Gordon Wenham opens his 2013 book, The Psalter Reclaimed: Praying and Praising with Psalms (Crossway, 208 pages) by citing the famous quip of Scottish politician Andrew Fletcher (1655-1716): "Let me write the songs of a nation, and I care not who writes its laws." What makes this sentiment all the more compelling is that Fletcher was a legislator by trade and made the statement in his "pithily" titled treatise: An Account of a Conversation concerning a right regulation of Governments for the common good of Mankind. When a career lawman rhetorically subverts his trade to the significance of song in nation-building, we might just be hearing something well within the borders of true wisdom. Unlike Fletcher's concerns, however, Wenham's are not political. His concern in The Psalter Reclaimed is that the Church remain tethered to the songs that have shaped the people of God through the ages - namely, the songs of the Psalter. Wenham successfully demonstrates, I believe, that the Church's knowledge and enjoyment of God is greatly contingent upon what she does with the Psalms, especially when she is at worship. The habit of singing Psalms can, of course, be traced back to the time of King David. After David was made king he called the Levites to raise songs of joy in the whole city of Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 15:15-16). The lyrics of those songs correspond directly to several different Psalms (1 Chron. 16:8-22 with Psalm 105:1-15; 1 Chron. 16:23-34 with Psalm 96:1-13; 1 Chron. 16:35-36 with Psalm 106:47-48). The point is that the Psalter was a songbook from the very beginning. It was not merely the private diary of a few godly men. It was the corporate praise, lament, petition and even history-telling of all God's people. Wenham shows how the "songbook" feature of the Psalter is revealed in the Psalter itself not just in its historical use. Many of the psalms have a title at their head giving explanation of a particular psalms intended use. Fifty-five of the psalms begin with the note, "To the choirmaster." Many others seem to provide a specific tune setting: Psalm 22 - "According to the Hind of Dawn," or Psalm 45, 69 - "According to the Lilies," or Psalm 56 - "According to The Dove on Far-off Terebinths." These notations are all included in the canonical Hebrew scriptures dating before the birth Christ and are thus to be received with absolute seriousness. There are many such notes that I can not take time to list. What we have in the Psalms then is a repository of Spirit-inspired songs for the Church to sing before God. We should not be surprised to find that approximately 900 years after David the Jews were still singing Psalms when Jesus made his approach to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday (Mark 11:9-10; Psalm 118:25-26). Their joy and praise was not insincere, inauthentic or irrelevant just because it rolled on the ancient rails of a scriptural text. The Psalter as songbook lost no traction among the apostles either. Peter and John lead the Spirit-endowed Church in praise to God in Acts 4:24-25 using Psalm 146 and Psalm 2. Paul specifically commands psalm singing (though not exclusively) in his letters to the Colossians (3:16) and the Ephesians (5:19). And psalm singing is anticipated as a common practice among the churches (1 Cor. 14:26, James 5:13). The apostolic prescription for psalm use in Christian worship did not find resistance in the early Church. In his essay, The History of Psalm Singing in the Christian Church, pastor Terry Johnson demonstrates how the early church fathers (Tertullian, Eusebius, Athanasius, Basil, Augustine, Jerome, and Chrysostom) provide ample evidence for the almost exclusive use of psalms for singing in worship, a habit that carried the day for almost the next 1500 years. By the time of the Protestant Reformation psalm singing was still the dominant source of praise in the Church. Unfortunately, psalm singing had largely been removed from the mouth of the congregation and relegated to the monks who would chant each and every week all 150 Psalms...but in Latin. The mass was in Latin too. Thus the language of worship had been taken from the common believer even if it was still sourced by inspired texts. This lack of vernacular worship would be a key concern of the 16th century reformers. Luther led the way, calling for the creation of a German hymn book and a German metrical psalter (rhyming lines for singing). Putting psalm singing back in the vernacular of their congregations for public worship would be a key feature of the reformers work for the next 100 years. As Terry Johnson notes: "Consequently the Reformers produced collections of Psalms for singing as an early part of their liturgical reforms. The Strasbourg German Service Book of 1525 (just 8 years after the posting of the 95 Theses by Luther) included a collection of metrical Psalms. This collection was increased in the Strasbourg Psalter of 1526 and subsequent editions (e.g. 1530, 1537). The Constance Hymn Book of 1540, called by Hughes Old 'one of the most important monuments in the history of Reformed liturgy,' included hymns by Zwingli, Leo Jud, Luther, Wolfgang Capito, and Wolfgang Musculus, among others. But half of the collection was metrical Psalms. Genevan Psalmody began with the French Evangelical Psalm Book of 1539 and grew into the Geneva Psalter of 1542, and finally the Geneva Psalter of 1562, a complete Psalter of 150 Psalms, metered for singing, most with a distinctive tune." In 1564 the Scottish Presbyterians would eventually produce their own vernacular metrical psalter under John Knox which greatly sustained the Covenanters during the bloody "Killing Times" of 1668-1688. This Scottish Psalter underwent several revisions but still today selections can be found in our own Trinity Hymnal (and the whole 150 metrical psalms can be found here). The Church fathers and Reformers did not think of psalm singing as merely a duty. They saw two great benefits in it, the first being the benefit of singing that which is worthy of God, giving the congregation confidence of having given to God true worship. This benefit is stated so well by Calvin (1509-1564): "Moreover, that which St. Augustine has said is true, that no one is able to sing things worthy of God except that which he has received from him. Therefore, when we have looked thoroughly, and searched here and there, we shall not find better songs nor more fitting of the purpose, than the Psalms of David, which the Holy Spirit spoke and made through him. And moreover, when we sing them, we are certain that God puts in our mouths these, as if he himself were singing in us to exalt his glory" (Calvin, Preface to the Psalter). The second benefit of Psalm singing is that stated so well by Athanasius of Alexandria (298-373): "Whatever your particular need or trouble, from this same book you can select a form of words to fit it, so that you not merely hear and then pass on, but learn the way to remedy your ill" (Athanasius, On the Incarnation) The Psalms are much more honest and raw and real about the range of human emotions than much contemporary praise music which tends toward upbeat and triumphant moods and lyrics. The psalms greet the sad worshiper where they are at, the fearful worshiper, the lonely worshiper, the confused and frustrated worshiper, the sick and afflicted worshiper. The psalms greet each and every one of us where we are to take us somewhere new with the covenant God who is always speaking the truth to our souls and shepherding us to green pastures. Much contemporary praise music is for those already in green pastures. The Psalms are especially for those who are eating dirt and drinking tears. In this way, the Psalms are to us the staff and rod of Christ himself.