The History of Psalm Singing

‘Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage.’

Ps. 119:54

The Lord is my strength and song, and is become my salvation.  The voice of rejoicing and salvation is in the tabernacles of the righteous.’

Ps. 118:14-15

‘No single book of Scripture, not even the New Testament, has, perhaps, ever taken such a hold in the heart of Christendom.’

J.J. Stewart Perowne, 1870

‘If a history of the use of the Psalter could be written, it would be a history of the spiritual life of the Church.’

A.F. Kirkpatrick, 1905

(For such a book, see Prothero’s The Psalms in Human Life)




Quotes on the Psalter through History



Order of Contents


General Historical Surveys
How Each Psalm has been Used in History
Psalters, History of Psalters & Tunes

Biblical Era

Historical Background to the Psalms
Old Testament
Synagogue Worship
New Testament

Church History

Early Church
Middle Ages
Luther & Lutheranism
Calvin & Geneva
Westminster Assembly
1700’s & 1800’s



General Historical Surveys

Binnie, William – The Use of the Psalms in the Christian Church, p. 364, 15 pages, from his The Psalms: their History, Teachings and Use  Buy

Bushell, Michael – Ch. 5, ‘The Testimony of History’ in Songs of Zion: A Contemporary Case for Exclusive Psalmody  Buy  (3rd ed., 1999) p. 154-224

ed. McClintock & Strong  1880

‘Ancient Psalmody’ in Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature, the Christian history of the psalms starts about halfway down the page and is 17 paragraphs long

‘Christian Psalmody’  37 paragraphs, in Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

McMichael, T.H. – ‘The Psalms in History’ in The Psalms in Worship: A Series of Convention Papers (1907) pp. 518-526

Prothero, Rowland – The Psalms in Human Life  Buy  1904  440 pp.

Robinson, George – ‘The Psalms in History’ in The Psalms in Worship: A Series of Convention Papers (1907) pp. 499-517

Sawtelle, John – The Rise and Decline of Exclusive Canonical Psalmody in the Reformed and Presbyterian Churches, part 1, A Brief Introduction, part 2, Rise in Geneva, part 3, Decline in Geneva, part 4, Germany, part 5, France, part 6, Netherlands, part 7, British Isles, part 8, Civil Defense in Geneva

ed. Schaff, Philip – Psalmody  from the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia  †1893

Thompson, Robert – ‘The Psalm Book of the Reformed Churches’ in the Journal of the Presbyterian Historical Society, vol. 5 (1909-10) pp. 311-339

Various – We Used to Sing Only Psalms — What Happened?  1987  24 paragraphs  Summarized are the responses to this question by leading persons from 6 contemporary reformed denominations.



How Each Psalm has been Used in History

Ker, John – The Psalms in History and Biography  Buy  1886  246 pp.

This book is arranged in the order of the 150 psalms, giving anecdotes on how each psalm has been used in history.  As some psalms are briefly mentioned under the notes of other psalms, see the Index at the beginning of the book for an exhaustive reference to your psalm of interest.

Marson, Charles – The Psalms at Work, being the English Church Psalter, with a few short notes on the use of the psalms, gathered together  1895  254

Under each psalm (in the order of the psalter) are the notes of how it has been used in history. 

Prothero, Rowland – ‘Index to the Use of Particular Psalms’ being Appendix B of The Psalms in Human Life  Buy  1904.  The index lists the page numbers to the book where the specific psalm is discussed.



Historic Psalters, History of Psalters & Tunes

Psalters Online

Histories of Psalters

Evaluations of Psalters

History of Psalm Tunes



Historical Background to the Psalms

Many commentaries give historical background to each psalm where it can be safely discerned, such as that of Calvin from the Reformation, who is a safe guide.  The late 1800’s, mostly conservative, Keil and Delitzsch will give a much fuller scholarly sketch of the background to each psalm where possible, though it often relies on principles of interpretation that are much more hypothetical and questionable.  

However, by far and away, the best of the most conservative (and safe) scholarship on the historical background to our various psalms, with extraordinary insight that will make you fall in love with them as you never have before, is the work by the Free Church of Scotland professor William Binnie:

Binnie, William – ‘History and Poetical Structure of the Psalms’, being Book 1, chs. 1-8 of The Psalms: Their History, Teachings and Use  Buy  1870



Psalmody in the Old Testament

Binnie, William – ‘The Use of the Psalms in the Old Testament’, being Book 3, ch. 1 of The Psalms: their History, Teachings and Use  Buy  (1870) pp. 355-360

Bushell, Michael – ‘Psalmody and the Old Testament Scriptures’, being part of ch. 3 of Songs of Zion: A Contemporary Case for Exclusive Psalmody  Buy  (3rd ed., 1999) pp. 56-67

Irons, J.D. – ‘The Psalms in the Old Testament Church’ in The Psalms in Worship: A Series of Convention Papers (1907) pp. 91-103

McClenahan, D.A. – ‘The Psalms in the Old Testament Church’ in The Psalms in Worship: A Series of Convention Papers (1907) pp. 72-90

Meyer, Louis – ‘The Psalms in the Jewish Church’ in Psalm Singers’ Conference held in Belfast, 1902, pp. 45-49

Schwertley, Brian –  ‘The Testimony of Scripture’ 2002  5 pp., being chapter 2, pp. 1-5 of Exclusive Psalmody: a Biblical Defense



Psalmody in Synagogue Worship

Binnie, William – ‘The Music of the Synagogue and of the Early Church’, being a note to ch. 1 of Book 3 of The Psalms: their History, Teachings and Use  Buy  (1870) pp. 361-364

Bushell, Michael – ‘Psalmody and Synagogue Worship’, being part of ch. 3 of Songs of Zion: A Contemporary Case for Exclusive Psalmody  Buy  (3rd ed., 1999) pp. 68-74


ed. McClintock & Strong, ‘Ancient Psalmody’ in Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature  1880

The first recorded uninspired psalmody of the synagogue is not earlier than the 10th century, when Saadiah Gaon first introduced rhyme into Hebrew poetry. On this subject, see Prayers of the Spanish and Portuguese Israelites, with English Translation, by the Rev. D. A. de Sola; Steinschneider, Jewish Lit. (Lond. 1857); Charisi, Jewish Lit,.from the 8th to the 18th Century, ch. 18.



Psalmody in the New Testament

Bushell, Michael – ‘Psalmody and the New Testament Scriptures’, being part of ch. 3 of Songs of Zion: A Contemporary Case for Exclusive Psalmody  Buy  (3rd ed., 1999) pp. 75-106

Moorehead, W.G. – ‘The Psalms in the New Testament Church’ in The Psalms in Worship: A Series of Convention Papers (1907) pp. 104-118

Murray, John – ‘Minority Report of the Committee on Song in the Public Worship of God submitted to the Fourteenth General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church’  1947  The relevant section of a survey of the N.T. evidence is about halfway down on the page.

Parker, James –  ‘The Psalms in the New Testament Church’ in The Psalms in Worship: A Series of Convention Papers (1907) pp. 119-127

Schwertley, Brian –  ‘The Testimony of Scripture’ pp. 5-14  2002  9 pp., being the second half of chapter 2 of Exclusive Psalmody: a Biblical Defense

Wishart, William – ‘The Psalms in the Apostolic and Early Church’, in Psalm Singers’ Conference held in Belfast, 1902, pp. 50-58



The Early Church

A Survey of the Earliest Evidence

Bushell, Michael, Songs of Zion: A Contemporary Case for Exclusive Psalmody  Buy  (3rd ed., 1999) p. 155-7, 161, 167, See the whole excellent sketch in pp. 154-167.

It is universally conceded that the singing of the Psalms was an essential part of the Christian liturgy from the very beginning

The introduction of uninspired hymns into the worship of the Church was a gradual process, and it was not until the fourth century that the practice became widespread The paucity of extant hymns from the early centuries of the Church is rather striking and can only be explained as a result of the firm adherence of the Church as a whole to the inspired Psalms.  Says [Phillip] Schaff [a standard Church historian]:

‘We have no complete religious song remaining from the period of persecution (i.e. from the first three centuries) except the song of Clement of Alexandria to the divine Logos–which, however, cannot be called a hymn and was probably never intended for public use; the ‘Morning Song’ and the ‘Evening Song’ in the Apostolic Constitutions [A.D. 380, which songs were for daily use, but were not in the public worship of the Church on the Lord’s Day], especially the former; and the so-called Gloria in Excelsis, which as an expression of the hymn of the heavenly hosts [the first versions of it only included Lk. 2:14, an inspired Bible song], still rings in all parts of the Christian world.  Next in order comes Te Deum, in its original eastern form [having originated circa A.D. 387].  The Ter Sanctus [from Isa. 6:3, its later expanded form having originated circa 434-446] and several ancient liturgical prayers may also be regarded as poems.

Excepting these hymns [most of which were responsive prayers based on inspired Bible songs and were of late origin] in rhythmic prose, the Greek church of the first six centuries produced nothing in this field which has had any permanent value or general use.  It long adhered almost exclusively to the Psalms of David, who, as Chrysostom, says, was first, middle, and last in the assemblies of the Christians: and it had, in opposition to heretical predilections, even a decided aversion to the public use of uninspired songs.’¹  

¹ ‘The Greek and Latin Hymnology,’ British and Foreign Evangelical Review, no. 58, Oct., 1866, p. 680-1

…Extant accounts, for example, of searches made for the books of the Christians during times of persecution, make no mention of hymnals, whereas the canonical Scriptures, and especially copies of the Psalter, are frequently mentioned.  Jerome mentions that he learned the psalms as a child and continued to sing them in his old age.

The evidence usually brought forward to establish the use of uninspired hymns in the worship of the early church is rather meager.  The four earliest non-canonical witnesses to Christian worship practice are:

[1.] 1 Clement (ca. A.D. 96);
[2.] The Didache (ca. A.D. 80-100?);
[3.] Ignatius’ Epistles, written en route to his martyrdom (ca. A.D. 108); and
[4.] Pliny’s 
letter to Trajan (ca. A.D. 110) quoted by Eusebius.

In chronological order the next liturgical text is that contained in Justin’s Apology (ca. A.D. 150-153).  

Of these Pliny’s letter is the only witness that bears in a direct way upon the question of the content of the hymns sung by early Christians and its interpretation is much debated.  Ignatius in Ephesians IV describes the Christian worship service using a rather elaborate musical metaphor and supposed ‘hymnic’ passages have been ‘isolated’ in both the Didache and in the letters of Ignatius, but there is nothing in these sources that can with confidence be pointed to as a record of early Christian hymnody.  Pliny’s letter thus becomes the only early witness of a positive nature to the hymnody of the early church… 

…he [Pliny, A.D. 111-112] says that the Christians were in the habit of meeting ‘before dawn on a stated day and singing alternately a hymn to Christ as to God.’  

The meaning of the key term carmen (‘hymn’) in this clause has been much debated.  On the basis of parallels with the Jewish Sabbath service, C.J. Kraemer and E.C. Ratcliff take it to refer to an Old Testament Psalm.  J.B. Lightfoot remarks that the term carmen can be used of ‘any set form of words’ and does not have to presuppose a metrical composition at all.  Along the same lines J. Stevenson renders the phrase in question as, ‘recite by turns a form of words.’  In support of this interpretation it is pointed out that the primary meaning of the verb used in the clause (dicere) is ‘to say’ or ‘to declare,’ not ‘to sing.’…  The fact of the matter is that none of the current interpretations of Pliny’s letter requires that we see in it a reference to the singing of uninspired compositions, and there is nothing in the passage to preclude its being seen as a reference to the inspired Psalms…

The historical evidence that has come down to us [only some of which has been quoted above] thus presents a picture of widespread commitment to canonical psalmody, a commitment which only gradually deteriorated under the influence of heretical compositions…  Attempts to marshal evidence from the post-Apostolic period to buttress attempts to show that uninspired hymns were common in the Apostolic church, are, and always will be, futile.



The Early Church Councils

The Council of Laodicea  363-365

Canon 59

No psalms composed by private individuals nor any uncanonical books may be read in the church, but only the Canonical Books of the Old and New Testaments.’

[‘No psalms composed by private individuals’ has sometimes been interpreted in this canon as only forbidding songs composed by persons without an ecclesiastical office, rather than forbidding all uninspired songs.  However, both the private psalms and noncanonical books were to be replaced by ‘the Canonical books of the Old and New Testaments.’  This is how the First Council of Braga (561) and Agobard of Lyons (836) (both are quoted below) understood the canon.  Baluze’s note in Migne’s Latin Patrology (104.327D) agrees.]


The Council of Chalcedon  451

The Council of Chalcedon, the fourth ecumenical council, is where we get our orthodox doctrine of Christ’s one person and two natures from.

Canon 1

‘We have judged it right that the canons of the Holy Fathers made in every synod even until now, should remain in force.’


The Council of Braga  c. 561-3

Canon 12

no poetic composition be sung in the Church except the psalms of the sacred canon…’

Ut extra psalmos vel canoni-carum Scripturarum Novi et Veteris Testamenti nihil podice compositum in ecdesia psallatur.’

James Harper, The Psalter in the Early Church  (1891)

‘It is true that this decree seems to allow the use of other songs than those contained in the Psalter, yet it plainly debars the use of any songs in worship except those contained in the Word of God.  It is observable also that, according to this ordinance the singing must be limited to poetic portions of Scripture, not extended to any part of the Bible whatsoever.’


The Second Council of Nicea  587

From ed. A.F. Kirkpatrick, The Book of Psalms, ‘Introduction’, p. cii

‘A knowledge of the Psalter by heart was required of candidates for ordination.  St. Gennadius, Patriarch of Constantinople (A.D. 458-471), refused to ordain as priest anyone who had not been diligent in reciting the Psalter.  St. Gregory the Great inquired if Rusticus, who had been elected Bishop of Ancoma, knew the Psalter by heart, and refused to allow John the Presbyter to be consecrated as metropolitan of Ravenna on account of his ignorance of the Psalter.  The second Canon of the second Council of Nicea (A.D. 587) laid it down that no one was to be consecrated bishop unless he knew the psalter thoroughly…’


The Fourth Council of Toledo  633  

From Michael Bushell, The Songs of Zion (1977, 3rd ed. 1999) p. 160

‘…the Council of Braga (561) [above], which decreed that poetic compositions were not to be used in the divine service of praise.  The fourth synod of Toledo in the seventh century reiterated the same prescription.¹  [See articles 13 &14 of the text in Latin]

¹ William S. Smith, Musical Aspects of the New Testament (Free Univ. of Amsterdam, 1962), p. 93; the sixth Council of Toledo [A.D. 638] revoked it. 


The Eighth Council of Toledo  653

Canon 8, as quoted in ed. A.F. Kirkpatrick, The Book of Psalms, ‘Introduction’, p. cii

‘no one henceforth shall be promoted to any ecclesiastical dignity who does not perfectly know the whole Psalter.’



Early Church Orders of Worship

A Typical Order of Worship in the Late 3rd and Early 4th Century in a Metropolitan Church

See Maxwell, Outline of christian Worship, p. 17.  While the service contains the Sanctus, a response of the congregation (it is not clear whether it was spoken, sung, chanted or otherwise) from the Scripture song of Isa. 6:3, notice that the only thing sung by the cantors are psalms.


‘The Clementine Liturgy’ in the Apostolic Constitutions  380

See Maxwell, Outline of Christian Worship, p. 27.  This is the first complete liturgy to be preserved from the Early Church.  Though this document comes after the nationalization of Christianity by Constantine, and after the developments that made Christian worship much more liturgical (the service including several responses of the congregation based on inspired Scripture songs: the Sanctus from Isa. 6:3, the Gloria in Excelsis from Lk. 2:14 and Benedictus qui Venit from Mt. 21:9), note that the only thing sung by the cantors are the psalms.




Binnie, William – ‘The Music of the Synagogue and of the Early Church’, being a note to ch. 1 of Book 3 of The Psalms: their History, Teachings and Use (1870) pp. 361-364

Harper, James 

‘The Psalms in the Post-Apostolic Church’ in The Psalms in Worship: A Series of Convention Papers (1907) pp. 169-177

The Psalter in the Early Church  (United Pres. Board of Pub., 1891) 24 pp.  This work is on the Puritan Hardrive and may be purchased on PDF for 99 cents.

The post-apostolic church held, writes Harper, ‘the view that the true and proper psalmody of the New Testament Church, no less than of the Old Testament Church, is the inspired Psalter, or Book of Psalms…  Not otherwise can the attitude of the Church in the second, third and fourth centuries in relation to praise be accounted for satisfactorily.’

Prothero, Rowland – ‘Early Ages of Christianity’ being ch. 2 in The Psalms in Human Life (1904) pp. 9-30

Wilson, John – ‘The Psalms in the Post-Apostolic Church’ in The Psalms in Worship: A Series of Convention Papers (1907) pp. 159-168

Wishart, William – ‘The Psalms in the Apostolic and Early Church’, in Psalm Singers’ Conference held in Belfast, 1902, pp. 50-58



The Middle Ages

Primary Source

Agobard of Lyons  – On Divine Psalmody  c. 836  10 paragraphs

the venerable councils of the fathers [referring to Laodicea (365) and Braga (563) above] decree that vulgar psalms should not at all be sung in the Church and that ‘nothing put together in poetic fashion’ should be employed in the divine praises.

…so that to avoid growths and errors of that kind they [‘God-fearing ones‘] cling more vigorously and more carefully to divine authority and statutes of the church.  This very wholesome care for the faith and method of observance, namely, that in God’s temple and before the divine altar only the melody of divine eloquence be rehearsed, is most strongly commended to us also by the authority and examples of the Old Testament, as in the book of Chronicles where one reads that blessed David, king and prophet of God, first established in tabernacle or temple the choirs of Levites praising the Lord, and delivered to them by divine providence inspired utterances, psalms, hymns, and canticles; his own as well as those of others who prophesied along with him, and decreed that they should be sung both morning and evening amid the divine burnt offerings and sacrifices.

It is fitting that this custom, handed down from the holy prophets, preserved most carefully by the fathers who came afterward, even to the time of the New Testament, when it was necessary for that temple to be destroyed, it is fitting that this custom be continued with devout reverence.  It is therefore especially needful that we truly desire to celebrate the divine praises without even the least offense and hesitation.  Let us apply ourselves wholly to divine words in which there is no error, no ambiguity..

There is therefore no doubt that each instructed believer will freely assent to such holy authority and such evident truth.  But if any contentious and stubborn person attempts to disagree, and should wish to drink from a muddy stream rather than from the purest spring, he should take care that he not become ill with that most ruinous debility which a certain one of the ancient fathers wisely and briefly warned should be avoided, observing that when truth has been despised the one who imagines he is complying with custom is either envious and spiteful toward the brethren to whom truth is revealed or ungrateful toward God by whose inspiration His church is set in order.


Secondary Sources

ed. Kirkpatrick, A.F. – The Book of Psalms, ‘Introduction’, p. ci-cv

Prothero, Rowland – ‘The Formation of Nations’‘The Middle Ages’ & ‘The Pioneers of the Reformation: Wyclif, Hus, Savonarola’, being chs. 3, 4 and part of 5, in The Psalms in Human Life  1904, pp. 40-67, 68-112 & 113-122 



Luther & Lutheranism

Martin Luther’s Prefaces to the Psalter  1531 & 1545 Prefaces, 10 paragraphs

Binnie, William – “Luther’s Prefaces” in Testimonies to the Estimation in which the Psalms have been held, p. 381-387, 6 pp. from The Psalms: their History, Teachings and Use

Prothero, Rowland – ‘Luther and Melancthon’  2 pp., being pp. 122-124 of The Psalms in Human Life  1904



The German Reformed Church

Sawtelle, John – The Rise and Decline of Exclusive Canonical Psalmody in the Reformed and Presbyterian Churches, part 4, Germany


A Sketch of the Early History

Hughes Old, Worship that is Reformed According to Scripture (JKP: 1984) pp. 48-51

In the early days [in the Reformed Church of Strasbourg] it was the psalms which received the greatest attention [as opposed to hymns which would come in later].  Just a few years before the beginning of the Reformation, Johann Reuchlin (1455-1522), the great Christian Humanist who did so much to revive the study of biblical Hebrew, published a Latin translation of a little book by Athanasius on the praying of the psalms.  Athanasius (c. 296-373), one of the greatest of the Church Fathers, had been patriarch of Alexandria at the beginning of the fourth century.  This little book gives us a good idea of how important the psalms were to the prayer life of the ancient church.  

From Athanasius the Reformers of Strasbourg got the inspiration of developing a popular psalmody for the church of their own day.  Originally the developing of a popular psalmody was thought of in terms of the singing of the daily office, the daily prayer services, which with the coming of the Reformation were held each morning and evening in the cathedral as well as in the neighborhood churches of the city of Strasbourg.  

The Strasbourg German Service Book of 1525, the first attempt at a ‘Reformed’ service of worship, appeared with a number of metrical psalms to be sung by the congregation.  Metrical psalmody was part of Reformed worship from the very beginning.  Two psalms of Luther’s [translation] are included; there are several psalm versions by Matthew Greiter, the director of music at the cathedral, and Wolfgang Dachstein, one of the most renowned organists of the day.  Ludwig Oehler began a systematic translation of the psalter and his versions of the first eight psalms are included.  With each succeeding edition of the Strasbourg Psalter the number of psalms is augmented.

In the meantime the Strasbourg Psalter had been growing rapidly.  Each new edition increased the number of psalms and canticles [inspired Scripture songs] available.  With the Strasbourg Psalter of 1537 there was a major revision of the liturgy of the Reformed Church of Strasbourg.  This revision was the result of discussions with other Reformed churches in the Upper Rhineland.  In regard to the ministry of praise the Strasbourgers had initially been inclined toward the singing of the biblical psalms and canticles alone, but with the Strasbourg Psalter of 1537 they have obviously yielded to the lead of their colleagues in Constance [Germany].  The new edition of the psalter added the festal hymns of Johannes Zwick and the Blarer brothers as well as their morning and evening hymns and even their catechetical hymns…

It was the year following [1538] the publication of this epoch-making edition of the psalter that John Calvin became pastor of the congregation of French exiles which had taken refuge in Strasbourg.  Calvin set about developing a similar collection of psalms and prayers in the French language…

Calvin did not follow the lead of Strasbourg and Constance in maintaining a balance between psalmody and humnody.  The Genevan Psalter, while it contained a few [inspired] gospel canticles and catechetical pieces [the Apostle’s Creed, see below, and the inspired Ten Commandments and Lord’s Prayer set to meter], settled for virtually exclusive psalmody.


James I. Good, The Origin of the Reformed Church in Germany (1887), ‘Final Conclusion’, p. 453

The Reformed in many places closed organs, and introduced the singing of the psalms into the churches.  Many of the old hymn books contained nothing but psalms, although others added hymns to the psalms.  But the psalms constituted the basis and center of the book, and not the church year, which was generally unnoticed in the hymn books.  These psalms sustained the Reformed in persecution and linked their hearts more fully to God’s Word.


The Palatinate Liturgy  1563, 1585

Historical Background

Charles Baird, Eutaxia, or the Presbyterian Liturgies (1855) pp. 216-219

‘It was in 1563 that the Elector Frederick III… ordered the preparation and publication of a Liturgy, together with a summary of Christian doctrine, ‘faithfully drawn from the pure word of God’.  The Reformers of Heidelberg, Ursinus, Olevianus and Tremellius, were charged with the work of drawing up this formulary of doctrine and devotion…

The first edition of the Palatinate Liturgy is not extant.  The second, published in 1585, has not been materially altered in subsequent reprints.  The same formulary was adopted by the general Synod of the Lower Rhine.’


A Description of the Palatinate Liturgy  1563, 1585

Notice that the only thing sung are psalms.

Baird, Eutaxia, pp. 219-227



The mid-late 1600’s

James Good, History of the Reformed Church of Germany, 1620-1890  (1894)  

p. 342 ff.

[Joachim] Neander [(1650-1680)] was the father of German Reformed hymnology

…Here [at Frankford] during 1673-4…  Schutz, the Jurist and a Lutheran… was the first to discover Neander’s genius for hymn writing.  This was probably the first time that Lutherans recognized hymns that came from Reformed hymn writers.  It is however, to be noted, that Neander’s hymns were sung at Lutheran prayer meetings, long before they were sung at the Reformed conventicles, because the latter clung mainly to the Psalms in singing.


p. 403 ff.

But Pietism not only revived old customs and put new life into them; it also introduced new ones.  Perhaps the most startling change was the introduction of hymns.  The Reformed Church of Germany had been, like the other Calvinistic Churches, a Psalm-singing Church for about a century.  Since the days of Zwick [in 1538, mentioned above] and the Stasburg hymn-writers in the time of Bucer (with the exception of Electress Louisa Henrietta), they had produced no hymns.  

Dathenus had introduced the singing of Psalms (Old Testament hymns).  And Lobwasser’s metrical translation of the Psalms, set to Goudimal’s melodies, were everywhere introduced, so that, except in three or four parts of Germany, where a hymn would be sung only at communion times, no hymns were used (Koch, History of Hymns, vol. 4, p. 172 ff., vol 6, p. 1).  

The exceptions to this rule of Psalm-singing among the Reformed were:

(1) In the county of Mark, where Lutheranism was predominant, and Lutheran hymns were sometimes used by the Reformed;

(2) In Brandenburg, Electress Louisa Henrietta of Brandenburg had a hymn book issued in 1653, in which, besides Psalms, some of Luther’s hymns, as well as her own, were published and used;

(3) In Bremen it was customary to sing a hymn at communion;

(4) In the Palatinate, where, although Elector Frederick III had banished hymns, they were re-introduced by the Lutheran Elector Lewis, so that the church still used a hymn at communion services.

But with these few exceptions, Psalm-singing was universal. Now if it had not been for this revival of Pietism, who knows but we might still be singing Psalms in the Reformed Church?  We therefore have Pietism to thank for your hymns.  For [Joachim] Neander [(1650-1680)] brought about a new era.  The issue of his Hymns of the Covenant in 1679 began a new day for the Reformed. Strange as it may appear to us, the introduction of hymns was bitterly opposed in many parts of the Reformed Church as an innovation, as the old Reformed people had become greatly wedded to the Psalms.  They held that God’s Word (the Psalms), and not man’s words (the hymns), should be sung in God’s worship.  And in their Psalms they aimed at the literal rather than a rhythmical translation, so that God’s Word might be changed as little as possible.  

The introduction of hymns and spiritual songs, like Neander’s, produced, therefore, a great sensation among them–as great an excitement as Lowell Mason’s melodies did in the early part of this century, or the Moody and Sankey hymns did in the latter part of this century [of the 1800’s].  For many years Neander’s hymns were not permitted to be sung in the churches. They were, however, used at private meetings, at conventicles and prayer meetings. But by and by they became so popular that they won their into the churches, for the Church could no longer afford to pass them by.  So after well nigh a century and a half of psalm singing, the General Synod of Julich, Cleve, Berg and Mark issued a new hymn book in 1738, which added 150 hymns to the 150 psalms previously in use…  Gradually the hymns have replaced the psalmsSo we have to thank Pietism for our hymns.



Calvin & Geneva

‘But what Augustine says is true, that no one can sing songs worthy of God, unless he has received them from Himself.  Therefore, after we have sought on every side, searching here and there, we shall find no songs better and more suitable for our purpose than the Psalms of David, dictated to him and made for him by the Holy Spirit.  But singing them ourselves we feel as certain that God put the words into our mouths as if He Himself were singing within us to exalt his glory.’  

John Calvin
Preface to The Form of Prayers, 1542


The Significance of Calvin’s Psalmody

Louis Benson, The English Hymn: its Development and Use in Worship (1915) pp. 23-24

Calvin on the other hand [from Luther]… would have nothing in the cultus which could not claim the express authority of Scripture…  he rested on the proposition that there could be no better songs than the inspired songs of Scripture.  He established the precedent of Church Song taken from the Word of God itself, and practically confined to the Psalms.  The authority of Calvin’s opinion and example was such that the usage of singing metrical psalms as instituted  at Geneva followed the spread of Calvinistic doctrine through the world as a recognized feature of church order.  It became characteristic of the Reformed cultus as hymn singing was of the Lutheran cultus.

The new Protestant Church Song was thus from the first divided into two separate streams, having Luther and Calvin as their respective sources and differing in actual contents…  the Lutheran Hymn must be regarded as the lineal successor of the Latin hymns of the [Roman Catholic] Breviary, and as carrying forward the usage of hymn singing without a break.  The Calvinistic psalm, on the other hand, would have to be regarded as the lineal successor of the old [early] church Psalmody,–that rendering of the Latin prose Psalter in stated portions which constituted the main feature of the Daily Office…  it marked a breach with the extra-Biblical hymnody of the Western Church, and of the Hussites and Lutherans.  It represented a popularization of the old church Psalmody that offered itself as a substitute for Hymnody, whether old or new.  Henceforward, for two centuries and a half at least, the Hymn and the Metrical Psalm stand side by side as representing clearly differentiated and even opposing systems of congregational Church Song.


Calvin and Singing the Creed

Bushell, Michael – ‘Calvin and the Origin of Reformed Psalmody’ in Songs of Zion: A Contemporary Case for Exclusive Psalmody  Buy  (3rd ed., 1999) pp. 167-184.  The below is from pp. 179-181.

It is an undeniable historical fact that non-canonical songs were excluded from the Geneva services and that this sate of affairs was due to Calvin’s influence and desire…  He took great pains to put together a psalter for use in Strasbourg, translating a number of the psalms himself.  He included no hymns, and that in spite of the fact that the congregational singing of hymns was an established ordinance in Strasbourg.  He borrowed some of the German tunes but none of the lyrics, and the choice must have been deliberate.  There is also the fact that, throughout its long history of development, the Geneva Psalter never included a single hymn.  The only possible exception to this would be the inclusion of a metrical version of the Apostle’s Creed in the first edition of Calvin’s Geneva Psalter (1542).  The Creed, however, was in a different category from either hymns or biblical songs…  In any event, the Creed was not present in the final and authoritative version of the psalter (1562).

…it must be kept in mind that,

’till the middle of the seventeenth century it was the current belief of Roman Catholic and Protestant Christendom that the Apostle’s Creed was ‘Membratim articulatimque‘ composed by the Apostle’s in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost…’ (Schaff, Creeds, vol. 1, p. 22) 

Calvin himself prefers to leave the question of authorship open…  In his catechism Calvin says,

‘It is commonly called the Apostle’s Creed, because from the beginning of the church it came from the lips of the Apostles or was faithfully collected from their writings.’ (Theological Treatises, p. 92)

The Apostles’ Creed was thus seen by Calvin as having Apostolic sanction, if not authority, and as deriving directly from the Apostolic age, if not from the hands of the Apostles themselves.  It was in his view a creed that had the honor and respect attending its use in the Church for some 1,500 years.  Should we then be surprised to find that Calvin included a metrical version of such a creed in his psalter?  It is unfortunate that he did so, but we can certainly see reasons for his having done so, which ultimately have nothing to do with whether the Apostles’ Creed is inspired.  Certainly there is a wide difference between the inclusion of such a creed in the psalter and the inclusion of contemporary hymns, which is something that Calvin never did….  the final and complete version of the Genevan Psalter (1562) did not contain a metrical version of the Apostles’ Creed.  Whatever reasons Calvin had for including the creed in the first place, he evidently changed his mind.


As Calvin and the church in Geneva sang the Apostle’s Creed and yet did not sing man-made hymns (multitudes of which were current in that era, being widely sung by the Lutherans), it is evident that they considered the Creed to be a different element of worship than singing praise to God.  Calvin was very familiar, as his writings show, with creeds and the nature of them.

Calvin in Geneva evidently thought that it was permissible to sing one’s confession of their faith before God in public worship and yet not to sing man-made praise to God (the two being different).  This distinction is confirmed to have been well understood in that general era in that the Synod of Dort (1618), while approving of singing the Creed for the Dutch Church (whose worship practice was very similar to that of Geneva’s), yet condemned singing man-made hymns:

Michael Bushell – Songs of Zion: A Contemporary Case for Exclusive Psalmody  Buy  (3rd ed., 1999) pp. 218

‘The Remonstrants [Arminians], not surprisingly, were strong advocates of the use of uninspired song in worship, and in 1612 they attempted to introduce 85 hymns of the old church.  The collection was published in 1615… but it was rejected by the Synod of Dort in 1618 (Blume, Protestant Church Music, 1974, p. 566), which also at that time limited congregational song to the 150 Psalms, plus versifications of the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the Twelve Articles of Faith [the Apostles’ Creed], and the Songs of Mary, Zacharias and Simeon…  these restrictions on worship song in the Dutch Church were maintained until 1789…



Benson, Louis – ‘John Calvin and the Psalmody of the Reformed Churches’ part 1, part 2, part 3 in Journal of the Presbyterian Historical Society, vol. 5 (1909), pp. 1-21, 55-87, 107-118

Godfrey, W. Robert – ‘Calvin & the Worship of God’  2007  52 paragraphs

Isbell, Sherman – ‘The Only Songs Worthy of God Are Received From Him’, no date, 16 paragraphs, being the last subsection before the appendix in the article The Singing of Psalms

This is an analysis of Calvin’s conviction and practice that inspiration is a requirement for praise songs.  The article surveys the history and evidence of the question while bringing together the conclusions of numerous Calvin scholars on the subject.

Myers, R. Andrew – Did John Calvin Author a Hymn?  2009, 5 pages  

It is often claimed that John Calvin wrote a hymn and thus endorsed uninspired hymnody.  This article thoroughly demonstrates that such a claim cannot be historically substantiated. 

Reid, J.S. – ‘The Battle Hymns of the Lord: Calvinist Psalmody of the 16th Century’, in 16th Century Essays and Stuies, ed. C.S. Meyer (Foundation for Reformation Research, 1970)  Buy 

For an overview and taste of this work, see the articles by Rev. John Sawtelle, ‘The Martial Ethos of Historic, Reformed Worship: Psalm Singing for Vigorous Kingdom Service’, part 1, 2, 3

Sawtelle, John – The Rise and Decline of Exclusive Canonical Psalmody in the Reformed and Presbyterian Churches, part 2, Rise in Geneva, part 3, Decline in Geneva, part 8, Civil Defense in Geneva

Stewart, Angus – John Calvin on the Wonder of the Psalms  n.d.  30 paragraphs, with 17 block Calvin quotes



The French Reformed Church

Middle Ages

Kitson, John Richard – Frankish Psalmody: the Evidence of the Commemoratio Brevis  1973  a Masters thesis


“This thesis is a study of the Frankish psalmody of the early medieval period.  The most important source of this practice in existence today is the tenth-century treatise, the Commemoratio Brevis de Tonis et Psalmis Modulandis…  The present study, however, is based on a new edition of the only complete source…  The method has been to reconstruct the evidence of this treatise—the musical examples of psalm tones and the commentary of the text—and to compare it to the standard practice of the late Middle Ages.”



Bushell, Michael – ‘Psalmody and the Reformation in France’ in Songs of Zion: A Contemporary Case for Exclusive Psalmody  Buy  (3rd ed., 1999) pp. 184-187

Busman, Joshua K. – For God and his Angels or Men at their Tables?: The Context and Usage of Psalm Singing in Francophone Calvinism, 1539-1565  2011  Master of Arts thesis for Univ. of N. Carolina, Chapel Hill

Prothero, Rowland – ‘The Huguenots, 1524-98’ & ‘The Huguenots, 1600-1762’, being chs. 7 & 8 in The Psalms in Human Life (1904), pp. 180-201, 202-228

Sawtelle, John – The Martial Ethos of Historic Reformed Worship: Psalm singing and persecution in France  5 paragraphs

Stevenson, Robert – ‘French Witness in Florida [1564]’  2 paragraphs, from his Protestant Church Music in America, p. 3

Stewart, Angus – The Rage for the Psalter in France  9 paragraphs

Vanderploeg, S. – ‘On Her Lips: the Psalms’  22 paragraphs


Primary Sources

ed. John Quick, Synodicon in Gallia Reformata: or the Acts, Decisions, Decrees and Canons of those Famous National Councils of the Reformed Churches in France, vol. 1, 1692, p. v

Clement Marot a Courtier, and a great wit, was advised… to consecrate his muse unto God; which counsel he embrace[d], and translate[d] fifty of David’s Psalms into French meter.  Mr. [Theodore] Beza did the other hundred, and all the Scripture Songs [the Scripture songs were never authorized for public worship; see below on the Synod of 1598].  Lewis Guadimel, another Asaph, or Jeduthun, a most skillful master of music, set those sweet and melodious tunes unto which they are sung even unto this day [1692].  

This holy ordinance charmed the ears, hearts and affections of court and city, town and country.  They were sung in the Louvre, as well as in the Pres des Clerks, by the ladies, princes, yea and by Henry II himself.  This one ordinance only contributed mightily to the downfall of Popery, and the propagation of the Gospel.  It took so much with the genius of the nation, that all ranks and degrees of men practiced it in the temples [church buildings] and in their families.  No gentleman professing the Reformed religion, would sit down at his table without praising God by singing.  Yea it was a special part of the morning and evening worship, in their several houses, to sing God’s praises.’ 


p. xv

‘The Confession which is commonly added to the end of the Bible, and bound up with it, and with the French Psalm-books, consists of…’


The Discipline of the Reformed Churches of France, 1559, Ch. 10, Canon 2, as quoted in Quick’s Synodicon, vol. 1, p. xliii

Singing of God’s praises being a divine ordinance, and to be performed in the congregations of the faithful, and for that by the use of Psalms their hearts be comforted and strengthened; every one shall be advertised to bring with them their Psalm-books unto those assemblies; and such as through contempt of this holy ordinance do forbear the having of them shall be censured, as also those, who in time of singing, both before and after Sermon, are not uncovered [it was common for men to wear coverings on their heads in daily life, this appears to be a reference to 1 Cor. 11], as also when the Holy Sacraments are celebrated.


The Synod of Figeac., 1579, section 29, p. 132

‘Churches that in singing Psalms do first cause each verse to be read [the practice of lining-out the psalms, a temporary measure for those who could not read or did not have a psalter], shall be advised to forbear that childish custom, and such as have used themselves unto it shall be censured.’

[See also Chris Coldwell’s article on the lining out of Psalms with reference to the Westminster Directory for Public Worship in the Westminster subsection below.]


The Synod of Vitre, 1581,

Section 60, p. 139

‘Forasmuch as there is a notorius contempt of Religion visible in all places, yea also in our religious meetings, we advise that notice be given unto all persons, to bring with them their Psalm-books into the churches, and the such as contemptuously neglect the doing of it shall be severely censured; and all Protestant printers are advised not to sunder in their impressions [printing editions] the Prayers and Catechism from the Psalm-books [so that the psalters are always with the form of prayers and Catechism].’


The Synod of Montpellier, 1598, ch. 5, ‘Of General Matters’, p. 196, section III

‘III.  This assembly having read the letter sent it from the Church of Geneva, and considered the arguments contained in them, and others offered to us, doth decree, that nothing shall be innovated in the liturgy of our churches, in the singing of Psalms and Form of Catechizing.  And whereas monsieur de Beza did, at the request of diverse of our last synods, translate into meter the Scripture-Songs, they shall be received and sung in families, thereby to dispose and fit the people for the public usage of them in the churches, until the next national synod.’

[The next national synod did not approve the Scripture-songs for public worship, nor any synod thereafter.  It took a national synod to make such a change in worship (any lesser court could not make such a change).  Hence the French reformed churches remained officially exclusive-psalmody in their public worship from their official national organization with national synods in 1559 through the 1600’s.  See Klauber, Theology of the French Reformed Churches… (RHB, 2014), pp. 92-3]


The 2nd Synod of Vitre, the 22nd Synod, 1617, section 3, p. 499

‘And whereas complaints are made us, that in some churches before Sermon they sing part of the Psalm, and reserve the last verse for conclusion of the exercise.  This Assembly enjoins all the churches to sing out the whole pause, and to conform themselves as much as may be [see the Synod of Alez below] to the ancient Order.’


The Synod of Alez, 1620, ch. 6, section 7, vol. 2, p. 11

‘These words, ‘as much as may be,’ shall be razed out of that Canon [see the 2nd Synod of Vitre above] which had enjoined the churches to sing full-parts of Psalms, and so conform themselves [more strictly] into that Ancient Custom in use with us ever since the Reformation.’


The Third Synod of Charenton, the 28th Synod, 1645

Section 8, vol. 2, p. 467

‘The Provinces of the Isle of France and Anjou moving it:  All those churches who enjoy the privilege of a printing press, are strictly charged, that they do not suffer an alteration to be made either in the translation of the Bible, or Book of Psalms, or in the text of the Confession of Faith, Liturgy, and Catechism, without an express order from that consistory, which is authorized thereunto by the Provincial Synod.’


Ch. 4, Of Communion of Churches, section 3

‘That known members of particular churches, constituted as aforesaid may have occasional communion with one another in the Ordinances of the Gospel, viz. the Word, Prayer, Sacraments, Singing of Psalms, dispensed according to the mind of Christ; unless that church with which they desire communion has any just exception against them.’


The Synod of Loudun, the 29th Synod, 1659

ch. 8, section 10, vol. 2, p. 532

‘The Assembly revising the eighth article of general matters in the last national synod, which enjoined the consistories of those churches that have printers to take special heed that there be not any change made in the translation of our Bible, nor in our Liturgy, nor Psalms, without express order from the consistory, which is empowered for so doing by the Provincial Synod.’


ch. 10, section 18

‘The provincial deputies of Normandy petitioning it, this Assembly ordained, that all consistories shall take care that those portions of the Holy Scriptures be read, and Psalms sung, during the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, which are most suitable to the nature of that ordinance, that so the devotion of our communicants may be raised and inflamed, and not flatted nor diverted.’



The Church of Scotland


Bushell, Michael – ‘Psalmody and the Reformation in England and Scotland’ in Songs of Zion: A Contemporary Case for Exclusive Psalmody  Buy  (3rd ed., 1999) pp. 187-198

Cowan, William – ‘The Scottish Reformation Psalmody’  Scottish Church History Society  1926

Duguid, Timothy – ‘Early Modern Scottish Metrical Psalmody: Origins & Practice’  Yale Journal of Music & Religion: vol. 7, no. 1, Article 1, pp. 1-23

Nicholas Dickson – Ch. 5, ‘The Precentor’  in The Kirk & its Worthies, p. 121 ff.  1914

Fleming, David

‘Hymnology of the Scottish Reformation’ pt. 1, pt. 2, pt. 3, pt. 4  in The Original Secession Magazine, vol. 16 (1886) p. 461- 470, 531-542, 597-607, 777-781, reprinted in Shorter Works of David Hay Fleming, Volume 1  Buy  2007, 146 pp.

Fleming (1849–1931), one of the greatest historians of the Scottish Church, demonstrates overwhelmingly and exhaustively that the Church of Scotland was, and remained, Exclusive Psalm Singing in its constitution from its reformation in 1560 until the mid-1800’s, contrary the claims of Horatius Bonar in his own day and to other loose and misinformed claims in our day. 

ed. Lang, David – Notices Regarding the Metrical Versions of the Psalms received by the Church of Scotland  from the appendix of vol. 3 of Robert Baillie’s Letters, 1842

Commented on are: (1) the Old Version of 1565, (2) the King James’ Version of 1631, (3) Francis Rous’ Version of 1643, (4) the versions of Sir. W. Mure and Zachary Boyd, (5) Rous’ revised version of 1646, (6) The Present Version (the Scottish Metrical Psalter) of 1650, (7) Scriptural Songs and Paraphrases. 

Livingstone, David – ‘2. That the Psalms for the Exclusive or All but Exclusive Material for Worship’  in Dissertation 1, p. 4 of The Scottish Psalter of 1635  1864

Myers, Andrew – The Covenanter ‘Canon’  2014, 2 paragraphs

Patrick, Millar – ‘The Music of the Scottish Church’  Scottish Church History Society  1935

Porter, James – ”Blessed Spirits, Sing with Me!’  Psalm-Singing in Context & Practice’  in ed. James Porter, Defining Strains: The Musical Life of Scots in the Seventeenth Century  Pre  pp. 299-322

Prothero, Rowland – ‘The Scottish Covenanters & the Revolution of 1688’, being ch. 10 in The Psalms in Human Life (1905), pp. 261-296

Silversides, David – ‘The Development of the Scottish Psalter’  (2002)  43 paragraphs

The Biblical obligation to sing the Psalms is clear.  The question arises then, is the ‘Scottish Psalter’ of 1650 a sufficiently careful and accurate translation for this purpose?

Winzer, Matthew – ‘Westminster & Worship Examined: a Review of Nick Needham’s Essay on the Westminster Confession of Faith’s Teaching Concerning the Regulative Principle, the Singing of Psalms, & the Use of Musical Instruments in the Public Worship of God’  from the Confessional Presbyterian #4 (2008)  Buy  13 pages, pp. 253-266

Winzer here overwhelmingly historically proves that the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) teaches exclusive psalmody.  Until someone refutes Winzer it is not historically credible to say that the Confession (1646) allows for uninspired hymn singing.  Winzer also gives a fair amount of background on the Scottish psalm-singing context.


On the Doxology

Secondary Sources

Livingston, Neil – The Scottish Psalter of 1635  1864

‘3. Conclusions’, pp. 35-37  in II – ‘Appendages to Metrical Psalms’ in Dissertation III, ‘The Literary Materials of the Psalter’

“The oldest of the Conclusions, so far as is known, is that to Psalm 148 [only], which is found in the 1575 edition by Bassandyne, at the very end of the volume…  Though the introduction of these compositions is involved in obscurity, it cannot be supposed that they were forced into the Psalm Book against the wishes of the church authorities…  It is more conceivable that they were inserted quietly, on the printer’s own responsibility or that of other private parties; and their disappearance from most of the subsequent editions lends countenance to this conjecture.  Even those for common metre are wanting in so important an edition of 1615.  Very possibly those who had Episcopal leanings had most to do with their first introduction; but the absence of any trace of controversy on the subject warrants the inference that other parties acquiesced, so far at least as to make the use of them a matter of forebearance.  It may also be inferred from the state of the psalm books that they were used only to a partial extent till after 1615.” – p. 37

Livingston provides a very important document (the only known document on the topic) from Robert Baillie, previously unpublished, recording his seeking to persuade four men under his ministry, who took exception to the doxologies, to sing them.  He says that they may slide into the path of Brownism and end up not singing the psalms altogether.  However it is clear from the record that they did sing the psalms, but only objected to singing the uninspired conclusions.  It is true that this was characteristic of many English Independents, but it was also characteristic of the English presbyterians following Thomas Cartwright.

‘The Conclusions’, p. 4  in Dissertation 1

Sprott, George – pp. 17, 20, 23 & 48-9  of The Worship of the Church of Scotland During the Covenanting Period, 1638-1661  1893

Fleming, David Hay – pp. 490-1 of ‘Scottish Presbyterian Worship’  in Critical Reviews Relating Chiefly to Scotland  1912  This larger article is a review of Charles M’Crie’s The Public Worship of Presbyterian Scotland Historically Treated.

Fleming demonstrates that the use of the uninspired Doxology in Scottish worship does not go back (as often alleged) to the Book of Common Order (1564) at the Reformation, but only started being printed in the Book of Common Order around 1575 and following.

McMillan, William – Ch. 6, ‘The Doxology’  in The Worship of the Scottish Reformed Church, 1550-1638, pp. 87-101  1930

This is the fullest discussion of the singing of the ‘Conclusions’ after the psalms.  McMillan seeks to martial the evidence that these sung conclusions were in widespread use from 1560 to 1638.  McMillan carefully responds to both Fleming and Livingston before him.  However, his conclusions are reached by inferences from evidence that is not always clear, explicit or demonstrably prevalent.

While no doubt there was a diversity of practice on this point during that time frame, there still is no evidence that the General Assembly officially approved of this practice.  From the Assembly having a certain control over the presses, McMillan infers from a different precedent that if the Assembly had disapproved of the conclusions they would have forbid their printing.  However the Assembly had multiple times condemned the keeping of saints’ days, and yet some of the Books of Common Order during that time frame were printed with an ecclesiastical calendar of saints days.  The Assembly evidently did not always have the control in all cases that McMillan assumes.

These conclusions were not original to the Book of Common Order of 1564, and McMillan cites psalters in the early-1600’s (which were printed by Episcopalians) which did not have them in them.  While McMillan makes some pertinent historical points, it appears that the substance of the conclusions of Livingston’s historical survey still stands (McMillan is dependent on Livingston for a number of points and Livingston evidently had a larger knowledge of the sources than he himself cites for explicit evidence).


Primary Sources

MacWard, Robert – pp. 278-81 of Dialogue 5  in The True Non-Conformist  1671

MacWard was a protege of Samuel Rutherford and argues against the singing of the man-made doxology.

Edward, Robert – The Doxology Approven  1683  125 pp.

This conformist minister to an Erastian and Episcopalian government thought that answering the presbyterian objection to singing the man-made doxology was worthy of a book.  The book is dedicated to George Gordon, a civil, Earl of Aberdeen and the civil Chancellor of Scotland (1682-4).



Patrick, Millar – Four Centuries of Scottish Psalmody  1949  286 pp.

Duguid, Timothy

Sing a New Song: English & Scottish Metrical Psalmody from 1549-1640, vol. 1 (History), 2 (Appendices)  2011  PhD thesis, Univ. of Edin.

Metrical Psalmody in Print and Practice: English ‘Singing Psalms’ and Scottish ‘Psalm Buiks’, c. 1547-1640  Pre  Buy  (Ashgate, 2014)



The Dutch Church

Bushell, Michael – ‘Psalmody and the Dutch Reformation’ in Songs of Zion: A Contemporary Case for Exclusive Psalmody  Buy  (3rd ed., 1999) pp. 217-220

Faber, R. – ‘The First Psalters in the Dutch Reformed Churches’ in The Clarion, Feb. 28, 2003, pp. 113-116

Kobald, Norma – The Psalms, the Organ and Sweelink  1997  30 paragraphs  Sweelink was a leading organist in the late 1500’s.

Sawtelle, John –  The Martial Ethos of Historic Reformed Worship: Psalm singing and persecution in the Netherlands  5 paragraphs


Some of the First Dutch Reformed Liturgies  1551, 1553

‘The Form of Public Prayers which are Held in the Assemblies in the Churches of the Strangers’  1551

Historical Background, from the ‘London Confession of John a Lasco’ in ed. James Dennison, Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation (2008) vol. 1, pp. 551-552

The Reformator Poloniae [Reformer of Poland], John a Lasco (Jan Laski, 1499-1560), came to the Reformed faith by way of Erasmus (1466-1536), Zwingli (1484-1531) and several others.  Educated in Italy… He was recalled to Poland in 1526 (yet unconvinced of Protestantism) and served the church until 1538.  In or about that year he converted to Protestantism and resigned his bishopric…

…He returned to the continent in the spring of 1549, but was back in London by May 1550.  In July, the Privy Council granted a charter for establishing a ‘Stranger’s Church’ in London with a Lasco as superintendent.  The church met in Austin Friars and was composed of French, Dutch, and Italian refugees…  For the Dutch congregation of pilgrims (pastored by a Lasco and Martin Flandrus [Micronius]), a Lasco composed a liturgy and order of discipline (Forma ac Ratio, 1550).


As outlined by Travis Fentiman from ed. James Dennison, Reformed Confessions, vol. 1, pp. 578-583  

Minister encourages prayer
Ministerial prayer before the sermon
Psalm ‘recited’ in unison (probably sung, per below)
Prayer after the sermon
Reading of Ten Commandments
Prayer of public confession of sins by minister
Form of absolution
Apostles’ Creed read by minister
Prayer for the needs of the Church by the minister
The Lord’s Prayer  (who says it is not specified)
Singing of a psalm
Dismissal by exhortation and blessing
Alms gathered by deacons at the doors of a separate assembly


‘Structure of Micron’s Reformed Liturgy for Sunday Morning’  1553

As given in Henry Klassens, ‘The Reformed Tradition in the Netherlands’ in The Oxford History of Christian Worship (2006) pp. 463-4

1.Prayer for the sermon, closed with the Lord’s Prayer
2.Singing of a psalm
3.Reading of the scripture
6.Prayer after the sermon
7.Ten Commandments (the so-called Lord’s Law)
8.Confession of sins
10.Reading of the creed
11.Prayer of intercession and supplication
12.Singing of a psalm
13.Exhortation to be merciful to the poor and to pray for each other
14.Blessing (Num. 6:24)


Dutch Synods

National Synod of Dort  1578  Article 76

The Psalms of David, in the edition of Petrus Dathenus, shall be sung in the Christian meetings of the Netherlands Churches (as has been done until now), abandoning the hymns which are not found in Holy Scripture.’


National Synod of Middelburg  1581  Article 51

Only the Psalms of David shall be sung in the church, omitting the hymns which one cannot find in Holy Scripture.’


National Synod of Gravenhage  1586  Article 62

The Psalms of David shall be sung in the churches, omitting the hymns which one does not find in Holy Scripture.’


The Synod of Dort  1618-1619

Michael Bushell – Songs of Zion: A Contemporary Case for Exclusive Psalmody  Buy  (3rd ed., 1999) pp. 218

The Remonstrants [Arminians], not surprisingly, were strong advocates of the use of uninspired song in worship, and in 1612 they attempted to introduce 85 hymns of the old church.  The collection was published in 1615… but it was rejected by the Synod of Dort in 1618 (Blume, Protestant Church Music, 1974, p. 566), which also at that time limited congregational song to the 150 Psalms, plus versifications of the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the Twelve Articles of Faith, and the Songs of Mary, Zacharias and Simeon…  these restrictions on worship song in the Dutch Church were maintained until 1789


The 1800’s-1900’s

Bruins & Swierenga, Family Quarrels in the Dutch Reformed Churches of the 19th Century (1999) p. 12-13

The king’s arbitrary [and Erastian] actions [of 1816 over the reformed, National Dutch Church] aroused very little public dissent…  Opposition to the new regime came only from a few orthodox local congregations and a small group of intellectuals.

In the countryside, passive resistance arose when the first national synod [in 1816] to meet under the revised structure mandated pastors in each worship service to select one or more hymns from the new hymnal, called De Evangelische Gezangen, which included 192 Gospel songs to augment the traditional Genevan psalms.  The synod had adopted this hymnal in 1807 and recommended it to the churches but did not make its use obligatory.  When that changed in 1816, some ‘stijf kops’ refused to sing the ‘man-made songs,’ which they thought smacked of Arminianism.  They stood silently, or put on their caps [contrary to 1 Cor. 11:4, in order to show that singing hymns is not worship to God], or even marched out  of the church until the singing was over.  A few sympathetic ministers defied the ruling and selected only the psalms, but they were subject to discipline.

In the next few years pious members of the national church simply walked away from it and turned to traditional conventicles (gezelschappen), extra-church assemblies of the devout… 

‘Kuyper: The Introduction Of Hymns To Dutch Reformed Worship Was Done Unlawfully’  at the Heidelblog

DeCock, Hendrik  – Case Against Hymns  †1842  originally 60 pp., edited version 36 paragraphs, with a Preface and Historical Introduction

DeCock (1801-1842) was one of the early leaders of the wave of conservative secessions from the national Dutch Church during the 1800’s.

Michael Bushell – Songs of Zion: A Contemporary Case for Exclusive Psalmody  Buy  (3rd ed., 1999) pp. 219

One of the main reasons that the Dutch church in this country [of America] returned to its independent status [from the national Dutch Church] in 1857 was dissatisfaction with the status of that church’s psalmody.  Consequently, when the Christian Reformed Church was formed in 1857, it reaffirmed its commitment to the Psalms.  Until its revision in 1932, Article 69 of the Church Order of the Christian Reformed Church read:

In the churches only the 150 Psalms of David, the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the Twelve Articles of Faith, the Songs of Mary, Zacharias, and Simoen, the Morning and Evening Hymns, and the hymn of Prayer before the Sermon, shall be sung.



The Hungarian Reformed Church

‘Concerning Singing in Church’  1562  2 pp. in ‘The Hungarian Confessio Catholica (1562)’ in ed. James Dennison, Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation (2008) vol. 2, pp. 524-525

Balogh, Francis – ‘Hymnals [1538-1660]’ & ‘Bibles and Hymnals [1744-1903]’  1907  2 & 2 pp. from History of the Reformed Church of Hungary, pp. 38-39, 60-61

While the specific contents of these early ‘hymnals’ are unclear, the psalms had been put to meter by the mid-late 1500’s, and, as Balogh alludes, seemed to contain the psalms. 


The Beginning of Hungarian Psalmody

History of the Protestant Church in Hungary, p. 94, trans. J. Craig, 1854

Another of the great leaders of the Reformation was Michael Starinus.  One benefit which he conferred on Hungary was the translation of the Psalms into Hungarian verse, and, indeed, the greater number of the Psalms in use among the Reformed churches to this day are said to be his translation.  He was a most laborious minister of the gospel, but very little is known respecting the very peculiar sphere of his labors, beyond the facts, that he lived at Tolnau, in 1557; that he was settled at Papa, as pastor, prevous to 1574; and that, while he and Stephen Beytha were candidates for the vacant post of Hungarian preacher in Oedenberg, in the last mentioned year, Beytha was preferred.


An Order of Worship  1658

Charles Baird, Eutaxia, or Presbyterian Liturgies (1855, reprinted 1960) pp. 254-255

…the historian Lampe (Hist. Eccles. Hungar., Appendix) speaks distinctly of such a ritual [similar to the Genevan Church] in use among the Hungarian Churches of the Reformed or Calvinistic order; and quotes largely from a ‘Liturgy of the Lord’s Supper’ published at Saros-Patak in 1658.  He gives a full description of the mode of celebrating the Communion; which seems to have closely resembled that of the Strasburg Church.  The order is as follows:

2.Confession of Sins
3.The Creed
5.Singing of a Psalm
6.Recital of the words of Institution
7.Participation, during which Psalms are sung
8.Closing Address
9.Thanksgiving and Benediction


Anecdote  c. 1662-1675

History of the Protestant Church in Hungary, pp. 227-229, trans. J. Craig, 1854

A request was made, that your Majesty would so restrain those who, contrary to the constitution of the country, were hindering the free exercise of the Protestant religion…

Both noblemen and peasants have been taken prisoner, and led in chains to attend the service of the Popish priest…  Protestant parties are [were] even by military force obliged to pay Popish priests.  When Psalms are sung or prayers offered in private houses, the parties, and even sometimes noblemen, have been marched to prison by the officers of foreign troops, as if they were common felons.




The English and American Puritans on Psalm Singing 

English, but not Puritan


Benson, Louis – Shakespeare and the Metrical Psalms from the Journal of the Presbtyerian Historical Society, June 1918

Sherratt, Richard – The Psalms in Anglican Worship  2007  3 pp.



Corbin, Charles Ella – Anglican Service Music, from 1509 to 1603  1956

Schmutzler, Karl Eugene – George Sandys’ Paraphrases on the Psalms and the Tradition of Metrical Psalmody: an Annotated edition of Fifty Selected Psalms, with Critical and Biographical Introduction  1956  a PhD thesis

Sandys (1577–1644) was an English traveller, colonist, and poet.

Quitslund, Beth – The Reformation in Rhyme: Sternhold, Hopkins and the English Metrical Psalter, 1547-1603  Pre


On the Rise of the English Hymn


Horder, W. Garrett – The Hymn Lover.  An Account of the Rise and Growth of English Hymnody  3rd ed. rev.  (London, 1895)  535 pp.



Benson, Louis – The English Hymn: its Development and Use in Worship  (1915)

Hewitt, Theodore Brown – Paul Gerhardt as a hymn writer and his influence on English hymnody  (Yale Univ. Press, 1918)

Gerhardt (1607–1676) was a German theologian, Lutheran minister and hymnodist.

Gillman, F. J. – The Evolution of the English Hymn  (London, England: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1927)  312 pp.

Phillips, Charles Stanley – Hymnody Past and Present  (London, 1937)  310 pp.

Ryden, Ernest, Edwin – The Story of Christian Hymnody  (Augustana Press, 1959)  675 pp.

Arnold, Richard – The English Hymn: Studies in a Genre  (New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing, 1995)



A Sketch of the Church of England

Louis Benson, The English Hymn: its Development and Use in Worship (1915)

pp. 21-22

…whereas there was no English hymnody in any effective sense until the 18th century.  It happened so, in brief, because the Churches in England and Scotland in arranging for the participation of the people in the service of praise, adopted the model set up by Calvin in Geneva as over against that set up by Luther.  The practical effect of this was, in a word, that both the English and Scottish Churches became psalm singers as distinguished from hymn singers.  The Metrical Psalm was thus the substitute for the Hymn in England and Scotland, and became the effective obstacle to the production and use of English hymns.


p. 26

The English Church adopted Metrical Psalmody just as effectively [as the Church of Scotland], but less formally, as something not provided for in the Prayer Book system, but yet ‘allowed’ to adhere to the margin of that system.  Practically both English-speaking Churches entered upon an era of psalm singing which was to be little disturbed through two centuries [till Isaac Watts in the early 1700’s].


pp. 29,32

There was… no hesitation on the part of the compilers of the early Psalters in joining to the Psalm versions matter intended for private use…  it appears from the tile pages of the English Psalter [of 1562] that it was intended for use outside of church.  The title of the editions of 1561-1562 contained the words: ‘Very mete [meet] to be used of all sorts of people priuately [privately].’  It was not until 1566 that the title page of the Psalter claimed authorization for its use in church.¹

¹ …But in this matter the opinion of many since was voiced by George Wither in his pamphlet, The Scholar’s Purgatory (1624): ‘that those metrical Psalms were never commanded to be used in divine service, or in our public congregations, by any canon or ecclesiastical constitution, though many of the vulgar be of that opinion.  But whatsoever the Stationers [printers] do in their title page pretend to that purpose, they being first allowed for private devotion only, crept into public use by toleration rather than by command.’

It is then obvious that the presence of these hymns in the English Psalter does not of itself imply, either in intention or in fact, their use in the church services.

On the whole these hymns present no more than an insignificant exception to the statement that the Church of England became a psalm singing church.  At the first they proved no impediment to the advancing tide of Psalmody.  


pp. 40,42-43

But when under Edward VI the way was opened to introduce English service books, neither the First Prayer Book of 1549 nor the Second of 1552, contained any of the hymns which were an essential part of the offices from which the Prayer Book Services were framed, except a rendering of the Veni Creator Spiritus in the ordinal of 1550…

Whatever [Thomas] Cranmer‘s motives were [in composing the prayer books], his action, together with the growing predilection of the people for metrical Psalms, proved decisive in excluding the old church hymns from the worship of the Church of England

And when the completed Psalter of 1562 was prepared no advantage was taken of the opportunity to provide versions of Latin hymns.  It is likely that the interests represented in the prefixed group of ‘churchly’ hymns were not solicitous for the introduction of hymns of any sort into public worship.  They found the Veni Creator in the Ordinal, and it fell in with their purpose of giving a Prayer Book tone to their appendage of hymns.  There is at least no evidence of any desire to modify Cranmer’s rejection of the old church Hymnody.

Nor did any such proposal follow.  The Metrical Psalm had prevailed


The Introduction of Hymn Singing, late-1600’s to early 1700’s ff.

Benson, Louis – ‘John Playford Leads a Movement to Introduce Hymn Singing in the Reestablished Church  (1661-1708)’  1915  6 pp., being part of ch. 2 of The English Hymn: its Development and Use in Worship, pp. 75-81

Drage, Sally – The Performance of English Provincial Psalmody, c. 1690 – c. 1840  2009  PhD thesis for the Univ. of Leeds

William Romaine, An Essay on Psalmody  1775

In the service of the church of England there is great use made of the Psalms.  They are read in every day’s service, both at morning and evening prayer, and are constantly sung in public worship.  lt is much to be wished they were better understood, that the daily reading and singing of them might be the means of grace.



The Westminster Assembly

The Westminster Assembly and Psalm Singing

Coldwell, Chris – The Westminster Directory for Public Worship and the Lining of the Psalms, HTML, 1998, 10 paragraphs

The Directory for Public Worship mentions ‘lining out the psalms’, where the leader would stop after each line and say the following line before singing it.  This was done for the help of those who could not read, but is not a binding part of the Directory.  This article very helpfully shows from the primary sources that the Directory was not intended as a High Church liturgy, but as a guide.

See also above the Synod of Figeac., 1579, section 29, under the French Reformed Church above.




Short Historical Sketches

Bushell, Michael – ‘The Development of Psalmody in American Presbyterianism’ in Songs of Zion: A Contemporary Case for Exclusive Psalmody  Buy  (3rd ed., 1999) pp. 198-217.  From pp. 204, 207, 208, 209

‘…in 1729the practice of exclusive psalmody was neither challenged nor even seriously debated in American Presbyterian churches… The psalmody question did not become a really divisive issue in the Presbyterian church until the latter half of the eighteenth century.’

Controversy over the psalmody question reached a peak in the 1780’s.’

During the whole controversy, those in favor of a strict psalmody were on the defensive.’ 

‘It must be kept in mind that throughout most of the eighteenth century, the debate in the Presbyterian church centered on the question of which psalter version was to be used [either the older literal psalters or Isaac Watts’ new interpretative paraphrased psalter].  On the surface of the matter at least, the question of the use of uninspired or non-canonical materials was not even involved.  It is true, as [Louis] Benson [one of the greatest liturgists of the 1800’s] complains, that

there was indeed no general desire to sing hymns among colonial Presbyterians.  The progressives asked no more than liberty to choose their own Psalm book; and it was not till the beginning of the nineteenth century [1831] that the church formally authorized the use of any designated hymn book.’ (The English Hymn, 1915, p. 179)’

Given the pragmatic and pietistic tenor of the times and the determination of the judicatories of the denomination to settle the matter by popular preference rather than by the scriptural principles involved, it was only inevitable that an inspired psalmody should fall by the wayside…’


Various – We Used to Sing Only Psalms — What Happened?  1987

Until the Civil War the various Presbyterian bodies used psalms predominantly, singing hymns only now and then, especially in informal gatherings.  Their songbook, Psalms and Hymns, had a clearly defined psalter section.  After the Civil War the use of hymns increased greatly.  In the Presbyterian Hymnal published in 1874 by the northern branch of the church, psalms were mixed in with hymns.  The 1901 Psalms and Hymns of the southern church followed suit.




Late 1500’s Hugenots in Florida

Vanderploeg, S. – ‘Florida, the Promised Land’  1983  5 paragraphs, the 2nd subsection in ‘On Her Lips: the Psalms’

Stevenson, Robert – ‘French Witness in Florida’  2 paragraphs, from his Protestant Church Music in America, p. 3

The English and American Puritans on Psalm Singing


Losing Psalmody: The Black-Eye of American Presbyterianism


Benson, Louis 

‘The Era of Watt’s in America’: ‘The Presbyterians (1739-1827)’ and ‘The Great Psalmody Controversy’  1915  18 pp., being part of ch. 4 of The English Hymn: Its Development and Use in Worship, pp. 177-195

‘The Era of Compromise (1828-1857): ‘Psalms and Hymns’  1915  9 pp., being part of ch. 8 of The English Hymn: Its Development and Use in Worship, pp. 380-389

Shadle, Karen L. – Singing with Spirit and Understanding; Psalmody as Holistic Practice in Late Eighteenth-Century New England   2010  PhD thesis for Univ. of N. Carolina, Chapel Hill

Sampsel, Laurie J. – Samuel Babcock (1760-1813), Archetypal Psalmodist of the First New England School of Composers  2009  PhD thesis, Univ. of Pittsburgh


The Dutch-American Reformed Church

Benson, Louis – ‘English Hymns in the Reformed Dutch Church (1767-1868)’  1915  7 pp., being part of ch. 8, ‘The Evangelical Hymnody in America’ in The English Hymn: Its Development and Use in Worship, pp. 402-408


The German-American Reformed Church

Benson, Louis – ‘English Hymns in the German Reformed Church (1800-1858)’  1915  3 pp., being part of ch. 8, ‘The Evangelical Hymnody in America’ in The English Hymn: Its Development and Use in Worship, pp. 408-410



Alter, Mrs. J.C. – ‘The North American Indian and the Psalms [circa 1900]’ in Psalm Singers’ Conference held in Belfast, 1902, pp. 258-260, about the late 1800’s to early 1900’s

Glass, Henry – The Story of the Psalters: A History of the Metrical Versions of Great Britain and America, from 1549-1885  1888


Denominations  (5)
(in chronological order of giving up psalmody)

Reformed Church in America (RCA), of a Dutch background

Various – We Used to Sing Only Psalms — What Happened?  1987  

Although the leaders of the RCA had brought the Dutch “Genevan” Psalter to America, members of that denomination soon began clamoring for an English psalm-book.  The minutes of a synod that met in October of 1787 record that

convinced of the necessity for another and better version of the Psalms of David than the congregations as yet possess in the English language… [delegates to the synod] have determined as speedily as possible to form such a new versification…”

[Norman] Kansfield comments:

“When one examines the Psalms of David with Hymns and Spiritual Songs, which was the end-product of this synodical action, one is immediately struck by the fact that the church was concerned with providing the texts of the psalms but not with preserving the Genevan tunes.  All but a few of the psalms were presented in four-line stanzas in short metre, common metre, or long metre.  In spite of this radical departure from the continental Reformed practice, the book retained settings of each of the 150 psalms and continued to do so in each succeeding psalter until 1869.  In the edition of the hymnal published in that year the psalms had nearly disappeared among the 1007 hymns.”


United Presbyterian Church of North America (UPCNA)

Mead & Hill, Handbook of Denominations in the United States (10th edition, 1995) p. 257

The UPCNA had been formed exactly a century earlier [1858] by a merger of the Associate Presbyterian Church with the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church…

The UPCNA doctrine rested on the Westminster Confession, with a few modifications…  A 1925 confessional statement of 44 articles contained the substance of Westminster, but restricted divorce to marital infidelity, denied infant damnation, extended the sacraments to all who professed faith in Christ and led Christian lives, and withdrew the old protest against secret societies.  It also abandoned the exclusive use of psalms

There were no insurmountable differences when the UPCNA and the PCUSA merged in 1958 to become the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (UPCUSA)…


Christian Reformed Church (CRC), from a Dutch background

Various – We Used to Sing Only Psalms — What Happened?  1987  

Hymns became part of CRC worship after a long and often painful struggle.  At least two pressures threatened the psalms-only [plus Bible songs] stance. One was the influence of American surroundings.  Although the CRC tried at times to live in isolation, the sound of hymn singing from Baptist and Methodist churches kept penetrating its walls.  The other breach came from the CRC taking in two outside groups who had hymn-singing traditions: a number of German Reformed congregations in 1888 and the True Reformed Protestant Dutch Church in 1890.  In 1914 the CRC adopted its first English language [as opposed to Dutch] psalter (the United Presbyterian Psalter of 1912), which used many English and American hymn tunes.  Thus the pressure for hymns in worship continued—especially since hymns were freely sung in church meetings outside of the Sunday worship services.  Finally the Synod of 1928 appointed a study committee to look into the matter of hymn singing.  And in 1934 that committee presented the CRC with its first Psalter Hymnal, containing 327 psalm settings (some Genevan, most from the United Presbyterian Psalter of 1912) and 141 hymns.


Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church

Mead & Hill, Handbook of Denominations in the United States (10th edition, 1995) p. 249

This is a continuing synod of the former Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, a body of [Scottish] Covenanter and Seceder origins and traditions…  

The standards of the Westminster Confession are followed.  For some years the only music in this church was the singing of psalms; this was modified in 1946 to permit the use of hymns…  Membership [in 1995] totals 38,763 in 197 chuches, most in the Southeast.


The Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America, General Synod

Bushell, Songs of Zion: A Contemporary Case for Exclusive Psalmody  Buy  (3rd ed., 1999) p. 216-217

From its birth in 1833 as a result of a division in the Reformed Synod, the General Synod of the Reformed Synod, the General Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church had been firmly committed to exclusive psalmody.  The matter was hotly debated in the 1880’s

…Agitation continued until the 1940’s…  Finally in 1958, in the midst of preparations for merger with the Bible Presbyterian Church [which was not psalm singing], Reformation Principles Exhibited [a book that taught exclusive psalmody] was dropped as a subordinate standard.


Reformed Psalm Singing Denominations in America Today

The American Presbytery of the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing)  (FCC)

Free Reformed Churches of North America  (FRCNA)  of a Dutch background

Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation  (HNRC)  of a Dutch background

Netherlands Reformed Congregations (NRC)  of a Dutch background (not recommended due to systemic hyper-calvinism)

Presbyterian Reformed Church  (PRC)

Protestant Reformed Churches  (PRC)  of a Dutch background (not recommended due to systemic hyper-calvinism)

Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America  (RPCNA)




Vanderploeg, S. – ‘A Matter of Principle’  1983  3 paragraphs, the 3rd subsection in ‘On Her Lips: the Psalms’,  regarding the early 1600’s

Moore, Laurence James – Sing to the Lord a New Song: a Study of Changing Musical Practices in the Presbyterian Church of Victoria, 1861-1901  2004  a Masters thesis


“The latter half of the 19th Century was a time of immense change in Presbyterianism worldwide in respect of the role of music in worship.  Within this period the long tradition unaccompanied congregational psalmody gave way to the introduction of hymnody, instrumental music… and choral music in the form of anthems.”

The Decline of Psalm Singing in Canada (written from a pro-hymn perspective)

Various – We Used to Sing Only Psalms — What Happened?  1987  

One can trace a similar history in various Presbyterian churches: original strong adherence to the (Scottish) psalter; gradual adoption of hymns until hymn singing began to outweigh psalm singing; and recently a renewed appreciation of the psalm-singing tradition.

Professor John Scrimger of Montreal’s Presbyterian College championed hymn singing in the Presbyterian Church in Canada.  He argued around the turn of the century that

“the churches have become utterly weary of the eternal common metre, and many of them have been attracted to the hymns by the pleasing variety which they furnish in metre and music…  The music provided for the Psalms has become, like the versions themselves, obsolete and out of date, representing a style which may suit the survivors from a previous generation but is wholly unadapted to hold the young.”

In 1878 the Canadian Presbyterians published a hymnal to supplement psalm singing.  Notes Hugh McKeller:

“Profits from the Hymnal’s sales were earmarked for stabilizing the Aged and Infirm Ministers’ Fund, an arrangement that made its purchase palatable, even to devotees of the psalter.”




Moore, Laurence – Sing to the Lord a New Song: A Study of Changing Musical Practices in the Presbyterian Church of Victoria, 1861-1901  2004  196 pp.

The latter half of the 19th century was a time of immense change in Presbyterianism worldwide in respect of the role of music in worship.  Within this period the long tradition of unaccompanied congregational psalmody gave way to the introduction of hymnody, instrumental music (initially provided by harmoniums and later by pipe organs) and choral music in the form of anthems.’

Muldoon, D.K. – Psalm Singing in the Presbyterian Church of Scotland and Australia 4 pp.



The 1700’s & 1800’s Generally

Prothero, Rowland – ‘1688-1900’ & ‘1688-1900 (continued)’, being chs. 11 & 12 of The Psalms in Human Life (1905) pp. 297-329 & 330 ff.




On the Hymnody of the Anabaptists

Ramaker, A. J. – “Hymns and Hymn Writers Among The Anabaptists of the Sixteenth Century”  Mennonite Quarterly Review, 3 (April 1929) 93-121

Atwood, Preston – “The Martyrs’ Song: The Hymnody of the Early Swiss Brethren Anabaptists,” The Artistic Theologian 2 (Fall 2013): 64-92

‘Hymnology of the Anabaptists’  at Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online


On the Hymnody & Psalmody of the Baptists


Ross, Thomas – ‘English Particular Baptist Singing and Congregational Worship Practices to 1700’  15 paragraphs  with a bibliography

Ross traces the history of particular Baptist worship-singing from their rise in the 1640’s.  They were often not unified in their practices (as they were independents), and many of them were resistive to congregational singing as an ordinance from the beginning (reflective of anabaptistic roots).

The alternative interpretation of the NT texts was that the NT singing depended on an extraordinary spiritual gift, which was divinely inspired, was not in metered poetry but in more immediate utterances, and the minister sang alone, not the congregation.

The debates within Baptist circles really began in the 1680’s and took off in the 1690’s.  Two strands appeared in those who were for congregational singing: those who sang hymns and those who confined praise song to the psalms and Scripture songs. A while thereafter John Gill would take the latter view.

Ross gives a relatively full bibliographic history of the debates. 



Young, Robert H. – The History of Baptist Hymnody in England from 1612 to 1800, Doctor of Musical Arts Diss., June 1959, University of Southern California

Wall, Woodrow Wilson – The Development of Baptist Hymnody with Particular Emphasis on the Southern Baptist Convention  Master of Music  Univ. of North Texas, 1955




Related Pages

Psalm Singing

Psalters Online

Musical Instruments in Worship


The Regulative Principle of Worship

The Simplicity of Worship

What does ‘Liturgy’ Mean, and is Biblical and Reformed Worship Liturgical?

Creeds in Worship

Responsive Readings in Worship

Family Worship

Personal Godliness