Hymn of the Month

Psalm 34: Lord, I Bring My Songs to You

Psalm 34 is one of those psalms that the Bible explains in a fascinating heading: "When he [David] pretended to be insane before Abimelech, who drove him away, and he left." The psalm, constructed as an acrostic in Hebrew, is a prayer of thanksgiving for deliverance, followed by an invitation to others to join in the praise (st. 1-2). From praise, the psalm moves to instruction in godly living (st. 3—6). The structure of the psalm indicates that "it is not an emotional outburst of gratitude but a quiet disciplined statement for new world building" (Walter Brueg-gemann, The Message of the Psalms, p. 133).

The origin of the tune RATISBON goes back many years. In The Music of Christian Hymns Routley traces the tune back through several versions to 1539, when it appeared in one of the earliest Reformation hymnals. Subsequent versions include Cruger's 1653 JESU MEINE ZUVERSICHT, also found in many hymnals, as well as this Anglicized version, first published in 1815.

The stanzas of Psalm 34 (versified by Marie Post, a member of the revision committee for the 1987 Psalter Hymnal) are appropriate for many different occasions in worship. Two lines in this versification (along with a general theme of deliverance) make this psalm especially appropriate for the Lord's Supper: first, the line "Taste and see that God is good" (st. 3); and, second, the reference tn stanza 6 to unbroken bones—a reference that John picks up (John 19:36) when he speaks of the crucifixion and death of Jesus.

Following are some suggestions for learning and singing Psalm 34 to RATISBON:

Weeks 1 and 2: The organist plays any of a number of compositions based on RATISBON, and either a soloist or a group of children sing stanza 1 as a call to worship. Flor Peeters provides an organ setting for this tune in Hymn Preludes or the Liturgical Year, Opus 100. Since RATISBON is also coupled in many hymnals with the Wesley text "Christ, Whose Glory Fills the Skies," you may wish to try Gerhard Krapfs arrangement for that text/tune combination for congregation, organ, and two-part choir (or duet, which may be easier to put together in the summertime).

Week 3: Stanza 1 serves again as a call to worship; the congregation sings stanzas 2-5 after the assurance of pardon, before the reading of the law.

Week 4: If the Lord's Supper is to be celebrated during the month, the congregation sings the entire psalm; especially appropriate are stanzas 3 and 6.

Week 5: One of the Common Lectionary readings for July 31, 1988, is Psalm 34. If your congregation is following the lectionary, have them sing the entire psalm.

Love God with All Your Soul and Strength

Isaac Watts (1648-1748) is often called the father of English hymnody. If you check your hymnal index of authors, you will undoubtedly find some of the psalms he reworked, such as "Joy to the World" (Psalm 98) and "O God, Our Help in Ages Past" (Psalm 90), or some of his hymns, such as "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross."

Unlike most Watts texts that we know, which come from two major collections, this little song was found in a small and relatively unknown book published in 1715: Divine Songs for the Use of Children.

In 1712 Watts became very ill. He moved into the home of Sir Thomas Abney to recuperate and remained there the rest of his life, never regaining good health. To keep himself occupied, he began writing and teaching songs to the Abney children. One of these little songs was given a big title: "Duty to God and Our Neighbour and Our Saviour's Golden Rule, with Glory to God, etc." The Psalter Hymnal revision committee decided to include the first stanza of that hymn, as given here, in the Bible Songs section of the Psalter Hymnal. The original version contained three other stanzas, each in a different meter, indicating that the text was probably intended for speaking rather than singing. The end of the title, "with Glory to God, etc.," probably refers to the inclusion of the Gloria Patri in stanza 4. Stanzas 2-4 are as follows:

2. Deal with another as you'd have
another deal with you;
what you're unwilling to receive
be sure you never do.

3. Be you to others kind and true
as you'd have others be to you;
and neither do nor say to men
whate'er you would not take again.

4. Give to the Father praise,
give glory to the Son,
and to the Spirit of his grace
be equal honor done.

The tune FARRANT is taken from the well-known anthem by the English composer Richard Farrant, "Lord, for Thy Tender Mercies' Sake." Your church choir may wish to learn this short anthem during the coming year. Several editions are available (stay away from the arrangements; the original is the best).

This song is so short and simple that it will need no special introduction. Since in August most congregations have many vacationing members and visiting vacationers, a short song may be welcome. In fact, some might think it too short. But there are two good reasons for using short congregational responses that can be repeated from week to week. First, our children can easily learn short songs and join in singing them with the entire congregation during worship. This song was even written specifically for children. Second, it is good for us as congregations to learn to worship God with fewer words sometimes. Our hymn tradition is rich in theology and teaching, and we need to retain that richness. But there are also riches in a short simple expression of need, gratitude, or praise.

Every congregation has heard the words of this song many times, traditionally after the reading of the Ten Commandments. Christ quoted these words when he was asked what was the most important commandment. Usually the minister reads this summary of the law to the congregation. This song provides the congregation with an opportunity to join in the dialogue. The minister reads a guide for holy living—whether the Ten Commandments or another passage—and the people respond by singing "Love God with All Your Soul and Strength."

Week 1: Introduce the song before the service by mentioning its history as a children's song. Reprint the song in the bulletin at the appropriate spot in the liturgy (even if you have the new Psalter Hymnal). That way, the congregation can sing this response immediately after the reading of the Ten Commandments, without pausing to look up the number. Families can also take the song home with them and sing it together during the week.

Weeks 2—4: Again have the congregation sing (from memory if possible) this song as a response to the reading of God's law. By the fourth week, the congregation will anticipate singing the song at this point in the service; they may even wish to continue its use. Short, simple things bear repetition.

Rejoice, the Lord Is King

During this year that marks the 250th anniversary of Charles Wesley's conversion experience at Aldersgate, and the 200th anniversary of his death, it is fitting to sing one of his texts and to learn more about this amazingly prolific hymn writer. The article by Merwin Van Doornik on page 14 gives background on Charles Wesley and also on this text, so comments here are limited to the music.

Like so many English hymn tunes, DARWALL'S 148th originated as a psalm tune, composed by John Dar-wall for Psalm 148, "Ye Boundless Realms of Joy." Darwall (1731-1789) was a clergyman in the Church of England who wrote more music than words; his only published nonmusical work was a pamphlet about the American Revolution entitled Political Lamentations Written in the Years 1775 and 1776. Darwall actually wrote tunes for all 150 psalms; however, only this one is found in modern hymnals. The tune is well matched to Wesley's text, and together they form a powerful and joyful song.

The song is given here with two different descants by twentieth-century English composers. One of these descants can be sung to the hymnal harmony and another to an alternative accompaniment.

There is a story behind the Willcocks arrangement. A Calvin College student was visiting England in 1979 and attended a funeral service for which Sir David Willcocks was the music director. Willcocks had composed this setting for that funeral service, and the Calvin student took the notation down as he heard it (I believe he also heard it in the rehearsal before the service) and gave a copy to Dr. Howard Slenk. Several years later Slenk took this piece from his files and proposed that CRC Publications use it in the recording Lift High the Cross. When writing for permission to use the setting on that recording, we discovered that the composition had never surfaced since its original performance and that Sir David Willcocks had forgotten about it. When he received a copy, he remembered it, changed only a few notes from the version the student had copied, and gave us permission to use it. We all had a new composition!

This joyful song needs little introduction. Because it will sound familiar even to those who may not have sung it before, the congregation can begin singing "Rejoice" right away the first week. Using a trumpet on the melody and the descant for the last stanza adds to the brightness.

The Nicholson descant is printed in the new Psalter Hymnal. If you use that hymnal, be sure to give the congregation guidance—first of all, in learning the descant and, later, with a clear announcement in the bulletin about when to sing it.

Since the Nicholson descant cannot be used with the Willcocks version, save the Will-cocks arrangement for the end of the month. After you use it once, you may find the congregation liking it so much that you will want to continue using it. Since this Wesley text fits so many occasions, it should not be difficult to find opportunities to use Darwall, Nicholson, and Willcocks.

Upcoming Hymns
Reformed Worship 9

October: I Am the LORD Your God (Russia)
November: Halleluljah, Praise the LORD (ORIENTIS PARTIBUS)
December: Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming (ES IST EIN ROS)

Reformed Worship 10

January: How Bright Appears the Morning Star (WIE SCHON LEUCHTET)
February: Psalm 136: Let Us with a Gladsome Mind (GENEVAN 136)
March: Ah, Holy Jesus, How Have You Offended (HERZLIEBSTER JESU)

Emily R. Brink (embrink@calvin.edu) is Senior Research Fellow for the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and former editor of Reformed Worship.


Reformed Worship 8 © June 1988, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.