The Old Hundredth - ‘Make a joyful noise unto Jehovah, all ye lands.

April 28, 2018 by David Farmer 0 comments

Posted in: Weekly Commentary

The Old Hundredth - ‘Make a joyful noise unto Jehovah, all ye lands.’

“All people that on earth do dwell, Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice;
Him serve with fear, His praise forth-tell, Come ye before Him and rejoice.

The Lord ye know is God indeed, without our aid He did us make;
We are His flock, He does us feed, and for His sheep He doth us take.

O enter then His gates with praise, approach with joy His courts unto;
Praise, laud, and bless His Name always, for it is seemly so to do.

For why? the Lord our God is good, His mercy is forever sure;
His truth at all times firmly stood, and shall from age to age endure."

—William Kethe, 1561

Others have written that this is probably the oldest continuously sung congregational song in North America. When the first British explorers arrived in Jamestown Island on May 14, 1607, to establish the Virginia colony on the banks of the James River near Chesapeake Bay, they undoubtedly brought with them a Psalter, a collection of metrical psalms. Most likely, the book was Psalms of David in English Metre, by Thomas Sternhold and others (1561).

The followers of John Calvin (1509-1564) sang only metrical psalms, or psalms set in poetic meter based upon the book of Psalms. According to Calvin, these metrical versions should neither add to nor take away from any portion of Scripture.

The English language text of the ‘Old Hundredth’ is attributed to William Kethe (d. 1594). Most agree that very little is known about Kethe although he is believed to have been a Scotsman who was exiled to the European continent during the reign of England’s Queen Mary; better known perhaps as ‘bloody Mary’ due to the high numbers of mostly Protestant martyrs during her tenure. Kethe may have served as a messenger to others in exile in Basel and Strasburg, working with scholars to translate the Geneva Bible (1560).

The Authorized Version (a.k.a. King James Version, or the A.D.1611) was not available until 1611. The version that Kethe used as a basis for his translation of Psalm 100 would have been, it is asserted by many, Goostly Psalmes, a translation of Martin Luther’s psalm versions, available as early as 1539. The translation below by Miles Coverdale (1488-1569) is the standard translation for the Anglican Church and is still used today. Coverdale’s translation is as follows:

O be joyful in the Lord, all ye lands; serve the Lord with gladness, and come before his presence with a song. Be ye sure that the Lord he is God; it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves. We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. O go your way into his gates with thanksgiving and into his courts with praise; be thankful unto him, and speak good of his Name. For the Lord is gracious, his mercy is everlasting, and his truth endureth from generation to generation.

William Kethe’s text ties us with the earliest settlers in the American colonies over 400 years ago. It was not long before a psalter was published in the American colonies, namely The Bay Psalm Book. This metrical psalter was the very first book published in British North America; it was actually printed in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1640. The psalms in it are metrical translations into English. The translations were not particularly polished, being the most likely reason that it went through several editions. Some of the tunes to which they were sung have survived (notably, “Old 100th). This production, just 20 years after the Pilgrim’s arrival at Plymouth, Massachusetts, represents a considerable achievement. It remained in use, albeit through those several editions, for well over a century.

It may be interesting to view a representation of a cover of one of the earliest Psalters.

The Whole Booke of Psalmes

Faithfully

TRANSLATED into ENGLISH

Metre.

Whereunto is prefixed a discourse

declaring not only the lawfulness, but also

the necessity of the heavenly Ordinance

of singing Scripture Psalmes in

the Churches of God.

Imprinted, 1640

 


David Farmer, elder

Fellowship Bible Church

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