily turned and upon which they have chiefly depended for the nourishment of the inner religious life of the heart.”[3]

“I say that part of Scripture and not merely that part of the Old Testament, for even taking the Old and the New Testament together the common experience of the people of God will bear us out in affirming that there is nothing in Holy Writ which in our most spiritual moments “when we feel ourselves nearest to God” so faithfully and naturally expresses what we think and feel in our hearts as these songs of the pious Israelites.”[4]

“Our Lord himself, who had a perfect religious experience and lived and walked with God in absolute adjustment of his thoughts and desires to the Father’s mind and will; our Lord himself found his inner life portrayed in the Psalter and in some of the highest moments of his ministry borrowed from it the language in which his soul spoke to God, thus recognizing that a more perfect language for communion with God cannot be framed.”[5]

“the Psalms reflect that experimental religion of the heart, which is unvarying at all times and under all circumstances, we need not greatly wonder at this. The influx of the divine light whether more or less strong must always produce the identical effect of joy and hope and peace in every soul to which it comes. The well at which we drink may flow more abundantly than that at which the Psalmists drank, but the experience of thirst and of drinking and of satisfaction must still be the same as it was in the time of David.”[6]

“ ‘The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him, and he will show them his covenant.’ The “secret” means the secret counsel, the homilia as one of the old translations has aptly rendered it. It is the intimate converse between friend and friend as known from human life where there is no reserve, but the thoughts and feelings of the heart are freely interchanged. And the notion of the covenant here expresses the same idea: the covenant being conceived not as a formal contract for the specific purpose, but as a communion in which life touches life and intertwines with life so that the two become mutually assimilated. Evidently the Psalmists recognize in this private intercourse with God the highest function of religion “the only thing that will completely satisfy the child of God. And this becomes all the more touching if we remember how much there was in the old covenant, with its complex system of ceremonies, which necessitated a sort of indirect service of God; and remember further how even where a more direct approach unto God was permitted, this had to remain partial and to be exercised under restrictions because the fresh and living way into the Holy of Holies had not yet been opened up.”[7]

“The strongest argument for exclusive psalmody is the one that inevitably wells up from within when a sincere Christian begins to sing the psalms with grace in his heart. Once these divine hymns have entered into the heart of a man and he has been fed by the heavenly manna which lies embedded there, he will never be satisfied with earthly counterfeits. And until a man has experienced the psalms in this way, all the sophisticated polemics in the world will not avail to draw him away from his hymns. Acceptance or rejection of the position of exclusive psalmody is, I am fully persuaded, as much a matter of the heart as a matter of the mind.”[8]

“No single book of Scripture, not even the New Testament, has, perhaps, ever taken such a hold in the heart of Christendom. None, if we may dare judge, unless it be the Gospels, has had so large an influence in moulding the affections, sustaining the hopes, purifying the faith of believers.”[9]

[i]n the Psalms, praise is the expected outcome, but meditation is the underlying activity which we undertake in Psalm singing. Unlike modern church sings which are primarily about ‘getting right to the point’ and declaring praise, the Psalms are designed to help people who don’t always feel like praising begin by meditating on the mess the world is in, and only through a full and robust process of meditation, to come out with praise…the book of Psalms is so named because these are sung meditations, which meet us in the ‘city of confusion and trouble’ where we live and, if we follow them where they take us, they carry us ultimately to the ‘city of praise and rejoicing.’[10]

“[i]t is not gracious words that praise God; it is grace in the heart produced by sung-meditation that praises God. This is a specialty of the Psalms.” Lefebvre uses the example of a drive thru car wash: we come to the Psalms “with all the natural dirt and disappointment of life, and the Psalm meets you there… let the Psalm lead your thought process from there. Follow the Psalm… and the perfectly tailored process of meditation [is] designed to sanctify and hearten your faith”[11]

See also Singing our Sadness

1Athanasius. “The Life Of Antony And The Letter To Marcellinus.” Athanasius.com. Web. 16, January, 2016
3Vos, Geerhardus. “A Sermon on Psalm 25:14.” Kerux.com. Northwest Theological Seminary. Web Journal. Web. 16, January, 2016.
8Bushell, Michael, Songs of Zion: A Contemporary Case for Exclusive Psalmody, (Third edition). Pittsburgh: Crown & Covenant Publications, 1999, page i.
9Ibid., page 152. Quoting Bishop Perowne, as quoted in Kirkpatrick, A.F. The Book of Psalms, page 155.
10. Lefebvre, Michael. Singing the Songs of Jesus. Rosshire, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2010, page 97.
11Ibid., page 111.