The History of Psalm-Singing in the Church (1) – Rev.B.Huizinga

SB-Psalm Issue-April 1-2014_Page_1As I noted here previously, the April 1 issue of The Standard Bearer is a special issue devoted to the subject of psalm-singing. Included in this issue are two articles on the history of psalm-singing in the church – one more general (Rev.B.Huizinga’s on the history in the church generally) and one more specific (Rev.K.Koole’s on the history in the PRC).

It is the former one by Rev.Brian Huizinga (pastor of Hope PRC, Redlands, CA) that I would like to start referencing today. “Through Endless Ages Sound His Praise”: The History of Psalm-Singing in the Church” was part of my Sunday reading yesterday, and I found his article to be not only informative but also inspiring. And I hope by quoting from it, it will also be the same for you.

Today I quote from the opening paragraphs, which set the stage for what is to follow.

What among men has endured as many ages under the sun as the psalms…the psalms sung…the psalms sung in corporate worship?  Precious little.  Psalmody has seen Solomon’s temple used and burned, doleful children of the covenant marched to Babylon and jubilantly returning, the Son of God incarnate humiliated and exalted, Rome risen and fallen, the mighty wave of the gospel of salvation sweeping through the Mediterranean world, into Europe, over the seas to America, and now to the ends of the earth, always with the bitter death of apostasy following in its wake.  Over the past three thousand years much has come and much has gone.  Psalmody has seen it all.  Psalmody remains.  Psalmody is rare.  Psalmody is not popular.  But psalmody remains.  Because Jesus Christ defends and preserves His church to the end, psalmody will certainly remain to the end.  None may doubt that psalmody will see the antichristian world-kingdom and then Christ Himself—the one of whom the psalms spoke, and that by His own testimony (Luke 24:44)—appear in splendid majesty arrayed more glorious than the sun.  Through endless ages the church sounds Jehovah’s praise—with psalms.


The Old Testament Age

The Old Testament church sang the psalms, one of them perhaps already in the wilderness on the way to Canaan (Psalm 90, written by Moses), most in Solomon’s temple (those written mostly by David), and others thereafter.  So much was psalm-singing a part of Israel’s life and worship that when the Jews were deported by Nebuchadnezzar as captives into Babylon in 586 B.C., they were identified as psalm-singers.  As they sat weeping by the river, their proud captors taunted:  “Come sing us one of Zion’s songs.”  Even the ungodly knew what took place in Zion.  Israel sang the psalms.  Would to God Babylon of today would have reason to know and say the same.

If you would like to receive this issue, or become a regular subscriber to this fine Reformed magazine, contact the RFPA at the link given above.

Polycarp’s Dying Testimony

Martyrdom of PolycarpBelonging to my Lord’s day reading was a few more chapters in the fine church history survey, All the Saints Adore Thee: Insights from Christian Classics by Bruce Shelley (Baker, 1994). I am in the early section of the book, where the early church fathers are being treated. One of the early chapters covers “The Martyrdom of Polycarp” (c.155 A.D.) and includes a description from an eyewitness of his dying words. It is a powerful testimony to the power of God’s grace working in His people, even when they are about to die for their faith in Christ. And it ought to encourage our hearts and strengthen our resolve to suffer for righteousness’ sake.

We also heard a sermon on the fifth commandment yesterday, about honoring those in authority over us. Prof.R.Dykstra mentioned in his sermon our calling always to submit to God’s authorities, even when we must disobey earthly rulers who charge us to do something contrary to the Word of God and our faith in Christ. The early martyrs, including Polycarp, are models in this respect too, as you will see when you read his testimony.

I take my quotes from this website and work.

Chap.9 – Polycarp’s examination:
1 Now when Polycarp entered into the arena there came a voice from heaven: “Be strong, Polycarp, and play the man.” And no one saw the speaker, but our friends who were there heard the voice. And next he was brought forward, and there was a great uproar of those who heard that Polycarp had been arrested. 2 Therefore when he was brought forward the Pro-Consul asked him if he were Polycarp, and when he admitted it he tried to persuade him to deny, saying: “Respect your age,” and so forth, as they are accustomed to say: “Swear by the genius of Caesar, repent, say: `Away with the Atheists’”; but Polycarp, with a stern countenance looked on all the crowd of lawless heathen in the arena, and waving his hand at them, he groaned and looked up to heaven and said: “Away with the Atheists.” 3 But when the Pro-Consul pressed him and said: “Take the oath and I let you go, revile Christ,” Polycarp said: “For eighty and six years have I been his servant, and he has done me no wrong, and how can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”

Chap.10 – His examination continued:
1 But when he persisted again, and said: “Swear by the genius of Caesar,” he answered him: “If you vainly suppose that I will swear by the genius of Caesar, as you say, and pretend that you are ignorant who I am, listen plainly: I am a Christian. And if you wish to learn the doctrine of Christianity fix a day and listen.” 2 The Pro-Consul said: “Persuade the people.” And Polycarp said: “You I should have held worthy of discussion, for we have been taught to render honour, as is meet, if it hurt us not, to princes and authorities appointed by God. But as for those, I do not count them worthy that a defence should be made to them.”

Chap.11 – The Pro-consul’s threats:
1 And the Pro-Consul said: “I have wild beasts. I will deliver you to them, unless you repent.” And he said: “Call for them, for repentance from better to worse is not allowed us; but it is good to change from evil to righteousness.” 2 And he said again to him: “I will cause you to be consumed by fire, if you despise the beasts, unless you repent.” But Polycarp said: “You threaten with the fire that burns for a time, and is quickly quenched, for you do not know the fire which awaits the wicked in the judgment to come and in everlasting punishment. But why are you waiting? Come, do what you will.”

Chap.13 – The preparations for burning him:
1 These things then happened with so great speed, quicker than it takes to tell, and the crowd came together immediately, and prepared wood and faggots from the work-shops and baths and the Jews were extremely zealous, as is their custom, in assisting at this. 2 Now when the fire was ready he put off all his clothes, and loosened his girdle and tried also to take off his shoes, though he did not do this before, because each of the faithful was always zealous, which of them might the more quickly touch his flesh. For he had been treated with all respect because of his noble life, even before his martyrdom. 3 Immediately therefore, he was fastened to the instruments which had been prepared for the fire, but when they were going to nail him as well he said: “Leave me thus, for He who gives me power to endure the fire, will grant me to remain in the flames unmoved even without the security you will give by the nails.”

Chap.14 – His last prayers:
1 So they did not nail him, but bound him, and he put his hands behind him and was bound, as a noble ram out of a great flock, for an oblation, a whole burnt offering made ready and acceptable to God; and he looked up to heaven and said: “O Lord God Almighty, Father of thy beloved and blessed Child, Jesus Christ, through Whom we have received full knowledge of thee, the God of Angels and powers, and of all creation, and of the whole family of the righteous, who live before thee! 2 I bless thee, that Thou hast granted me this day and hour, that I may share, among the number of the martyrs, in the cup of thy Christ, for the Resurrection to everlasting life, both of soul and body in the immortality of the Holy Spirit. And may I, to-day, be received among them before Thee, as a rich and acceptable sacrifice, as Thou, the God who lies not and is truth, hast prepared beforehand, and shown forth, and fulfilled. 3 For this reason I also praise Thee for all things, I bless Thee, I glorify Thee through the everlasting and heavenly high Priest, Jesus Christ, thy beloved Child, through whom be glory to Thee with him and the Holy Spirit, both now and for the ages that are to come, Amen.”

The History of Christianity in 25 Objects: Olney Hymns – T.Challies

The History of Christianity in 25 Objects: Olney Hymns | Challies Dot Com.

If you have not yet glanced at or followed Tim Challies’ blog posts on the history of Christianity in twenty-five objects, it would be worth your while to do so. I referenced these posts once before, but is has been some time ago and so I do it once again today.

The post linked above concerns the rise of hymnody in the church, but not the cheesy, breezy kind predominantly produced in our day; there was a better day – even when Calvinistic, sovereign-grace songs were written by men such as William Cowper and John Newton (though never perfect). Read on and find out how these hymns were written and how they became part of Christian worship.


Olney Volume 2The Houghton Library at Harvard University holds a vast collection of important historical papers, letters and manuscripts. There are works there from Emily Dickinson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Keats, Louisa May Alcott and many other notable authors and poets. Deep within that library is a fragile old volume, worn, faded and crumbling. It is a handwritten manuscript labeled simply “Vol. 2.” Yet that otherwise unremarkable volume has great historical significance because it contains half of the portion of hymns that John Newton contributed to the final published version of Olney Hymns. It is the next of the twenty-five objects through which we are tracing the history of Christianity, for Olney Hymns directs us to the rise of the hymn as a distinctive component of Christian worship.

The Florence “Flamethrower” – G.Savonarola

One of my favorite areas of reading is church history. Most times I enjoy reading books that focus on a single figure or a certain period of the history of the church. But sometimes I like shorter overviews with a variety of figures and periods. Currently I have two devotional type books I am working my way through: 100 Bible Verses That Changed the World by William Peterson and Randy Peterson (F.Revell, 2001 – one which I have mentioned before) and All the Saints Adore Thee: Insight From Christian Classics by Bruce Shelley (Baker, 1994 – my sister Sue put me on to this one).

GSavonarolaRecently I read a chapter from 100 Bible Verses that dealt with a little-known figure from the 15th century: Girolamo Savonarola (1452-1498). The chapter is titled “The Flamethrower of Florence”, and as I read it, I began to recall some things I had learned about this early Roman Catholic reformer. In fact, the opening paragraph states this: “Was Savonarola the real igniter of the Reformation flames? Many historians charge this fiery Italian preacher with striking a crucial match. Luther himself said he was greatly influenced by what Savonarola had done a generation before him” (p.35).

But it was the end of this “devotion” that I found especially moving, and from that I quote:

Though Florentines lauded him, Savonarola’s fearlessness did not win him any friends in Rome. The pope made a political gesture, offering Savonarola a cardinals’s hat. He refused to take it.

The pope had enough. Savonarola was suspended from the priesthood and excommunicated. Besides that, the city of Florence was placed under a papal interdict. That’s when the people of Florence changed their minds about the reformer. Of course, he always had his share of foes in the city, but now those enemies flexed their muscles. Savonarola was asked to retract his charges against the pope and admit he was a false prophet. He refused, was arrested, stood trial for heresy, and was found guilty.

After a month of torture, he was sent to the gallows. The execution took place on the city square. After the pope’s representative pronounced judgment upon him, saying, ‘I exclude thee from the militant and triumphant church,’ Savonarola responded, ‘From the church militant you may, but from the church triumphant, you cannot’ (p.36).

By the way, the verse that changed Savonarola’s life was Matthew 3:2, where the heart of John the Baptist’s preaching is summarized: “…Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” That’s the call from God he received and the message he brought, first to smaller cities in northern Italy and then to the influential city of Florence.


43 Books About War Every Man Should Read | The Art of Manliness

43 Books About War Every Man Should Read | The Art of Manliness.

WarBooksThough this guest article was posted a month ago on the AOM blog (Dec.3, 2013), it is still worth noting here. Yes, it is especially for you men, who need to be encouraged to read anyway and who ought to find the subject of war interesting for many reasons, not the least of which is to learn about manliness (in both its corrupt and sanctified forms).

But of course, as believers we also look at war through the lens of Scripture, remembering that it is our sovereign God Who controls the running of the red horse throughout history – all for the sake of the gathering of His elect church through Jesus Christ (Rev.6:2,4). That too ought to be incentive to read about war – to learn how God has used this means to save and preserve His church in every land and place.

There are a variety of books on war here, covering every major period of history. Plus, Mr.Holiday provides a brief synopsis of each title he recommends. Thus you men ought to find something to add to your reading list for 2014 here. What period of war history would you like to know about?

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Ryan Holiday.

War is unquestionably mankind at his worst. Yet, paradoxically, it is in war that men — individual men — often show the very best of themselves. War is often the result of greed, stupidity, or depravity. But in it, men are often brave, loyal, and selfless.

I am not a soldier. I have no plans to become one. But I’ve studied war for a long time. I am not alone in this.

The greats have been writing and reading about war — its causes, its effects, its heroes, its victims — since the beginning of written text. Some of our most powerful literature is either overtly about war or profoundly influenced by it. Homer’s epic poems are about war — first, ten years of battle against Troy and then ten years of battle against nature and the gods. Thucydides, our first great historian, wrote about the Peloponnesian War — the great war between Sparta and Athens. Rome was built by war and literature, and the world has been influenced by that ever since. The American Empire is no different — our men came home and wrote about the Civil War, about the Spanish-American War, about WWI, about WWII. A new generation has come home and has written (and is still writing) powerful books about the counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The study of war is the study of life, because war is life in the rawest sense. It is death, fear, power, love, adrenaline, sacrifice, glory, and the will to survive.

Best Nonfiction Books of 2013 | Kirkus Reviews

Best Nonfiction Books of 2013 | Kirkus Reviews.

KirkusReviews-2013For eighty (80) years Kirkus has been publishing reviews of the latest books in many different categories. I am not interested in all categories – perhaps even most categories – published in the world at large, but I am always interested in non-fiction books (true stories/history). Among other “best book” lists, Kirkus has also published their list of best non-fiction books for this year (2013).

The list is worth browsing, if not simply to see what is new in this category, than to gather some ideas for the next book from this category you may wish to read. Look for your interests and perhaps you will find one that grabs your attention.

OnPaper-BasbanesOne already has for me – the latest from bibliophile Nicholas A.Basbanes - On Paper: The Everything of Its Two-Thousand-Year History (Knopf, 2013) – a history of paper! This past year I picked up two used copies of his other books on the world of books (including A Splendor of Letters: The Permanence of Books in an Impermanent World, HarperCollins, 2003).

Don’t forget, books make great gifts! Anytime of the year :) Happy reading!

Lecture at Calvin’s Meeter Center Today on the HC at the Synod of Dordt

donsinnema-tccFor those in the area who may not be aware of this but who are interested, there is a lecture on the Heidelberg Catechism at 3:30 p.m. this afternoon in the H.Henry Meeter Center for Calvin Studies (fourth floor of the Hekman Library at Calvin College). “The Heidelberg Catechism at the Synod of Dordt (1618-19)” will be presented by Dr.Don Sinnema, recently retired professor of theology at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, IL.

Here is the brief description of the speech as found on the Meeter Center website:

The Heidelberg Catechism came up in a variety of discussions at the Synod of Dort. These included discussions of: how best to teach the catechism in the home, school and church; Arminian observations on the catechism with suggestions for revision; the response of the Palatine (Heidelberg) delegation to the Arminian observations; a review and approval of the catechism; and guidelines for catechism preaching.

Some of the professors and students of our Seminary will be attending this (and maybe the librarian!). You are welcome to join us.

The Diet of Augsburg: Frederick III’s Defense of the Heidelberg Catechism (5)

FrederickIIIPiousToday we post our final part in this little series examining the German Palatinate Elector’s courageous defense of the Reformed confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, before the Emperor Maximilian, German princes, and church leaders at the Diet of Augsburg in 1566, just three years after the publication on the HC.

As we have seen, this early in its history the future of this new Reformed catechism in Germany was in serious jeopardy, as both Roman Catholics and Lutherans opposed Frederick III’s newly-confessed Calvinism. They tried to get him to renounce it by attacking both his professed agreement with the Augsburg Confession (Lutheran) and his professed Calvinism. And the Emperor tried desperately to preserve the unity of his realm by also trying to get Frederick to deny his Reformed faith. But no matter how hard these parties tried, they could not succeed. Frederick the Pious faithfully defended his faith and his catechism.

The final part of his defense came at the May 24 meeting of the diet. At a special meeting of all the Protestant States that morning Frederick III “was there very sharply charged that what was taught by his theologians in his churches and schools, yes, by himself at the diet, was more dangerous than anything taught by Calvin and Ecolampadius. And they earestly asked him to desist from this, at least until a conference could be called” (J.Good, p.198).

And here we pick up the narrative as described by James I. Good in his book The Heidelberg Catechism in Its Newest Light (1914):

And now we come to his second great address at the diet. He agreed with their last declaration to the Emperor and hoped they would ever carefully guard against division and would always remember that what happened to one today might happen to another tomorrow. He than again declared his adherence to the Augsburg Confession. But that as to the Lord’s Supper he was ready to be instructed out of the Bible. Of Calvin’s and Zwingli’s doctrines he knew nothing and had nothing to do with them. Then he took the Bible, laid it on the table and urged all who were present to teach him something better out of the Bible. But no one among them was willing to enter the lists (for Frederick was evidently recognized as not only the most spiritually-minded among them, but the best versed in the Bible). He continued, therefore, saying that he were reproached for having weakened from the Augsburg Confession, he could understand it in no other way than that he had gone back on his subscription to that Confession (which he had before denied), p.198.

And the outcome was this:

And so Frederick finally gained victory for his cause, and the Heidelberg Catechism was allowed to be tolerated in Germany. But it is none the less true, as Prof.Boquin, the oldest professor of theology in his university, said at (sic-cjt) in his funeral address on Frederick, ‘When it comes to martyrdom, to joyful willingness to suffer for the righteousness of the matter, dare we not truthfully count this pious prince among the martyrs of Christ.’ And we can join in this tribute. …And we can not thank him enough for this defense, which, as almost by a miracle, preserved to us our catechism. All honor to Frederick for his deep spirituality and wonderful eloquence at this diet, (p.200)!

With that last statement we would part company with Good. Rather ought we say, “All honor to Frederick’s Lord for his deep grace to this godly prince in his hour of need!”

100 Christian Books and 100 Bible Verses

100BooksChangedCenturyIn the last six months I have picked up two Thrift store books that caught my eye and have since captured my reading attention. They are 100 Christian Books That Changed the Century and 100 Bible Verses That Changed the World. Both are co-written by William Petersen and Randy Petersen and published by Fleming H.Revell (a division of Baker Book House now), in 2000 and 2001 respectively.

Both are comprised of short chapters (for easy beginning or end of day reading) summarizing precisely what the book titles state: 100 Christian books that changed the last century (from Charles Sheldon’s In His Steps, 1899 to Rick Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Church, 1995) and 100 verses from the Bible that influenced key persons in the history of the church (from the apostle Paul, Isaiah 49:6) to Joni E.Tada (Romans 8:28).

100BibleVersesI have been reading selections from each book and am thoroughly enjoying this journey through the world of books and Bible verses. It really is a journey in the history of God’s work in the church, beginning in the hearts of individual believers. And it is a revelation of the power of books and reading in the lives of God’s people, beginning with the Book of books. I heartily recommend these two titles to you. Start looking in your local Thrift store :)

The Diet of Augsburg: Frederick III’s Defense of the Heidelberg Catechism (3)

MaximilianIIToday we return to our little series (See my Oct.10 and 17, 2013 posts.) on Frederick III’s defense of the newly published Heidelberg Catechism (1563) before the Holy Roman Emperor at the Diet of Augsburg held in 1566. Because neither the Catholic nor Protestant princes of Germany were pleased with Frederick’s conversion to Calvinism and subsequent introduction of it into the Palatinate region (of which he was Elector), and because the Emperor was concerned about the unity of his realm, Maximilian (II – emperor from 1564-1576. See picture to the right.) called for Frederick to appear before a diet in Augsburg and defend himself, his new faith, and his new catechism.

And as far as his prospects of being favorably heard and his Reformed catechism being approved were concerned, things did not look good in the least. Frederick had few friends at this diet, since the Catholics were clearly against him and the Lutherans had also turned against him, with few exceptions. In fact, a special decree had been introduced against him, just days before his appearance at the diet. To help see how serious – even bleak – things looked we once again we quote from James I. Good’s The Heidelberg Catechism in Its Newest Light (1914):

The Maximilian, after a conference with the Protestant States, issued a decree against Frederick. The decree was that Frederick must give up the endowments he had taken from the chapters of Neuhaus and Sinzheim, and set aside his novelties in Sponheim. The decree also ordered that all the Calvinistic novelties, which he had introduced into his churches and schools, were to be cast out. If he did not do this he would be deposed, and the Elector’s hat would be transferred to his son, Lewis (Louis -cjt). The dukes had triumphed. The ban of the empire was about to be placed on Frederick. We thus see how nearly did it come to pass that the Heidelberg catechism should be utterly suppressed in Germany. Had it been done we never would have had our catechism. All this reveals the tremendous crisis on Frederick, with the probability of his losing his case. Nothing saved him and his catechism, – but himself. And the fourteenth of May, 1566, in which he made this memorable defense, will ever go down in the history of our Church as one of its greatest days (pp.191-92).

Next time we will conclude this series and consider Frederick’s wise and godly testimony before the Emperor at this diet – and its subsequent outcome.


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