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!

[This post appeared originally at the Reformed Liturgical Institute.]

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