How Blest Are They Whose Trespass


Performance Notes:

Text Information:

A testimony to the blessedness of the forgiven and an exhortation to the trust, obedience, and joyful worship that should mark their lives.

Scripture References:
st. 1 =vv. 1-2
st. 2 =vv. 3-5
st. 3 = vv. 6-7
st. 4 = vv. 8-9
st. 5 =vv. 10-11

Psalm 32 is traditionally considered a penitential psalm (along with 6, 38, 51,102, 130, and 143). In the sequence of spiritual experience it follows the situation depicted in Psalm 51, the great plea for forgiveness. That psalm's traditional association with David's sin against Uriah, together with Psalm 32's reference to delayed confession, has suggested a historical link between the two. The psalm's thematic movement is noteworthy and is well represented in the versification, which is slightly altered from that of the 1912 Psalter.

The psalm begins with a testimony to the blessedness of those forgiven by God (st. 1). Retracing the spiritual movement from stubbornly denying sin to experiencing the joy of God's forgiveness (st. 2), the psalm exhorts all the godly to faithfully rely on God and reaffirms the LORD as refuge and hiding place (st. 3). Next God speaks, instructing the saints in godly obedience (st. 4). The psalm then contrasts the lot of the wicked with that of those who trust in God, and it closes with a call to the righteous to rejoice in God for his unfailing mercies (st. 5).

Liturgical Use
Though considered penitential, this psalm is properly used not so much in confession of sin as in thanksgiving for God's forgiveness of our sin. It is a joyful psalm! Within that context, the psalm could also serve as a call to confession (st. 1-3) and instruction for godly living following the assurance of pardon (st. 4-5).

Tune Information:

RUTHERFORD was composed by Chrétien Urhan (b. Aix-la-Chappelle, France, 1790; d. Belleville, near Paris, France, 1845). Urhan was an accomplished violin and viola player at an early age. After hearing him play his instrument in 1805, the Empress Josephine took him to Paris to study composition and strings from the best teachers. Urhan revived the importance of the viola d'amore by giving virtuoso performances on this instrument with Pierre Baillot's quartet.

A composer of chamber music and works for piano, he also served as organist of the Church of St. Vincent de Paul in Paris. In 1816 he joined the Paris Opera orchestra and became its leader in 1831. A mystic and devout Catholic, Urhan regarded his contribution to church music as the most important part of his career. Although he played in opera orchestras for some thirty years, he is reputed never to have looked at the opera itself from the orchestra pit because of his religious scruples.

RUTHERFORD originally was published in Chants Chrétien (1834). The tune became associated with Anne Ross Cousin's hymn text 'The Sands of Time Are Sinking." Cousin based her hymn on writings from the Last Words of Samuel Rutherford (1857); Rutherford was a seventeenth-century Scottish Covenant preacher. The tune was later arranged by Edward Francis Rimbault (b. Soho, London, England, 1816; d. Soho, London, 1876) and published in its present form in Psalms and Hymns for Divine Worship (1867).

Rimbault first studied with his father, organist of St. Giles-in-the-Fields, London, and later was a student of both Samuel Wesley and William Crotch. Various London churches employed him as organist, including St. Peter's on Vere Street, St. John's Wood Presbyterian Church, the Swiss Church in Soho, and St. Giles-in-the-Fields. Active in the Motet Society and the Handel Society, Rimbault was also one of the founders of the Musical Antiquarian Society. He edited much music, including editions of Tallis's Cathedral Service and Order of Daily Service, Merbecke' s Book of Common Prayer Noted, and Este's The Whole Book of Psalms.

RUTHERFORD consists of four long lines, each of which has its own melodic and rhythmic patterns. Sing this music with two beats per bar to get the sense of the longer textual and musical lines. Try singing in harmony, unaccompanied on one of the inner stanzas.

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Song Audio: 
Psalm 32
Song Number: 
Projection and Reprint Information: 
  • Words and Music: The Words and Music are in the Public Domain; you do not need permission to project or reprint the Words and Music.
Public Domain