Just a Bit O’ History… Psalm 88: After the Massacre, a Cry From the Young French King’s Heart


Just a Bit O’ History… Psalm 88: After the Massacre, a Cry From the Young French King’s Heart

After the massacre of St. Bartholomew…

…in 1572, and the death of Coligny, the Reformed party remained without a head. The young King of Navarre, afterwards Henry IV, seemed called by birth to take the vacant place, but he was a prisoner in the hands of Catherine De Medici, who tried to destroy his spirit, through sensual temptations, as she had succeeded in doing so with her own son. But young Henry was not quiet in conscience, and one night Agrippa d’Aubigne, his gentleman in waiting, heard him sighing and speaking to himself. He listened and heard the words of the 88th Psalm-

‘O Dieu Eternel, mon Sauveur, jour et nuit devant to je crie,’–

‘O Lord God of my salvation, I have cried day and night before thee.’ D’Aubigne said to him, ‘Sire, is it not true that the Spirit of God is still dwelling and working in you? While your friends are fighting against your enemies, you are serving your enemies. Your friends fear only God, and you a woman, before whom you crouch while they stand erect like men.’

The prince made his escape from Paris, and joined his party at Alecon. It was the hour of service and they were singing the 21st Psalm –the character and blessing of a true king. The prince was struck with it, for D’Aubigne had sung it to him during their flight.

The history of Henry IV is well-known –his gallant struggle for the crown of France, his renunciation of Protestantism to secure it, and his proclamation of the Edict of Nantes, which secured for a time a measure of religious liberty and peace. But it may be questioned whether the weakness of his apostasy furthered by the looseness of his moral character, did not ultimately bring as much harm to France as the persecuting policy of Louis XIV. It was the first great blow struck at the progress of the Reformation of France: it shook confidence in principle, opened wider the flood-gates of corruption in the court and among the nobility; and so this act of the first Bourbon prepared the ruin of the family with loss to the nation which has not yet been retrieved.

His daughter, Maria Henrietta, married to the English, Charles I, did much to embue her husband’s mind with that love of absolutism which cost the English a struggle to repel; and the love of sensual indulgence, from which Charles was free, reappeared in the later Stuarts, and, with their adherence to despotism and Rome, brought about their fall. It is instructive to mark the turning points in the history of nations.

Had Henry maintained the better frame which D’Aubigne observed in him, it might have been otherwise with France; and certainly his own place would have been a higher one in history.

The beauty and pathos of this 88th Psalm struck Wordsworth. He has put a passage from it into the funeral song in the ‘Solitary:’

‘A solemn voice
Or several voices in one Solemn sound,
Was heard ascending; mournful, deep, and slow,
The cadence as of Psalms—a funeral dirge!
We listened, looking down upon the hut,
But seeing no one; meanwhile, from below,
The strain continued, spiritual as before;
and now distinctly could I recognize
These words: —Shall in the grave thy love be known,
In death thy faithfulness?’

Psalm 88

A song or Psalm of Heman the Ezrahite to give instruction, committed to the sons of Korah for him that excelleth upon Mahalath Leannoth.

O Lord God of my salvation, I cry day and night before thee.
2 Let my prayer enter into thy presence: incline thine ear unto my cry.
3 For my soul is filled with evils, and my life draweth near to the grave.
4 I am counted among them that go down unto the pit, and am as a man without strength:
5 Free among the dead, like the slain lying in the grave, whom thou rememberest no more, and they are cut off from thine hand.
6 Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, and in the deep.
7 Thine indignation lieth upon me, and thou hast vexed me with all thy waves.
8 Thou hast put away mine acquaintance far from me, and made me to be abhorred of them: I am shut up, and cannot get forth.
9 Mine eye is sorrowful through mine affliction: Lord, I call daily upon thee: I stretch out mine hands unto thee.
10 Wilt thou shew a miracle to the dead? Or shall the dead rise and praise thee?
11 Shall thy loving kindness be declared in the grave? or thy faithfulness in destruction?
12 Shall thy wondrous works be known in the dark? and thy righteousness in the land of oblivion?
13 But unto thee have I cried, O Lord, and early shall my prayer come before thee.
14 Lord, why doest thou reject my soul, and hidest thy face from me? 15 I am afflicted and at the point of death: from my youth I suffer thy terrors, doubting of my life.
16 Thine indignations go over me, and thy fear hath cut me off.
17 They came round about me daily like water, and compassed me together.
18 My lovers and friends hast thou put away from me, and mine acquaintance hid themselves.

Taken and adapted from, “The United Presbyterian Magazine,” 1884

Written by John Ker


Just a Bit O’ History… Psalm 42: A Psalm of Pleading, and Quiet Trust.


Psalm 42



Verse 1. ‘As the hart panteth after the water brooks,’

…gives the keynote to the psalm which must have been often in the thoughts of the early Christians in the time of persecution. The hart is a common emblem on the walls of the Catacombs where they found refuge, and the whole psalm was often sung at the close of Communion.

Verse 5. ‘Why art thou cast down, 0 my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me?’

The narrative of the death of the Bohemian martyrs, who suffered at Prague in 1621, says, ‘ John Schultis was the next. And who on the scaffold said, “Why art thou cast down. 0 my soul? Hope thou in God; for I shall yet praise him.” “The righteous seem in the eyes of men to die, but indeed they go to their rest.” Then kneeling down, he said,” Come, come, Lord Jesus, and do not tarry;” and so he was beheaded.’

There is a wild but beautiful pass called Dalveen, which connects Nithsdale with Clydesdale, and has communication with numerous glens around; among them with the famous defile of the Enterkin. From its sequestered character and ready doors of escape it was a favourite refuge for ‘the wanderers,’ Here, in the summer of 1685, Daniel M’Michael was surprised by the troopers and told to prepare for death. He calmly said, ‘If my life must go for his cause, I am willing; God will prepare me.’ He was shot in the presence of some of his relatives while singing part of this psalm”

Verse 8. ‘His loving-kindness yet the Lord Command will in the day; His song’s with me by night; to God, by whom I live, I’ll pray.’

His friends carried his body to the romantic church yard of Durisdeer, ‘the door of the oak forest,’ where he lies under a rude stone with a quaint epitaph–

‘Daniel was cast into the lions’ den
For praying unto God, and not to men;
Thus lions cruelly devoured me
For bearing unto truth my testimony;
I rest in peace till Jesus rend the cloud,
And judge ‘twixt me and those who shed my blood.’

Psalm 42

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”  These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng.  Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.  My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.  Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.  By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me— a prayer to the God of my life.  I say to God my Rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?” My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?”  Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.


Written by John Ker, D. D.
Taken from, “The Psalms in History and Biography”

Just a Bit O’ History… Psalm 34: A Psalm of Communion, of Christian Heroes, and of the Ages


Psalm 34

Lent DevotionalThe 34th Psalm is mentioned by Cyril, A.D. 340, and also by Jerome, as being usually sung by the Church of Jerusalem at the time of Communion.

It is appropriate throughout for Communion with some of the parts especially so, and it contains the passage which the Evangelist John (19:36) applies to our Lord, ‘He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken.’

Error had begun in different ways to creep into the Christian Church, but the memorials of the bread and wine were parted among all, and the thanksgiving of the communion had not passed into the sacrifice of the mass. The efficacy of atonement is ascribed only to the personal work of Christ himself, and such expressions as these occur: ‘It is by Jesus Christ we bring this sacrifice of praise in thy name, and in the name of Christ and of the Holy Spirit. O Lord, we render thanks to thee by thy well -beloved Son Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent in the last times to be our Savior and Redeemer, the Messenger of thy Counsel. It is by him, the Word who comes forth from thee, that thou hast done all.’

It may be seen how well this spirit agrees with the burst of gratitude in the opening of the psalm, ‘I will bless the Lord at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make her boast in the Lord: the humble shall hear thereof, and be glad,’ Sometimes there was added the fervent aspiration of the 42nd Psalm, ‘As the hart panteth after the water-brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, 0 God.’

It was the love of youth burning all the brighter that it was borne heavenwards by winds of persecution.

Verse 10. The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger:  but they that seek the Lord shall not want any good Thing,’ were the last words written by Columba after he had spent a long life of incessant Christian labor, part of which was given to the transcription of copies of the Psalms and Gospels. Columba’ s figure in the history of the British Church is the most clear and noble from the entrance of Christianity to the Reformation, with the exception of Bede and Wycliffe; and he surpassed both of these in the missionary ardor he felt and infused into his followers. His position in Scotland is a singular one. He stands among the stormy Hebrides, like one of their lonely lighthouses, upheld by a mighty arm of rock, to cast a sudden gleam over the waters, and draw it back again into the night.

But like theirs, too, the light appears, hidden, but not quenched…

…or, still more, it is flashed from point to point as time moves on. Placed as he and his disciples were on the known limits of the western world, their zeal turned eastward, and sought a field among the Celtic and Gothic tribes to the very center of Europe. The endless knot “the peculiar signet mark of Scottish art” is found carved in stone, graven in gold and silver, inscribed on illuminated parchment, and tells at Wurtzburg, at St. Gall, at Eatisbon, that the foot of the Columban missionary has pressed the heathen soil with the message of the faith.

Columba died on the morning of the Lord’s day, June 9, A.D. 597, in his beloved lona.

‘There sleep the saintly dead,
Whom from their island home
The Baptist’s hermit spirit led
O’er moss and moor to roam.
Where, soft as spring-tide dew,
Their gracious speech was heard,
Wild tribes whom Caesar never knew
Bowed captive to the Word.’

The narrative Adamnan gives of his closing hours, of his farewell words with his sorrow-stricken disciples, of his parting with his faithful old horse, which put its head on its master’s breast as if aware of the event, reveals the deep tenderness and humanity of his nature.

When the biographer has lingered lovingly on the little incidents that preceded the death, he continues: ‘After these words he descended the hill, and, having returned to the monastery, sat in his hut transcribing the Psalter; and coming to that verse of the 34th Psalm, where it is written, “They that seek the Lord shall want no manner of thing that is good,” “Here,” said he, “at the end of the page I must stop, and what follows let Baithen write.” The last verse he had written was very applicable to the saint who was about to depart, and to whom eternal good shall never be wanting; while the one that follows is equally applicable to the father who succeeded him, the instructor of his spiritual children, “Come, ye children, and hearken unto me: I will teach you the fear of the Lord.” And indeed he succeeded, as recommended by him, both in writing the words, and in teaching his disciples.’

Far away from Columba in time, and yet with the same simple faith, two men sang a part of this psalm at the place of execution in Edinburgh, 1679. They were Andrew Sword and John Clyde, countrymen from Galloway, who were condemned for having been at Bothwell, and in penalty for the death of Arch Bishop Sharp, though neither of them had ever seen him.

“The troubles that afflict the just
In number many be;
But yet at length out of them all
The Lord doth set him free.’  

–Verse 19

‘God hath not promised,’ said one of them, ‘to keep us from trouble, but to be with us in it, and what needs more? ‘I bless the Lord for keeping of me to this very hour; for little would I have thought a twelve month since that the Lord would have taken a poor plowman lad, and have honored me so highly as to have made me first appear for him, and then to keep me straight, and now hath kept me to this very hour to lay down my life for him.

At the ladder foot, he said to his brother, ‘Weep not for me, brother, but weep for yourself and the poor land; and make him sure for yourself, and he shall be better to you than ten brethren.’

It was surely fire from God’s own heaven which breathed this soul into the mold of a Scottish plowman.

Written by John Ker, D. D.
Taken from, “The Psalms in History and Biography”.

Meet Colomba, a very important early Irish Christian Missionary and part of your Christian heritage: Columba (Irish: Colm Cille, ‘church dove’; 7 December 521 – 9 June 597) was an Irish abbot and missionary credited with spreading Christianity in present-day Scotland. He founded the important abbey on Iona, which became a dominant religious and political institution in the region for centuries. He is the Patron Saint of Derry. He was highly regarded by both the Gaels of Dál Riata and the Picts, and is remembered today as a Christian saint and one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland.

Columba reportedly studied under some of Ireland’s most prominent church figures and founded several monasteries in the country. Around 563 he and his twelve companions crossed to Dunaverty near Southend, Argyll in Kintyre before settling in Iona in Scotland, then part of the Irish kingdom of Dál Riata, where they founded a new abbey as a base for spreading Christianity among the northern Pictish kingdoms who were pagan. He remained active in Irish politics, though he spent most of the remainder of his life in Scotland. Three surviving early medieval Latin hymns may be attributed to him.

Just a Bit O’ History… Psalm 11, of Dungeons and Prayers on the Firth of Forth.

Psalm 11

Blackness_Castle,_Scotland-12April2008When John Welsh and his fellow captives were summoned from their prison in Blackness…

on the Firth of Forth, to appear before the Court at Linlithgow, they sang this psalm as they walked by night under guard to their trial. In the old Geneva Bible, which they used, it stands:

I trust in God, how dare ye then
Say thus my soul until;
Flee hence as fast as any fowle,
And hide you in your hill?

Behold, the wicked bend their bowes,
And make their arrows prest (ready)
To shoot in secret, and to hurt
The sound and harmless breast.

But he that in his temple is
Most holy and most hie,
And in the heavens hath his seat
Of royal majestie,

‘The poor and simple man’s estate
Considereth in his mind;
And searcheth out full narrowly
The manners of mankind.

While they were lying in their dungeon, deep and dark, below the level of the sea, they received a letter from Lady Melville, of Culross, one of the best women of her time, bidding them be thankful that they were only ‘in the darkness of Blackness, and not in the blackness of darkness’

puritanprayerThey were at length banished ‘forth from the kingdom,’ under the arbitrary government of James VI., who was bent upon the establishment of Episcopacy. Calderwood says: ‘Upon the 6th of Nov. 1606, about the evening, when they were ready to embark, Mr. John Welsh conceived a fervent prayer, on the shore of Leith, and they took good-night of their friends, wives, and acquaintances, and entered in the boat; and after they had waited a good space upon the skipper, because he was not ready, they returned by two hours in the morning, at which time many were present. After prayer, they entered in the boat, with singing the 23rd Psalm. The people were much moved, and prayed heartily for them.’

Written by John Ker, D. D.
Taken from, “The Psalms in History and Biography”.

Just a Bit O’ History… Psalm 9

Burnt_at_the_stake_by_severeeneI will praise thee, O Lord, with my whole heart; I will shew forth all thy marvellous works. I will be glad and rejoice in thee: I will sing praise to thy name, O thou most High. When mine enemies are turned back, they shall fall and perish at thy presence.

For thou hast maintained my right and my cause; thou satest in the throne judging right. Thou hast rebuked the heathen, thou hast destroyed the wicked, thou hast put out their name for ever and ever. O thou enemy, destructions are come to a perpetual end: and thou hast destroyed cities; their memorial is perished with them.

But the Lord shall endure for ever: he hath prepared his throne for judgment. And he shall judge the world in righteousness, he shall minister judgment to the people in uprightness. The Lord also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble. And they that know thy name will put their trust in thee: for thou, Lord, hast not forsaken them that seek thee.

Sing praises to the Lord, which dwelleth in Zion: declare among the people his doings. When he maketh inquisition for blood, he remembereth them: he forgetteth not the cry of the humble. –Psalm 9: 1-11

Five scholars of Lausanne, devoted to the Reformation, were taken in France, A.D. 1553, and burned in the Place des Terreaux at Lyons.

As they were being carried to execution, they sang with a loud voice this psalm, ‘De tout mon coeur, t’exalterai, Seigneur!’ …I will praise thee, 0 Lord, with my whole heart. . . . When he makes inquisition for blood, he remembers them: he forgets not the cry of the humble.’ –taken from Psalm 9.

At this time, by a decree of Pope Paul IV., began that reign of terror, under the treacherous and cruel guises, which lasted nearly till a different terror, its daughter and Nemesis, took its place.


Meet and exult in the joy of these 5 young martyrs who are part of your Christian heritage: Long years of sorrow and affliction followed the spring-time of joy that had heralded the French Reformation! Yet through it all they never forgot the sweet savor of that early psalmody. ‘Music’ said Luther, ‘is the best consolation of the afflicted. It refreshes the heart and restores its peace.’

So it was with the early martyrs, who constantly went to the stake singing. Yes, such was the joy of heart in those days, that a chronicler describes the young virgins as going more gaily to execution than they would have done to their nuptials. Such was the enthusiastic strength the new life gave them, that we read of a peasant who met some prisoners on the way to execution, and asked the reason of their sentence. He was told they were heretics; and he at once claimed a place by their side, got into the cart, and went to die with his brethren.

To overflow with joy in affliction, to make the prison, and the scaffold jubilant with songs of praise — what better proof can we have that the kingdom of God had come nigh, that at this moment France was entering into a new life? The martyrs of the primitive Church could not have triumphed over death with more exulting faith than some of these early confessors for the cause of Reform in France. Nothing is more beautiful in martyrology than the story of the five scholars of Lausanne, burnt at Lyons on the 16th of May, 1553. Martial Alba, Pierre Naviheres, Bernard Seguin, Charles Favre, Pierre Escrivain, — these were the names of the young brothers so blessed and honored in their exodus from this world of sin and suffering.

They had returned, towards the end of April, 1552, into France, in order to begin their work as ministers of the Gospel. Betrayed and denounced almost as soon as they entered France, they were arrested at Lyons and thrown into prison. Here they lay for more than a year, notwithstanding the untiring efforts of sympathetic friends. In these dungeons — and what dungeons only those who have descended into such places as the oubliettes still to be seen under the pontifical palace at Avignon can form any idea — in these dungeons joy lit up their hearts, to think that the world counted them accursed, while God had chosen them to maintain the cause of Jesus Christ. But nothing we can say will equal the touching story of their last hours as told by the chronicler.

‘These then are the arms with which these holy persons were provided to maintain their last combat, which took place the sixteenth of the month of May (1553), a whole year having rolled away since they were imprisoned. The sixteenth, say I, brought them deliverance, and was the blessed day for which the crown of immortality was prepared for them by the Lord after so virtuous a fight. About nine o’clock in the morning of the said day, after having received sentence of death in the court of Rouane — the which, in short, was to be led to the place of the Terreaux, and there burned alive until their whole bodies were consumed, — all five were put in the place where criminals waited, after having received sentence, until the appointed time, between one and two o’clock in the
afternoon. These five martyrs betook themselves first to praying to God with great ardor and vehemence of spirit, marvelous to those who beheld them; some prostrating themselves on the ground, others looking upward; and then they commenced to rejoice in the Lord and to sing psalms. And as two o’clock drew nigh, they were led out of the said place clothed in their grey dresses and tied with cords exhorting one another to maintain constancy, since the end of their course was at the stake close at hand, and that the victory there was quite certain.

”Being then placed on a cart, they commenced to sing the 9th Psalm: “I will give thanks unto the Lord with my whole heart….” However, they had not time to finish it, so much were they taken up with invoking God, and uttering several passages of Scripture as they passed along. Among others, as they passed by the Place of the Herberie, at the end of the bridge of the Saone, one of them, turning to the vast crowd, said in a loud voice, “The God of peace, who brought again from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep, our Lord, according to Christ by the blood of the eternal covenant, confirm you in every good work to do His will.” Then commencing the Apostles’ Creed, dividing it by articles, one after the other, they repeated it with a holy harmony, in order to show that they had together one accordant faith in all and through all. He whose turn it was to pronounce the words, “Who was conceived of the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary,” raised his voice, in order that the people might know that it was a false calumny which their enemies had spread that they had denied this article, and spoken ill of the Virgin Mary. To the sergeants and satellites who often troubled them, menacing them if they did not hold their peace, they twice answered, “Do not prevent us in the short time we have to live from praising and invoking our God.”

Being come to the place of execution, they mounted with joyful heart on to the heap of wood which was round about the stake. The two youngest among them mounted firsts one after the other, and the executioner having stripped them of their clothes, bound them to the stake. The last who ascended was Martial Alba, the oldest of the five, who had been a long time on his knees upon the wood praying to the Lord. The executioner, having bound the others, came to take him, and having raised him by the armpits, wished to put him down with the others; but he earnestly asked the Lieutenant Tignac to grant him a favor. The lieutenant said to him, ” What wilt thou ?” He said to him, “That I might kiss my brothers before dying.” The lieutenant granted him his request, and then the said Martial, being led up to the wood, kissed and was kissed in turn by all the four standing there tied and bound, saying to each of them, “Adieu, adieu, my brother!” Then the other four there bound kissed each other, turning round their heads and saying one to the other the same words, ” Adieu, my brother!”

‘This done, after the said Martial had recommended his said brothers to God before coming down and being bound, he also kissed the executioner, saying to him these words, “My friend, do not forget what I have said to thee.” Then, after being tied and bound to the same stake, all were inclosed with a chain which went round about the stake. An attempt was then made to hasten their death by strangling them, but it failed, upon which the bystanders heard the five martyrs continually exhorting one another with the words, “Courage, my brothers, courage!” These were the last words heard in the midst of the fire, which soon consumed the bodies of the aforesaid valiant champions and true martyrs of the Lord.’

–Taken from,“The reformation in France, from the dawn of reform to the revocation of the Edict of Nantes”, Translated and Written by Richard Heath, 1886, from an old print in the British Museum.


Beginning devotional thoughts taken from, THE PSALMS IN HISTORY AND BIOGRAPHY.
Written by the Rev. John Ker, D.D.

Published 1886