T.Letis Treasures – Two Hymns

Scottish Psalms and Church HymnaryWhile finishing the cataloging of a few more books from the T.Letis collection this afternoon, I came across a few of his church songbooks, including The Psalms and Church Hymnary of the Church of Scotland. The first part of this Scottish songbook is comprised of the “Psalms of David in Metre”, while the second part is “the Church Hymnary” (revised ed. of 1927).

What is interesting about this songbook is that there is no music either for the Psalms or for the hymns, just the lyrics. The hymns are matched with certain meters at the top, so that they can be sung with music. But I love this songbook because the focus is purely on the words.

And so these “hymns” read as poems. And they are not ‘fluff’, but solid in doctrine, breathing the beauty and power of the Bible (at least the ones I have perused). These come from a wide range of the church’s history, including many from the ancient church and from the Reformation and post-Reformation periods.

I noticed that Dr.Letis has placed highlighted asterisks by a few of these hymns, and so I thought today I would reference those. I hope you too catch the beauty and power of these poems of the church. These are both found in the section “Worship-Evening”, and you will see why. Appropriate as the day closes.

281.

Hail, gladdening Light, of His pure glory pour’d
Who is the immortal Father, heavenly, blest,
Holiest of Holies, Jesus Christ, our Lord!

Now we are come to the sun’s hour of rest,
The lights of evening round us shine,
We hymn the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit Divine.

Worthiest art Thou at all times to be sung
With undefiled tongue,
Son of our God, Giver of life, alone:

Therefore in all the world Thy glories, Lord, they own.

-4th century; tr. by John Keble, 1792-1866.

284.

The duteous day now closeth,
Each flower and tree reposeth
Shade creeps o’er wild and wood:
Let us, as night is falling,
On God our Maker calling,
Give thanks to Him, the Giver good.

Now all the heavenly splendour
Breaks forth in starlight tender
From myriad worlds unknown;
And man, the marvel seeing,
Forgets his selfish being,
For joy of beauty not his own.

His care he drowneth yonder,
Lost in the abyss of wonder;
To heaven his soul doth steal:
This life he disesteemeth,
The day it is that dreameth,
That doth from truth his vision seal.

Awhile his mortal blindness
May miss God’s loving-kindness,
And grope in faithless strife:
But, when life’s day is over
Shall death’s fair night discover
The fields of everlasting life.

-Yattendon Hymnal, No.83, 1899; based on Paul Gerhardt, 1607-76.

Happy 238th Birthday, America!

The Star-Spangled Banner | Academy of American Poets.

Happy 4th of July to all of you in the U.S.A.! As our country celebrates her 238th birthday, I hope you enjoy a safe and relaxing holiday with family and friends.

For our little celebration here we present this performance of our National anthem by the men’s group, The Vocal Majority. And below that we post the words of “The Star-Spangled Banner” as they were penned by Francis Scott Key in 1814 (cf. the link above).

The Star-Spangled Banner

Francis Scott Key

 

O say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light,   
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?   
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,   
O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming;   
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;   
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave   
O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave?   
   
On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep,   
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes, 
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,   
As it fitfully blows, now conceals, now discloses?   
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,   
In full glory reflected now shines on the stream;   
‘Tis the star-spangled banner; O long may it wave 
O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave!   
   
And where is that band who so vauntingly swore   
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion   
A home and a country should leave us no more?   
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution. 
No refuge could save the hireling and slave,   
From the terror of flight and the gloom of the grave;   
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave   
O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave!   
   
O! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand 
Between their loved homes and the war’s desolation!   
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav’n-rescued land,   
Praise the power that hath made and preserved us a nation.   
Then conquer we must, for our cause it is just.   
And this be our motto— “In God is our trust; " 
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave   
O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave.

A Dutch Poem in English: “Volgen” – “To Follow”

Sometimes tucked away in books given to or purchased by the PRC Seminary library are interesting items – from old bookmarks to receipts to newspaper clippings – to, yes, poems. Even Dutch poems. Translated into English, thankfully (though the Dutch has its own beautiful rhythm and cadence).

As part of today’s archive postings, I give you one I found just yesterday (yellowed stains and all) in a book that came from Neal Pastoor (SE PRC, Grand Rapids). I put the poem aside and then read it this morning. It contains wonderful lines about the nature of the Christian life in terms of following wherever God leads us. I pray it is a blessing to you as it was (and is!) to me (Click on it to enlarge even more.).

Poem - Volgen -To Follow_Page_1

The Power of Words (7) – F.Buechner

Room-Called-Remember-150x150Today on this “word Wednesday” we turn again to the thoughts of Presbyterian minister and writer Frederick Buechner on the power of words. These thoughts are taken from his essay “The Speaking and Writing of Words”, found in his larger collection published under the title A Room Called Remember (Harper & Row, 1984).

We pick up where we left off last time, as Buechner is describing the power of words for evil as well as for good, for death as well as for life. Here is writes about the fact that more than merely words are conveyed when we speak.

Lastly there is the danger of words implicit in their power not just to convey information – ‘that is a child,’ ‘the rain will come’ – but also to convey feelings in the sense not just of naming them but of in some measure transmitting them. If it is in any way true that language originates out of our deep inner solitude and our need to escape that solitude by relating ourselves to the world outside the lonely worlds we are within ourselves, then it is not enough merely to tell the world out there who we are but we must also tell what it feels like to be who we are. It is not enough for us merely to tell somebody else that we are happy, say, because in order to share that experience fully, we must enable others to experience it too. We are not content merely to name what is going on inside ourselves but seek to use words that to a degree enable others to feel what it is like to live inside our skins themselves. Then they will really know.

When it comes to spoken words, there are all sorts of auxiliary ways of doing this, of course – the tone of voice, facial expression, gesture and all the non-verbal sounds we make to convey something much richer and more compelling than mere intellectual meaning. And when it comes to conveying this same richness through the written word, there are needless to say a great many other devices to replace these non-verbal ones, as no one knew better, for instance, than such a great prose stylist as John Donne.

JohnDonneFrom here Buechner provides an excerpt from a sermon of Donne which is rich in verbal communication, especially metaphor. If you have never read anything by Donne, do so, and you will understand what he is talking about. Donne is a master at using words. Here is a good online source for Donne’s works, including links to his sermons. Since I love his “Holy Sonnets”, I cannot help but give you this famous one here:

X.

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so ;
For those, whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy picture[s] be,
Much pleasure, then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou’rt slave to Fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy, or charms can make us sleep as well,
And better than thy stroke ;  why swell’st thou then ?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And Death shall be no more ;  Death, thou shalt die.

Two Poems on Words

poetry-1On this “Word Wednesday” and the last day of National Poetry Month (I apologize, sister Sue, and all lovers and writers of poetry for not acknowledging this month sooner!) we post a couple of poems about words and their power.

Good poetry, as you know, requires careful thought and contemplation. I hope that you read these with this type of carefulness. And after reading these lines about the power of words, I hope that you and I speak with carefulness too.

This first one is from well-known American poet Emily Dickinson (1830-1886).

There is a Word

There is a word
Which bears a sword
Can pierce an armed man –
It hurls its barbed syllables
And is mute again –
But where it fell
The saved will tell
On patriotic day,
Some epauletted Brother
Gave his breath away.

Wherever runs the breathless sun –
Wherever roams the day –
There is its noiseless onset –
There is its victory!
Behold the keenest marksman!
The most accomplished shot!
Time’s sublimest target
Is a soul “forgot!”

The second is from lesser known American poet Anne Sexton (1928-1974):

Words

Be careful of words,
even the miraculous ones.
For the miraculous we do our best,
sometimes they swarm like insects
and leave not a sting but a kiss.
They can be as good as fingers.
They can be as trusty as the rock
you stick your bottom on.
But they can be both daisies and bruises.
Yet I am in love with words.
They are doves falling out of the ceiling.
They are six holy oranges sitting in my lap.
They are the trees, the legs of summer,
and the sun, its passionate face.
Yet often they fail me.
I have so much I want to say,
so many stories, images, proverbs, etc.
But the words aren’t good enough,
the wrong ones kiss me.
Sometimes I fly like an eagle
but with the wings of a wren.
But I try to take care
and be gentle to them.
Words and eggs must be handled with care.
Once broken they are impossible
things to repair.

Good Friday Poem: “Christ Crucified” – J.De Decker

3crossesFor this Good Friday I also want to post something from a collection of poems with that very title (Good Friday) from the pen of 17th-century Dutch poet Jeremias De Decker (1609-1666). This lengthy set of poems was translated by Calvin College professor Henrietta Ten Harmsel (Dutch title of Goede vrydagh) and published by Paideia Press in 1984. It is enhanced by etchings from Rembrandt, De Decker’s contemporary, who also did his personal portrait.

Since this work may not be so well known, I include here also the opening paragraphs of Ten Harmsel’s introduction, where she summaries the structure of Good Friday and includes a few biographical notes:

Many seventeenth-century poets of wetsern Europe wrote moving poems on the suffering and death of Christ. Most of these poems took the form of short lyrics. Good Friday, by Jeremias De Decker, however, is unique because of its lengthy and detailed treatment of all the events of the Passion week. In nine vivid scenes he presents chronologically the unfolding drama that climaxes in the crucifixion. By his mournful viewing of his Savior’s suffering, the poet draws his reader into contemplating Calvary. And in this contemplation two consistent notes emerge: De Decker’s intimate knowledge of the Bible and its teachings, and his intense personal involvement in Christ’s sufferings as he depicts it in Good Friday.

Jeremias De Decker (1609-1666), a member of the Reformed Church of Holland, spent most of his life in Amsterdam. Although he desired little public recognition and was very diffident about publication, his two volumes of collected poems – published in 1656 and again in 1659, and including Good Friday – received general recognition and continuing enthusiastic praise (p.9).

GoodFriday-JDeDeckerFor our purposes today I am going to quote a small section of De Decker’s seventh scene, titled “Christ Crucified”, since this takes us right to Calvary, to contemplate the mystery of God’s Son in our flesh dying for us sinners. I trust you too will notice in these few lines the two things that Ten Harmsel pointed out about the nature of De Decker’s poem.

‘Well, what is this?’ (you cry). ‘What is this that we see?
Why should the heavens cry?
Why should they take away
The brightness of the sun just at the height of day?’

The heavens, you rogues, now mourn to see their Lord’s distress;
Shamed by your ruthlessness,
Block out this awful sight:
To see him die, who is the Father of their light.

The clouds which hide the sun from all earth’s teeming crowds
Are your sin’s darkening clouds.
I hear him? Yes, he shouts.
What anguished cry of death now from these clouds bursts out?

Ah, me, it is my Lord! He suffers now his worst.
From hell we hear it burst-
The devils watch in glee-
‘My God, my God, oh, why hast thou forsaken me?’

It is the voice of man, the voice of all who fell
Into the pit of hell;
As one we broke God’s law,
And thus, in one, in him, we are forsaken now.

God’s loved one hangs today (Oh, pain too deep for words)
Forsaken by God’s love,
That he once more might send
God’s friendly love on us, who hated God, our Friend!

As an additional note, this work by De Decker was reviewed in The Standard Bearer by the late Gertrude Hoeksema and given a favorable review.

Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross (1)

JesusKeepMeNear-NGuthrieFor the Sundays leading up to Good Friday and Easter we plan to do a series of meditations centered on the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. For my own devotional reading during this time of reflection I recently purchased the little book Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross: Experiencing the Passion and Power of Easter, a wonderful collection of sermons and writings edited by Nancy Guthrie (Crossway, 2009). I plan to use this book as a guide, pulling quotations from it.

This is how the author introduces this collection:

In the pages that follow, gifted theologians and Bible teachers will help us to stop and longer at the cross. I’ve drawn from the writings and sermons of classic and contemporary writers and teachers to create meditations that will draw us into an experience of the passion of the cross and the power of the resurrection.

How we need to have our hearts broken again by our sin that put Jesus on the cross. How we need to have our confidence grounded by what Jesus accomplished on the cross. And how we need to have our hope anchored in the promise of resurrection. I pray that is what you will experience as you read this book. May Jesus draw you and keep you near his cross (“Preface”, p.10).

MLuther-preaching-1The first meditation Guthrie has in her book is an excerpt from a sermon of Martin Luther titled “True Contemplation of the Cross”. From this I pull a few paragraphs today.

Let us meditate a moment on the passion of Christ. Some do so falsely in that they merely rail against Judas and the Jews. Some carry crucifixes to protect themselves from water, fire, and sword, and turn the suffering of Jesus into an amulet against suffering. Some weep, and that is the end of it. The true contemplation is that in which the heart is crushed and the conscience smitten. You must be overwhelmed by the frightful wrath of God who so hated sin that he spared not his only begotten Son. What can the sinner expect if the beloved Son was so afflicted? It must be an inexpressible and unendurable yearning that causes God’s Son Himself so to suffer. Ponder this and you will tremble, and the more you ponder, the deeper you will tremble.

The whole value of the meditation of the suffering of Christ lies in this, that man should come to the knowledge of himself and sink and tremble. If you are so hardened that you do not tremble, then you have reason to tremble. Pray to God that he may soften your heart and make fruitful your meditation upon the suffering of Christ, for we of ourselves are incapable of proper reflection unless God instills its.

…The greater and more wonderful is the excellence of his love by contrast with the lowliness of his form, the hate and pain of passion. Herein we come to know both God and ourselves. His beauty is his own, and through it we learn to know him. His uncomeliness and passion are ours, and in them we know ourselves, for what he suffered in the flesh, we must inwardly suffer in the spirit. He has in truth borne our stripes. Here, then, in an unspeakably clear mirror you see yourself. You must know that through your sins you are as uncomely and mangled as you see him here (pp.11-14).

Also for our meditation I include this beautiful poem written by Thelma Westra, a member of our Faith PRC (Jenison, MI), found in the collection of her poetry titled Poems of Praise (self-published). This one is titled “He Who Was Sinless” (p.131):

‘He Who was sinless was made sin for us:’
Turning depravity into salvation
For sinners deserving only damnation.
Who but Jehovah could plan such a thing?
Jehovah of hosts, the conquering King.
It pleased Him to sacrifice His only Son
Because of His love for the wholly undone;
He loved us and changed us by mercy and grace
Into sanctified children – His chosen race.
We now glorify Him, exalting His name,
And into eternity, still will proclaim
The wonder He wrought, and the joy that He brought:
With the blood of His Son, His people He bought!
‘He Who was sinless was made sin for us!’

 

Christmas Hymn – Thelma Westra

PoemsofPraise-TWestraAs we enter the week of Christmas and commemorate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ, we begin some posts related directly to this wonder of God’s love and grace. First, from her collection of Christian poetry Poems of Praise (self-published) comes this one titled “Christmas Hymn” (p.26) by Thelma Westra , a fellow church member at Faith PRC.

 

 

Christmas is the time to sing
Praises to our heavenly King.
Jesus Christ, the Son of God,
Whom the saints and angels laud,
He was born in human frame;
At the time appointed came.
Shepherds in the fields that night
Were assured by angel bright
That no fearful time was this,
But a moment of great bliss.

Hist’ry’s focal time was here,
God in flesh did now appear;
He – that babe in manger’s bed -
Was in truth the church’s Head;
He the sacrifice would be
On the cross of Calvary.
So we celebrate this day:
May we sing and may we pray,
With uplifted hearts may raise
To our God a hymn of praise.

Sunday Worship Preparation: Psalm 119t (Resh)

Psalm119tFor our worship preparation this Lord’s Day we consider the next section (the twentieth) of Psalm 119, which consists of verses 153-160. This stanza in the psalmist’s love-song on the Law-Giver and His law is headed by the transliterated Hebrew word “Resh”, since the eight lines in this section all begin with this Hebrew letter (comparable to our “r”). As we meditate on this part of Psalm 119, may we consciously apply these words to our worship of our Triune God and Father this day. Here is the Word of God which we love in this place:

RESH.

153 Consider mine affliction, and deliver me: for I do not forget thy law.

154 Plead my cause, and deliver me: quicken me according to thy word.

155 Salvation is far from the wicked: for they seek not thy statutes.

156 Great are thy tender mercies, O Lord: quicken me according to thy judgments.

157 Many are my persecutors and mine enemies; yet do I not decline from thy testimonies.

158 I beheld the transgressors, and was grieved; because they kept not thy word.

159 Consider how I love thy precepts: quicken me, O Lord, according to thy lovingkindness.

160 Thy word is true from the beginning: and every one of thy righteous judgments endureth for ever.

What we notice at the outset here is that the psalmist’s suffering and persecution are on the foreground. He speaks of “his affliction” (misery, poverty), which we know at this point from the rest of the psalm is the pain of being pressed by wicked law-breakers, especially because he is a law-keeper (vss.153, 157, 159). Notice how in v.157 he states that these wicked persecutors and enemies are “many”! Not merely a handful were opposing him in his Christian life, but many were opposing him and seeking to bring him down. Many were trying to lead him out of his love and liberty of God’s law into the bondage of sin and enmity against God.

Do we also feel that pressure of the unbelieving world about us? Do we bear the reproach of Christ because we are law-abiding citizens in God’s kingdom?

But by the power of God’s grace he was resisting and holding firm to God and His way of life. The love of God for him was his strength in abiding in love for God and His Word. He had not forgotten God’s law (v.153). He had not declined from His testimonies (v.157). He knows how true and righteous God’s law is (v.160). God’s Word is reliable and faithful, and he has depended on it for all his needs. He even asks God to “consider” (see, perceive, inspect) his love for His precepts. And by the power of this divine love the psalmist even expressed love for his enemies (out of supreme love for God!). Note vss.155 and 158: as he beheld these transgressors, he realized that salvation was far from them because they did not seek God’s statutes; he was grieved deeply because they did not keep God’s Word. He had pity on them – and no doubt prayed for them!

Do we have the same attitude toward our enemies and God’s? Or do we simply turn our backs on them? That is easy to do, but it is not the way of love for God or our neighbor. Their rebellion and reproach should turn into our pity and prayers.

Finally. notice once again too the psalmist’s earnest prayers to the Lord. I count eight (8) petitions in these eight verses. That reveals that while he was committed to God and His way, he was also deeply conscious of the difficulty of that way. He knew well the power of the enemy and the weakness of his own flesh.Though faithful, he dared not trust himself.  Besides, he also knew the Lord’s tender mercies to him in Christ (v.156). And so he casts himself on the Lord. “Consider mine affliction, and deliver me! Plead my cause (as my defense Lawyer), and deliver me!” And three times he prays for quickening (making alive, renewal). Why that request so often? Because he knew the deadness of his sinful nature and sensed his spiritual life waning under the pressure of persecution. He needed and wanted the revival of his new life in Christ. “Quicken me!”

Are these also our petitions? Are we keenly aware of our own insufficiency to stand in this battle against law-breaking and for law-keeping? Or have we become too self-confident, too casual, too careless in the battle? Then we are destined to cave in to the wicked’s pressure. Then we will collapse spiritually and fail to love God and His Word as we ought. But let us realize the strength of the foe, the weakness of ourselves – and the God of our salvation – and pray to Him for grace to withstand and to stand! Then the psalmist’s testimony will be ours.

Psalter1912If you wish to reflect on the wisdom of this Word of God through music, you are encouraged to make use of our Psalter and this versification of this 20th stanza of Psalm 119. Here are the lyrics; you will find the piano accompaniment at the link provided.

1. Regard my grief and rescue me,
For I do not forget Thy laws;
As Thou hast promised, save me, Lord;
Redeem my soul, and plead my cause.

2. Far is salvation from the men
Who do not seek Thy statutes, Lord;
Great are Thy mercies, quicken me
According to Thy holy word.

3. I bear the spite of many foes,
Yet from Thy law I do not swerve;
I saw the faithless and was grieved,
For they Thy word do not observe.

4. Behold how I Thy precepts love!
In kindness, Lord, revive Thou me;
The sum of all Thy word is truth,
Thy word abides eternally.

“Untouched” (a poem based on Q&A 1 of the HC) – Sue Looyenga

HC-Q&A 1-GermanTime it is to feature another poem based on the Heidelberg Catechism, especially Q&A 1. The one I post today is extra special, because it was penned by my sister Sue, a wonderful poet in her own right. She has penned beautiful poems for all kinds of occasions. I am not sure what the occasion was for this poem (I suppose I could ask her!), but I found it, I believe, in The Standard Bearer. It is an older one, dated 1979, but its message is as timely now as it was 24 years ago. In the two stanzas she contrasts the “comforts” of the world with the one, true comfort of the Christian. May her words, based on the Word, speak peace to your hearts today.

“Untouched”

by Sue Looyenga (1979)

The nations tremble and are shaken

As rulers overthrow and then are overthrown.

And lust runs rampant through the streets; no shame

Does halt the sin to which man’s evil heart is prone.

The rich man hoards his gold; the poor cry out for bread,

And hearts are turned to stone. None cares to part

With bread lest he be found without tomorrow.

They speak of death and dread disease with terror in their heart,

And live for pleasures’ sake, lest on the morrow they be taken.

They grasp for comforts, but in vain; they all have slipped away

To leave them with empty, wringing hands.

There is no peace, no comfort for them in this evil day.

*******************************************************

O blessed comfort, only comfort! I belong to Him

Who fully satisfied for all my sins at Calvary.

Though all the world be shaken, I have His promise sure,

All things now and to come shall work for good to me

And nothing that befalls can sever me from Him.

He turns all things to work for my salvation,

Assures me of eternal life forevermore.

He is my only Hope and Strength and Consolation!

I need not take a thought about tomorrow,

For by His grace His Own shall persevere.

Though times may change and change again, He is the same

Each day, each month and every passing year.

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