Thursday, January 29, 2009

All People that on Earth do Dwell

Praise for the Lord #17

Words: William Kethe, 1560
Music: Louis Bourgeois's Genevan Psalter, 1551

Here is one of the fine old landmarks of Christian song. For some history of Calvin and the Geneva Psalm-singing tradition, click here. Louis Bourgeois (c.1510-c.1561) was the man behind the scenes who carried out the practical musical application of Calvin's ideas, and unless there is evidence to the contrary, he is generally credited with the music supplied for the Geneva Psalters. Though this tune was originally written for Psalm 134, the texts and tunes were deliberately interchangeable, and thus several different texts have been partnered with this melody.(Psalm 100) In Praise for the Lord, the OLD 100TH tune also appears with "Praise God from Whom all blessings flow"(#528) and "Before Jehovah's awful throne"(#64).

The Psalm 100 adaptation that caused English-speakers to give this tune the name "Old 100th" was written by William Kethe, a Scot who sought asylum in Geneva during the reign of Mary Tudor.(Authors) Kethe left only a few known works, and of these, only his adaptation of the 100th Psalm has seen much use. But if you have to be a "one-hit wonder", what a hit! His version was so popular that it was retained in the Sternhold & Hopkins Psalter and the Scottish Psalter, two of the most influential English-language psalters of all time. It would be hard to overstate the success of this text; it is in a league with hymns such as "Amazing grace", and a very few others, that are sung by practically all English-speaking people, of every religious persuasion, around the world.

Stanza 1:
All people that on earth do dwell,
Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice.
Him serve with fear, His praise forth tell;
Come ye before Him and rejoice.

Psalm 100:1-2 says, "Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into His presence with singing!" This is one of those telling passages in the Old Testament that reveals the universality of God's love and grace, as it calls on "all people" to praise Him. Psalm 113:3 likewise says, "From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the Lord is to be praised!" How wonderful to think that, at any time of the day or night, there are faithful brothers and sisters around the world calling on the name of the Lord and praising His name!

This psalm calls upon us specifically to sing. Did God ask us to do something we cannot? It is puzzling that nearly every child can and does sing (just go on a bus trip with them!), but many adults insist they cannot. What happens to them between those two points is self-consciousness, and it is a tough thing to shake. Remember that Paul said "I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also."(1 Corinthians 14:15) He never said whether he sang in tune. He may have been so off-key he made the dogs howl. But we know that he sang along with Silas in the jail at Philippi,(Acts 16:25) and that the prisoners were listening, and that the jailer was baptized later that night. So sing! Mouth the words, or sing under your breath, or "make a joyful noise" if need be.

Finally, this stanza emphasizes the joy of praising God. We are not all equally joyful by nature or by circumstances, and we do not all express our emotions in the same manner, so I want to be careful not to be judgmental here. A person who is naturally bubbly and extroverted, in the prime of life and without a care, should not look down on the more reserved, introverted person, or on those who are struggling with pain, depression, or tragedy, if they do not express Christian joy in the same manner. There can be a deep, solemn joy, as well as a happy, giddy joy. But we should find joy in worship. Paul, a man in prison and in danger of his life, underscored his letter to the Philippians with the words "joy" and "rejoice". If you have the forgiveness of your sins, the assurance of heaven, and the encouragement of fellow saints, you can find something to rejoice about.

Stanza 2:
The Lord, ye know, is God indeed;
Without our aid He did us make;
We are His flock, He doth us feed,
And for His sheep He doth us take.

Psalm 100:3 says, "Know that the Lord, He is God! It is He who made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture." The anonymous author of this psalm lived in a time when many gods were worshipped, and he is quick to establish that he is not talking about just another local deity--he is talking about the "I AM". What depth of meaning is packed into that expression! Compared to all the expressions of might and power that human imagination could come up with, the "otherness" of this simple designation is far more awe-inspiring. He is eternally in the present tense, because our designations of time have no relevance to Him. He is at all places and all times.

Certainly He did not need us present at the creation! In Job 38:4, the Lord begins asking Job a series of questions around the general theme of "Where were you, Job, when...?" Job, being wiser than the modern skeptic, declines to answer and replies "I will put my hand over my mouth."(Job 40:4) Psalm 100 carries this another logical step--if God, and not we ourselves, is responsible for our being here, then we belong to Him. He could, if He wished, destroy us at a whim as a child wrecks a sand castle; but His love for us means that He cares for us as a shepherd does his sheep. "I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me."(John 10:14)

Stanza 3:
O enter then His gates with praise;
Approach with joy His courts unto;
Praise, laud, and bless His Name always,
For it is seemly so to do.

Psalm 100:4 reads, "Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!" Praise is the proper response to the majestic God we serve. If we knew nothing else about Him other than the creation we see around us, we would have to bow the knee in praise to Him. "For what can be known about God is plain... For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made."(Romans 1:19-20) Mankind at different times and places has seen the truth of this; the Yakima Indians of Northwest America, for example, told stories of Whee-me-me-ow-ah ("Great Sky Chief") who was alone from the beginning and who created the world and all life in it.(Cosmogonies) When we consider the works He has created, yes, it is "seemly" to praise His name.

But there is even more reason when we learn to know Him through His revelation, as is taught in the following stanza:

Stanza 4:
For why? the Lord our God is good;
His mercy is for ever sure;
His truth at all times firmly stood,
And shall from age to age endure.

Psalm 100:5 says, "For the Lord is good; His steadfast love endures forever, and His faithfulness to all generations." I have to credit one of my fine Bible professors from Oklahoma Christian, brother Johnny Pennisi, with first raising the following question in my hearing: What if God were not good? What if He were all-powerful (as He obviously is) and yet totally unsympathetic to His creation? What if He were irrational and inconsistent in His dealings? It might be argued that this is impossible--that to be the Creator of the universe, He must be rational and consistent, and therefore could not be one of the capricious, selfish, petty sort of gods we see, for example, in Greek mythology.

But what if He were just and not merciful? We know that "all have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God,"(Romans 3:23) and "we know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who do such things."(Romans 2:2) He could, in perfect justice and consistency, leave us in our sins--but He didn't. In fact, He offered us a way back to Him, at unspeakable cost to Himself, and none to us.

We also need have no concern that God's mercy will change. The phrase "His steadfast love endures forever" occurs some forty-plus times in the Old Testament (many of them in Psalm 136, where it occurs as a refrain). If there is one quality of God's character that is hammered home throughout the Old Testament, it is that He means what He says, and He will stick to it. Numbers 23:19 says, "God is not man, that He should lie, or a son of man, that He should change His mind. Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not fulfill it?" Even our close friends and family will sometimes disappoint or fail us, but God will not.

One the most provocative testimonials to this fact, in my mind, comes from Joshua's farewell speech to the people of Israel. He is speaking at a dramatic moment in their history: under his leadership they had finally ended their wilderness wandering; under his leadership they had conquered Canaan and made a national home for themselves; under his leadership God's land promise going back to Abraham had been fulfilled. Joshua said in summary,

And now I am about to go the way of all the earth, and you know in your hearts and souls, all of you, that not one word has failed of all the good things that the Lord your God promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed.(Joshua 23:14)

His record is still unbroken!

About the music: The OLD 100TH tune is a great example of rugged simplicity, expanding on just a few simple, folk-like ideas. Its singability is guaranteed by the fact that it moves by steps of the scale more than three-fourths of the time, and that the leaps occur in logical, predictable places. The harmonization is strong and simple, with a good solid bass line. Sing it loud!

The rhythm of this tune in the Geneva Psalter was more animated than in our current version, as is often true of the old Psalm tunes and of the Lutheran chorales. Click here to see a transcription of the original; you can also listen to a MIDI file here.


Psalm 100. Music for the Church of God, 2001.

Authors of the early English and Scottish psalters. Music for the Church of God, 2001.

Cosmogonies. Accepting diversity: an interactive handbook in progress. Academie Universelle des Cultures. Chapter 2, page 2.

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