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Psalty Singing

I am an enthusiastic singer! Not a good one .. but an enthusiastic one. So I really enjoy the communal worship part of our service; singing praises together to God is a great way to help focus my mind from ME!ME!ME!ME!ME!ME! and back to the sovereign God I have come to worship. It’s a useful and joyful transition from the craziness of life into a meditative and contemplative mood.

That said, several songs of late have really grated as we’ve worshiped together as a body. Nails on chalkboard grated.

Kind and Merciful God; We Have Sinned

Kind and merciful God, we have broken your laws
and in conduct have veered from the norm;
we have dreamed of the good, but the good that we could
we have frequently failed to perform.

Uh, what? In conduct we have veered from the norm?

Not sure about you – but normal for me is pretty much putrefaction and sin-tainted wickedness. With any choice, I’d want to be as abnormal as I could be! I know we can do some quick mental gymnastics and realize that God created us good and desires us to be restored to that state in the New Jerusalem, but, I have tell you, that’s not really how it reads when you’re just singing along.

Not to mention “we have dreamed of the good…” Again, what? What does that mean? I’ve dreamed of good in an abstract way; I’ve meditated over righteousness; I wished I could be good once but screwed up? What does the lyric even mean?

Or consider the dreadful

In the Secret

In the secret, in the quiet place
In the stillness You are there.
In the secret, in the quiet hour I wait,
Only for You,’cause I want to know You more;

I want to know You,
I want to hear Your voice
I want to know You more.
I want to touch You,
I want to see Your face
I want to know You more.

I am reaching for the highest goal,
then I might receive the prize.
Pressing onward, pushing every hindrance aside,
Out of my way, ’cause I want to know you more

I want to know You,
I want to hear Your voice
I want to know You more.
I want to touch You,
I want to see Your face
I want to know You more.
I want to know You,
I want to hear Your voice
I want to know You more.
I want to touch You,
I want to see Your face
I want to know You more.

In the secret, in the quiet place
In the stillness You are there

If there is a more narcissistic song to sing, I’ll be shocked. The word ‘I’ appears 23 times in 28 lines.  I want this, I want that, I’m pushing aside things that hinder me from your presence. There is only one declarative statements about God here, albeit repeated at the beginning and end. What nonsense!

To be lazy, let me just steal a phrase here and point out that, in fact, Jesus is not your boyfriend. He’s not your mate in either the spousal or Aussie slang understanding of that term. I don’t want to touch him. Frankly, the idea gives me the homoerotic creeps. Contrary to about a million Facebook groups, I am not a ‘fan’ of Jesus desiring just to hangout and gaze droolingly at Him whilst sneaking occasional touches. As the kids used to say; IEW!

As a consequence of thinking this through over the past several days, I am now firmly convinced of the exclusive Psalmody position. The last discomfort with the lyrics has been enough to drive me back to study the Regulative Principle issue again, and I find that a Psalms Only position is the one position that is consistently, absolutely, unflinchingly biblical. Sure, we can quibble about ‘psalms, hymns, & spiritual songs’; we can bicker about meter; I’m not even prepared to embrace the full-bore ‘no instruments’ position of some free-church models, but I am convinced that the history of the Church, the confessions, and Scripture itself endorses and upholds an exclusive Psalmody position.

Does that mean I have to leave the church I am in? No, I don’t think it does at all. It is, frankly, a secondary (that is, non-salvific) issue. My pastor is faithful, reformed, and godly, equipped for all aspects of ministry, and labouring diligently. There’s nothing that would lead me to split from the church.

What, then? For one, I’ve arranged to see the music prior to worship. With this, I am able to read through it in advance and understand what I am being asked to sing before being required to sing it. For songs I can’t sing, I’ll stand reverently and seek to pray in a manner that compliments the point the song is trying to communicate. Lastly, although I doubt it will happen, I need to be prepared to give a gentle answer to those who might ask why I am doing what I am doing.

Now, where did I put that Psalter?

Great new(ish) CD released with some great orchestration on Psalms. I picked this up yesterday and have been listening to it alot since then. I especially like the first track on the CD, Now Unto Jehovah, based on Psalm 29. There is a folk/celtic feel to the music. Track Four, Mighty Lord, Extend Your Kingdom, in particular has a strong Scottish aspect, evocative of Jacobites and Rebels and Highland Marches; it features The Parish Presbyterian Men’s Choir, lots of drums, and a real battle feel. And who can go wrong with tin whistles?

You can get the album at  iTunes or buy it from Ligonier, where you can also download and listen to the first track in full.

Find more information on Gregory Wilbur, the composer, at his site. I love his ideas on the union of truth, beauty, and goodness and the idea that beauty as an aspect of God is thereby a theological issue.

The words for Psalm 29:

Now unto Jehovah, ye sons of the mighty, All glory and strength and dominion accord;
Ascribe to him glory, and render him honor, In beauty of holiness worship the Lord.

The voice of Jehovah comes down on the waters; In thunder the God of the glory draws nigh.
Lo, over the waves of the wide-flowing waters Jehovah as King is enthroned on high!

The voice of Jehovah is mighty, is mighty; The voice of Jehovah in majesty speaks:
The voice of Jehovah the cedars is breaking; Jehovah the cedars of Lebanon breaks.

Each one, in his temple, his glory proclaimeth. He sat on the flood; he is King on his throne.
Jehovah all strength to his people imparteth; Jehovah with peace ever blesseth his own.

Puritan Gut Check!

I confess I was eager to get through my work this morning so I could read the next chapter in Alleine’s Sure Guide to Heaven. Now – not quite so sure!

You see, I have this notion that when I read the puritans, I will be elevated to soaring plateaus, from where I can see all of God’s glory laid out before me – like the writer is a sort of spiritual Lewis and Clark. They traverse the land and map the features to which one should pay particular attention – then I can come along and hit the highlights and feel better about things.

But it turns out, you can’t approach reading the puritans like you’re riding a train at Disneyland. You don’t get to sit in your nice little seat whilst the driver motors round a track designed to show you the things you want to see, whilst hiding the things you don’t want to see.   Turns out when you read the puritans, you’re as likely to see the behind the scenes stuff where it’s all nitty-gritty and, can we say, real – and not the shiny facades that you expect to see.

In fact, you may even find your train wrecks on your nice little ride and you’re dashed to the ground, dazed, confused and wondering quite where it was that you decided to sign up for a ride like the one you just had!

What does this have to do with my reading? Simple…

I opened Chapter One expecting a Disneyland tour of salvation. You’ll recall that Alleine hinted that he would set out to show us what salvation is. Between yesterday and today, I forgot about the plan to show that in the negative first – that is, what it is not, before turning to what it is in a positive sense.

So I was expecting a nice little Disneyland tour through salvation where I could smile benignly at the sights, nod with passing familiarity at the landmarks we’d encounter in our fun tour of SalvationLand. I was NOT prepared for the train to jump the tracks, careen into a disused siding and dump me out in the miry muck of my own sin.

  • Conversion is not the taking upon us the profession of Christianity.
  • Conversion is not putting on the badge of Christ in baptism.
  • Conversion does not lie in moral righteousness.
  • Conversion does not consist in an external conformity to the rules of piety.
  • Conversion is not the mere chaining up of corruption by education, human laws or the force of affliction.

Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips! Paul said he was the chief sinner of sinners. I venture he was using hyperbole because I know my own wickedness and I far exceed Paul in sin and corruption. Even if we were equal in wretchedness – Paul was a great mind and used greatly of God. I throw out a few chairs on a Saturday and annoy most people I know.

Alleine makes it painfully clear, in excoriating detail, that it’s nothing that we DO that can bring us into right relationship with God.

In short, conversion does not consist in illumination or conviction or in a superficial change or partial reformation. An apostate may be an enlightened man (Heb vi 4), and a Felix tremble under conviction (Acts xxiv 25), and a Herod do many things (Mk of 20). It is one thing to have sin alarmed only by convictions, and another to have it crucified by converting grace. Many, because they have been troubled in conscience for their sins, think well of their case, miserably mistaking conviction for conversion. With these, Cain might have passed for a convert, who ran up and down the world like a man distracted, under the rage of a guilty conscience, till he stifled it with building and business.

Others think that because they have given up their riotous ways, and are broken off from evil company or some particular lust, and are reduced to sobriety and civility, they are now real converts. They forget that there is a vast difference between being sanctified and civilized. They forget that many seek to enter into the kingdom of heaven, and are not far from it, and arrive to the almost of Christianity, and yet fall short at last. While conscience holds the whip over them, many will pray, hear, read, and forbear their delightful sins; but no sooner is the lion asleep than they are at their sins again. Who more religious than the Jews when God’s hand was upon them? Yet no sooner was the affliction over, than they forgot God. You may have forsaken a troublesome sin, and have escaped the gross pollutions of the world, and yet in all this not have changed your carnal nature.

Ouch! I came expecting a smile and a nod at some pretty conversion truths and left with a severe doubt of my own salvation! Ok ok – now I’m being hyperbolic – but if this chapter does not cause you to sit up and take sound notice of your sinfulness, and drive you to a sincere and earnest evaluation of your own state – then there is something wrong with you. Am I deluding myself into hell? Worse, am I misleading others? Sobering thoughts from Alleine.

Tomorrow I will be much better prepared for the train.

I’m not a very smart guy. I get some things, to be sure, but on the whole, I have neither the capacity nor the inclination to be a ‘brain’.

But I have just enough sense to know a good thing when I see (read) it, and for me, the Puritans have consistently given a plentitude of “Wow!” moments. I plan to try and read some going forward.

I’m also not very good at consistency. Check the archives to see what I mean… and so I pulled out the shortest book by a puritan author I know – Joseph Alleine’s A Sure Guide to Heaven. You may know it by the title I know it by: Alleine’s Alarm.

Iain Murray gives a great peek into Alleine’s life in a short preface to the book, sketching a broad strokes biography of his life. It’s interesting to read and makes me realize I really need to understand more of the 17th century history of the church in Scotland if I really want to get to the root of my quest to know what it is to be Presbyterian. But that’s another book!

In his introduction to the reader, Alleine spells out his earnest desire to see their conversion:

With what shall I win them? O that I could tell! I would write to them in tears, I would weep out every argument, I would empty my veins for ink, I would petition them on my knees. O how thankful should I be if they would be prevailed with to repent and turn.

His zeal for the lost is something that Murray pointed out as a solid underpinning of his entire life and work. It’s no wonder that his passion rises here as he considers the best way to reach those in danger of damnation.

His conclusion about the best way to present his argument for conversion is masterful. He outlines his plan for the rest of the treatise, how he will empty out the ink in argument to prevail upon them to repentance. He writes:

Some of you do not know what I mean by conversion, and in vain shall I attempt to persuade you to that which you do not understand. Therefore for your sakes I will show what conversion is.

Others cherish secret hopes of mercy, though they continue as they are. For them I must show the necessity of conversion.

Others are likely to harden themselves with a vain conceit that they are converted already. To them I must show the marks of the unconverted.

Others, because they feel no harm, fear none, and so sleep as upon the top of a mast. To them I shall show the misery of the unconverted.

Others sit still, because they do not see the way of escape. To them I shall show the means of conversion.

And finally, for the quickening of all, I shall close with the motives to conversion.

Chapter One is entitled Mistakes about Conversion and looks set to put paid to faulty ideas before examining more closely the nature of conversion in Chapter Two. I’m looking forward to getting into Ch. 1, and beyond, and letting my soul just luxuriate in these basic, but essential truths, written as only the Puritans can write – in a way that makes the truth like a comfortable coat I can’t wait to wear, knowing it will keep me safe and warm from the buffeting winds that life will bring along.

Should be fun! You can get this book at Banner of Truth – or even read along online.

Though we have brought forth some fruit unto Christ, and have a joyful hope that we are "plants of his own right hand planting," yet there are times when we feel very barren. Prayer is lifeless, love is cold, faith is weak, each grace in the garden of our heart languishes and droops. We are like flowers in the hot sun, requiring the refreshing shower. In such a condition what are we to do? The text is addressed to us in just such a state. "Sing, O barren, break forth and cry aloud." But what can I sing about? I cannot talk about the present, and even the past looks full of barrenness. Ah! I can sing of Jesus Christ. I can talk of visits which the Redeemer has aforetimes paid to me; or if not of these, I can magnify the great love wherewith he loved his people when he came from the heights of heaven for their redemption. I will go to the cross again. Come, my soul, heavy laden thou wast once, and thou didst lose thy burden there. Go to Calvary again. Perhaps that very cross which gave thee life may give thee fruitfulness. What is my barrenness? It is the platform for his fruit-creating power. What is my desolation? It is the black setting for the sapphire of his everlasting love. I will go in poverty, I will go in helplessness, I will go in all my shame and backsliding, I will tell him that I am still his child, and in confidence in his faithful heart, even I, the barren one, will sing and cry aloud.

Sing, believer, for it will cheer thine own heart, and the hearts of other desolate ones. Sing on, for now that thou art really ashamed of being barren, thou wilt be fruitful soon; now that God makes thee loath to be without fruit he will soon cover thee with clusters. The experience of our barrenness is painful, but the Lord’s visitations are delightful. A sense of our own poverty drives us to Christ, and that is where we need to be, for in him is our fruit found.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon
Evening by Evening – August 28th

Phillip Jensen asks Mark Dever – When is it ever right to leave a church? from Audio Advice.

Good advice for members and, I would argue, for Shepherds.

Good Blog Day

Today has been a good day for me, so far, in terms of interesting and engaging blog posts. I wanted to share a couple.

1. St. Patrick:

Dr. Moore has a good post over at his blog on the relevance of Patrick for evangelical (dare I say, Reformed?) Christians tempted to despair by the dour outlook of the times. In reviewing Philip Freeman’s St. Patrick of Ireland: A Biography, he says

This biography gives contemporary evangelicals more than a pious evangelist to emulate. It also reconstructs a Christian engagement with a pagan culture, in ways that are strikingly contemporary to evangelicals seeking to engage a post-Christian America.

2. St. Patrick Redux:

Mark Driscoll offers very helpful insight into the missionary call of Patrick – with a brief biographical sketch of his life. Mark, I am unashamedly stealing large portions of your post to rework for my Kid’s Club kids tonight! Thanks for a very helpful resource that will let me unpack to my youth that St. Patrick’s day is more than just green drunkenness – but a man called by God to bring Christ to those written off by the “church” as irredeemable. Grace will give me a great landing point tonight with these 2-9 year olds.

In the end, the Roman Church should have learned from Patrick, who is one of the greatest missionaries who has ever lived. Though Patrick’s pastors and churches looked different in method, they were very orthodox in their theology and radically committed to such things as Scripture and the Trinity.

3. R.C. Sproul Jr. & the Census:

I know I’ve run into my share of folks who are advocating bloody revolution over the notion that the Goverment is conducting a census. Is there some merit to the idea that the Government is ‘out of order’ in conducting the census? Sure! Does it equate to the histrionics that are issuing from the usual quarters? Not really, no. Little R.C. is awesome on this:

My conviction, informed by the collective wisdom of almost every Reformed Bible commentator, is that Romans 13 calls us to submit not just to government as it ought to be, but as it is. That means governments whose authority is on shaky grounds, as well as governments whose activity is on shaky grounds, if they are the ones in power, are to be submitted to, unless or until they command us to do what God clearly forbids, or forbid us to do what God clearly commands. The census is a nuisance. It is not authorized by the Constitution. It is one more fruit of the state’s self-aggrandizement, one more affectation to demonstrate that it is God. And I will be filling mine out. I’ve read the whole Bible and no where does God tell us, “Whatever else you do, be sure not to tell the state how many toilets you have.”

Brilliant!

HT: Justin Taylor