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Mostly Canticles by George van Popta

After being rescued from grave danger, David sang, “Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together.” (Ps 34:3)  Throughout the Bible we are encouraged to praise God in times of joy, trust, confusion, understanding, sadness, and despair.  We pray while we sing and sing while we pray and, obviously, the words that we use matter. The more carefully our songs are based on the Bible, the more we will ‘be transformed by the renewing of our minds,’ the better we will glorify God, and the more fittingly we will encourage each other.

In Mostly Canticles, Second Edition the Rev. George van Popta gives us 54 beautiful Bible-based songs that we can use to praise God and to ‘address one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.’  The current collection contains 33 canticles, songs based directly Bible passages from both the Old and New Testaments.  There are also 21 hymns based on biblical themes.   A few Psalms are included among the canticles, but they are different from the rigorously text-based New Genevan Psalter that van Popta edited recently. (link to my article)

The canticles include the songs of Moses, Miriam, Hannah, Hezekiah, and the angels at Bethlehem; the prayers of Jonah and Jehosaphat; and selections from Isaiah, the gospels, and Revelation.  Of special note are a series of four canticles based on Isaiah’s passages about Christ as the chosen, commissioned, obedient, and risen Servant, and a series of seven canticles about Christ’s messages to the seven churches in Revelation.  The versification of Psalm 119 as an acrostic (in each verse all the lines begin with the same letter of the alphabet, just as David originally wrote it in Hebrew) is an astonishing technical tour de force as well as a grateful celebration of God’s law.

Fulfill to me the promise that you made
For then will I have answers for my taunters.
Forsake me never but give me your word.
Forever will I walk before my Saviour.
Fearlessly will I speak before the kings
Flinging wide open hands in love and worship.

In faithfulness you dealt so well with me.
Instruct me in your knowledge all-surpassing.
I went astray before you punished me.
It was to teach me, that I was afflicted.
Is not your law worth more to me than gold?
Indeed, I value it beyond all measure.

Remarkable are all your holy laws
Revealed by you to give us understanding.
Return to me and all who love your name.
Rule over me that I may walk uprightly.
Redeem me from the ways of evil men.
Rivers of tears I shed for man’s so sinful. (melody

The hymns in Mostly Canticles, based on Bible sections, biblical themes, liturgical forms, and historic hymns, include songs of joyful praise, heartfelt prayer, and deep penitence.   There are songs about Creation, the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus’ sufferings and glory, baptism, communion, the Ten Commandments, and more.  Here is one example:

Great care has been taken to pair appropriate melodies with the words.  Sometimes van Popta chose the evocative Genevan tunes usually used for the Psalms.  Often he used historic or well-known hymn melodies, such as the tune of “Abide with Me” for the communion hymn “Merciful God and Father of Our Lord.”  And occasionally he used classical music selections, as in the moving combination of Beethoven and parts of Psalm 38 given below.  A few songs were specifically composed by the late Christiaan J. Nobels.  In each case the words and music blend together, often by the mood of the melody itself, sometimes by its associations with other words.

George van Popta is a retired pastor who writes in the Reformed tradition but Mostly Canticles will bless all Bible-believing Christians, just as both Catholics and Protestants enthusiastically sang the protestant Genevan Psalms during the Reformation.

Mostly Canticles can be used for personal praise, communal singing, and teaching (the index of Scripture references makes it easy to find songs written on specific texts or themes).  I have even heard “I Will Praise You, Lord, My Savior” performed in concert, and it often fills my heart during dark sleepless hours.

I will praise you, Lord, my Savior, for you are so good to me.
You have shown to me your favor, and have made your anger flee.
I am filled with consolation; surely God is my salvation.
No more will I be afraid. I trust him, my only aid. (melody)

Although you can find these songs online at Mostly Canticles, it is worth buying the ring-bound soft cover book for convenience in browsing, singing, and accompanying.  If you purchase the book you also support Christian education, since all proceeds go to the tiny Ambassador’s Christian School.

For more information about Mostly Canticles or to purchase, please see the website.

Related articles:

Introducing the New Genevan Psalter

Thoughts on Finding God in the Hard Times by Matt and Beth Redman

Then Sings My Soul:  150 Christmas, Easter, and All-Time Favorite Hymn Stories by Robert Morgan

The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts by Douglas Bond

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Disclosure: I received a review copy of Mostly Canticles from the author.

This article may be linked to Saturday Reviews, Booknificent Thursdays, 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge, Literacy Musings Monday, and The Book Nook  as well as to Inspire Me Monday, Raising Homemakers, Friendship Friday, Make My Saturday Sweet.

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