Singing from God’s Songbook

Posted by on 10/20/2017 in:

The book of Psalms has a special place in the hearts of many of God’s people—not as though it were more holy or more inspired than other books; it’s not. But for many believers, the Psalms express their emotions to God in a profound, God-honoring way. That’s why we’ve decided to give away a Psalter. If you don’t know what a Psalter is, don’t worry: we explain below.

Our love for the Psalms is surely no accident, and if you’ve found that the Psalms bring a comfort to you in hardship, and at other times a way of expressing the joy of your salvation—this has been the case for the people of God since they were written, 3,000 years ago. God has used his songbook to comfort and aid believers throughout all ages, and as we interact with the Psalms, we’re sharing an experience with believers from all over the world and all of redemptive history. This includes, but is not limited to Jesus Himself, who at various times sang or referenced the Psalms (Matthew 26:30; 27:46) and who indeed sings with us as we sing corporately (Hebrews 2:12). For this reason (among others), they were an important part of the reformation and are still an important part of the reformed tradition today.

John Calvin wrote in his introduction to the book of Psalms:

I have been accustomed to call this book, I think not inappropriately, “An Anatomy of all the Parts of the Soul;” for there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror.

The Psalms resonate so deeply with us because they were written by the same Spirit who dwelt in Christ, who Himself was intimately acquainted with our sufferings and infirmities (Hebrews 2:17–18; 4:15), though without sin. In the Psalms, we are given a way to understand our own emotions and sufferings, as well as words to pray back to God in whatever situation we may find ourselves. This is truly a gracious gift.

MUSIC AND SCRIPTURE – A BEAUTIFUL GIFT

For many of us, the only thing that comes even remotely close to comforting us like the Psalms is music. But God certainly understood the power that music has to soothe the soul (1 Samuel 16:23), and for this reason He did not intend only for the Psalms to be read, prayed, and studied. He also intended for the Psalms to be sung. They were sung by the people of God in the Old Testament and Paul commands us in the New Testament to sing them as well (Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:19). God intentionally combined the infallible content of the songs with the beautiful medium of music to teach, comfort, encourage, and admonish His people throughout all ages.

But of course, if you just open any old English Bible to the book of Psalms, play a karaoke version of your favorite song, and start belting out the words on the page—the result will be, well, clunky to say the least. Songs in English need to have rhythm and rhyme; that’s how we recognize a song as musical. Thankfully, the reformers and Puritans were aware of this. They wanted to be able to sing the songs God wrote for His people, so they retranslated them into a more singable format, but taking great pains to not bend the meaning of the words for the sake of a rhyme (no matter how clever the potential rhyme).

Many people and churches created singable translations of the Psalms, but one translation that is widely regarded as a sort of gold standard for singable English Psalms is the 1650 Scottish Metrical Psalter, which we’ve just brought to Olive Tree. The translation was commended by theologians in its day as being better than the King James Version, which was pretty high praise.

SOME STEPS FOR SINGING

With this Psalter you’ll notice that the songs have a number at the beginning of them, like 8,6,8,6. This refers to the number of syllables per line in a verse. It’s there to help you know what kind of tunes you can sing the Psalm to. You’ll notice that the vast majority of the Psalms are written in 8,6,8,6—which is called Common Metre. Any of these Psalms can be sung to the tune of Amazing Grace, O for a Thousand Tongues, or O God Our Help In Ages Past (among many others). You could download this resource, open to a favorite Psalm, and start singing immediately if you know any of those songs. Further tunes and resources are available at ThePsalmsSung.org (not affiliated with Olive Tree).

So what are you waiting for? Go download the 1650 Metrical Psalter for free, and start singing the songs God wrote for us!

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