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Howard McKnight Wilson describes what regular Presbyterian worship looked like in the mid-18th century in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia in his enduring and valuable study of a noteworthy historic congregation. The congregation is Tinkling Spring Presbyterian Church in Fishersville, Virginia, and the pastor to whom he refers is John Craig.
The singing of Psalms was a regular part of their worship. The book from which they sang was, of course, the same as the pastor’s copy preserved by a descendant. His Psalter might have been the only copy possessed by the gathered congregation, since the clerk lined out each verse before it was sung. His book is The Scottish Psalter about 3/4 inch thick, measuring 2 X 3 1/2 inches. It is bound in leather and has the Scottish form of his initials “I.C.” stamped in gold on both front and back. It contains the 150 Psalms of the Old Testament “IN Metre.”
Wilson continues with a note of interest that gives us an insight into the piety of this frontier Presbyterian minister.
Some of these Psalms were favorites of Mr. Craig’s and therefore may have been chosen more frequently. In his handwriting on the flyleaf of his Psalter, Mr. Craig records the following:
Ps’ms to be sung upon particular times & occasions as in ye morning Pms 3: 5: 16: 22: 144
in ye evening 4: 121: 141
for mercy after a sin Committed 51, 102
in Sickness or heaviness 1, 13, 88, 90, 91, 137, 146
when recovered 30, 32,
on ye Sabbath day 19, 9, 95
in time of joy 80, 98, 107, 145, 136
before Sermon 1, 12, 119 — 1 & 5 part
at ye communion 22, 23, 103, 111, 116, 45, 72
for spiritual solace 15, 19, 25, 46, 67, 112, 146
after wrong & disgrace received 42, 69, 70, 140, 144
The 4th century Church Father Athanasius once wrote:
It is possible for us, therefore, to find in the Psalter not only the reflection of our own soul's state, together with precept and example for all possible conditions, but also a fit form of words wherewith to please the Lord on each of life's occasions. (Letter to Marcellinus on the Interpretation of the Psalms)
John Craig found this to be true, and so may every Christian today in the singing of God’s Word. There is a Psalm for every condition and occasion in human life, because it is, as John Calvin says, “an anatomy of the soul,” which is, if we may say so, part of the genius of the Psalter.