An Argument Against Exclusive Psalmody

Let it be known at the beginning of this post that I love the Psalms, and that I believe the Psalms should be sung in worship frequently, just not exclusively. I heard this argument recently from a new friend of mine in the OPC, by name, the Rev. Brett Mahlen. He used to be EP himself, and so he knows the position from inside, as it were. The argument goes like this: the way most EP proponents phrase the matter is that we can only sing in worship words that are inspired, and that the Bible commands us only to sing the Psalms (usually they interpret Colossians 3:16 to refer to the Septuagintal division of the Psalter into psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs). The argument from my friend addresses the first half of the statement. If we may only sing inspired words, then we cannot sing in English, since the translation into English is not itself inspired; only the autographs are inspired. If we then say that the English translation (into meter, which involves considerable paraphrasing!) is inspired, then we are undermining our doctrine of verbal plenary inspiration. English metrical Psalms, as beautiful as they can be (and most worthy of being sung, I might add!), are not inspired Scripture.

Furthermore (and this is now my addition to the argument), by saying that only the very words of the Psalter may be sung, proponents of EP commit a word-concept fallacy. To remind ourselves, the word-concept fallacy is an error in logic that happens when people believe that words are the same thing as ideas, whereas the truth of the matter is that we use words to express ideas, even though those ideas could be expressed with different words. To flesh it out a bit more, an idea can be present even though a specific word is not used. Similarly, just because a specific word is present does not mean that the idea is also present. In this case, the word-concept fallacy is committed by saying that what is meant in the Psalter can only be obtained by singing the very words themselves. Then the error is compounded by saying that the English metrical Psalters can fit the bill of singing the ipsissima verba (the very words) of Scripture. Ironically, in other places in their Reformed theology, EP proponents would not commit this fallacy. For instance, Reformed EP proponents all (as far as I know) hold that the Bible teaches the doctrine of the Trinity, even though the word “Trinity” nowhere occurs in the Bible. They recognize that the concept of the Trinity is very much present (even obviously so!), and yet the word “Trinity” is not present. The word “Trinity” is our shorthand to express the fact that the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God, and yet there is only one God. So there is not a consistency here with EP proponents: they say that we may only sing the very words of the Psalter, and yet they advocate English metrical Psalters to accomplish this, which English Psalters are not the very words of the inspired Psalms.

To push the point a little further, we may remember that several commentators on the Psalms have said that the Psalter is a mini-Bible. My description of the Psalter would be that it is an emotional commentary on all of Scripture, mostly in the form of prayers. The Psalter thus extends its influence on all the rest of Scripture in one way or another. If this is so, then it is by no means unreasonable to assert that any hymn that is biblical in content reflects the teaching of the Psalter.

Of course, no case whatsoever can be made for a position that says we must all learn Hebrew so that we will sing the Psalter in the original language. That would again commit the word-concept fallacy. The content of Scripture can be translated into other languages, and it is the content of Scripture that we want available to us. Translation of Scripture is implied in the Great Commission of Matthew 28, among other places.

So the EP proponent, if he admits the force of this argument, might respond by saying, “Well, as long as we have the content of the Psalter, then we are good.” However, once one has gotten over the hump of the word-concept fallacy, the whole game is given away, because of what I wrote two paragraphs ago. It seems to me that the claim that we must only sing the inspired Psalms is an essential linch-pin in the EP argument. Without it, the whole thing collapses to the ground. The EP proponents singing metrical Psalms in English are not singing the inspired Psalms, because they are not singing the original Hebrew.

My position is that we must sing only what is biblical. But by the term “biblical” I mean what is biblical in content. We do not need to sing only the very words of Scripture. Otherwise we would have to sing in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. We need to sing the content of Scripture. There is a continuum, therefore, of “biblicalness” when it comes to what we sing. Some can only marginally be called Scriptural. Songs like “In the Garden” have content that can be argued as being anti-biblical (really, an experience that none other has ever known? Are you the recipient of direct divine revelation or something? What kind of walking and talking with me is the song singing about?). We should aim, therefore, to ask the right question: is this hymn biblical in its content?

Psalm 2 Prayer

Our one true and only king, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, not only do we desire to worship you, but we also desire to submit to you. We both lament the fact and are righteously angry that the nations to do not desire to submit to you. How dare the nations rise up in anger against you! How dare they conspire against the Lord, thinking that they can throw off the bonds of your sovereignty! How dare they use the intellect you gave them and resources that you gave them to rebel against you! How dare they seek to dethrone Jesus Christ, whose throne is utterly secure, beyond the reach of any who oppose you!

We know, Father, that such attempts, while offensive to us, are simply ridiculous to you. To you it must seem like these pitiful ants are crawling around on the ground seeking a way to bring down an elephant. And yet, you have also said that your mere words will be enough to put them in their place. For you have established your Son as King on Zion, high and exalted. You crowned Him with glory and honor, and have made all the nations his inheritance, the entire earth his possession.

These brittle nations who oppose you, you will break with a rod of iron, like a piece of pottery. Father, give us the words to say to these nations and rulers. Help us to advise them to be wise, such that they would serve you all their days, that they would fear you, instead of being arrogant; that they would rejoice in your name and your righteousness, and your kingdom. Father, may we all kiss your Son Jesus, submitting to him with deepest reverence, for we know that we want to avoid your wrath, and instead find in you the most blessed refuge for us.

Psalm 1 Prayer

I have taken to praying the Psalms in corporate worship, and what I am doing is making the wording corporate, interpreting the Psalm christologically, and seeking to make the Psalm ours. This is my effort at praying Psalm 1:

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you have revealed to us that we are blessed if we do not walk in the council of the wicked, stand in the way of sinners, or sit in the seat of the scoffer. Make us instead to delight in your law, that we might meditate on it day and night. Make us to be like trees planted by streams of water, yielding their fruit in their season, never withering, gaining an internal, invisible nourishment so that, in anything that we do for you and for your kingdom, we will prosper. Make us not like the wicked, who have so little weight that the wind can drive them away. Though we feel alone in this, though we see and feel the pressures against righteousness by the world outside, we know, Father, that the whole congregation of the righteous will stand with us. Above all, you stand with us, for you know our path, the end from the beginning. You know that path of wisdom, and you delight to show it to us. You also illuminate for us the path of the wicked, and you show us its end. We praise you that Jesus walked not in the counsel of the wicked, nor did he stand in the way of sinners, nor ever sit in the seat of scoffers. We praise you that He delighted to do your will, that He delighted in your law, that He always meditated on it, that He therefore has become for us the life-giving vine who nourishes our faith always.

God at Your Right Hand

Psalm 16:8 has always been comforting to me. However, it just became even more so when I understood the imagery involved. One commentator has explained that this is military imagery. To be at someone’s right hand infers that the shield a soldier holds is in his left hand. He holds the sword with his right. This means that he is vulnerable to attack on his right side. However, if you have a good partner at your right hand, his shield (held in his left hand) can protect you from attacks coming from that direction. In other words, the Psalmist is saying that God protects you in those very places where you are most vulnerable to attack. This is immensely comforting to me, and should be comforting to all Christians.

This is especially relevant in terms of those sins that are habitual in us, to which we are most prone to fall. We need to stop thinking of God as adversarial to us in this struggle, and start thinking of Him as our greatest (and first!) resource to fight the sin. He is at our right hand. I know that I have had trouble thinking the wrong way about God in these kinds of situations. I am tempted to think of God only as accusatory, or disappointed. Now, God our Father does not like our sin, and He wants it gone from us. And he can be a stern Father, allowing us to face the consequences of our sins for our good through discipline. However, there is more to the situation than that. After all, there must be a reason why these sins are not completely conquered at conversion. There must be a reason why God does not wave a magic wand and all our sin is gone. There are so many layers to our self-reliance that God strips away throughout our Christian lives. A realization that all power to conquer sin comes from God is the goal here. Until we stop thinking of God as a last resort, we will still fall prey habitually to those sins. It is only when we run first to Jesus at the first sign of temptation that we can make any progress in fighting these sins. Run first to your Shield-Mate. When we run away from Him, our entire right side is exposed to the attacks of Satan. It is not wise, but it is all too often what we do.

A Friendly Intro to Biblical Theology, Take Three

(Posted by Paige)

Here is a link to a 30-minute talk that I gave at a Bible study conference this October. It’s another introduction to redemptive history, this time tracing the theme of God’s inclusion of the Gentiles through the Old and New Testaments. I also play around with a connection between the Syrophoenician woman and Paul’s words about the “mystery” of Gentile inclusion in Ephesians 3. It’s on YouTube this time NOT because it’s a video of me speaking, but because I made slides to illustrate the audio. Please listen if you like, and pass the link on to others who might benefit, especially those who are just getting to know the Word.

Soli Deo Gloria!

2k – 2nd Table Only – Another Biblical Argument

(Reed DePace)

In a previous thread I presented a biblically based argument for the 2K proposition: in the new covenant era the civil magistrate’s duties are limited to the 2nd Table of the Ten Commandments (from honor to parents to no coveting of neighbor’s possessions). A number sought to challenge that argument by referencing Psalm 2, verses 10-12 in particular.

Some prayerful reflection on that passage led to a few observations, which when taken together, I believe present another biblically based argument in support of this Reformed 2K proposition. While you’re reading Psalm 2, go ahead and read Rom. 13:1-5 and also Heb. 13:17.

To begin, let’s note the context of Psalm 2:10-12. For the sake of the discussion here, let’s ignore the initial audience, the pagan civil magistrate under the Old Covenant era. (Although there appears to be an additional huge supporting biblical argument from reflections in that direction – maybe later).

Surely, given the reference in v. 6 (Zion) in part in view in Psalm 2 is Christ’s rule over His Church (2K terminology: the Sacred Kingdom). Yet it is also clear that the primary focus of the Psalm is Christ’s rule over the pagan nations of the world (2K terminology: the Secular Kingdom). In this context, the commands in Ps. 2:10-12 can only be understood as a direct command applicable to the pagan civil magistrates in the New Covenant era.

At the very least, it is a command for these civil magistrates to recognize from Whom they have their authority, and thus to Whom they are accountable for its use. Even more we could say the Psalm promise judgment to these civil magistrates for the failure to rightly use their God-given authority. Jesus is the Great King Who will demand an accounting of the civil reigning “in his name” as it were.

So now imagine the pagan civil magistrate who hears this warning? What’s the first question he is going to ask? “O.k., how do I rightly use this authority?” In the New Covenant era, the passage that best answers that question is Rom. 13:1-5. Here we see Psalm 2’s divine ordination of civil authority picked up and explained in practical terms. Again, tracking with the previous thread’s arguments, at the very least the civil magistrate would conclude he is responsible to use his authority with reference to 2nd Table issues, those dealing with man’s relationship with man.

But what about the 1st Table issues? Where in the New Covenant might I find insight into whether or not the civil magistrate’s authority includes these issues, man’s interaction with God? Hmm …

Turn to Heb. 13:17 and notice the some interesting comparisons and contrasts with Rom. 13:1-5. In both there is mention of a God-ordained authority. In both there is the notion of accountability for the exercise of that authority. Yet there are two critical differences between these passages. In the Hebrews passage, the ordained authority is the elders of the Church, not the civil magistrate. Further it is an authority that involves 1st Table matters, man’s relationship with God.

The parallels are pretty clear: both passages have in view the authority of the Great King Jesus, delegated to an ordained human authority, who will be held accountable for his use of that authority.

The differences are pretty clear as well: 2nd Table authority is delegated to the civil magistrate, and 1st Table authority is delegated to the church elder.

To be sure, these aren’t the only considerations for the authority of the church via its elders (i.e., they do exercise 2nd Table authority, but only spiritually, not materially). Nevertheless, the parallel/contrast does support the 2K argument that the civil magistrate is given authority only over 2nd Table issues.

I’m drawn to the hermeneutical principle that the unclear in Scripture is to be understood in light of the clear. This particularly applies from OT to NT. Psalm 2 is best understood in light of NT passages that inform its subject matter, such as the two here. This comparison/contrast between Rom 13:1-5 and Heb 13:17, coupled with the contextual considerations outlined in the previous thread, given me strong reason to believe the 2K proposition is right here: 2nd Table only for the civil magistrate.

(Reed DePace)

Psalms and Prophets, part 2

Leithart next looks at Psalm 35. his main point here seems to be that, since the language of courtroom and battlefield are so mixed here, that therefore forensic language “is not always strictly tied to ‘forensic’ situations” (p. 219). However, he only cites verses 2-3 as evidence of a military setting. But this is no different from what we might say today, “I fought a courtroom battle today.” The question here is this: how is the language metaphorical? Which set of metaphors is more basic/more prevalent? I believe that the clear answer with regard to Psalm 35 is that the courtroom language is far more prevalent and controlling than the military language. Therefore, the military language is metaphorical of the courtroom. First of all, the Psalm starts with the courtroom imagery, as Leithart notes (p. 218). But surely, the idea that “coutroom language emerges now and then throughout the Psalm” is an understatement. Witness (!) the following data: “put to shame” (vs. 4); “malicious witnesses” (vs. 11); “look on” (vs. 17); “you have seen” (calls on God as witness, vs. 22); all of verses 23-26 are clearly determined by courtroom language, with such words as “vindication,” “righteousness,” “shame,” and “dishonor” occuring regularly. Through and through, this Psalm is riddled with courtroom imagery. It is certainly the most prominent set of images. Leithart’s argument here makes me feel that he is trying to jumble up all the metaphors so that everything describes one act. The language does not force that to be the case.

Two other things must therefore be argued: firstly, the other metaphors do not have to be interpreted in such a way that the courtroom imagery has to include the others within its own conceptual framework. Again, Leithart has not proven his point here by excluding all the alternatives. Even if his claim were true that the imagery was so mixed, that would not justify (!) us in saying that the metaphors have to be all jumbled together. For instance, an unfavorable verdict for David’s accusers results in deliverance from them. The text nowhere forces us to say that they are the same act. The one can be the perfectly logical and ordinary result of the other. This leads us to the second point: being vindicated in a courtroom results in dignity and honor commensurate with the confirmed status of being innocent. This is not the same thing as being delivered from sin. It is the same as being delivered from guilt. So, here, to a certain extent, I can use Leithart’s term “deliverdict,” as long as it is understood of deliverance from guilt, and not deliverance from power or presence.

Thank the Lord for Jerusalem!

Psalm 122

There are many things for which we can be thankful. For instance, I am thankful to God for my wife and our children. Many people are rightly thankful for family, work, bank accounts, and many other things. How many times, though, have you been thankful for the church? Not just that the church exists, mind you, but thankful that you can be part of it. There is this rather hideous idea out there that the church needs me, and the church needs my patronage, my money, my talents. That really is quite arrogant. It is much more true that we need the church. Of course, what we mean by that is that we need what God gives us through the church. But it is quite arrogant to think that the church is dispensable to us. Our Psalm here is a good antidote to such thinking.

The Psalm can be divided into three parts. Verses 1-2 talk about the joy of church; verses 3-5 talk about the esteem that we ought to have for the church; and verses 6-9 talk about prayer for the church.

But before we get into these three points, there is one preliminary point that we must consider. The Psalm doesn’t use the word “church.” Rather, it uses the word “Jerusalem.” Why is it legitimate to say that this speaks of the church? Well, I will point you to one passage in the NT that gives us this indication. That passage is Galatians 6:16, which reads (in my own translation): “And to as many as walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, even upon the Israel of God.” Earlier in Galatians, Paul speaks of the church as being the true heirs of Abraham. We are the children of Abraham, who believe by faith. Therefore, the church is the NT Israel belonging to God. That is because there is a new way of being Israel, namely, by faith in Christ. Christ is the true Israel. That is proved in the early chapters of Matthew, where everything Christ does reenacts the people of Israel in the wilderness, in Egypt, in the Jordan river. Christ embodies Israel in His person. Except that Christ was righteous, whereas Israel was sinful. But now, the church consists of all those who are IN Christ. That means that we are IN Christ, who, in turn, is the true Israel. Therefore, we are the true Israel. Nowadays, it is not whether you are circumcised or not, it is whether you trust in Jesus. That marks you out now as the true Israel. Just as the people gathered from all Israel to be in Jerusalem to worship, so also do we now all gather together in church to worship together. In fact, that is what verse 3 says, “Jerusalem is built like a city that is closely compacted together.” The church, by the way, is not a building, but rather the people who meet together. It is the city of people who are in Christ.

That being said, then, we can proceed. Everything in the chapter that talks about Jerusalem now applies to the Christian church. So, do we rejoice when someone says to us, “Let us go to church.” Do we rejoice? Or do we say, “Not again!” Children, I think, are especially susceptible to this kind of thinking. It can be difficult for children to pay attention for an hour at a time. And there are some things which perhaps the children do not understand. That is where we must train our children to understand what is going on in the worship service. Why are we called to worship? Why do we pray? Why do we listen to a preacher? Why do we give offerings? Why do we worship at all? These questions must be answered if our children are to have joy in worship. We must remember that many cannot worship, either by choice or by necessity. There are many people in this world who do not have this opportunity to do what we were made to do. Our very country was founded so that we could do what we are doing right now in worship. Do you rejoice?

Secondly, in verses 3-5, do we esteem the church? The church, as it says in verse 3, is closely compacted together. I don’t really think that this is hard for us to understand, since everyone in this church is related to everyone else. The old saying goes like this, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” Have we let our familiarity with one another breed contempt? Of course, when people are living so close together in terms of family, it is very easy to have some people rub other people the wrong way. That is where we need to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, the church. Pray for peace in our church. This is vitally important.

Thirdly, how do we pray for the church? Do we pray for the church? It is very easy to forget to pray for the church. Maybe we think that the church doesn’t need the prayer, really. Maybe we think that other people in the church don’t need our prayers, or don’t deserve our prayers. Scripture here plainly tells us in verse 6, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. May those who love you be secure. May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels. For the sake of my brothers and friends, I will say, ‘Peace be within you.’” Notice that verse 8, “For the sake of my brothers and friends.” You see, our brothers and friends do need our prayers. And since God has called them into the church, they deserve our prayers.

Well, if we see there for whom we ought to pray, then we can also easily see for what we are to pray. Notice just how often peace is mentioned in this Psalm. We are to pray for peace. Peace comes in two forms: peace between God and man, and peace between man and man. We must have peace with God. That is to say, we must have the Prince of Peace ruling over us for there to be any hope of reconciliation with God. That peace will, in turn, result in peace with our fellow believers.

But how is peace to be achieved? It is plain that we are to seek for it, as verse 9 tells us explicitly. How are to seek for the peace of the church? Firstly, we must cultivate our peace with God. That involves confessing our sin, repenting and turning away from it. And then we must cultivate our peace with one another.

I wish to talk briefly about some obstacles that get in the way of peace with one another. The first obstacle is idolatry. We all have idols, the things we want most in the world. Ask yourself some questions, “What do I think about the most?” “If only I had ___, then I would be happy.” Fill in the blank. “Is there something I desire so much that I am willing to disappoint or hurt others in order to have it?” That is one way of finding out what your idols are. Be careful here. We are so good at masking those idols in the form of something good. We might say, “But it is my right to have this.” Or we might say, “But look at how much they hurt me.” We might say, “But all I want is for them to be godly.” All these can be used as excuses to cover over our own idolatry. But idols we still have. Idols get in the way of peace, since we will pursue our idols, and anyone who gets in the way will be crushed. Not exactly conducive to peace.

Another major obstacle that gets in the way of peace is our pride. We have two rules in our lives. 1. I am always right. 2. If I am wrong, see rule number 1. It is absolutely impossible to live at peace with people if every difference of opinion means that you are automatically right. It is the same pride that says, “I don’t need the church; the church needs me.” Jesus doesn’t need you, you desparately need Him. The same is true of the church. God will make sure that His church lives. He doesn’t need you to keep His church running. But you desperately need the church. That is why we should all seek the peace of the church.

A third major obstacle to peace between brothers and sisters in Christ is our words. We have practically a war of words going on much of the time. And we have a really hard time controlling our words. In fact, our words get the better of our brains a good deal of the time. We think that we are the fountain of all good thoughts, all righteous thoughts, all good advice. The fact is, we should be very slow to talk, and very quick to listen. And by listening, I don’t mean standing there while the other person talks, and you’re thinking, “When is this person going to shut up so that I can talk?” That is not listening. Listening means that you are always trying to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and you are always asking, “What does this person really mean?” It might very well be different from what you think they mean. One good way of listening is to try to repeat back to them, in a somewhat summarized form, what they said. That way, they will tell you whether you got it right or not. If someone says, “I’m just sick and tired of working. I hate the long hours, I hate the people with whom I work, and I hate the lousy pay,” you are not listening if you say, “You lazy bum.” You are listening if you say, “So you’re exhausted with life and work, and feel that the whole world is against you.” I think that we could have a great deal more peace in our churches if we were quick to listen, and slow to speak.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem, and rejoice in the church.

Holiness for Pleasant Places

I am conducting my ninth funeral service tomorrow. Here is the sermon which I will preach.

Psalm 16

Eugene Peterson once said this, “In out kind of culture, anything, even news about God, can be sold if it is packaged freshly; but when it loses its novelty, it goes on the garbage heap. There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sin up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness.” The great theologian Jonathan Edwards said it this way, “Resolved, never to do anything which I would be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life.”

Our Psalm has a great deal to say about pleasant things. There is rejoicing, having the Lord be our right hand, not being shaken, pleasant places, a beautiful inheritance, pleasures forevermore, and fullness of joy. All of these beautiful things are in this Psalm. However, there is also holiness. Verse 2 says “I have no good thing apart from you.” Verse 3 says that the saints of the land are those in whom is all the writer’s delight. Of course, the reason why the writer takes delight in God’s people is because he takes delight in God. You cannot have the one without having the other. Verse 4 describes the writer’s avoidance of idolatry. The Lord is his chosen portion, not anything else. So, just as much as there is good to which we can look forward, there is the corresponding warning: we don’t get there without holiness.

There is this absolutely hideous notion out there that it is possible to believe God and believe in Jesus Christ, and yet live whatever life you want to live. There are very few people who see personal holiness as a necessity in life. They think that, since they are free from the law’s demands, that they can therefore do what they want. This is one of the world’s great delusions. It is one of Satan’s favorite tricks. There are going to be an enormous number of people who come the judgment seat of Christ, and Jesus will say to them, “Why should I let you into heaven? You said that you were a Christian. But your surely didn’t act like it. Instead, you did whatever you wanted. You hated my church, and hated my people. You cut yourself off from the church. The church is my bride,” says Jesus Christ. How can you love God in Jesus Christ without loving the church, who is the bride of Christ? See, in verse 2, David says that he loves his Lord. In verse 3, David says that he loves the Lord’s people.

There is a great contrast between those who love God and love God’s people, on the one hand; and those who run after other gods, on the other hand. David describes these people as being very religious: they even make offerings to their gods. However, though they think they will find happiness in those gods, they will only find sorrows multiplied. They will multiply and multiply, those sorrows, until hell itself multiplies them beyond reckoning. What gods are you running after? There are any number of gods. Most of today’s idols don’t look like gods. That is, they don’t have a physical shape. They aren’t like a statue or something like that. Most idols today are not something you could touch. Consider money, pleasure, and power. Most of the today’s idols fall into those three categories. Money idols include greed, envy, jealousy, theft, and even neglecting to take care of the property of your neighbor. Pleasure idols include pornography, drugs, and alcoholism. Power idols include gossip, violence of any kind, deceit, and verbal abuse. So just in case any of us here think that we are exempt from sin, and that we are pretty good people, think again. No one is. We are all sinners, justly deserving the wrath of God in the punishment of hell. The result of sin is death. Sin is the great world problem, not hunger, or lack of world peace, or anything like that. Sin is the root problem. Sin is the reason that Cat Dornbush lies before us in a casket. Sin is the reason why we will all die. Consider your own mortality. Do not try to escape thinking about it. Face it right now! Face the fact that you are going to die. The question them becomes this: is there any hope at all?

The world has no answer to the problem of sin. In fact, the world usually denies that there is such a problem. That goes to show you just how blind the world is. The world will try to redefine sin as a chemical imbalance in the brain. Or it will say that our behavior is determined by our circumstances. Or it will say that how we were treated as children by our parents is the reason for our behavior. All of these things can be factors. But none of them are the real explanation for our behavior. The real explanation is pure and simple: we sin against the law of God. We have a sin nature in us, and we actually sin. This is the deep problem of human existence. None are exempt from this problem, or the result of this problem, death.

Is there a solution? Yes, there is! The solution is in verse 10: “Because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see corruption.” We are to understand Jesus Christ as the ultimate singer of this Psalm, you see. David sung it many centuries before Christ. But he was talking about Jesus. Jesus Himself tells us that the entire Old Testament is about Himself. So the solution goes like this: God the Father sent God the Son to earth in order that He might become a human being. That Son, who was Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man, experienced everything human except sin. Jesus is the solution to sin largely because He Himself was not subject to it. It is a bit like a person in quicksand. The person in quicksand cannot rescue himself, nor can anyone who is also in the quicksand rescue him. The only person who can rescue the person in the quicksand is someone who is standing on firm ground. All humanity is caught in the quicksand of sin and death. Only Jesus Christ stands on the firm ground of His own perfect holiness, His own perfect keeping of the law. This is firm ground indeed. Verse 5 then comes into play: The Lord is my chosen portion. If the Lord is your portion, then you have the righteousness of Christ. His law-keeping becomes yours by faith. Take refuge in Christ. In Him alone can you find the answer to the world’s problem as it is manifest in you. The Lord will then be at your right hand, standing before God the Father and saying, “This person is innocent, because my blood covers him.”

But Jesus, in dying on the cross would have been defeated if He had stayed there. That is why verse 10 provides our hope. Jesus was not allowed to see decay. The sacrifice was enough. His body did not need to see decay. Since Jesus had never sinned, and yet was the perfect sacrifice, then death itself would start working backwards. C.S. Lewis, in his book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, said it this way: “When a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in the traitor’s stead, then the table would crack, and death itself would start working backwards.” “Working backwards” is another way of describing resurrection. Peter, in Acts 2, uses this text to describe what happened to Jesus Christ: “For David says concerning him (Jesus)…’You will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption’… Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and o that we all are witnesses.” After Peter’s speech had ended, the people were cut to the heart. Is your heart cut open? Have you seen that your end is death, and that your only hope for anything good beyond the grave is in Jesus Christ? That your hope must be in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead? Paul says that if Christ is not risen, then you are still in your sins, there is no hope. You must take refuge in the Lord, you must find your portion in the Lord, and you must trust in Christ.

But trusting in Christ is not the end of the story at all. For it says in verse 10, “or let your HOLY one see decay.” It is only the holy ones who can expect resurrection, you see. Now, it is vital to point out that our holiness is not the solution to the problem of sin, but the RESULT of the solution to the problem. Our holiness is part of the ongoing application of the solution. The solution to the problem of sin is Jesus Christ, and nothing and no one else. But, if you have the solution by the grace of God, then you will be holy. You will become more and more holy. Death is the seal of your holiness, then. If you are thinking to yourself that you can believe in Jesus, and have the world as well, then you simply delude yourself. You cannot have God and your own sin. That is not possible. You have to give it up. But you cannot give it up, can you? How many times have you tried? I mean, really tried? The fact is that only God can work in you to give it up. But the call is still there: give up your sin. Holiness means that you are different from the world. It means that you don’t follow the world’s way of doing things, but you follow Christ.

Does that mean that you must always look gloomy, and never enjoy anything in life? That is many people’s perception of holiness. Holiness does mean that we should take pleasure in anything that is sinful, nor should we indulge in sin at all. But look at this Psalm. Is David sad because he is holy? On the contrary, the boundaries have fallen for him in pleasant places. He has a beautiful inheritance. He has the promise of fullness of joy in the presence of the Lord. Only holiness can bring happiness. Everyone on earth has a hole in their heart. That hole can only be filled by one thing, and isn’t what %99 of the world thinks it is. It isn’t money, pleasure, or power. Those things cannot and will not ever satisfy the true longings of the human heart. The only thing that will fill that hole is God Himself. Idols are empty, and they have no power. God can save, and God alone, and God will fill your life with godly happiness. There is a deep and abiding pleasure in the things of God. To study God’s Word is a treasure beyond price. To be with the people of God is a treasure beyond price. To be in prayer to God is a treasure beyond price.

To hear God speaking to you in a sermon is a treasure beyond price. If I speak the Word of God, then it is not I who speaks, but God. Many people wish to have God speak to them in some silly way, like horoscopes, or dreams, or by talking with the dead. God is speaking to you right now. And what He is saying is this: “Stop filling your life with idols, and come to My Son, and trust in Him. If you would have true happiness, you must have true holiness. My Holy Spirit will work in you.” That is what God is saying to you. That is what Cat would say, were she here now. If you would have fullness of joy in all eternity, and the love of all things holy right now, then you must have the Lord as your portion, and not anything else. You will find that the trade is worth it. Jim Elliott once said this about being a Christian, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what cannot lose.” If you give up money, pleasure, and power, which you cannot keep going into the next world, and if you gain the Pearl of Great Price, you will have treasure indeed. Indeed, that is true wealth, true pleasure, and true power. All of the things in this life that we think are those things really are not. Only in Christ can you find what will last. Come to Christ and be healed.

In His Courts

Psalm 100
Often, people are depressed when it comes to holidays. People are not very keen on Thanksgiving and Christmas, because those holidays are when they have to be around other people. Or maybe they simply hate the commercialism that often goes along with the holidays. Is it because we are not content with what we have? I think that some are like that. When we lose sight of what God has given us, then we become discontent. We want a better life than the one we have now. We want something that God will not give us: heaven here on earth. What is the problem? The problem is that we are not thankful for what we do have. This Psalm is especially for us.

This Psalm is written against the background of Leviticus 7:12-15, which read this way: “And this is the law of the sacrifice of peace offerings that one may offer to the Lord. If he offers it for a thanksgiving then he shall offer with the thanksgiving sacrifice unleavened loaves mixed with oil, unleavened wafers smeared with oil, and loaves of fine flour well mixed with oil. With the sacrifice of his peace offerings for thanksgiving he shall bring his offering with loaves of leavened bread. And from it he shall offer one loaf from each offering, as a gift to the Lord. It shall belong to the priest who throws the blood for the peace offerings. And the flesh of the sacrifice of his peace offerings for thanksgiving shall be eaten on the day of his offering. He shall not leave any of it until the morning.” Now, we should not glean from this passage that all of our thanksgiving food has to be eaten today! The Bible does speak about gluttony. What we should learn is that this Psalm was probably sung before one of these thanksgiving offerings. That is of interest to us, since we also are celebrating a thanksgiving meal today.

The first thing we notice about this Psalm when we read it is the joy that pervades the entirety of it. It says to make a joyful noise in all the earth. There is supposed to be gladness and singing in verse 2. Now, imagine yourself to be an employer who has servants working for you. How would you like it if these servants were always gloomy and dejected? How would you like it if they always grudged the work they gave out, while they were certainly on the ball in receiving their pay-check. Those are not fun employees to have around. They suck energy away from the other employees, don’t they? Gloom and doom is very exhausting. Well, if that picture is not very exciting, then God would certainly not like gloomy servants either, would He? Do you think that God enjoys servants who are always wanting to do something else? Thomas Goodwin, a Puritan, said this especially in reference to pastors, but it applies to all of us. I am modifying it a bit here: Do you think you can come in on the Sabbath day, write a sermon, and preach it, but all the time you think that your study is a prison, and you would gladly be doing other things, such as sin, except that your master commands you to do otherwise? If so, then you are ungrateful, no matter how much you do for God. For us who are not pastors, the application is like this: there is no such thing as gloomy thankfulness or gloomy obedience. You can’t be doing the thing that God wants you to do, while being gloomy and sad at the same time. God requires us to be thankful, which means being joyful. And heaven knows that we have reason enough to be joyful. If the OT Psalmist had reason to rejoice, how much more do we have reason to rejoice, now that Christ has done His great work?

The second thing to notice here is that all the nations of the earth are called to give thanks to God. The people of the earth may not be aware of the fact that God is their King, but that is what this Psalm is saying. God is their king, whether the people of the earth know it or not. The nations of the earth did not know God as the Lord at the time when this Psalm was written. Therefore, it points forward to a time when that will be true. That time is the end of time, when the Lord comes back, and all shall bend their knee to Him as Lord, whether in submission, or in rebellion.

Notice all the commands in this Psalm: make a joyful noise, serve, come, know, enter, give thanks and bless: seven in all. This is a Psalm that has wheels, as it were: it goes somewhere. That is, we are supposed to do something in response to it. We are to do all these things.

The one command that is rather odd in this context is the command at the beginning of verse 3. The Psalmist commands us to know something. Now, when the Psalmist uses that word here, he does not merely mean that we should have something in our head. He also means that we should acknowledge something to be true, that we should confess that the Lord is God. It also implies trusting the one about whom we know that He is God. It includes knowledge of who God is. After all, it is not possible for blind sacrifices to please a seeing God. If we blindly sacrifice anything, hoping that someone up there will see and be pleased, we are deluding ourselves. God has made Himself known to us, in order that we might know Him.

What else are we to know? We are to know that God made us. The more familiar KJV here has the other reading: It is He who made us, and not we ourselves. The different readings are not all that far apart in meaning. The emphasis here is on who God is and what He has done. If God has made us, and we didn’t make ourselves, then that means that we are indeed His. He can do what He wants to do with us, and that is His business. But what does it mean that God has made us? The text means more than that God created us. That is certainly true. However, it is also true that God recreated us when we become a Christian. That is proved by the fact that the Psalmist goes on to say that we are His people, and His sheep. You couldn’t say that about unbelievers. In a sense, God created a people for Himself in the Exodus, and it is to that to which this passage points. God created a people for Himself out of the people of Israel. God is portrayed as a shepherd, and indeed, God did shepherd His people Israel out of Egypt and into the promised land. So also does He do with us. He shepherds us out of our previous life of sin and darkness, and brings us into the light of life. Now, Christ is our Shepherd. He leads us into the good grass. He feeds us with Himself in Communion. This verse was of great comfort to Phillip Melancthon, when his son died on July 12, 1559. He recited these words to himself: “The Lord is God. It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people, the sheep of His pasture.” You see, Melancthon knew that God was shepherding his son home. And that was comfort indeed.

In verse 4, we see something else: we are clean spiritually. It is only the clean people who can actually enter the courts of the living God. God does not tolerate the presence of evil in His courts. The writer here is of course talking about the temple of the Lord. And now, the temple is a rich idea in the NT time period. Christ is the new temple. We are the temple of God. And the church is the temple of God. All of those are true in different ways. We are united to Christ, the true temple. That means that we are holy, set apart, clean. We have been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb. That is why we can enter into church, into the very presence of God, with great thanksgiving, and with great praise! That is deserving of thanks, if there was ever anything that deserved thanks.
This thanksgiving is to be given publicly. That is, it is to be given in the context of the church. The command is to the church to give thanks. This does not rule out private thanksgiving, of course. However, the context here is definitely corporate. And indeed, that is what we are all doing right now. That is what family gatherings are for. It is public there too, in a way.

In verse 5, we see something that is not always so obvious. We see that God is good. Contrary to what the world thinks, God is good. The world looks at all the bad things that happen in this world and says this, “Either God is not all-powerful, or else He is not good, since there is evil in the world.” Usually, the world will say that God is not all powerful, since there must be room for each person to rule his own life. Our Psalm would beg to disagree. The Lord is good, and His steadfast love endures forever. That is, nothing can thwart God’s love for His people. His faithfulness continues throughout all generations, precisely because God has sent Jesus to earth. That is the way of salvation. That is how God has been faithful. The answer to evil is that God defeated evil at the cross and resurrection. Eventually, evil will be overcome entirely. But Jesus gave evil a death blow on the cross. It is for that that we should be thankful. Give thanks to God, and bless His name!