Tuesday, February 16, 2021

New Genvan Psalter


        John Calvin wrote these magnificent words in the preface to the Psalter he published in 1543:

 As for public prayers, there are two kinds: the one consists simply of speech, the other of song…. And indeed, we know from experience that singing has great strength and power to move and to set on fire the hearts of men in order that they may call upon God and praise him with a more vehement and more ardent zeal. It is to be remembered always that this singing should not be light or frivolous, but that it ought to have weight and majesty…. Now, what Augustine says is true, namely that no one can sing anything worthy of God which he has not received from him. Therefore, even after we have carefully searched everywhere, we shall not find better or more appropriate songs to this end than the Psalms of David, inspired by the Holy Spirit. And for this reason, when we sing them, we are assured that God puts the words in our mouth, as if he himself were singing through us to exalt his glory.

      When John Calvin arrived in Geneva in 1536 there was no congregational singing in the worship service. Before the Protestant Reformation, laypersons were expected to stand mute as the music was given to the priests and cantors. The clergy sang long-winded Latin sequences that were incomprehensible to the people. Under the influence of the reformers the church in Geneva had banned all music from worship so that there was no singing at all. Calvin and other ministers, concerned about a coldness of worship, tried unsuccessfully to introduce congregational singing of Psalms for the edification of the people and the praise of God.         

     In 1538 Calvin left Geneva for Strasbourg, where he served a French refugee congregation for about three years and where the German Protestant congregations had, by this time, been singing the Psalms for about a decade. While in Strasbourg Calvin began to develop a French Psalter, and in 1539 he published Aulcuns pseaulmes et cantiques mys en chant, a songbook of nineteen Psalms and two canticles, the Ten Commandments and the Song of Simeon. A metrical version of the Apostles’ Creed was also included. Six of the Psalms were from Calvin’s hand while thirteen had been composed by Clement Marot, the distinguished poet laureate of the court of King Francis I of France.

     When Calvin returned to Geneva he continued to develop the Psalter. He and the other ministers of Geneva pursued the matter of congregational singing, and this time they were successful. The following, dated 1541, was recorded in the minutes of the church council:

 It will be desirable to introduce songs in order the better to incite people to prayer and to the praise of God. To begin with, the little children shall be taught, and then in course of time the whole church will be able to follow.

      At last, in 1562, after several other editions (1542, 1543, 1551), the Psalter was complete. It included 49 texts prepared by Clement Marot and 101 from the hand of Theodore Beza, scholar and professor in Geneva. Calvin had withdrawn his own contributions, deferring to these two superior poets. This Psalter became a bestseller in Europe: thousands of printings rolled off dozens of presses. Calvin’s songbook was eagerly embraced by Protestants, and even by many Roman Catholics who were happy to be able to sing the Psalms.

     The peculiar beauty of the Psalter has always been found in its extensive variety of tunes, simple rhythm, fascinating modes, and complex rhyme schemes.

     The “Genevan tunes” were mostly new compositions by musicians such as Guillaume Franc, Louis Bourgeois, and “Maître Pierre,” whose real name was probably Pierre Davantès. Although it was Calvin’s wish that each Psalm should have its own unique melody, this goal was not achieved. The Psalter contains 125 different tunes, some being used for more than one Psalm. Several tunes, for example, Psalm 80 and Psalm 141, were borrowed from Gregorian chants.

     The rhythm of the songs is simple; it consists of two values, half and quarter notes. The pulse, or tactus, falling on the half note should be about the same as the resting heart rate of an adult.

     Rather than major and minor keys, nine different modes are used for the tunes (see the list on pages vii-viii). The most common mode is the Dorian, which is the scale “D” to “D” using only the white keys.

     The complex rhyme scheme includes more than 100 stanza structures and over thirty rhyme patterns. This is quite different from Psalters that rely heavily on common and long metres.

     Because Calvin intended the songs to be primarily for the congregation rather than a choir, the intervals between the notes are small and each tune is within an octave. He insisted that the congregation sing in unison to emphasize that God’s people sing praise to the Lord with one voice, and so the Psalter did not have the music in various voices. A single line of music, rather than four parts as is common in almost all contemporary North American hymnals, might look odd to some, but it has been maintained in this Psalter to be true to Calvin’s original intent of unison singing. However, harmonies for home and choir were composed for all the Psalms by Claude Goudimel, a composer of Calvin’s time, and are still readily available.

     The impact the Genevan Psalter has had on the worship of Reformed churches cannot be overstated. Although published 450 years ago, the Genevan Psalter has been consistently used by churches throughout the world and is growing in popularity. Throughout the centuries it appeared in many European languages as well as in Latin, Malay, Afrikaans, and Tamil. In recent decades new versions have been produced in Asia—in Korea, Japan, and Indonesia.

     The Canadian Reformed Churches have published several English versions of the Genevan Psalter, the first complete edition appearing in 1972. The aim of the current revision was to improve the songs’ literary quality and to bring them into greater harmony with the biblical text.  As such it is not a translation of the original sixteenth-century French version but a new poetic rendering of the entire Book of Psalms and of the four canticles long associated with the Genevan Psalter, the Ten Commandments and the Songs of Mary, Zechariah, and Simeon. Much of it is the work of Dr. William Helder. For complete authorship and copyright information, see pages 374-75. The text of the songs found in the New Genevan Psalter was adopted by the 2013 General Synod of the Canadian Reformed Churches for their songbook, Book of Praise.

     In response to the ever-increasing interest in and appreciation for this precious legacy of John Calvin, it was thought good to publish a new English Psalter without the specifically Canadian Reformed elements that are included in the Book of Praise. With gratitude to our God we present the New Genevan Psalter to the English-speaking church. May our God be “enthroned on the praises of Israel” (Psalm 22:3) through the use of this book. To him alone be the glory, now, and forever!


George van Popta
General Editor

The Psalter can be purchased from Premier here.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

New hymn

                       Jesus, my Saviour, Thank You for Your Mercy 
                                    (PDF) (Musescore)

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

But why a donkey?

This past Sunday the church commemorated Palm Sunday, the day our Lord entered Jerusalem with the mission of going to the cross. One of the striking things about Palm Sunday is that our Lord entered the city riding on a donkey. Why a donkey?

The quick answer is that he rode on a donkey to fulfill prophecy. For example, the evangelist Matthew, chapter 21, wrote that Jesus rode on a donkey to fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah:

“Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold, your king is coming to you,
    humble, and mounted on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”

And yet we would ask, why a donkey?

When Solomon was anointed as king he rode on King David’s mule. (A mule is the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse.) 1 Kings 1:33ff tells of this. Why did David have a personal mule? Why did the king not ride a horse? Does not a prancing galloping stallion befit a king better than a mule or donkey?

See the complete Zechariah prophecy:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
    Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!

Behold, your king is coming to you;
    righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
    and the war horse from Jerusalem;
and the battle bow shall be cut off,
    and he shall speak peace to the nations;
his rule shall be from sea to sea,
    and from the River to the ends of the earth. (9:9-10)

Photo taken by a former parishioner
The Prophet Zechariah said that the messianic king would enter Jerusalem on a donkey, but look what this donkey-mounted king would do: he would cut off the chariots, the war horses, and the battle bows, and he would speak peace to the nations. He would rule from sea to sea and from the River Euphrates to the ends of the earth.

You see, horses are animals for war. When it was a time for war the king would ride a horse, but when it was a time of peace the king would ride a donkey. On the last day when Jesus comes in victory and to judge his enemies, he will be astride a horse (Rev. 19), but coming into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday he came to do what had to be done to establish peace. A donkey was the appropriate mount.

Jesus came to establish peace, the peace the angels sang about at his birth. The angels sang, “Peace on earth and goodwill to man.” During his ministry Jesus taught people about being at peace with God. At the end of his ministry he would die on the cross to bring about peace between God and us. Through his death on the cross the warfare has ended.

When we sinned we declared war on God. It was a war that we were going to lose. God would destroy us in the battle we waged against God—if not for Jesus. Jesus came and died for us and in our place. He gave himself as the one atoning sacrifice, and now all is well between God and us. We are at peace.

Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God (Psa. 20:7).

Sunday, March 22, 2020

How we prayed this morning at Providence-Hamilton & Ancaster Churches


As was announced to the whole federation of Canadian Reformed Churches a day of prayer has been proclaimed, a day in which we in unison raise our voices in prayer to our heavenly Father in light of the COVID-19 virus spreading across the world.

There has also been a specific request from our seminary to pray for it and its community in light of the present health crisis.

Before we enter into a time of prayer please listen to these words from Psalm 46:

God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present[
b] help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
    though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
    though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
    God will help her when morning dawns.
10 “Be still, and know that I am God.
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth!”
11 The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Please listen also to Lord’s Day 10 of the Heidelberg Catechism, where we confess what we understand by the providence of God, where we say:

God’s providence is
his almighty and ever present power,
whereby, as with his hand, he still upholds
heaven and earth and all creatures,
and so governs them that
        leaf and blade,
        rain and drought,
        fruitful and barren years,
        food and drink,
        health and sickness,
        riches and poverty,
        indeed, all things,
        come to us not by chance
        but by his fatherly hand.

Let us pray:

Lord, at this time in which the whole world is experiencing a health and life crisis due to the COVID-19 virus, we humble ourselves before you and offer to you our prayers, for the world, our communities, our cities, and congregations. We thank you that no matter what goes on in the world, your love and grace are constant. Please calm our hearts and turn our attention to you during this time of prayer.

Lord, first of all we humble ourselves before your great majesty, for we have frequently and grievously sinned against you. We acknowledge that if you were to enter into judgment with us, we would deserve nothing but temporal and eternal death. We are deeply conscious of the fact that we are conceived and born in sin, and that all manner of evil desires against you and our neighbour fill our hearts. We continually transgress your commandments, failing to do what you have commanded us, and doing that which you have expressly forbidden. We all, like sheep, have gone astray and each of us has turned to his own way. We acknowledge our waywardness, and are heartily sorry for all our sins. We confess that our transgressions are innumerable, and that we have nothing with which to repay our debt. Therefore we are not worthy to be called your children, nor to lift up our eyes to you in heaven.

Nevertheless, O Lord God and gracious Father, we know that you do not desire the death of the sinner, but rather that he should turn to you and live. We know that your mercy toward those who turn to you is infinite; and so we take courage to call upon you from the depths of our hearts, trusting in our Mediator Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Have compassion on us and forgive us all our sins for Christ’s sake. Wash us in the pure fountain of his blood, so that we may become clean and white as snow. Cover our nakedness with his righteousness, for the glory of your name. Free our understanding from all blindness, and our hearts from all stubbornness and rebellion.

Lord, we pray for those who have taken sick, for their full and successful recovery. Be with their family members and give their medical caregivers wisdom, patience, and protection from catching the virus themselves. Pray for elderly persons in long term care homes, and for people with conditions that would increase their risk if they catch the virus. Give them special protection. We pray for your hand of blessing upon the vulnerable and weak. Be with those under quarantine and isolation, be it self or imposed. We pray that the contagion would quickly slow—locally, nationally, and globally.

Lord, guide those who are working on medical answers to the pandemic. We pray for quick, safe, effective, and affordable solutions. Bless researchers working on vaccines and treatments, those who are deciding what work to fund (and at what expense), those who are making hard decisions on regulations governing community activities and travel, to manage the spread of the virus. We pray especially for Prime Minister Trudeau, Premier Ford, Mayor Eisenberger, and the coronavirus task forces in our country.

We lift up students in our prayers, that they may be able to continue their educations successfully even if they cannot attend classes. Be with teachers and administrators scrambling to transition to online teaching systems.

Help workers who have to stay home with their children, and those whose incomes are being reduced because of the virus’s effects on commerce. We pray for those whose jobs have been impacted, temporarily suspended, or even discontinued. Allow supply chains to remain open so that shortages may ease. Guide government leaders and the banks in dealing with stresses on the economy.

Lord, we also lift up before you in prayer our seminary. Be with both professors and students as they transition from in-class to online education. Be with the students who continue their studies from home but may feel lonely or shut-in due to the circumstances. Be with the staff who are working diligently to keep everything going, but now through modern technology. We pray for the now-entirely-online visit of a team from the Association for Theological Schools for re-accreditation, which is scheduled for next week. We pray for a good outcome to this process. We pray that everyone may remain healthy and complete the semester well, including the fourth-year students who are wondering how ecclesiastical exams and potential calls will occur under these circumstances. We pray for growth and the refining of faith through this trial.

Lord, grant that we be patient in adversity,
      thankful in prosperity,
      and that with a view to the future
      we may have a firm confidence
      in you, our faithful God and Father,
      that no creature shall separate us
      from your love;
   for all creatures are so completely in your hand
      that without your will
      they cannot so much as move.

We pray for perseverance in the faith, that we may continue to trust in you to provide and that also these events will "work together for good, for those who are called according to your purpose..." (Ro 8:28). We pray that through this time of trial we may become ever more "conformed to the image of your Son" (Ro 8:29), We humbly repent for those times we have taken your goodness and grace for granted and acted as if we did not know you at all. Give us wisdom, patience, and love for the office bearers of the church as they shepherd us in this challenging time in the life of the church. Give wisdom, patience, and love to us all for our interaction with each other as members of the body of Christ Give us openness to see and make use of opportunities to reach out with the love of Christ in our dealings with those outside of our church communities. Grant that during this time of health crisis we may love our neighbours as ourselves and find innovative though concrete ways in which to show that we do love them.

Lord, may we look with zeal to the coming again of our Lord Jesus Christ, the moment when he will make all things well, and good, and new. We so look forward to the coming of a new heaven and a new earth, when the first heaven and the first earth will have passed away. When the holy city, New Jerusalem, will come down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. That beautiful day when we will hear a loud voice from the throne, which will say: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. You, our good, merciful, and gracious God will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things will have passed away.”

Come Lord Jesus! Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus!


20 Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us[a] that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Heb. 13:20-21)

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

This tune (Palmetto) was composed by Christiaan Nobels for a hymn I wrote: Praised Be the God of Israel. Arie den Hollander performs it. The five books of the Book of Psalms all close with a doxology. This song is one extended doxology made from the five. Stanzas 1 and 12 are similar but have a significant difference. Stanza 1 calls forth praise from Israel while stanza 12 calls forth praise from all nations. To represent the post-Pentecost singing of the church today, stanza 12 employs the well-known hymnic phrase “Soli Deo Gloria.” The SATB score can be viewed here.