Made For Worship: A Series On Psalm 100 (Part 4)—Glad Worship

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
Serve the Lord with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
Know that the Lord, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!
For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.

Having given this wonderful text of Psalm 100 an expositional and pastoral survey in our previous three articles, we return one last time for a fourth installment wherein we consider some further implications and applications from this marvelous psalm. With great indebtedness to the pastoral insight and style provided by the 19th-century Southern Presbyterian William S. Plumer in his (seemingly exhaustive) commentary on the psalms,1 we now take a few moments to offer some (hopefully) practical applications that Christians might use to implement the Holy Spirit-inspired wisdom of Psalm 100 into their own lives:

  1. This psalm gives us that eschatological glimpse of what ought to be, and what one day shall be. The reality of Philippians 2:10–11 shall be brought to pass, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Psalm 100 is, in its own way, the summons of the already-not-yet, as all the earth is enjoined to render the praise to God that he is due, praise that all lands shall one day render to him, indeed. 
  2. Joy ought not to be a foreign characteristic among God’s redeemed. We see from Psalm 100 that joy is not forbidden—rather, it is positively commanded! Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth or Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Sometimes, at least in some Reformed circles, it is intimated (or perhaps even more strongly suggested) that to be dour, morose, aloof, or austere is the proper disposition of piety. And while, certainly, “to everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1), and there are appropriate seasons for a more demure demeanor, joy ought not to be entirely alien to the characteristics of God’s people, especially in the context of worship. Joyful worship is enjoined and blessed by the Word of God. Audible, purposeful, exclamations of gladness are a right and good thing to be found upon the lips of God’s people—Shout joyfully! Not praise given with a reluctant timidity, but with a holy joy; an activity that can well involve one’s whole heart, soul, mind, and strength.
  3. Note also that singing is commanded (v. 2). Singing is not the only part of corporate worship, but it is an important part, and it is a skill worth cultivating. This is not to suggest that all God-fearing men and women must undergo professional vocal training or coaching, but inasmuch as we view preaching (whether the doing of it or receiving of it), reading, study, and prayer as endeavors that grow us in our Christian faith and we seek to cultivate and improve our skillfulness in those endeavors, why not also with singing? Most people can sing decently enough, even if they do not realize it. In reality, there are actually few people who truly possess no musical or vocal ability to sing along to the melody line of a congregational song. Perhaps not all would feel comfortable singing alto or bass harmony lines, but moderate ability in singing along in a congregational setting is rather attainable—and, like all skills, it is something in which we can grow!
    Plumer was even more blunt and forthright in his opinion on the matter: “If we are to sing, we must learn to sing, v. 2. Otherwise we will make discord, and disturb the devotions of our fellow-worshippers.”2 In other words, in order to better love our fellow Christians, better serve the Lord in our corporately-sung worship, to not be a distraction or impediment to corporate worship, perhaps we ought to actively seek to improve our singing abilities. And even if one does not strive to improve his or her raw music skills, surely if one were to give greater forethought and preparation, study, musing, and meditation to the text of the congregational song (before singing it, if possible; but certainly while singing it) this would only serve to strengthen one’s participation in the worship service. If our Lord warned against employing “empty phrases” or “vain repetitions” in our verbal prayers (Matthew 6:7)—that is, speaking without understanding—might this not also apply to our sung prayers and praises? If we follow Calvin’s line of reasoning (that congregational singing is a sung form of public prayer and that this necessitates an informed singing), then the answer is yes.3 It is no secret that Martin Luther held musical skill in such high esteem that he would insist upon it in ministerial (seminary) training. He believed that a facility and judicious skill in music was as necessary as skill in theology—certainly for the minister as he makes week-by-week decisions in selecting the sung praises in the life of the congregation. One scholar notes, “[Luther] was so committed to the high place of music in the life of the Church that men had to demonstrate competency in music before they could be accepted for ministerial training.”4 Luther may have been on to something, but the discussion regarding ministerial music training is a conversation we must save for another day. Suffice it to say that Psalm 100 helps us to see that it is not an unspiritual thing for the Christian to strive to improve their musicality. Our skill in congregational singing can be cultivated and improved in at least two ways, then: an improvement in our own musical/vocal skill (where possible), and an improvement in understanding and meditating on the truths which we sing, so that we might better sing forth our praises to God with full-throated earnestness and soul-stirring sincerity. We might well agree with the sentiment of Augustine: “How freely was I made to weep by these hymns and spiritual songs, transported by the voice of the congregation sweetly singing—the melody of their voices filled my ear, and divine truth was poured into my heart. Then burned the flame of sacred devotion in my soul, and gushing tears flowed from my eyes, as well they might.”5
  4. What a doctrinal fount of joy is found in knowing even the simple repository of truths as they are found in this short psalm: He IS (Exodus 3:14), He (and he alone!) is God, He is the Lord over all, and we (along with all lands) ought to hail him as our God. To believe in the truths of Psalm 100 is a great guard against atheism, idolatry, and even doubt. Do we question whether God will make good on his promises toward his people? Take heart, dear Christian: the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.
  5. What a source, what a reservoir, for praise when we rehearse the above-mentioned doctrinal truths. Why is our God so worthy to be given such joyful praise and singing? Again, He is God! He made us; he preserves us; he is the great Giver of every good and perfect gift, bestowing such blessings upon us; he cares for us like sheep of his pasture. “The worship of God is delightful.”6 Because “the Lord is [our] portion” (Lamentations 3:24), he is what we need, and in Christ we have him. He is ours, and we are his. He has not been miserly toward us, but has given us his own Son (Romans 8:32); therefore, we owe him our all. All things pertaining to eternal life—Christ and all his benefits—we receive from his hand. Creation, redemption, election, regeneration, justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification are all from him.
  6. What a reminder (and a summons) of the maxim, we become what we worship. Like Moses descending from the mountain—with a radiant face having been exposed to the glory of God—let us reflect some likeness to our God having met with him in worship. Because he is good, because he is merciful, because he is true, let us also be good, merciful, and faithful.7
  7. What a splendid thing it is to be summoned to the Lord’s courts, to bring him glad worship, and to commune with him. “Blessed be God, that he grants to his people so near approaches to himself, and communes with his chosen in a way best, suited to fill them with joy unspeakable and full of glory.”8

May the Lord bless the truths of Psalm 100 to our hearts and minds, to our piety, our practice, and our eternity.

Notes

  1. W. S. Plumer, Psalms: A Critical and Expository Commentary with Doctrinal and Practical Remarks (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2016), 894–897.
  2. Plumer, 896–897.
  3. “As for public prayers, there are two kinds. The ones with the word alone: the others with singing . . . it is necessary to remember that which St. Paul hath said, the spiritual songs cannot be well sung save from the heart. But the heart requires the intelligence. And in that (says St. Augustine) lies the difference between the singing of men and that of the birds. For a linnet, a nightingale, a parrot may sing well; but it will be without understanding. But the unique gift of man is to sing knowing that which he sings.” John Calvin, “Preface to the Genevan Psalter, 1565,” Christian Classics Ethereal Library, accessed September 9, 2023, https://www.ccel.org/ccel/ccel/eee/files/calvinps.htm.
  4. John Barber, “Luther and Calvin on Music and Worship (HTML),” Thirdmill, accessed September 9, 2023, https://thirdmill.org/magazine/article.asp?link=http:%5E%5Ethirdmill.org%5Earticles%5Ejoh_barber%5EPT.joh_barber.Luther.Calvin.Music.Worship.html&at=Luther%20and%20Calvin%20on%20Music%20and%20Worship.
  5. Plumer, 897.
  6. Plumer, 897.
  7. Plumer, 897.
  8. Plumer, 897.

©Sean Morris. All Rights Reserved.

You can find the whole series here. 


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Posted by Sean Morris | Saturday, October 14, 2023 | Categorized Biblical Exposition, Biblical theology, Psalms, Saturday Psalm Series | Tagged Bookmark the permalink.

About Sean Morris

Sean was educated at Grove City College, Reformed Theological Seminary (Jackson, MS), and the University of Glasgow (Scotland). He is an ordained teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, and serves as a minister at the Covenant Presbyterian Church in Oak Ridge, TN. He also serves as the Academic Dean of the Blue Ridge Institute for Theological Education. He is currently pursuing his PhD in Historical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Sean lives in Oak Ridge with his wife, Sarah, along with their children and useless beagle.

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