In John Bunyon’s classic work, Pilgrim’s Progress, two characters Christian and Faithful, making their way to the Celestial City, are joined by a gentleman named Talkative, who also claimed to be on the same journey. As they fellowship along the way, it becomes quite clear that Talkative is very well versed in the Gospel. He seems to enjoy talking about repentance and faith, prayer and suffering, the need for Christ’s righteousness, the work of grace, and the abundant life. His doctrine is impeccable. Faithful accepts Talkative as an authentic compatriot. But Christian recognizes him for who he is: “Pure religion has no place in his heart, in his house, or in his daily living.” His religion, even though accurate, is only in his tongue. He thinks that because he has heard, learned, and can talk about Christ that he is a Christian. But Bunyon reminds us that hearing is only a momentary receiving of the Word, and talking is not sufficient proof of anyone’s true love for Christ.
This illustration has much to do with the new series we are beginning in the book of Psalms. First, it is important to realize that that there is much doctrinal instruction in the Psalms. While some poetry makes no claim to instruct the mind, the Psalms do. Jesus and the apostles often quoted the Psalms in order to teach truth (Matt 22:43-45, Heb 7:14-22). When we read the Psalms, we are meant to learn things about God and about human nature. True as this is however, if you read the Psalms only for doctrine, you’re not reading them for what they are intended to be. Psalms are also songs; that’s what the word psalm means. They are musical. The reason human beings express truth with music is to awaken and express emotions that fit the truth. Singing is intended to stir up and carry the affections of the heart. And if we fail to understand this, we will miss the very intention of God in His inclusion of Psalms in the canon of Scripture. We will risk being like Talkative, knowing all doctrine in our head, but failing to embrace truth with our heart. The apostle Paul warned that though one may speak with the tongues of men and angels, he still may be without love for God.
The Psalms is the most often-quoted Old Testament book in the New Testament. It was the hymnal and meditation book of the church for ages. Alongside the teachings of Jesus and the apostles, Psalms is the book that has shaped the thought and emotions of Christian throughout the ages. The reason for this is that Psalms are an expression from a heart that has experienced intimacy with God. They are the exultations of men who not only know about God, but know Him. And this will be our intention as we preach through the book of Psalms, to draw out the praise and emotion that must be the result of knowing God intimately.
Gerald Wilson writes:
“The Psalms can and should be part of the constant practice of the presence of God. Regularly read from beginning to end, they lead us again and again to consider aspects of life and of God’s will that we might not otherwise choose to remember or confront—let alone to embody in our living. Memorized in chunks the Psalms can provide ready response to the pressing realities of our days. When I have wakened in a panic in the darkness of the early morning hours—submerged in fear, self-pity, or self-doubt—the Psalms have often provided the assurance that my anxieties are known by God, who enlightens my dark places. So, I encourage you to make the Psalms your constant companion. Keep a copy at hand, and keep their words in your mind and heart and on your lips as you meet the challenges of your days and nights.”
The NIV Application Commentary, Psalms Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002).
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