At MCPC we have developed a book of “Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs” that we use to supplement the Trinity Hymnal (this project was the foundation for the joint OPC/URC psalter hymnal project that is currently moving towards publication).

If you would like to listen to a selection of Psalms, one of our members, Michael Duryea, has put together the following recordings with the help of a choir from MCPC.

 

Since 2004 Michiana Covenant has been working on developing a new psalter hymnal. Why have we embarked on such an ambitious project?

Background

The Psalms have been the main staple of Christian singing throughout the centuries. The apostle Paul urged the church to sing psalms, hymns and Spiritual songs (Col. 3:16), all of which categories were titles used in the Greek translation of the book of Psalms. While the apostles also appear to have sung hymns (Phil. 2:6-11 may be an example of an early Christian hymn), certainly the Psalms played an important role in the life of the church from the days of the apostles until the nineteenth century.

The early fathers frequently speak of the regular singing of Psalms and hymns in Christian worship. While earlier hymns are found from the second and third centuries, hymnody especially developed in the fourth century as a means to inculcate the truths of the Christian faith versus the heresy of Arianism that the Son was not equal to the Father. The middle ages saw both the regular use of the Psalms as well as the writing of many great hymns.

The problem in the middle ages was that the congregation was gradually squeezed out of the singing of the church. In most churches the laity was silenced as the worship of the church was dominated by priests and monks. One of the great accomplishments of the Reformation was the restoration of congregational singing. The Genevan Psalters of 1543, 1551 and 1564 put the entire Psalter to music (along with the Ten Commandments and the Apostles’ Creed). Such tunes as Old Hundreth (for Psalm 100, of course—though it was originally called Old 134th, because it was first written for Psalm 134) [TH 1], Old 124th (for, you guessed it, Psalm 124!) [TH 614], and Les Commandements de Dieu (the Ten Commandments) [TH 724] and a half dozen others are still found in the Trinity Hymnal. The Genevan Psalter was a remarkable achievement, and its tunes are still sung in many Reformed churches around the world.

But psalmody and hymnody never stands still. In every generation there are both composers and lyricists who have enriched the church’s sacrifice of praise.

After the Reformation most of the Reformed churches sang only Psalms until well after 1700. One of the first movements away from exclusive Psalmody was Isaac Watts collection of paraphrases (such as “Joy to the World” from Psalm 98 [TH 195], or “Our God, Our Help in Ages Past” from Psalm 90 [TH 30]). These paraphrases were often intended to make the Christ-centered nature of the Psalms more explicit (“Jesus Shall Reign” from Psalm 72 [TH 441]). Gradually hymns also were incorporated into Presbyterian worship as it became clear that the scriptures nowhere required exclusive Psalmody.

But the reaction against exclusive Psalmody went too far. Before 1900 virtually all Presbyterian hymnals had included a full collection of the Psalms. But gradually, as the nineteenth century progressed, some began to argue that the Psalms were intended for the Old Testament people of God, and were not fit for Christian worship (it should be noted that dispensationalism was also rampant among late 19th and early 20th-century Presbyterians). By the early twentieth century, even conservative Presbyterians no longer sang the Psalms regularly. One of the richest storehouses of devotion, indeed, the one divinely-ordained repository of worship songs had practically vanished from the regular use of the church.

In 1949 the General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church established a committee to prepare a new hymnal, which was published as the Trinity Hymnal in 1961. This hymnal had a large number of Psalms or portions of Psalms scattered throughout the hymnal, and the revised Trinity Hymnal of 1990 (the hymnal we presently use) continued this pattern. But still there are 46 Psalms that are entirely excluded from the Trinity Hymnal and dozens more only have partial texts. Many of the ones it includes are hampered by antiquated vocabulary or stilted grammar. The Trinity Hymnalshould be applauded for beginning the work of returning the Psalms to the regular use of the Presbyterian churches, but there is more work yet to do.

 

The Origin of the Work

Pastor Wallace had begun work on this project in the summer of 2000, but had grown frustrated by the lack of good metrical translations of the Psalms. But then in 2003 the Free Church of Scotland published a new metrical Psalter, Sing Psalms, which took as its goal the translation of the whole book of Psalms in clear modern English. With this marvelous resource now available, he approached the session with the idea of preparing a book of Psalms and hymns supplemental to the Trinity Hymnal, that might become the foundation for a new Presbyterian Psalter Hymnal.

With the encouragement of the session, Pastor Wallace contacted the chairmen of Great Commissions Publications, Tom Patete, and the OPC’s Committee on Christian Education, Danny Olinger, both of whom had been talking about putting together a Psalter Hymnal at some point. Both have expressed continued interest in the work.

At the same time, with the desire for being immediately useful to Michiana Covenant Presbyterian Church, and the opportunity to produce something of value to the church at large, the session approved the formation of a committee (that had already been functioning informally as an editorial committee) to prepare a full Psalter, together with additional hymns that would be of use for MCPC.

Principles of Selection

METRICAL PSALMS

1) The translation should be in good, clear, modern English. Archaic vocabulary and grammar should be avoided wherever possible.

2) The Name of God is usually translated LORD. Occasionally the older “Jehovah” is used where the meter required it.

3) Rhyme, while not a feature of Hebrew poetry, is still generally used in English-speaking hymnody. Therefore most metrical Psalms should rhyme. Consistency within a single Psalm, however, is the chief goal.

4) Each Psalm should be set to one tune, so that the congregation may sing through the whole Psalm (except Psalm 119, which was designed as 22 separate songs). Few Psalms can be easily divided, and any division of the Psalm tends to lose sight of the meaning of the Psalm as a whole.

 

HYMNS

1) Hymns should be faithful to the teaching of the scripture. This means more than “the absence of error.” They should inculcate the apostolic teaching.

2) Songs should be appropriate for worship. Some hymns are perfectly correct statements of Christian piety and devotion, but don’t really fit anywhere in the worship service (e.g., campfire songs like “King Jesus Is All”). We do not distinguish between “traditional” and “contemporary” songs, because in spite of claims to the contrary, the difference between 19th century “hymns” and 20th century “praise songs” is quite minimal.

3) The hymnal should in a certain respect be modeled after the Psalter. The Psalms provide a divinely-approved example of the sorts of songs in which God delights.

4) The hymnal should include the “best of the best” of all ages. There are thousands of quite decent hymns which cannot be included due to constraints of space.

 

MUSIC

1) The tune should above all, fit the words and hopefully aid the message.

2) Most tunes should be four-part. Unison tunes are acceptable only when the tune simply cannot be passed up.

3) The origin of the tunes should be fairly balanced. There should be some older tunes (such as the Genevan tunes noted above) and some newer tunes, but the majority of the tunes should be familiar.

4) One tune should not be used for many texts. A tune may be used for 2-3 texts at most.

5) Familiar hymn tunes may be used with the Psalms, but usually only when the Psalm has the same basic theme as the hymn (e.g, Luther’s Ein Feste Burg with Psalm 46).

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