When it can be proved that the observance of Christmas, Whitsuntide, and other Popish festivals was ever instituted by a divine statute, we also will attend to them, but not till then. I came across this quote from the great preacher C.H. Spurgeon this morning and had to investigate further.
CONTEXT: I propose that this Psalm can be divided into three main parts:
v.1-5 – God’s call to reverence or worship – David writes; sing, make joyful noise, take Psalm and instrument, announce the worship service, do all according to God’s written word, as he ordained from the beginning.
v.6-10 – God’s call to remembrance – Never forget all god has done in delivering his chosen people and never forget God’s Law.
v. 11-16 – God’s call to repentance – God’s people will always rebel, God will always listen to true repentance.
Spurgeon in his Treasury of David, introduction to this Psalm describes it as follows:
TITLE. To the Chief Musician upon Gittith. Very little is known of the meaning of this title. We have given the best explanation known to us in connection with Psalm 8 in Vol. 1 of this work. If it be intended to indicate a vintage song, it speaks well for the piety of the people for whom it was written; it is to be feared that in few places even in Christian countries would holy hymns be thought suitable to be sung in connection with the winepress. When the bells upon the horses shall be holiness unto the Lord, then shall the juice of the grape gush forth to the accompaniment of sacred song. A Psalm of Asaph. This poet here again dwells upon the history of his country; his great forte seems to be rehearsing the past in admonitory psalmody. He is the poet of the history and politics of Israel. A truly national songster, at once pious and patriotic.
DIVISION. Praise is called for to celebrate some memorable day, perhaps the passover; whereupon the deliverance out of Egypt is described, Ps 81:1-7. Then the Lord gently chides his people for their ingratitude, and pictures their happy estate had they but been obedient to his commands.
Likewise Matthew Henry comments are very applicable:
This psalm was penned, as is supposed, not upon occasion of any particular providence, but for the solemnity of a particular ordinance, either that of the new-moon in general or that of the feast of trumpets on the new moon of the seventh month, Lev. 23:24; Num. 29:1. When David, by the Spirit, introduced the singing of psalms into the temple-service this psalm was intended for that day, to excite and assist the proper devotions of it. All the psalms are profitable; but, if one psalm be more suitable than another to the day and observances of it, we should choose that. The two great intentions of our religious assemblies, and which we ought to have in our eye in our attendance on them, are answered in this psalm, which are, to give glory to God and to receive instruction from God, to “behold the beauty of the Lord and to enquire in his temple;” accordingly by this psalm we are assisted on our solemn feast days, I. In praising God for what he is to his people (v. 1-3), and has done for them (v. 4-7). II. In teaching and admonishing one another concerning the obligations we lie under to God (v. 8-10), the danger of revolting from him (v. 11, 12), and the happiness we should have if we would but keep close to him (v. 13-16). This, though spoken primarily of Israel of old, is written for our learning, and is therefore to be sung with application.
Referring back to the quote that started this for me, it comes from Spurgeon’s comments on v.4. Before looking there lets us get look again at context. The first three verses are a call to worship: David writes; sing, make joyful noise, take Psalm and instrument, announce the worship service. The in verse four we find: For this was a statute for Israel, and a law of the God of Jacob. It was the Law the God had set forth, that Israel would conduct worship in accordance with God’s written word. Spurgeon was asking, what has changed since the time of David?
Verse 4. For this was a statute for Israel, and a law of the God of Jacob. It was a precept binding upon all the tribes that a sacred season should be set apart to commemorate the Lord’s mercy; and truly it was but the Lord’s due, he had a right and a claim to such special homage. When it can be proved that the observance of Christmas, Whitsuntide, and other Popish festivals was ever instituted by a divine statute, we also will attend to them, but not till then. It is as much our duty to reject the traditions of men, as to observe the ordinances of the Lord. We ask concerning every rite and rubric, “Is this a law of the God of Jacob?” and if it be not clearly so, it is of no authority with us, who walk in Christian liberty.
I am not writing this today to try and dissuade you from celebrating Christmas. I believe it can be done in a manner that is God glorifies God. I would however like to caution everyone from useless “worship”, that is so called worship that does not glorify god. The second half of v.5 says: where I heard a language that I understood not. What was this language? It is the language spoken in many churches today.
Verse 5. I heard a language that I understood not. The language that he then heard—the religious worship of idolaters,—vows offered up “to birds and four-footed beasts, and creeping things, “Ro 1:23, and strength and mercy sought from every object in nature, except himself, —was a language unknown to him—”he knew it not.” William Hill Tucker.