Wednesday, February 07, 2007


Today I attended the Minister's Fraternal which meets bi-monthly at the Old Baptist Chapel, Bradford upon Avon. It is always a good opportunity for fellowship with excellent ministry and stimulating discussion. I don't think I've missed one in the last three years. Part of the pleasure of fraternals is getting together with other pastors to talk about our work and enjoy some friendly banter over lunch.
Phil Heaps of Grace Church, Westerleigh spoke to us on Teaching from the Psalms and very helpful it was too. We considered that the Psalms are poems and thought about some aspects of Hebrew poetic writing:
1) Parallelism "Thought Rhymes"
2) Imagery "Thought Pictures"
3) Ambiguity "This or That or Both"
Various exaples were cited from the Psalter. Then we examined the function of the Psalms:
1) The Psalms Teach Truth (eg Ps 1)
2) The Psalms Express Experience (eg Ps. 103)
3) The Psalms Communicate Christ (eg Ps 22)
After lunch, we focussed on Psalm 120 and discussed its meaning and application in terms of these exegetical principles. It was good to get into the Scriptures and talk about how we can open up the text in a creative way that is true to the text.
We're studying the Psalms in our Bible Study/Prayer meeting in the moment, so I found this Fraternal paticularly helpful. According to R. S. Thomas,
Poetry is that
which arrives at the intellect
by way of the heart.
'Don't ask me...'
If that is the case, it is interesting that God has chosen to communicate himself to us in the emotive language of poetry. This applies not only to the Psalms, but also to the prophets and some hymn fragments in the New Testament. God does not simply want to inform us in the language of propositinal prose, he wants to move us with images and pictures that speak directly to the heart. Jonathan Edwards asked,
"who will deny that true religion consists in a great measure, in vigorous and lively actings of the inclination and will of the soul, or the fervent exercises of the heart?"
He drew upon the Psalms to demonstrate his case,
"So holy desire, exercised in longings, hungerings, and thirstings after God and holiness, is often mentioned in Scripture as an important part of true religion; Isa. 26:8, "The desire of our soul is to thy name, and to the remembrance of thee." Psal. 27:4, "One thing have I desired of the Lord, and that will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple." Psal. 42:1, 2, "As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God; my soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?" Psal. 63:1, 2, "My soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee, in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is; to see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary." Psal. 84:1, 2, "How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts! My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God." Psal. 119:20, "My soul breaketh for the longing that it hath unto thy judgments at all times." So Psal. 73:25, and 143:6, 7, and 130:6. Cant. 3:1, 2, and 6:8. Such a holy desire and thirst of soul is mentioned, as one thing which renders or denotes a man truly blessed, in the beginning of Christ's sermon on the mount, Matt. 5:6: "Blessed are they that do hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be filled." And this holy thirst is spoken of, as a great thing in the condition of a participation of the blessings of eternal life; Rev. 21:6, "I will give unto him that is athirst, of the fountain of the water of life freely."" From The Religious Affections here.
The Psalms are a constant reminder that,
True religion is more than a notion,
Something must be known and felt.

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