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The Great Benefits, And The Great Efficacy Of Praise Offered To God.
In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord. I call to remembrance my song in the night; I commune with mine own heart.—Ps. 77:2.
This passage is an excellent rule of life, teaching every man how to conduct himself under the cross. As the word of God is the rule of our life in prosperity, according to the Psalmist: “I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye” (Ps. 32:8); and “Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory” (Ps. 73:24): yea, moreover, as the word of God ought to be the rule of our faith, as the Psalmist tells us, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Ps. 119:105): and “Hold 306 up my goings in thy paths, that my footsteps slip not” (Ps. 17:5)—so also ought it to be our rule and direction in bearing the cross, as David teaches us, saying, “In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord;” that is, I will look up to God, who has laid this cross upon me, and beg of him comfort and assistance in the day of my trouble.
2. Hence may every Christian learn, when he is in affliction, not to fix his thoughts too much upon the immediate causes or instruments of his sufferings; but to lift up his heart to God; to apply to himself the divine promises; to pray and sing praises to his God: and these are the true and certain consolations of an afflicted soul. David says, “In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord.” As a mind oppressed with grief eases itself by communicating its troubles to a faithful friend, so is our afflicted spirit refreshed and comforted when we offer prayer and thanksgiving to God. Thus David “called to remembrance his song in the night, and communed with his own heart” (Ps. 77:6); that is, when it was night he longed earnestly for the morning, that he might rise and comfort his weary soul by prayers and thanksgiving unto God his Comforter: in the mean time, he communed with his own heart, and poured out his soul in secret; and God, who saw and heard in secret, who understood even the most secret sighs and breathings of his dejected spirit, comforted, strengthened, and refreshed him.
3. Amongst other things that may be learned from this beautiful passage of the Psalmist, this is one, that the singing of holy hymns and praises to God, proceeding from a truly devout soul, are attended with great advantages and spiritual blessings.
4. The truth of this appears, 1. From nature itself. 2. From the efficacy of prayer. 3. From the examples found in the Old Testament. 4. From the examples in the New. 5. From the examples of holy men in both, who were by this means filled with the Holy Ghost. 6. From the nature and properties of the Psalms. 7. From the frequent use of the blessed Psalms among the ancients, whenever they were under any adversity. All these considerations prove that there is a great virtue or efficacy in psalms and hymns of praise. By this I would not be understood to mean nothing but bare words and empty sounds, void of faith and devotion; but rather such a vigorous faith, such an ardent devotion, as may break forth into holy hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in the heart unto the Lord. Let us briefly describe this subject.
5. As to the first, namely, the book of the world, or nature, it is clear that the praise of God is the great end of the whole creation. That this is the grand employment of the angelical choirs, appears from many passages in the Revelation of St. John, as also from Isaiah 6:3 and the 148th Psalm; which, inviting all creatures to praise God, for whose glory they were created, begins with the angels (ver. 2), “Praise ye him, all his angels; praise ye him, all his hosts.” From the angelical he descends to the sidereal world, saying, “Praise ye him, sun and moon: praise him, all ye stars of light.” To which may be referred the words of Job (chap. 38:7): “When the morning stars sang together.” Thence he descends to the sea, calling on the waters, and all the numerous inhabitants of the waters, to praise the God that made them. Thence 307 looking up to the regions of the air, he calls to “the fire and hail, snow and vapor, stormy wind fulfilling his word.” Thence he passes to the earth: “mountains and all hills; fruitful trees, and all cedars.” Thence to the living creatures: “beasts, and all cattle; creeping things and flying fowl.” Thence to men, beginning with the rulers of the world: “kings of the earth, and all people; princes, and all judges of the earth. Both young men and maidens, old men and children, praise the name of the Lord.” And lastly, to the church of God, “his saints, a people near unto him—praise ye the Lord.”
6. The second argument was the efficacy of the prayer of faith. This is attested by the word of God, the examples of holy men, and daily experience. For we are assured by all the promises of God, that not one devout prayer, not one sigh or tear, comes from us in vain. “Put thou my tears into thy bottle.” Ps. 6:9; 56:8. “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.” Ps. 126:5. “The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth.” Ps. 145:18. Nothing, indeed, in this world can be successful without prayer; forasmuch as every good and every perfect gift cometh down from God, and must be asked of him. Without constant prayer a man can neither live nor die in peace. Now, as the offering of praise to God is nothing else but the prayer of a devout soul overflowing with divine joy, in which holy men of God have celebrated and conveyed to posterity the mercies and wonders of God their Creator; it is plain that the singing of praises to God is an act of devotion, full of spiritual comfort and advantage.
8. Fourthly, this is confirmed by the examples of the New Testament; especially those two divine hymns of Mary and Zacharias (Luke 1:46, 68), of which the Christian Church has appointed one to be sung in the morning, and the other in the evening, as a morning and evening sacrifice unto God; thereby instructing us, that singing psalms and praises unto God ought to begin and end the day. Such, too, is the exhortation of the Psalmist, “It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord, and to sing praises unto thy name, O Most High: to shew forth thy lovingkindness in the morning, and thy faithfulness every night.” Ps. 92:1, 2. But why such lovingkindness “in the morning”? Because “it is new every morning.” Lam. 3:23. And why such “faithfulness every night”? Because “the Lord, that neither slumbereth nor sleepeth,” is our guardian by night. Ps. 121:3. To this we may add what we are told by St. Matthew (chap. 26: 30), that Jesus Christ himself at his last Supper, sung a hymn with his disciples. And St. Paul says to the Ephesians (chap. 5:18, 19), “Be filled with the Spirit; speaking to yourselves in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; giving thanks always, etc.” And again: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” Col. 3:16, 17. And St. James says, “Is any among 308 you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.” James 5:13.
9. Fifthly, by the praises offered to God by the holy men of the Old Testament and the New, who were filled with the Holy Ghost. Of this we have two instances. First, when Samuel had anointed Saul to be king, he gave him a sign, saying, “Thou shalt meet a company of prophets with a psaltery, and a tabret, and a pipe, and a harp, before them; and they shall prophesy. And the Spirit of the Lord will come upon thee, and thou shalt prophesy with them, and shalt be turned into another man.” 1 Sam. 10:5, 6. The second is, when Saul had sent messengers to take David, they met several companies of prophets, and both they and Saul himself began to prophesy. 1 Sam. 19:19-24. Similar to this is that which we read concerning Elisha (2 Kings 3:15), that when the minstrel began to play, that holy man prophesied.
10. In the Old Testament there were several kinds of divine music; some of trumpets, some of psalteries and harps, some of cymbals, and other kinds of musical instruments. From this some imagine that the Songs of Degrees, as some of the Psalms are called, took their names. For they did not sing all the Psalms to the same instrument, but adapted their instruments to their subject, whether it were cheerful or sorrowful. All these various kinds of music with which, under the Old Testament, they sang praises unto God, being a part of the external ceremonial service, have now ceased; and our spirit, soul, mind, and mouth are become the trumpet, psaltery, harp, and cymbal of God. To which St. Paul alludes, when he says, “Singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” Col. 3:16. By which expression we are by no means forbidden, either in public or private, to praise God with voices or instruments of music; but it requires that all this be done with true devotion, in the spirit, and from the heart, lest religion should be thought to consist in empty sounds and the external pomp of divine service. For the New Testament, see, for example, Acts 4:24-31.
11. Sixthly, the nature and properties of the Psalms prove the same thing. Some of them are supplicatory, others consolatory; some penitential, others doctrinal; and, lastly, others prophetical: from which variety of style and intention the devout soul may reap a correspondent variety of comforts and benefits.
12. Seventhly, we are instructed by the examples of Moses and David that songs of praise were used upon different occasions. As (1) Against enemies. These may be called prayers for protection. Such is Psalm 68, which the man of God sang when he was advancing against his enemies: “Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered.” Some think that Psalm 91 was composed by David in the time of that great pestilence, which, in the space of three days, swept away 70,000 men. 2 Sam. 24:15. And I doubt not that many a man has been protected in national calamities by a proper use of this Psalm. (2) In time of victory over enemies. These we may call Psalms of victory. Thus David, when he had gained six victories, composed the 18th Psalm, as may be gathered from 2 Sam. 22: 1. So Jehoshaphat marched against the Moabites with singers going before him, who were to bless and praise the Lord with a loud voice; 309 and he conquered. 2 Chron. 20:21, etc. (3) In great calamities. Thus we read (1 Sam. 21:13) that David, when he changed his behavior before Achish, composed the 34th Psalm, as appears by the title. So he sang Psalm 3, when he fled from Absalom. So when the apostles, in great difficulties, prayed in the words of the 2d Psalm, “the place was shaken where they were assembled together.” Acts 4:31. And these are Psalms of mourning or lamentation. (4) There are also eucharistical Psalms. So David sung the 105th Psalm before the ark of the covenant. 1 Chron. 17:16. (5) There are complaining Psalms, as the 102d appears to be by the inscription; also some against calumniators, as the 4th, 7th, 52d; also against diseases, as the 30th.
13. Thus much concerning the efficacy and admirable benefits of divine hymns and thanksgivings. Whence it appears that it is the duty of a Christian to praise God as well as to pray to him every day. For (1), it being the constant employment of the holy angels to bless and praise God, when the Church on earth does the same, there arises thence a divine and heavenly communion betwixt the Church on earth and the Church in heaven; fulfilling, in some measure, that petition of the Lord's prayer, “Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” Matt. 6:10. Come, then, ye devout souls, and when ye retire into your closets to pour out your souls before God in secret, remember also to praise him with a Psalm of thanksgiving. (2) Moreover, it would be quite proper, and becoming a Christian, to accustom children, from their infancy, to sing psalms and praises unto God, according to the Psalmist, “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength, because of thine enemies” (Ps. 8:2): the advantage of which, is expressed in the following words—“that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.” (3) We are encouraged to this duty by God's gracious acceptance of it, and delight in it; upon which account the Psalmist calls upon him, saying, “Thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.” Ps. 22:3. (4) Experience itself teaches us that by divine hymns we kindle flames of devotion in our souls, and receive rich returns of spiritual joy, lively comfort, solid peace, and rest in God.
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