The Opening Prayer at the Synod of Dordt (Plus, a Hymn and a Psalm by a Dutch Men’s Choir)

Opnamedatum: 13-11-2012The Fall issue of the Protestant Reformed Theological Journal contains a new translation (the first known complete one) of the prayer offered at the opening session of the great Synod of Dordt on Nov.13, 1618. The prayer was made by local pastor Balthasar Lydius, and the translation is a combined labor of Prof. D. Kuiper (PRC Seminary) and Dr. H. D. Schuringa (former CRC minister and seminary professor at Calvin and Westminster, CA).

Prof. Kuiper gives this historical introduction to the prayer and the nature of the translation:

Balthasar Lydius was a Reformed minister in Dordrecht from 1602-1629, and was delegated by the particular Synod of South Holland to attend the national Synod of Dordt. As the local pastor, two honors fell to him on November 13, 1618: that of preaching a Dutch sermon in the morning before the synod opened, and that of opening the first session of the synod with prayer. He prayed in Latin, in which language all of the business of the Synod was conducted until the foreign delegates were dismissed. Two partial English translations of the prayer have been available for centuries, one of which is based on the memory of some in the audience.  What follows is a new and complete translation, based on the Dutch translation of the prayer in the Acts of the Synod of Dordt. After the translation the reader will find the Dutch original.

The prayer is ornate. It breathes the language of Scripture. Its long sentences include many subordinate phrases and clauses. As is the Dutch custom, in these long sentences the subject is near the beginning and the verb at the end. This translation divides the long sentences into shorter ones so that the English reader today can better understand the prayer, Biblical citations and allusions are footnoted.

For our purposes tonight, we quote the first part of the prayer, encouraging you to read the rest at the link provided above to the PRT Journal. The prayer will give you a new appreciation for the times in which Dordt met, the seriousness of the issues it faced, and the humble dependency on their sovereign Lord the godly men at the synod showed . In addition, the prayer will feed your soul and teach us how to pray – for the present church and for the state under which we now live.

*(Note: In this post I have removed the footnotes, including those added by Dr. Schuringa showing the thoroughly biblical language of Lydius’ prayer. By all means pay attention to these in the original article as published in the Journal.)

Almighty, eternal God, Fountain of all wisdom, goodness and mercy, compassionate Father in Christ! We pray that Thou wilt open our lips so that our mouth may declare Thy praise.

We are unworthy of all Thy mercies which Thou hast bountifully bestowed upon the work and workmanship of Thy hands. Not only hast Thou created us according to Thy image, but also, when we through sin had become by nature the children of wrath, Thou didst recreate us according to Thy image. Since we already are indebted
to Thee because Thou hast created us, how much more do we owe because Thou hast also freely redeemed us?

It is great and marvelous that man was made in Thy image. How much greater it is that He who thought it not robbery to be equal with God made Himself of no reputation, took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in our likeness, who of God was made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption!

Also with these benefits Thou wast not satisfied. We were a people dwelling in the darkness and shadow of death, without hope of salvation, cast off in the unworthiness of our souls, for whom an unknown treasure would be of no use. But Thou hast enlightened us by the revelation of the Sun of righteousness and truth! Without this, we would have perished everlastingly in these errors, not knowing what way we must walk.

The enemy of mankind sowed tares among the wheat while men slept. This darkness gradually gained the upper hand. Yet through the light of the Reformation Thou hast delivered us from a greater darkness than that of Egypt. In these places Thou hast planted Thy vine, whose shadow has covered the mountains and whose branches are the cedars of God.

This prayer was also published in the Nov.1, 2018 issue of the Standard Bearer, the first of two special issues planned for the 400th anniversary of the Synod of Dordt (the second one will appear May 1, 2019, D.V.). These issues will be available online approximately six months after publication.

To this prayer we also add this beautiful and appropriate arrangement of the hymn “Thanks Be to God” sung in Dutch by “Urker Mannenkoor,” a men’s choir from the Netherlands.

And if you enjoyed that one, you will also love this version of Psalm 42 (by combined men’s and women’s choirs):

A Prayer After the Explanation of the [Heidelberg] Catechism

prayer-bible-1The 1934 edition of the Psalter Hymnal published by the Christian Reformed Church contains a section of “Christian Prayers” in the liturgical part in the back. Two of those prayers relate to the preaching of the Heidelberg Catechism. Prof. B. Gritters referenced these in his first Interim course lecture last Friday (Jan.4).

[This course on Heidelberg Catechism Preaching is being live-streamed daily this week and through next Tues, Jan.15 on the PRC Seminary’s YouTube channel. The videos from each day (2 lectures, except for yesterday’s class) may also be found there.]

In our Sunday post (Jan.6) we quoted the first one; in this one we post the other. This one has the heading “Prayer After the Explanation of the Catechism.” I believe you will find it to be thoroughly Reformed and biblical, and therefore, a prayer that is edifying and fit to be used ourselves.

And this is the prayer (slightly edited with paragraphs):

O gracious and merciful God and Father, we thank Thee that Thou hast established Thy covenant with believers and their seed. This Thou hast not only sealed by holy baptism, but Thou daily showest it by perfecting Thy praise out of the moth of babes and sucklings, thus putting to shame the wise and prudent of this world.
We beseech Thee that Thou wilt increase Thy grace in them, in order that they may unceasingly grow in Christ, Thy Son, until they have reached complete maturity in all wisdom and righteousness. Give us grace to instruct them in Thy knowledge and fear, according to Thy commandment.
May by their godliness the kingdom of Satan be destroyed and the kingdom of Jesus Christ in this and other congregations strengthened, unto the glory of Thy holy Name and unto their eternal salvation, through Jesus Christ, Thy Son and our Lord, who taught us to pray, saying,
Our Father who art in heaven, etc. Amen.

Posted yesterday on the PRC Seminary’s new website blog.

A Prayer Before the Explanation of the [Heidelberg] Catechism

prayer-bible-1The 1934 edition of the Psalter Hymnal published by the Christian Reformed Church contains a section of “Christian Prayers” in the liturgical part in the back. Two of those prayers relate to the preaching of the Heidelberg Catechism.

Prof. B. Gritters referenced these in his first Interim course lecture last Friday (Jan.4). In this post we will quote the first one, posting the other at a later date during Interim 2019.

This first one has the heading “Prayer Before the Explanation of the Catechism.” And this is the prayer (slightly edited with paragraphs):

O heavenly Father, Thy Word is perfect, restoring the soul, making wise the simple, and enlightening the eyes of the blind, and a power of God unto salvation for everyone that believes. We, however, are by nature blind and incapable of doing anything good, and Thou wilt succor only those who have a broken and contrite heart and who revere Thy Word.
We beseech Thee, therefore, that Thou wilt illumine our darkened minds with Thy Holy Spirit and give is a humble heart, free from all haughtiness and carnal wisdom, in order that we, hearing Thy Word, may rightly understand it and may regulate our lives accordingly. Wilt Thou also graciously convert those who are straying from that truth, that we all in unity may serve Thee in true holiness and righteousness all the days of our life.
These things we crave of Thee only for the sake of Christ, who promised to hear us and also taught us to pray in His Name, saying:
‘Our Father who art in heaven, etc. AMEN

Posted earlier tonight on the PRC Seminary’s new website blog.

Petition for Help in Praying the Psalms

We have taken this short stroll through the Psalter [that is, the book of Psalms] in order to learn to pray a few psalms a bit better. It would not be difficult to arrange according to the Lord’s Prayer all the psalms mentioned. …But this alone is important, that we begin to pray the psalms with confidence and love in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

After which the author concludes this brief section with a quote (prayer) from M. Luther:

‘Our dear Lord, who has given to us and taught us to pray the Psalter and the Lord’s Prayer, grant to us also the spirit of prayer and of grace so that we pray with enthusiasm and earnest faith, properly and without ceasing, for we need to do this; he has asked for it and therefore wants to have it from us. To him be praise, honor, and thanksgiving. Amen.’

Psalms-prayer-book-BonhoefferTaken from Psalms, The Prayer Book of the Bible by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Augsburg, 1974), a translation of Das Gebetbuch der Bibel (the 8th ed. published in Germany in 1966). These thoughts are found in one of the closing sections, “Petition for the Spirit of Life”  (p.63).

“If we would order our prayers aright, let us always begin with pleading that the Lord would be pleased to preserve this sacred community [that is, the church].” ~ J. Calvin

JCalvinPic6. Pray ye for the peace of Jerusalem.

David now exhorts all the devout worshippers of God to make supplication for the prosperity of the holy city. The more effectually to stir them up to such exercise, he promises that, in this way the divine blessing will descend upon them. The reason why he was so deeply concerned about the prosperity of Jerusalem was, as we have formerly stated — and he again repeats the same thing at the end of the Psalm—because the welfare of the whole Church was inseparably connected with that kingdom and priesthood.

Now as each of us in particular, were the whole Church to be involved in ruin, must necessarily perish miserably, it is not surprising to find David recommending to all the children of God to cultivate this anxious concern about the Church. If we would order our prayers aright, let us always begin with pleading that the Lord would be pleased to preserve this sacred community. Whoever, confining his attention to his own personal advantage, is indifferent about the common weal, he not only gives evidence that he is destitute of all true feeling of godliness, but in vain desires his own prosperity, and will profit nothing by his prayers, since he does not observe the due order.

Similar is the drift of the promise which is added immediately after: They shall prosper that love thee; which, however, may be read in the form of a wish, May those who love thee prosper But the sense in either case is almost the same. Farther, although the Hebrew verb שלה, shalah, which the Prophet here uses, signifies to live in quietness or peace, yet as the Hebrew noun for peace, from which it is derived, is employed by him generally for a joyful and happy condition, I have no doubt that he here announces in general to all the godly who have the well being of the Church near their heart, that they shall enjoy the blessing of God and a prosperous life.

…Hence we learn that the curse of God rests upon all such as afflict the Church, or plot and endeavor by any kind of mischief to accomplish its destruction.

Taken from Calvin’s Commentary on the Book of Psalms, in particular Psalm 122:6. Found on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library website.

Praying the Imprecatory Psalms

Psalms-prayer-book-Bonhoeffer…The question is therefore: Can the imprecatory psalms be understood as God’s word for us and as the prayer of Jesus Christ? Can we as Christians pray these psalms?

…The enemies referred to here are enemies of the cause of God, who lay hands on us for the sake of God. It is therefore nowhere a matter of personal conflict. Nowhere does the one who prays these psalms want to take revenge into his own hands. He calls for the wrath of God alone (cf. Romans 12:19). Therefore he must dismiss from his own mind all thought of personal revenge; he must be free from his own thirst for revenge. Otherwise, the vengeance would not be seriously commanded from God. This means that only the one who is himself innocent in relation to his enemy can leave the vengeance to God.

The prayer for the vengeance of God is the prayer for the execution of his righteousness in the judgment of sin. This judgment must be made public if God is to stand by his word. It must also be promulgated among those whom it concerns. I myself, with my sin, belong under this judgment. I have no right to want to hinder this judgment. It must be fulfilled for God’s sake and it has been fulfilled, certainly, in wonderful ways.

And here Bonhoeffer reminds us of the curse of God due us as sinners and how God dealt with us who were His enemies – something we also need to remember when praying for God’s wrath to be revealed against His and our foes:

God’s vengeance did not strike the sinners, but the one sinless man who stood in the sinners’ place, namely God’s own Son. Jesus Christ bore the wrath of God, for the execution of which the psalm prays. He stilled God’s wrath toward sin and prayed in the hour of the execution of the divine judgment: ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do!’ No other than he, who himself bore the wrath of God, could pray in this way. That was the end of all phony thoughts about the love of God which do not take sin seriously. God hates and redirects his enemies to the only righteous one, and this one asks forgiveness for them. Only in the cross of Jesus Christ is the love of God to be found.

Quoted in Psalms, The Prayer Book of the Bible by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Augsburg, 1974), a translation of Das Gebetbuch der Bibel (the 8th ed. published in Germany in 1966). These thoughts are found in the fifteenth section, “The Enemies” (pp.56-60), where the author continues to treat the Psalter according to classification by subject.

Praying with the Psalms as Guilty Sinners and Innocent Saints – D. Bonhoeffer

Psalms-prayer-book-BonhoefferIn connection with his treatment of the “penitential Psalms” (That is, prayers for repentance), D. Bonhoeffer writes:

The Christian will find scarcely any difficulties in the praying of these Psalms. However, the question could arise as to how one is to think about the fact that Christ also prays these Psalms with us. How can the sinless one ask for forgiveness? In no way other than he can, as the sinless one, bear the sins of the world and be made sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21). Not for the sake of his sins, but for the sake of our sins, which he has taken upon himself and for which he suffers, does Jesus pray for the forgiveness of sins. He positions himself entirely for us. He wants to be a man before God as we are. So he prays also the most human of all prayers with us and thereby demonstrates precisely that he is the true Son of God.

And then, in connection with the prayers of the saints in which they declare their innocence, he writes:

But the question is not which possible motives may stand behind the prayer, but whether the content of the prayer itself is appropriate or inappropriate. And here it is clear that the believing Christian certainly has to say not only something about his guilt but also something equally important about his innocence and his justification. It is characteristic of the faith of the Christian that through God’s grace and the merit of Jesus Christ he has become entirely justified and guiltless in God’s eyes, so that ‘there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 8:1). And it is characteristic of the prayer of the Christian to hold fast to this innocence and justification which has come to him, appealing to God’s word and thanking for it.

So not only are we permitted, but directly obligated – provided we take God’s action to us at all seriously – to pray in all humiliation and certainty: ‘I was blameless before him and I kept myself from guilt’ (Psalm 18:23)…. With such a prayer we stand in the center of the New Testament, in the community of the cross of Jesus Christ.

Quoted in Psalms, The Prayer Book of the Bible by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Augsburg, 1974), a translation of Das Gebetbuch der Bibel (the 8th ed. published in Germany in 1966). These thoughts are found in the twelfth section, “Guilt” (pp.50-55), where the author continues to treat the Psalter according to classification by subject.

Praying with the Psalms for Our Earthly Needs

psalm37-25As the petition for daily bread includes the entire sphere of the necessities of physical life, so the petition for life, health, and visible evidences of the friendliness of God belong necessarily to the prayer that points to the God who is the creator and sustainer of this life. Bodily life is not disdainful. Precisely for its sake God has given us his fellowship in Jesus Christ, so that we can live by him in this life and then also, of course, in the life to come. For this reason he gives us earthly prayers, so that we can better recognize him, praise him, and love him.

…Therefore we need not have a bad conscience when we pray with the Psalter for life, health, peace, and earthly good if we only recognize, as do the Psalms themselves, that all of this is evidence of the gracious fellowship of God with us, and we thereby hold fast to the fact that God’s gifts are better than life (Psalm 63:3 f.; 73:25 f.).

Psalms-prayer-book-BonhoefferQuoted in Psalms, The Prayer Book of the Bible by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Augsburg, 1974), a translation of Das Gebetbuch der Bibel (the 8th ed. published in Germany in 1966). These thoughts are found in the twelfth section, “Life” (pp.40-42), where the author continues to treat the Psalter according to classification by subject.

Praying the Passion Psalms with the Messiah – D.Bonhoeffer

Book of Psalms

God’s holy history [cf. our previous post on the section “Holy History”] comes to fulfillment in the sending of the Messiah. According to Jesus’ own interpretation, the Psalter has prophesied of this Messiah (Luke 24:44). Psalms 22 and 69 are known to the church as the passion psalms.

Jesus himself prayed the beginning of Psalm 22 on the cross and so clearly made it his prayer. Hebrews 2:12 places verse 22 in the mouth of Christ. Verse 8 and verse 18 are direct predictions of the crucifixion of Jesus. David himself may have once prayed this Psalm in his own song. If so, he did this as the king, anointed by God and therefore persecuted by men, from whom Jesus Christ would descend. He did it as the one who bore Christ in himself.

But Christ himself used this prayer and for the first time gave it its full meaning. We can thus pray this Psalm only in the fellowship of Jesus Christ, as those who have participated in the suffering of Christ. We pray this Psalm, not on the basis of our fortuitous personal suffering, but on the basis of the suffering of Christ which has also come upon us.

But we always hear Jesus Christ pray with us, and through him that Old Testament king; and repeating this prayer without being able to experience it or consider it in its deepest sense, we nevertheless walk with the praying Christ before the throne of God.

Quoted from Psalms, The Prayer Book of the Bible by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Augsburg, 1974), a translation of Das Gebetbuch der Bibel (the 8th ed. published in Germany in 1966). These thoughts are found in the tenth section, “The Messiah” (pp.36-37), where the author continues to treat the Psalter according to classification by subject.

Praying the Holy History Found in the Psalms – D. Bonhoeffer

Psalms 78, 105, 106 tell us about the history of the people of God on earth, about the electing grace and faithfulness of God and the unfaithfulness and the ingratitude of his people. …How ought we to pray these Psalms?

Then after giving a brief summary of Psalm 106 and how that can guide us in praying these historical Psalms, Bonhoeffer gives us concrete help:

We pray these Psalms when we regard all that God does once for his people as done for us, when we confess our guilt and God’s grace, when we hold God true to his promises on the basis of his former benefits and request their fulfillment, and when we finally see the entire history of God with his people fulfilled in Jesus Christ, through whom we have been helped and will be helped. For the sake of Jesus Christ we bring thanksgiving, petition, and confession.

Psalms-prayer-book-BonhoefferQuoted from Psalms, The Prayer Book of the Bible by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Augsburg, 1974), a translation of Das Gebetbuch der Bibel (the 8th ed. published in Germany in 1966). These thoughts are found in the ninth section, “Holy History” (pp.34-35), where the author continues to treat the Psalter according to classification by subject.