Psalm 116

116A: I Love You, LORD, for You Have Heard My Voice

Performance Notes:

Lenten worship services usually include a time of confession. If they don't, they certainly ought to. This year consider beginning your Lenten worship not in the typical way—with strong praise-filled singing—but rather with a subdued liturgy of confession and assurance of pardon. The people first come confessing, are assured of God's forgiving love, and are then eager and ready to approach God in praise and thanksgiving.

Psalm 116, set to the tune Genevan 116, works very well as part of such a confession/assurance liturgy. It is a beautiful psalm of praise for deliverance, for answered prayer. Helen Otte's unrhymed versification, one of several she prepared for the 1987 Psalter Hymnal, speaks in clear, direct language.

The service might be arranged something like this:

Prelude: [Use one of several available preludes based on Genevan 116 (see Bibliography of Organ Music, available from CRC Publications). As a simpler, shorter alternative, play the tune through twice— once as written on one keyboard, the second time with left hand and pedal on the lower three parts, the right hand playing the tune on a pleasant solo stop. The latter is short (about 1 minute), but effective.]

Call to Confession: [After the call to confession, pastor and people respond in these words from Psalm 116:1-2:]

I love the Lord, for he hears my voice.

He will hear my cry for mercy.

Because he turned his ear to me

I will call on him as long as I live.

Prayer of Confession: [Print a prayer (composed by the pastor or another worship planner) in the bulletin for all to read.]

Silent, Personal Prayers of Confession: [The pastor should invite the congregation to pray silently. Twenty to thirty seconds is suggested, though it may seem long to some.]

Singing of Psalm 116: (unannounced)

stanza 1: [soloist, possibly unaccompanied, right out of the silent prayer time.]
stanza 2: [choir joins in unison with organ playing harmony. After the first Sunday, you may want to try this stanza unaccompanied, in parts.]
stanzas 3-5: [Entire congregation, organ accompaniment.]

Assurance of Pardon: [After the pastor reads appropriate Scripture, pastor and congregation read the following responsively (based on Psalm 116:5-7):]

The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion.

The Lord protects the simple- hearted;
when I was in great need, he saved me.
Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the
Lord has been good to you!

Friends, believe the good news of our faith.

In the life, death and resurrection of
Jesus Christ, we are healed and forgiven!

Prayer: (all stand) [This should be a thankful, uplifting prayer of praise by the pastor.]

Congregational Response: (standing) [Choose a doxology or similarly brief, well-known hymn. Given the length of Psalm 116, this song can be strong but brief.]

With a few adjustments, this opening section could lead directly into your normal order of service. You should feel free to adjust the amount of congregational response/involvement according to your preference. Remember, though, that reading psalms responsively is as old a practice as the psalms themselves and should be encouraged.

My congregation has used this basic format and similar material during the past two Lenten seasons. We plan two complete versions with the same order and format, but with different responses and songs. These two versions are then used alternately on the first five Sundays of Lent. The value of this opening liturgy of confession is reflected in remarks from the congregation:

"It focused my attention on the need to confess my sin regularly, and showed me how to do so."

"It demonstrated how responsive readings and a hymn/song can complement each other."

"It focused my attention on how God's love for me never fails—even though I fail him."

"It prepared me to better praise God, after I had confessed my sin and received his peace."

The fine Genevan 116 tune, as harmonized by Seymour Swets, is eminently singable and easily learned—a tune which first appeared in the 1562 edition of Calvin's Genevan Psalter and still speaks today with majestic beauty. Organists should be particular about keeping the rhythm moving and flowing (J = 69-72 works well). The two half notes in the middle of each of the four phrases must be accurate, or the flow will falter. Allow the quarter-note groups in each phrase to move ahead just a bit. At the end of the first phrase, a concise quarter rest is needed to prepare for phrase 2. The unaccented final notes (and words) of phrases 2 and 3 should be shortened to quarter-note values, followed by a quarter rest to prepare for the emphatic first notes (and words) of phrases 3 and 4.

Text Information:

A thank offering of praise for deliverance from death in answer to prayer.

Scripture References:
st. 1 = vv.1-4
st. 2 = vv. 5-7
st. 3 = vv. 8-11
st. 4 = vv.12-14 st. 5 = vv. 15-19

This sixth of eight "hallelujah" psalms (111-118) stands fourth in the "Egyptian Hallel" used in Jewish liturgy at the annual religious festivals prescribed in the Torah. At Passover, Psalms 113 and 114 were sung before the meal; 115 through 118 were sung after the meal. In this liturgical use, the singular personal pronoun was understood corporately, and the references to "death" alluded to Israel's slavery in Egypt. The "cup of salvation" (v. 13; st. 4) probably referred originally to the festal cup of wine that climaxed a thank offering for a special deliverance or blessing. When this psalm was used in the Passover celebration, the "cup of salvation" was no doubt understood to be the cup of wine accompanying that festal meal.

In singing this psalm, we join the psalmist in confessing our love for the LORD for deliverance from death in answer to prayer (st. 1). And we praise God's gracious ways that encourage us to keep trusting and to rest in the LORD (st. 2). The psalmist notes that faith had not failed in the time of crisis (st. 3); together we vow to praise the LORD among the saints and continue to call upon God's name (st. 4-5). Helen Otte wrote the unrhymed versification in 1980 for the Psalter Hymnal. Another setting of Psalm 116 is at 178.

Liturgical Use:
Occasions of thanksgiving for healing; Lent; Easter; Lord's Supper (especially st. 4).

Tune Information:

GENEVAN 116 was first published in the 1562 edition of the Genevan Psalter, in which it was also the setting for Psalm 74. Seymour Swets (b. South Holland, IL, 1900; d. Grand Rapids, MI, 1982) harmonized the tune in 1954. This Mixolydian tune is one of the simplest, finest, and most loved of the Genevan repertoire. It is suitable for unison or part singing; sing in a majestic manner.

A 1922 graduate of Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan, with a major in history, Swets received his M.A. from the University of Michigan in 1923. Later that year he was appointed to the Calvin College faculty to teach speech and to establish a music program. He taught at Calvin College until 1967 and was largely responsible for the remarkable growth of its music department. A chronicle of that era appears in his book, Fifty Years of Music at Calvin College (1973). Swets served on the committees that prepared the 1934 and the 1959 editions of the Psalter Hymnal and contributed harmonizations to both books.

Other Resources:

  • Visit for more information on this song and additional resources.

Copyright Information:

  • Words: Helen Otte (b. 1931), 1980, alt. © 1987 Faith Alive Christian Resources
  • Music (GENEVAN 116 | Genevan Psalter, 1562; harm. Seymour Swets, 1954, P.D.
  • Reprint Information:
    • Words: permitted with a license from or a CCLI License.
    • Music: The Music is in Public Domain; you do not need permission to reprint the Music.

116B: What Shall I Render to the LORD

Performance Notes:

  • For performance notes on this song, see page 1088 of Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship.
  • The following article is by Merle Mustert from Reformed Worship.

Based on Psalm 116, "What Shall I Render to the Lord" paraphrases the twelfth through sixteenth verses of the psalm where the psalmist asks, "How can I repay the Lord for all of his goodness to me?"

The psalmist has been delivered from death after crying out to the Lord to save him. Now he is overwhelmed with gratitude—the very essence of the Thanksgiving season. We render to the Lord worthy thanks for our redemption, for "when we were dead in our trespasses, then Christ laid down his life for us." Consequently we rededicate ourselves to serving him more faithfully. By so doing, we engage the support of all the saints in public worship.

ROCKINGHAM was named after a former prime minister of Great Britain known as the Marquis of Rockingham. Rockingham was a friend and patron of Edward Miller who harmonized this rune when he included it in his Psalms of David for Use of Parish Churches in 1790. The hymn tune is based on a melody that was later identified as TUNBRIDGE. Miller was born in Norwich, England, in 1731 and later studied music from Charles Burney at Lynn. He spent the years from 1756 to 1807, the year of his death, as organist of Doncaster (England) Parish Church. This marvelous melody is found in most hymn books as a vehicle for Isaac Watts's famous "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross."

You may want to introduce this lovely tune and harmonization to the congregation by having the choir sing it. I advise creating your own concertato by employing a flute to introduce the melody, then having the choir quietly sing the first stanza in unison accompanied by the organ. Involve the congregation on stanzas 4 and 5 with a flute descant, created by playing the tenor part two octaves above the tenor range. This hymn would serve a church well as a response to the offering.

If you'd rather use a published arrangement for this rune, some effective concertatos (using, however, the text for "When I Survey") have been produced by Morning Star and by Concordia. The former is a setting by B. Wayne Bisbee that employs a C instrument in triple time against the tune, harmonized for a mixed choir. The latter is arranged by Bruce Saylor, accompanied only by organ but including a descant in eighth-note movement against the tune. However, I believe the finest is Sir David Willcock's four-part descant in Hymns for Choir, included here.

The alternative harmonization for organ could be played by itself for a stirring conclusion. But praise would be heightened by the addition of the four-part choral descant that overlays both the congregational singing in unison and the organ part. It would take a large choir to be heard above the congregation; a brass quartet could add support and brilliance in place of or in addition to a choir. If your congregation has neither choir nor brass, even adding piano on the descant might add a measure of brightness to conclude this psalm of dedication.

For the organist, Raymond Haan has a beautiful setting of ROCKINGHAM in Contemplative Hymn Tune Preludes (Shawnee Press HF5103). I would also advise looking at Free Organ Accompaniments to One Hundred Well-Known Hymn Tunes (J. Fischer 8175) by T. Tertius Noble, and Henry Coleman's Varied Hymn Accompaniments (Oxford Press).

Because of its lyrical nature, this is an excellent hymn to use with children. Consider involving the junior choir on one of the stanzas or using it as a song for children's worship throughout the month. Certainly the phrases are of comfortable length, and the range is excellent for youth.

Organists will also want to explore the several settings for all three of these hymns listed in the new (1994) edition of the Bibliography of Organ Music based on all the tunes in the Psalter Hymnal and Rejoice in the Lord, and compiled by Joan Ringerwole.

Text Information:

Scripture References:
st. 1 = Ps. 116:12
st. 2 = Ps. 116:13-14
st. 3 = Ps. 116:15-16
st. 4 = Ps. 116:17-18
st. 5 = Ps. 116:19

This setting of the second half of Psalm 116 is one of the most loved from the 1912 Psalter. The text focuses on the "vow of praise" section of this festive psalm of thanksgiving.

Liturgical Use:
Particularly suitable during the Lord's Supper (eucharista means “thanksgiving,” which is the theme of this psalm) or during the bringing of offerings (esp. st. 4).

Tune Information:

Edward Miller (b. Norwich, England, 1735; d. Doncaster, Yorkshire, England, 1807) adapted ROCKINGHAM from an earlier tune, TUNEBRIDGE, which had been published in Aaron Williams's A Second Supplement to Psalmody in Miniature (c. 1780). ROCKINGHAM has long associations in Great Britain and North America with Isaac Watts' "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" (384). The tune title refers to a friend and patron of Edward Miller, the Marquis of Rockingham, who served twice as Great Britain's prime minister.

Miller's father had made his living laying brick roads, and the young Edward became an apprentice in the same trade. Unhappy with that profession, however, he ran away to the town of Lynn and studied music with Charles Burney, the most prominent music historian of his day. A competent flute and organ player, he was organist at the parish church in Doncaster from 1756 to 1807. Miller was active in the musical life of the Doncaster region and composed keyboard sonatas and church music. His most influential publications were The Psalms of David for the Use of Parish Churches (1790), in which he sought to reform metrical psalmody (and which included ROCKINGHAM), and David's Harp(1805), an important Methodist tunebook issued by Miller with his son.

ROCKINGHAM (or ROCKINGHAM OLD) is one of the finest long-meter tunes in the history of church music and is much loved by those who sing in harmony. A slight hold (stretching rather than adding a beat) is appropriate at the end of the second phrase and helps to provide a sense of two long musical lines. Stanzas 4 and 5 need the full resources of organ and other instruments. Keep the music stately and awe-inspiring with respect to the marvelous salvation of which the text sings.

 Other Resources:

  • Visit for more information on this song and additional resources.
  • The following are alternative accompaniments for this tune, ROCKINGHAM (OLD)

Alternative Harmonization for Organ and Descant Resources:

  • Archer, Malcolm. After the Last Verse. Kevin Mayhew ISBN 0 86209 502 6 [1995]
  • Fedak, Alfred V. 25 More Harmonizations. Selah 160-729 [1998]
  • Mawby, Colin.  Hymns for Occasions. Kevin Mayhew ISBN 0-86209-568-9 [1994]
  • McKinney, Howard D. Preludes for Fifty-Five Well-Known Hymn Tunes. J. Fischer 9770 [1967]
  • Noble, T. Tertius. Free Organ Accompaniments to One Hundred Well-Known Hymn Tunes. J. Fischer 8175 [1946]
  • Rawsthorne, Noel. 200 Last Verses. Kevin Mayhew ISBN 0 86209 189 6 [1991]
  • Shaw, Geoffrey. The Descant Hymn-Tune Book bk 1. Novello 15207
  • Thiman, Eric. Varied Accompaniments to Thirty-Four Well-Known Hymn Tunes. Oxford ISBN 0 19 323210 3 [1937]
  • Wilkinson, John T. One Hundred and Four Descants for “The Hymn Book”. enThusia [1980]
  • Wyton, Alec. New Shoots from Old Roots. SMP KK 279 [1983]

Alternative Harmonization for Piano:

  • Jefferson, Thomas W. Let It Rip! At the Piano. vol. 2 Augsburg ISBN 0-8006-7580-0 [2003]
  • Porter, Rachel Trelstad. Let It Rip! At the Piano. Augsburg 11-11045 [2000]

Copyright Information:

  • Words: Psalter, 1912, P.D.
  • Music (ROCKINGHAM Second Supplement to Psalmody in Miniature, ca. 1780; adapt. Edward Miller (1731-1807), 1790, P.D.
  • Reprint Information:

116C: I Love the Lord, He Heard My Cry

Performance Notes:

  • For performance notes on this song, see page 1088 of Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship.
  • For more information about this song, refer to the Leader’s Edition of Sing! A New Creation.
  • The following article is by Emily Brink from Reformed Worship.

When hard times come, lines of familiar hymns often leap out at us, catch us unaware, and stick in our throats. At times we cannot sing, we cannot pray. It is then that we need the fellowship of believers more than ever. We need the comfort of knowing that others are singing and praying on our behalf, bringing before God the prayers and songs we cannot sing.

Other times we’re amazed at how suffering people are able to sing and find strength in their songs. The African-American spiritual arose out of suffering (see p. 32). Many of the psalms are laments, and the church is gradually once more recovering the psalms, including the laments. Far fewer hymns are laments (see p. 6).

Here are a few songs that may be helpful to your community in times of struggle.

Psalm 116: I Love the Lord

Click to listen [ Recorded live from Symposium 2004, led by James Abbington ]

Psalm 116 speaks of sorrow and sickness, with a desperate call to God for deliverance. The psalm is also one of gratitude, thanking God for hearing and answering that call. This song includes only the first two verses of the psalm, a song of testimony and love for the God “who heard my cry and pitied every groan.” I love the story of the origins of this gospel song. Here’s the story:

The text: The text came first. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, many Presbyterians sang the psalms set in poetic form by Isaac Watts; some sang only the psalms in worship. Watts’s psalm versifications are still found in every hymnal (for example, “O God, Our Help in Ages Past” for part of Psalm 90 and “Joy to the World” for Psalm 98). African-American slaves sitting in the balconies loved many of those psalms, often speaking of their beloved “Dr. Watts” who gave voice to their struggles.

The spiritual: These opening verses of Psalm 116 became the basis for a spiritual. Spirituals were passed down aurally, and a very complex version of this tune as lined out by M. Adams and Louis Sykes is included here as found in the African American Heritage Hymnal (see box on p. 24 for part of this song). The music appears almost unsingable, because this is a transcription of one way this song has been sung, with all the variation that can come from an aural tradition. John Work III (1901-1967), chair of the music department at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, home of the famed Fisk Jubilee Singers, wrote about the phenomenon of variation and improvisation in the spirituals:

In the city churches, among literate worshipers where hymns are sung from hymnals, there is almost a uniform reliance upon a single melody. But among the rural folk, where the transmitting of songs is entirely oral, not only does the melody undergo some change with each performance but there are frequent changes in the words also. When a collector transcribes a folk melody from an individual folk singer, he knows that he is writing the melody as that particular singer sang it that time. . . .

He goes on to describe the music of rural churches in the Negro Primitive Baptist Church in the early part of the twentieth century:

The music in the worship service consisted occasionally of spirituals and the wonderful hymns of Dr. Watts never heard outside of worship. These latter hymns began with a verse intoned by a leader and repeated by the congregation in a long, drawn-out melismatic melody, the original of which might or might not have been taken from the New England hymnody. . . . [T]here is no meter and to me the original melody is not distinguishable. Each singer . . . adds to it. . . . When a hundred aroused singers so intone, the resultant sound is indescribable and impossible to transcribe (from “The Negro Spiritual” in Readings in African American Church Music and Worship, pp. 18-19).

The gospel song: In 1990 the famous gospel artist Richard Smallwood wrote new music for this psalm text, which he probably learned in some version of the spiritual. He said, “People need to know Someone can heal their hurts. I take no credit for the work we do. I owe it all to God and I feel blessed that for some reason he has chosen me to make a difference in people’s lives.” Smallwood is one of the best-known gospel artists today; he has won many awards and performs around the world (see “I Love The Lord” was also sung by Whitney Houston in the film The Preacher’s Wife.

Here the ancient psalm text, as set in poetic form by Isaac Watts in the eighteenth century and filtered through a rural spiritual that nurtured the African-American experience, comes to yet another expression in the urban gospel sound born of ragtime, jazz, and blues. What a delightfully complex mixture bringing together different parts of the body of Christ! And every time we sing it we add our own voice to this story, which becomes our own testimony.

One way to sing this gospel song would be to simply sing the notes on page 23 without additional accompaniment; it would sound more like a modern spiritual or a hymn. But the music here is incomplete. To sing in the gospel style requires a more substantial piano accompaniment; one by Dave Maddox is found in the Leader’s Edition of Sing! A New Creation. Another by Nolan Williams Jr. is provided in the African American Heritage Hymnal. Yet a third is provided in a live recording with James Abbington playing at the 2003 Calvin Symposium on Worship and the Arts (see interview on p. 32); click on the link above to hear it.

Other Resources:

  • Visit for more information on this song and additional resources.

Copyright Information:

  • Words: Isaac Watts (1674-1748), P.D.
  • Music: Afro-American spiritual; harm. Richard Smallwood (b. 1948) © 1975, 2003 Century Oak Publishing Group/Richwood Music, admin. Conexion Media Group, Inc.; arr. Dave Maddux
  • Reprint Information:
    • Words: The Words are in Public Domain. You do not need permission to reprint the Words.
    • Music: permitted with a CCLI License.

116D: Psalms 116:1-9, 12-19 A Responsorial Setting

Other Resources:

  • Visit for more information on this song and additional resources.

Copyright Information:

  • Words: Isaac Watts (1674-1748), P.D.
  • Music: Afro-American spiritual; harm. Richard Smallwood (b. 1948) © 1975 Century Oak Publishing Group/Richwood Music, admin. Conexion Media Group, Inc.; arr. Dave Maddux
  • Psalm Text: from Evangelical Lutheran Worship © 2006 Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, admin. Augsburg Fortress Publishers
  • Tone: © 2011 Faith Alive Christian Resources
  • Reprint Information for the Refrain:
    • Words: The Words are in Public Domain. You do not need permission to reprint the Words.
    • Music: permitted with a CCLI License.
    • When reprinting the Psalm Text and Tone, please use the correct copyright line. Faith Alive Christian Resources gives you permission to reprint the Tone for use in a worship setting.


  • Words: Noel Donnelly © 1991 Noel Donnelly
  • Music (SCOTLAND fragment): Noel Donnelly © 1991 Noel Donnelly
  • Tone: © 2011 Faith Alive Christian Resources
  • Reprint Information for the Alternative Refrain:
    • Words and Music: please contact Noel Donnelly
    • Faith Alive Christian Resources gives you permission to reprint the Tone for use in a worship setting; please use the correct copyright line.

116E: I Will Walk in the Presence of God

Performance Notes:

  • For performance notes on this song, see page 1088 of Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship.

Other Resources:

  • Visit for more information on this song and additional resources.

Copyright Information:

  • Words: Noel Donnelly © 1991 Noel Donnelly
  • Music (SCOTLAND with refrain): Noel Donnelly © 1991 Noel Donnelly
  • Reprint Information: