Along with many others like me, the OPC has had a profound and positive effect on my life. In God’s Providence, I was received into the Presbytery of the Dakotas in 1974 and subsequently had the privilege of serving as pastor of the congregations in Bartlesville, OK and Caney, KS. It was also my privilege to serve on and chair the Presbytery committees of Candidates and Credentials and Home Missions. It was my great privilege to serve Presbytery Home Missions during the tenure of Missionary-at-Large, Glenn Black, and Home Missions and Church Extension during the tenure of George Haney. I relate this personal history to emphasize my deep respect for the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. We still gladly receive New Horizons. The following is a response to Pastor Don Poundstone’s, March 2014 article, “Do We Really Need A Psalter-Hymnal?” and particularly his section titled, “The Notion of Total Psalmody.” Follow the link to read Pastor Poundstone’s article.
The ‘Problem’ of Denying David a Christian Voice
Pastor Poundstone’s criticism of what he calls ‘total psalmody’ amounts to the common argument that the Psalter is inadequate for Christian praise. He advocates that, “we should follow in the footsteps of hymn writer Isaac Watts, who famously said three hundred years ago that we must strive to give King David a Christian voice.” Of course, the assumption is that David does not have a Christian voice. After all, he lived hundreds of years prior to the incarnation. The fallacy here is to emphasize the discontinuity of the testaments over against their continuity.
An evidence of this imbalance is the question, “Why should we think God is most highly pleased when we sing his praise in words belonging to what the Epistle to the Hebrews calls an “old” and now “obsolete” covenant (8:13)?” We must remember that there is one covenant of grace. And as our Confession indicates, “This covenant was administered differently in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel … ” (7:5). The administration of the covenant under the law was, “sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins and eternal salvation … ” (Ibid.). The old covenant now made obsolete is the Mosaic administration of the covenant not the covenant of grace itself.
Pastor Poundstone declares, “Christ and the gift of Holy Spirit have made a big difference!” Indeed! Abraham received the same Spirit we do (Gal. 3:14). Abraham believed the same gospel we believe (Gen. 12:3; Gal. 3:8). Abraham had the same resurrection hope we enjoy (Heb. 11:19). David received the same Spirit we receive (1 Sam. 13:14; Acts 4:25). David embraced the same gospel we embrace (Psa. 110:1; Mat. 22:43-45; Rom. 10:9). David enjoyed the same resurrection hope we enjoy (Psa. 16:9-11). Both Abraham and David were justified by grace alone through faith alone and are examples for justification by Christ (Rom. 4:1-8). Yes, Christ and the Holy Spirit made all the difference for the Old Testament saints as Christ and the Holy Spirit make all the difference for us today. From this perspective, we need not Christianize David.
The ‘Problem’ of Imprecations
But Pastor Poundsotone asks, “What are the notes sounded in the Psalms that Christians find troubling? The first problem we usually feel is the invocation of curses or imprecations against enemies.” He adds, “However we finally explain those psalms, desires for revenge clash noticeably with attitudes commended by Christ and his apostles.” At the same time, Christ calls out his and our enemies, “Woe to you scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites … ” (Mat. 23:13ff). He condemns entire cities, “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida” (Mat. 11:21). Christ also directs His disciples in the proclamation of the gospel, “Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet. Truly I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city” (Mat. 10:14-15).
The saints in heaven cry out for justice, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Rev. 6:10). The Psalmist asks the same question, “How long shall the wicked, O Lord, How long shall the wicked exalt?” (Psa. 94:3). I for one do not hesitate to pray against Islam, an evil and blasphemous religion, using Psalm 83:13-18.
O my God, make them like the whirling dust, / Like chaff before the wind. / Like fire that burns the forest / And like a flame that sets the mountains on fire, / So pursue them with Your tempest / And terrify them with Your storm. / Fill their faces with dishonor, / That they may seek Your name, O Lord. / Let them be ashamed and dismayed forever, / And let them be humiliated and perish, / That they may know that You alone, whose name is the Lord, / Are the Most High over all the earth.
I fear we do not have enough of such Biblical prayer.
The ‘Problem’ of Emotional Expression
“A second, and related, issue concerns our response to suffering and persecution. For the psalmists, insults and afflictions are typically bad experiences to be abhorred and avoided.” No, they are experience characteristic of this fallen world through which each of us must walk, not with stoic resolve, but upheld by the merciful gracious hand of our loving God. It is not wrong to weep; Jesus did (John 11:35). It is not wrong to express grief and sorrow; the Apostle Paul did (Rom. 9:2). Grief and anger are not wrong in themselves; Jesus had these emotions (Mark 3:5). Such emotions should be bridled and Psalmody is one vehicle for training us in this Godliness. As the venerable Gerhardus Vos said with regard to the Psalms, “[A] more perfect language for communion with God cannot be framed” (Grace and Glory, Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 1994, 170, italics added). This is why generations of Christians in the midst of trial have gone back to the Psalms to find comfort, grace, and hope.
The ‘Problem’ of How to View the Nations
Pastor Poundstone claims, “The coming of Christ, and his finished work of salvation, changed the way believers look at Gentiles.” Is this really the case? Paul urges Jew and Gentile to “accept one another.” He affirms that God’s lovingkindness, His covenant love, has long extended to both Jew and Gentile. He does so by quoting from Psalm 117, “Praise the Lord, all nations; Laud Him, all peoples! For His lovingkindness is great toward us, And the truth of the Lord is everlasting. Praise the Lord!” This perspective had been Israel’s for generations. In fact, the Psalter begins with the promise to Messiah, “I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance, And the very ends of the earth as Your possession” (Psa. 2:8; Mat. 28:19; Acts 1:8). This perspective carries through the Psalter. Psalm 67:2-3, “That Your way may be known on the earth, Your salvation among all nations. Let the peoples praise You, O God; Let all the peoples praise You.” Psalm 150:6, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord.”
Yes, the Psalter contains words of judgment and promises of wrath as they are found in the New Testament; but there are also words of comfort, mercy, grace, and love as they are also found in the New Testament. As a general statement, it is to be doubted that “pious Jews for hundreds of years before Christ [have] looked upon heathen neighbors with fear, contempt, and hostility.” Where hostility existed with “Egypt, Canaanite nations, Moab and Edom, Assyria and Babylon,” it was largely because these nations sought to destroy the theocracy. This enmity existed because God promised Satan He would insure its presence (Gen. 3:15). A proper view of the nations in the Old Testament sees not only judgment, but tokens of grace foreshadowing the greater out-breaking of grace in the New Testament. The Messianic and eschatological bent of the Psalter follows this same trajectory and view of the nations. For more on this, see my textbook, Public Worship 101.
The ‘Problem’ of the Future Life
“Finally, to take one more example, there’s the matter of a future life. We know expressions in the Psalms that suggest the hope of enjoying God beyond this world. But in addition, at least four times in the book of Psalms, we read that physical death marks an unwanted and silent end (see, for example, Pss. 6:5 and 88:10–12).” If Pastor Poundstone is correct, the Bible, particularly the Psalter, contradicts itself. Rather, the Psalms to which Pastor Poundstone points state David’s concern that death will silence his voice and testimony in a listening and watching world. David does not contradict his hope in the resurrection. See Calvin on these texts.
For these reasons, and for others, Pastor Poundstone’s conclusion is that we “ought to recognize the limitations of the Psalter’s outlook, especially when compared to God’s final revelation in the New Testament.” Yet, the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament indicates that the New Testament quotes the Psalter 79 times and alludes to the Psalter 335 times, more than any other Old Testament book. The New Testament writers use the bulk of these quotations and allusions to preach Christ. In other words, the Book of Psalms is a primary source used by Christ and the apostles to present the Christian message. Therefore, according to the New Testament, a clear and accurate translation of the Psalter does not deny David a clear Christian voice as Pastor Poundstone suggests. It is just the opposite. And we who love to sing the Psalms are no more making a “fetish” of the Psalter than those who were in the midst of the liberal-fundamentalist controversy ninety years ago made a fetish of the whole Bible.
As one of my Reformed Presbyterian colleagues said, tongue-in-cheek, “It’s amazing that too much psalm singing is such a pressing problem in the church that it merits yet another article on the subject!” No! The Psalms are not sung too often. They are not sung often enough. “The Spiritual vitality of the church is proportional to the use of psalms in worship and in the lives of believers. When the church was strong, actively influencing society, it was characteristically filled with psalms. When psalms are absent from worship, as they have recently been, the church becomes weak and ineffectual, as it is today” (Table Talk, October 7, 1991). May God be pleased to bless the OPC with a Psalter-Hymnal containing all 150 Psalms to promote the wider use of the Psalms in her worship to the glory of God and the growth of His Kingdom.