When he was only 15, John Milton wrote this verse, based on Psalm 136:

Let us with a gladsome mind

Praise the Lord, for he is kind:

For his mercies aye endure,

Ever faithful, ever sure.

Bible scholars have described their appreciation for the Psalms in glowing terms. Martin Luther summed up their teaching characteristically: “In the Psalms we looked into the heart of all the saints, and we seem to gaze into fair pleasure gardens—into heaven itself, indeed—where blooms in sweet, refreshing, gladdening flowers of holy and happy thoughts about God and all his benefits.”

The study of the Psalter has engaged the minds of the most eminent, spiritually minded scholars of every age. Preachers desiring effective pulpit material find no lack in the vast library of psalmodic literature those scholars have given us.

For more than 20 years C. H. Spurgeon studied works on the Psalms. The fruit of his labor is in his incomparable Treasury of David. As he finished this monumental task, he confessed: “A tinge of sadness is on my spirit as I quit The Treasury of David, never to find on earth a richer storehouse, though the whole palace of revelation is open to me. Blessed have been the days in meditating, mourning, hoping, believing, and exalting with David.”

John Calvin wrote in his preface to his own Commentary on the Psalms: “What various and resplendent riches are contained in this treasury, it were difficult to find words to describe.… I have been wont to call this book not inappropriately, an anatomy of all parts of the soul; for there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror.”

Saint Augustine stressed the necessity of having heart and lips in full accord with the truth of the Psalms, if we could study them aright. “Attune thy heart to the Psalms. If the Psalm prays, pray thou; if it mourns, mourn thou; if it hopes, hope thou; if it fears, fear thou. Everything in the Psalter is the looking glass of the soul.”

Ambrose of Milan reveled in their spirituality: “Although all Scripture breatheth the grace of God, yet sweet beyond all others is the Book of Psalms. History instructs, the Law teaches, Prophecy announces, rebukes, chastens, Morality persuades; but in the Book of Psalms we have the fruit of these, and a kind of medicine for the salvation of men.”

There are at least four ways we can look at study of this precious collection of sacred hymns.

1. Revelation. The Psalms are seen preeminently as an unveiling of God as Creator of the universe and the covenant God of his redeemed people. Throughout the Psalter, both the transcendent majesty of God and his imminent presence with his people are conspicuous. Such revelation gives it unparalleled height and depth. God’s holiness, omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, and righteousness are revealed.

In such perilous times as the world is presently experiencing, how relevant is the revelation of God to the tangled skein of the world’s history.

2. Reflection. We can see how the Psalms reflect the inner hearts of those who wrote them, especially David. By the illumination of the Spirit he could find:

Tongues in trees, books in running brooks.

Sermons in stones, and good in everything (Shakespeare, As You Like It).

The Psalms reveal how those who wrote them could turn even the tragedies and the rugged experiences of life into immortal beauty. As you reflect on the dark valleys and exalted mountaintops of their experiences, you may see your own pilgrimage more clearly.

3. Relationship. We may trace the Psalms’ relationship to our Lord Jesus Christ, who could say, “These are the words … in the Psalms, concerning me” (Luke 24:44). While we have referred to various writers of the Psalms, he was naturally their divine Author.

The Psalms, messianic in nature, must ever occupy a unique place in the praise-worship of the church because of their portrayal of Christ in his deity, humiliation, redeeming grace, and coming glory. He himself used the Psalms in his devotional hours and made them his textbook when instructing his followers in the mysteries of his person, work, and majesty.

4. Religious instruction. We can meditate upon the Psalms for our personal enlightenment and edification. There is hardly any experience of religious life the psalmists do not touch upon. In the language of their lyrics, our deep yearnings for God, our contrition for sin, and our joy of sins forgiven find an echo.

Augustine relates with profound emotion what the Psalms meant to him when he became a Christian:

“How did I then converse with thee when I read the Psalms of David—those songs full of faith, those accents which exclude all pride!

“How did I address thee in these Psalms, how they did kindle my love to thee, how they did animate me, if possible to read them to the whole world, as a protest against the pride of the human race? And yet they are sung in the world, for nothing is hid from their heart.”

The Book of Psalms, then, is unique: it provides adequate expression for our varied spiritual experience. When you learn their language, you find it easier to express yourself in prayer. As you adopt the psalmist’s attitude of consecrated praise, you grow in your Christian experience. How blessed and enriched you are when you make the confessions, prayers, aspirations, and praises your own!

Excerpted from God’s Book of Poetry: Meditations from the Psalms by Herbert Lockyer (Nelson, 1983); used by permission. Dr. Lockyer lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

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