Hymn Study: All People that on Earth Do Dwell

Located in the back of the Methodist hymnal are sung responses along with the responsive Psalm readings. Many Methodist churches sing the responses on a regular basis; our congregation only does so occasionally. But historically, these sung responses are only a portion of the early Christian tradition. The Psalms were, of course, meant to be sung in their entirety, as they in fact were originally songs written by God’s people long ago.

In the late 1530’s, a project began to create a psalter that would rearrange the wording of the psalms so they would be easier to sing, and to pair that with appropriate hymn tunes. The project began initially in Strasbourg and later in Geneva, and when finished, it was named the Genevan Psalter. The Genevan melodies are still widely in use today in churches all over the world, including Calvinist churches in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Hungary, Scotland, Canada, The United States, South Africa and Australia.

Take a minute and hum the song that we sing every Sunday after the offertory, as the plates are brought up to the altar. “Praise God, from whom all blessings flow…” That is one of the original tunes from the Genevan Psalter, set to the text of the Doxology. It was written by Louis Bourgeois in 1551, and was first associated with Psalm 134, but was popularly sung with Psalm 100, so much so that the tune became known as the OLD HUNDREDTH.

This tune is set as a hymn in our hymnal, #75, and the text is a close paraphrase of the psalm. The differences come primarily because we like our hymns and songs to rhyme, and to fit within a certain meter, which demanded some adjustments of the Psalms. The spirit of the text remains the same. Looking at them side by side, you can see how each stanza follows the psalm precisely:

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The church has sung its faith for millennia, as evidenced by these Psalms, which were sung even before there was a Christian church. Singing is a much more powerful expression of emotion, spirituality, and commitment to the Lord than simply reading the text of the Bible, and that’s why the psalter had such an impact on the 16th century church, and why we continue to sing many of those tunes and texts in our hymns today.

Sources: http://genevanpsalter.redeemer.ca/psalter_intro.html; biblegateway.com

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