I grew up in Dutch Reformed circles with the Blue Psalter Hymnal (as we called it). I came to love many of the Psalms and hymns in that book. I can still remember my piano teacher assigning me #1 (Psalm 1) for a lesson: “That Man is Blest.” As a pastor in the URC (United Reformed Churches), I used the Blue Psalter Hymnal for nearly 7 years. Now that I’ve been ministering in the OPC (Orthodox Presbyterian Church) for five years, I’ve become familiar with the Trinity Hymnal. I’ve also come to love many of the songs in it such as “Jesus What a Friend for Sinners,” and “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted.” As good as these two songbooks are, there are some difficult tunes and dated language in them – there is room for improvement in both.
Enter the newly published Trinity Psalter Hymnal (TPH). This worship book is the result of around 10 years of hard work by many men and women in the OPC, URC, and several other denominations. The TPH really is a nice coming together of the Blue Psalter Hymnal (URC) and the Trinity Hymnal (OPC). The first part is devoted to psalms (it’s a Psalter) while the second part is devoted to hymns (it’s also a hymnal). In the back are both the Three Forms of Unity (Heidelberg Catechism, Belgic Confession, and Canons of Dort) and the Westminster Standards (Westminster Confession and the two Catechisms). There are also well laid out indexes of Scripture, topics, and tunes/composers. The book itself isn’t any heavier or bulkier than any other hymnal I’ve used.
I’ve spent several hours going through this hymnal since I picked it up earlier this week at the joint URC Synod/OPC General Assembly. I’ve played many of the tunes, read many of the lines, and looked through it quite extensively. So far, I’m very impressed. The font is a good size and is readable, the layout is nice, the indexes are helpful, and the psalm/hymn selection is notable. Publishing a psalter hymnal like this is no easy task; no doubt almost everyone will be disappointed that a few of their favorite psalms or hymns didn’t make it in. No matter who worked on it, that would always be the case – so I’m not going to be critical about what songs didn’t make it in the TPH.
I appreciate the fact that there aren’t a lot of very high notes that few people can sing. I saw a few high E’s, but not many. I also noticed that there are many familiar tunes – tunes I know well from the Blue Psalter and from the Trinity Hymnal. It is worth mentioning that the OPC/URC wrote and copyrighted many of their own songs (words) and set them to familiar tunes. I’m glad to see a decent selection of baptism and Lord’s Supper hymns, and it’s always nice to see a good balance of ancient hymns and modern ones. Many of the composers are familiar: Martin Luther, John Newton, Augustus Toplady, James Montgomery Boice, and so forth.
I have to admit I was a little disappointed to see some older/archaic language still used. Of course, sometimes the poetry in the songs restricts any change. However, for one example, Psalm 42C’s title is “As Thirsts the Hart….” To be fair, most of the language is updated and modernized, which I appreciate. At the same time, it’s good to see the gender language remain in line with historic Christianity and happily, not many phrases of the old songs have been changed much at all.
One last note: some of the Psalms in the TPH are very long. For example, Psalm 89A is 17 stanzas which makes for a total of four pages and 102 lines (if my math is right). Psalm 78 is also four pages long and has 27 stanzas. I believe it would have been better to split Psalm 78 into four selections: 78A, 78B, 78C, and 78D. There are a few other Psalms like this – ones that are three or four pages long. It’s a bit cumbersome explaining to the congregation which verses we’ll be singing and it’s not possible to sing all the verses of these longer Psalms (unless you don’t care about your pianist’s fingers, your congregation’s voices, or the time it would take to sing so many stanzas!). After using the new psalter hymnal for a few months now, I still wish the longer psalms were divided up. (Note: I also miss a Bible verse written under the title of each song like the Trinity Hymnal has.)
All in all, I’m very glad we’re using Trinity Psalter Hymnals in worship. God’s people here have so far come to appreciate this wonderful new resource to help us worship our Triune God together. That’s what it’s about, after all: lifting our voices to our God who is worthy of praise, honor, and glory!
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015