The Psalms for Congregational Singing.
Reviewed by Dr. Richard Bacon
Copyright 1996 © First Presbyterian Church of Rowlett

By Kenneth W. Hanko [self-published; 17 Miami Road; Norristown, PA 19403] $15.00 postpd. plastic comb bound.

Quoting from Pastor Hanko's Preface, “The Psalms are the songs God gave to his church, the hymns he appointed for his praise, and the spiritual songs he designed for the edification of his people. We should sing them, and as much as possible as he gave them.” This reviewer could not agree more with this proposal from Mr. Hanko.

Hanko follows the modern custom of using “you/your” even when addressing deity. In this writer's opinion the loss of “thee/thou/thy/thine” is a lamentable one, but not one that mars this psalter beyond use. Pastor Hanko's reason for abandoning the convention of distinguishing between second person singular and plural pronouns is a commendable one, to be sure, “...the Bible must be in, and the church must speak, the language of the people....” Certainly - and “thou/thee/thy/thine” is English.

Addressing God in second person singular is preferable, in this reviewer's opinion, for at least two reasons. First, it is a practice that runs through the Bible without exception. God is nowhere in Scripture, so far as I have been able to tell, addressed in the plural. Second, it has become in most English speaking churches, a part of what might be called “the posture of prayer.” Truly posture is a thing in itself indifferent, yet our posture does generally arise from our attitude. Thus a teacher may admonish a student, “sit up and pay attention.”

Generally, we stand or kneel to pray. Generally we bow our heads to pray. Generally we close our eyes to pray. Many also pray with uplifted palms. These all comprise the posture of address to God and arise from reverence in the one who addresses him. The liturgical use of “thou/thee/thy/thine” has taken on a similar role in our praying and singing. Yes, we can sing without the use of these pronouns, just as we could pray in a slouched sitting position with our hands in our pockets. The question is simply one of a proper decorum in our worship of God.

Though some considerable space has been spent disagreeing with a single translation choice, the Psalms for Congregational Singing is to be commended on the whole. Hanko has selected well established Psalm tunes throughout and in each setting the music fits the mood of the Psalm quite well. There are some Psalm tunes that Mr. Hanko apparently knows under different names. For example, he calls the Common Meter tune “St. Stephen” by the name “Abridge.” [1] It seems that wherever possible Hanko has used tunes from the 16th century Genevan Psalter (not to be confused with the Sternehold and Hopkins Psalter printed at the back of later editions of the Geneva Bible).

All in all, Mr. Hanko's contribution to the restoration of Psalmody in churches and homes is a positive one. However, as Pastor Hanko admits in his Preface, “The Scottish Psalter, first published in the 1650s and still in use in many Presbyterian churches . . . gives us the most accurate metrical versification of the Psalms in English available even today . . . .” We agree with Hanko and would prefer to see the 1650 Scottish Psalter revised to eliminate some of its awkwardness for modern readers and singers. In the opinion of this reviewer, such a project would be worthwhile.


[1] And what Mr. Hanko refers to as “St. Stephen” is a tune by William Jones which The Psalms in Metre identifies as “Newington,” etc.