Psalms for special occasions as selected by John Craig

(If the author links in this post are broken, please visit our Free PDF Library and click on the author’s page directly.)

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.”

Shown here is a 1763 edition of the 1650 Scottish Metrical Psalter. John Craig owned a 1729 edition published in Belfast.

Shown here is a 1763 edition of the 1650 Scottish Metrical Psalter. John Craig owned a 1729 edition published in Belfast.

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

Source: Howard McKnight Wilson, The Tinkling Spring, Headwater of Freedom: A Study of the Church and Her People, 1732-1952, pp. 102-103

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.

The First Book Published in Kentucky was by a Presbyterian Minister - Adam Rankin

(If the author links in this post are broken, please visit our Free PDF Library and click on the author’s page directly.)

The first book printed in the State of Kentucky (which became a state in 1792) was published on January 1, 1793 by a Pennsylvania-born (March 24, 1755) Presbyterian minister, Adam Rankin. It is titled, A Process of the Transilvania Presbytery, which refers to the presbytery covering the territory of Kentucky within the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America, established in 1786. Adam Rankin had been charged with several offenses which involved worship and doctrinal differences between him and others. This book is his account of the matter.

Rankin, Adam, A Process in the Transilvania Presbytery Title Page.jpg

In this interesting work, Rankin fired the first literary salvo in his controversy with the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA), specifically, the Transilvania (Transylvania) Presbytery of Kentucky, of which he was a member. The controversy led to the further publishing of 1) A Narrative of Mr. Adam Rankin's Trial by the Transylvania Presbytery (1793); and 2) Adam Rankin’s A Reply to a Narrative of Mr. Adam Rankin's Trial (1794). Here, in A Process, he lays out the particular charges that were leveled against him, along with his defense. Additional sections of the book set forth his reasons for separating from the PCUSA (he later joined the Associate Reformed Church); a digest of his positions on matters of controversy at that time between the PCUSA and the ARC, including the free offer of the gospel, terms of communion, national covenanting, marriage licenses and more; followed by “A Appendix on a late performance of the Rev. Mr. John Black of Marsh Creek, Pennsylvania,” in which Rankin sets forth satirically a “Modern Creed” which lays out the arguments of the opposition, largely regarding the place of the Psalms in worship.

One of the major issues between Rankin and the Transylvania Presbytery was his conviction that the Psalms of David alone were to be sung in public worship, to the exclusion of Isaac Watts’ imitations. A Process, in fact, constitutes one of the earliest published American defenses of exclusive psalmody. Following the January 1, 1793 publication of A Process, we have at Log College Press also a February 7, 1793 letter of encouragement from ARC minister Robert Annan to Rankin touching on this very issue.

Rankin is famous in church history for possessing difficult temperament. Here is an opportunity to read his own words in the heat of controversy to see for yourself how he expressed himself. Also available at LCP is his Dialogues, Pleasant and Interesting, Upon the All-Important Question in Church Government, What are the Legitimate Terms of Admission to Visible Church Communion? (1819). John Wilson Townsend, Kentucky in American Letters, 1784-1912, Vol. 1, p. 18 (1913), says: “His Dialogues …, is really his most important publication, but it has been greatly overlooked in the recent rush among Kentucky historical writers to list A Process as the first book published in Kentucky.”

Controversy followed Rankin even in the ARC in the form of a dispute with Robert Hamilton Bishop, which resulted in church discipline for both men. Eventually, Rankin left the ARC too, bidding his Lexington, Kentucky congregation farewell with plans to travel to Jerusalem. He died on the way in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on November 25, 1827. James Brown Scouller, A Manual of the United Presbyterian Church of North America, 1751-1881, pp. 493-494, writes:

There can be no question that Mr. Rankin was “encompassed with infirmities,” that he was sensitive, a little jealous, impulsive and strong of will, so that he soon put himself on the defensive, and always with his face to the foe, and he had the misfortune of living at a time when ecclesiastical things did not always run smoothly. On the other hand it is just as certain that he was loyal to the truth and valorous in its defence, however faulty his methods. He was of unquestioned piety, and commanded the full confidence of those among whom he lived. He possessed unusual eloquence and power in the pulpit, and often moved a whole congregation to tears.

Songs From the Soul: Geerhardus Vos

In 1994, when Banner of Truth republished Geerhardus Vos’ 1922 collection of sermons titled Grace and Glory, which originally contained six sermons, they added 10 more to the reprint. Sinclair Ferguson explains:

In possessing a copy of Grace and Glory the reader has in his or her hands a book of sermons which are almost as rare as they are remarkable. Not only so, but in addition to the six sermons which originally constituted the volume Grace and Glory the present edition includes a further nine sermons which Vos preached in the Chapel of Princeton Theological Seminary between 1896 and 1913, as well as an undated exposition of Ephesians 2:4-5 translated from Dutch. This additional material has been provided to the publishers by James T. Dennison, the Librarian of Westminster Theological Seminary in California and the editor of the journal Kerux, in which the bulk of has already been published. Mr. Dennison originally uncovered Vos’s personal sermon book in 1971 in the Heritage Hall Archive of Calvin Theological Seminary and transcribed the material. As heirs of his labours the publishers are also indebted to the Heritage Hall Archive of Calvin Seminary for the privilege of reproducing the material in this more permanent form.

One of those additional sermons is titled “Songs From the Soul,” based on Psalm 25:14: “The secret of the LORD is with them that fear him; and he will shew them his covenant.” In this sermon, Vos speaks to the experimental piety of the Psalter in eloquent terms (pp. 169-171).

The Psalter is of all books of the Bible that book which gives expression to the experimental side of religion. In the law and the prophetic writings, it is God who speaks to his people; but in the Psalter we listen to the saints speaking to God. Hence the Psalter has been at all times that part of Scripture to which believers have most readily turned and upon which they have chiefly depended for the nourishment of the inner religious life of the heart. I say that part of Scripture and not merely that part of the Old Testament, for even taking the Old and New Testament together the common experience of the people of God affirms that there is nothing in Holy Writ which in our most spiritual moments — when we feel ourselves nearest to God — so faithfully and naturally expresses what we think and feel in our hearts as these songs of the pious Israelites. Our Lord himself, who had a perfect religious experience and lived and walked with God in absolute adjustment of his thoughts and desires to the Father's mind and will, our Lord himself found his inner life portrayed in the Psalter and in some of the highest moments of his ministry borrowed from it the language in which his soul spoke to God, thus recognizing that a more perfect language for communion with God cannot be framed.

Undoubtedly it is in the Psalter that the specific work of inspiration which the Holy Ghost performs in inditing the Scriptures and the more general task which he carries out in sustaining, directing, stimulating and guiding the religious thoughts and aspirations of believers are most closely united. Inspiration for the disclosure of truth is not always accompanied by the subjective appropriation of the truth in a saintly experience (a Balaam and a Caiaphas were among the prophets); but nevertheless it remains the more natural and ordinary procedure of God that the instrument through which his truth is brought to man should be a mind in intimate touch with his own; a mind responsive to that personal revelation of God himself which lives and throbs in the truth. And consequently we see that the great prophets (like a Moses, an Isaiah or Jeremiah) appear at the same time as the outstanding examples of a wonderfully rich and tender religious intercourse with God. But in the Psalms we can more clearly than anywhere else observe the interaction of these two things: supernatural reception of the truth and spiritual nearness to God. Possibly the fact that in David's case the prophetic disclosures of truth that he received were so vitally connected with his own life and destiny may have something to do with the presence of this feature in the Psalms, whereas the other prophets sometimes stood more or less apart from the development of things to which their words applied. And then the prophets, of course, in many instances spoke to and for the nation collectively, whereas in the Psalter it is the individual soul which comes face to face with God.

Hence the lessons and encouragements which we obtain from other parts of the Old Testament are frequently drawn indirectly by a process of inference, for which we are not always in the right frame of mind and the proper spiritual mood. But the in Psalms, whatever our mood, whether we are exultant or downcast, vigorous or weary, penitent or believing, we can always find our hearts mirrored there. It needs no process of reasoning to make their sentiments our own. Here the language of the Bible comes to meet the very thoughts of our hearts before these can even clothe themselves in language and we recognize that we could not have expressed them better than the Spirit has here expressed them for us. At first sight, this may easily seem strange to us when we remember that the the psalmists lived under the conditions of a typical and preparatory dispensation; that on many points they saw through a glass darkly, whereas we, who live in the full light of the complete gospel, see face to face. But for the very reason that the Psalms reflect that experimental religion of the heart, which is unvarying at all times and under all circumstances, we need not greatly wonder at this. The influx of the divine light, whether more or less strong, must always produce the identical effect of joy, hope and peace in every soul to which it comes. The well at which we drink may flow more abundantly than that at which the psalmists drank, but the experience of thirst, of drinking and of satisfaction must still be the same as it was in the time of David.