This year (2019), I plan to work my way through a devotional treasure called Prayers on the Psalms (published by The Banner of Truth Trust). This little book contains prayers meant to accompany the reading of the 150 canonical Psalms. Over the first month of posting these prayers on Twitter, I will give some background on where they come from.
This book was edited by my beloved teacher, Dr. David B. Calhoun, longtime (and now Emeritus) Professor of Church History at Covenant Theological Seminary. David is one of the great gifts God has given to his church in my lifetime, and also, perhaps, a too well kept secret. His writings and lectures ought to be read and digested by all of us in the Presbyterian and Reformed family. He is a man of keen theological judgment, great devotional instinct, and wide sympathies. His edition of the prayers of the Scottish Psalter is a spiritual classic.
The prayers accompany a particular Psalm, and try to pick up on some of its themes, put into the form of a “Collect.” A collect is a short general prayer with a five-part structure. Most of these prayers in Prayers on the Psalms follow a five-part pattern: 1. Invocation. 2. Doctrine. 3. Petition. 4. Expectation. 5. Conclusion. In the invocation, the one praying offers a specific form of address to God, that recalls important truths about God’s nature and attributes, his character and conduct. In the doctrine portion of the prayer, some truth or truths are articulated that are meant to ground the confidence of the believer in praying the prayer. In the petition part of the prayer, specific requests are made to God. In the expectation portion of the prayer, the aspiration or the desired result of the prayer is expressed. The conclusion usually (and appropriately) focuses and rests on the sole mediation Christ, but there are interesting emphases and variation in the forms used that we will note and appreciate along the way.
With each prayer I will post the original, with my own personal markings, along with an updated, modern rendering that may help some translate the prayer for usage in private and public devotions. This is the original translation of Marlorat’s prayer accompanying Psalm 1 (we don’t know who did the translations).
O Merciful and Heavenly Father, who hast created us unto blessedness and sovereign felicity, and hast given unto us thy holy law, to be the only rule and measure, whereby we should live well and godly, make us by thy good grace to renounce our own carnal and fleshly desires, and all evil company, eschewing the way of sinners, that we may bring forth such fruits of the Spirit that, being always under thy holy protection, we may have perfect assurance and confidence; that when thy Son Jesus Christ, shall appear to divide the goats from the sheep, we may be accounted among the number of them that are redeemed by his blood. So be it.
Invocation: Merciful Heavenly Father. Doctrine: You God created us in blessedness and happiness and gave us his law as the rule of the good and godly life. Petition: By Your grace enable us to renounce and die to sin, and bring for the Spirit’s fruit in our life. Expectation: Under Your holy protection, give us peace and confidence that when Jesus Christ appears to judge, we will be numbered among the redeemed by his blood. Conclusion: Through the blood of Your Son Jesus Christ.
Here’s my version of the Collect for Psalm 1. Merciful and heavenly Father, You created us unto blessedness and happiness. You gave us Your holy law to be the only rule and measure by which we may live well and godly. Make us by You good grace to renounce our own carnal and fleshy desires, and all evil company, avoiding the way of sinners, that we may bring forth such fruit of the Spirit that, being always under Your holy protection, we may have perfect assurance and confidence; that when Your Son Jesus Christ appears to divide the goats from the sheep, we may be accounted among those redeemed by His blood. Amen.
The devotional-theological-practical-experiential genius of these prayers is on display in the gospel-soaked prayer accompanying Psalm 1. Note just some of the helpful emphases squeezed into one sentence in this very short but substantial prayer:
1. INVOCATION – The prayer comes to the FATHER, who is merciful and heavenly (“O Merciful and Heavenly Father”), created us in blessedness and felicity (true, deep, happiness), gives us the holy law for a life well lived, grants us grace, keeps us under his holy protection, wants us to have assurance and confidence of salvation, gives his own Son Jesus to redeem us by his blood. What a Father smiles upon us! Psalm 1 is not a recipe for moralism, but an indication of the life that proceeds from grace. Even the invocation here emphasizes that.
2. DOCTRINE – Two distinct doctrinal ideas are introduced in this little prayer. (1) “Created us unto blessedness and sovereign felicity” – We are reminded that we are created unto, with a view to blessedness and felicity — true, deep, real, happiness. This felicity is sovereign – dispensed out of God’s loving and good and generous heart, unearned, undeserved, and uncompelled by us. The very first words from God to man were blessings. Genesis 1:28. How kind, how lavish, he is to his creatures. (2) “Hast given unto us thy holy law” – We rehearse to ourselves that God gave us his law, not to curse us, not to frustrate us, and certainly not so that we could earn our salvation, but so that we would know the only way to “live well and godly” that is, to live the good life, the true good life, a good and Godward life.
3. PETITION – Though the prayer acknowledges that God has given the law to be our rule of life, nevertheless it is a Gospel prayer (“Make us by thy good grace”). By virtue of the fall and our corruption, we now can only live this life by God’s grace and protection, and through the blood of Jesus Christ. We need God’s grace and protection, and Jesus’ blood, to live well and godly, and to have assurance and confidence. Notice the two-sided prayer for sanctification, both negative and positive: “Make us by thy good grace to renounce . . . that we may bring forth such fruits of the Spirit.” This is a beautiful summary of the biblical doctrine and practice of sanctification, both mortification (killing sin) and vivification (growth in maturity and character). That is, by grace, and by the power of the Spirit, we renounce “our own carnal and fleshly desires and all evil company” [in other words, we fight against our own inward inclinations and tendencies to sin, as well as take care to avoid the outward settings and occasions of sin], and also, positively, live in newness of life, bearing Spiritual fruit.
4. EXPECTATION – The anticipation of this prayer is that the believer will experience a full assurance, as he lives in light of the certainty of the coming judgment. “That . . . we may have perfect assurance and confidence, that . . . we may be accounted among the number of them that are redeemed by his blood.” Notice here the dual emphasis: a strong petition for believers to be assured and also an acknowledgment of the assuring function of sanctification (without making sanctification the ground of our final acceptance).
5. CONCLUSION – The hope of the prayer is based squarely on the sole mediation of Jesus. “Thy Son Jesus Christ” . . . “redeemed by his blood.” In the end, it all comes down to Jesus and his blood, for us. “Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness My beauty are, my glorious dress;” “Bold shall I stand in Thy great day; For who aught to my charge shall lay?” “What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”