A Great Treasury of Praise & Prayer – J.W. Alexander on the Psalms

In “The Hymn of the Eucharist,” a sermon delivered before the observance of the Lord’s Supper, the renowned pastor and theologian J.W. Alexander (1804-1859) expounded on the significance of Jesus singing a hymn with his disciples after their celebration of the Passover, and before his arrest, trial, and crucifixion (Matt. 26:30). Alexander extols the powerful spirituality of the Psalms, and exhorts his hearers to follow the example of Jesus whole-heartedly, who sang in a moment of deep, personal pain and suffering:

“To this day the Psalter stands as the great treasury of praise and prayer, the authentic liturgy of the Church, which can never grow obsolete; which presents every varying mood of holy experience; and by its divine flexibility and expansion is equally suited to every revolving period of the body of Christ” (93).

“But the psalms are not all rapturous. The chords are sometimes touched to the softest notes of penitence and sorrow. And hence in their wonderful modulations from confession to praise, they suit themselves to all conditions of believers and the church” (94).

“There can be conceived no mode of singing God’s praise, more simple, grave, impressive and truly Protestant, than the chanting of the very words of Scripture by all the voices of a congregation” (94).

“There is a principle involved in psalmody which extends widely in religion; it is that our emotions are increased by due utterance” (103).

“Let it be placed high among maxims for the improvement of piety, that our religious affections must have utterance” (104).

“It is only when the death of Christ becomes a secondary matter, and his divinity is denied, that Socinian criticism begins to amend the hymn-book, (as in some European churches) and weaken or remove all expressions of love to a Divine and dying Saviour” (106).

“What a rebuke to those, who look on this part of worship as secondary, as a mere appendage, which they may observe or omit at pleasure, or as something which they are only to witness, without any attempt at participation! For a service which is named the Communion, nothing can be more appropriate than fellowship praise” (107-108).

“[W]e never shall know the joys of the sanctuary, until there be poured out upon us a new baptism in regard to fellowship of adoration, love and praise. We talk of our need of revival in many things–and justly–but what we greatly need is a revival of the spirit of worship” (110).

“Then shall the world without see and know that God is with us of a truth, and recognize that there is happiness in glorifying the name of God” (111).

“Amidst much that is obscure in the Apocalypse, one thing is as clear as day, that in the heavenly state there shall be lofty, joyous, and perpetual praise of Christ” (112).

– “The Hymn of the Eucharist” in J.W. Alexander, Sacramental Discourses (1860).

For more on J.W. Alexander, see the helpful biography at Banner of Truth.

Want to learn more about Psalms and Psalm-singing? Pastor Uri Brito has a bunch of great resources at Resurrectio et Vita!

Eucharistic Sanctification

Sometimes, in our struggles towards greater holiness, we chase counseling fads, best-selling books, and health and wellness gurus. But we forget the primary, basic, and most important ways that God has given us to help mold and shape us into the “image of Christ” (Rom. 8:29).

In his helpful book, You Can Change: God’s Transforming Power for Our Sinful Behavior and Negative Emotions, pastor Tim Chester reminds us that the Lord’s Supper is a powerful tool that God uses to help us break free from destructive habits, addictions, and desires:

“The bread and wine remind us that Christ gave his life to make us holy, to break the power of sin, to give us a new identity, and to make us family. They remind us that we belong to God because we were bought with the price of Christ’s blood. The Book of Common Prayer summons us to ‘feed on him in your heart by faith with thanksgiving.’ The Lord’s Supper is a fresh invitation to ‘taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Psalm 34:8) We discover again the promise of Jesus: ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger; and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). We renew communion with Jesus by faith. We’re reminded of the truth that the bread and wine represent, and that truth feeds our hearts” (144).

Pigs, Gardens, & Church Announcements

At the church we attend the announcements at the end of the service are a continual source of amusement. Our pastor soldiers through as best he can, but there are regularly quite a few (since there are so many wonderful things going on), and the kids, and grown ups, are eager to get to the coffee and doughnuts waiting in the foyer. It was a historic occasion recently, when there were no announcements! There was great rejoicing throughout the land.

This is not a new problem. Churches in the Reformation also struggled with how to incorporate the mundane with the spiritual. Bruce Gordon, writing in Brill’s Companion to the Swiss Reformation, describes the merging of the secular and the mundane in the city of Bern:

“Ministers were required to make a series of announcements from the pulpit addressing the daily life of the community, such as a form of lost and found. Goods and belongings that had been lost were listed in case anyone should know where they were. Further, parishioners were told to control their dogs and pigs and not to bowl or ride horses in the graveyards. Apparently, these interventions became so lengthy that in 1548 the Bernese ministers were only required to announce that items over a certain value had been lost” (Gordon, “Polity and Worship,” 507).

It’s been a while since we last had anyone riding their horse through the church graveyard, so I guess we’re doing well!

The holy stream which circulates around the eucharistic table

The Weekly Communion Project

“Behold, my brethren, the holy stream which circulates around the eucharistic table; love in God to believers–love in believers to God–love in brethren to brethren; all comprised in the higher law, GOD IS LOVE. We are in the spot, of all others, where such affections may be best awakened and promoted; for we are at the cross. Here is the sacrifice of propitiation, in sacramental emblem. Here are the body and blood of Jesus, in visible commemoration. Here is the nearest view, vouchsafed to us this side of heaven, into the secret majesty of Divine perfection. Approach–but with reverence, for your hand is upon the vail, and within is the Holy of Holies.” – J.W. Alexander, Sacramental Discourses (1860), 27.

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Edwards on the Expensiveness of Gospel Blessings

Going through Jonathan Edwards’ Sermons on the Lord’s Supper for my PhD work has been fun. I’m not an Edwards scholar by any means, but I think these sermons capture the pastoral heart of this amazing genius. There are many gems like this one:

But we shall show in some particular instances how gospel provision is well represented by a feast. 1. In the expensiveness of gospel blessings. As feasts are expensive and are provided at the expense of the host, so the provision that God has in the gospel made for our souls in exceedingly expensive. But we have it for nothing; it costs us nothing, but it cost God a great deal …

Never were any feasted at so dear a rate as believers; when they eat and drink, it is a thousand times more costly than what they eat at the tables of princes that is far-fetched and dearly bought. Every crumb of bread that they eat and every drop of wine that they drink are more costly than so much gold or gems

Christ Jesus obtained this provision by victory. He was obliged to fight for it, as it were, up to His knees in blood so that He might obtain it; yea, He waded through a sea of blood to get it for us.

Update in 2020

What happened to this website? For a few years, I took this site off-line and kept it private. Because of various church controversies, I thought it best to just keep out of the fray for a while. Additionally, I was trying to finish up my Ph.D. in historical theology at the Free University of Amsterdam. Hopefully that will be done in the next year!

I’ve decided to bring this site back into the light, with the hopes that there is enough content here to bless and encourage those who read it. There are posts and sites that are more or less historical artifacts at this point. They originated in a context of church debates and controversies, and their usefulness is probably now limited. I have not gone back through the archives to prune and pull weeds. For now, I’m letting everything go live, until I can come back and provide more shape and structure to this site.

I still believe that there are many liturgical and theological treasures in the Reformed tradition. Spending years researching the Reformation, and its developments in the British Isles and the Americas, has only increased my love of this tradition and my desire to help others discover its riches.

There are many wonderful recent publications that deserve to be mentioned here, and I hope to be able to do that in time.

In the meantime, if anything here encourages you, I thank God for that. If anything provokes you and causes you to doubt the sincerity (or orthodoxy) of any contributing writer, please remember the original context of a post, or a link, and realize that this site is more of a historical marker right now. Many rough edges need to be smoothed, and many updates need to be made. I hope that there is still enough here to edify and inspire in the meantime.

Semper reformanda!

Communion & Charity

Why do we celebrate weekly communion? There are many good reasons but one of the most important is one we might not think about often enough—communion with the risen Christ also entails communion with others who are united to him by faith. Union and communion with our Lord leads us into union and communion with our brothers and sisters in the church, and (to a lesser extent) all people. John Calvin highlights this when he writes about the importance of communion. Calvin calls communion the “bond of charity” and explains, “For as the bread, which is there sanctified for the common use of us all, is made of many grains so mixed together that one cannot be discerned from the other, so ought we to be united among ourselves in one indissoluble friendship. What is more, we all receive there the same body of Christ, in order that we be made members of it.”[1] For Calvin, communion with Christ is the foundation, and the motivation, for communion with others. This is one of our greatest motivations for mercy ministry—weekly communion reminds us of how much mercy God has poured out on us in His Son Jesus Christ. How can we hold anything back we see others in pain, in loneliness, in brokenness? Every week we participate in the sacrament of healing and wholeness, which equips us to be agents of the Kingdom in the lives of others.

[1] John Calvin, “Short Treatise on the Holy Supper of our Lord and only Saviour Jesus Christ,” in J.K.S. Reid, ed., Calvin: Theological Treatises (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1954), 151.

Is “all of life worship”?

Nicholas Wolterstorff, the renowned Reformed philosopher and theologian, has now tackled the subject of liturgy and worship.  In The God We Worship:  An Exploration of Liturgical Philosophy, Wolterstorff carefully analyzes and probes a subject which confuses many people.  Consider the popular and prevalent phrase, “praise and worship.”  Many people (and churches) use this to describe a time of enthusiastic singing, which is followed by a sermon, or a teaching time.  Is listening to the sermon an act of worship?  Is the pastor delivering the sermon engaging in worship?  Wait, haven’t we been told that “all of life is worship”?  Can’t I worship God by washing my car on a Sunday (or any day)?  When we toss the word “worship” around so carelessly, no wonder the world at large (and too reason to singmany self-professed Christians) don’t take “worship” seriously anymore.

For those with the intellectual stamina to carefully follow Wolterstorff’s train of thought, The God We Worship will help to clarify the fuzziness which pervades the contemporary church.  Here’s the end of Ch. 2:9Continue reading “Is “all of life worship”?”

A Reformed Case for ‘Evangelical Feast Days’

Just in time for Christmas comes an article from Rev. Danny Hyde, pastor of Oceanside URC.  He also serves as an Adjunct Instructor at both Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and Mid-America Reformed Seminary.
Daniel R. Hyde, “Not Holy But Helpful .” Mid-America Journal of Theology 26 (2015): 131–149.
This is used by permission: Web: www.midamerica.edu. E-mail: info@midamerica.edu. Phone:219.864.2400.