The Psalm Singing of the Puritans

The scope of this page is limited to mainly English and American puritans that were not Westminster divines.  See here for The Westminster Assembly and Divines on Psalm Singing.

See historical background to the era of this page in the psalm singing of the Church of England.  Also see the Psalm singing of the Reformed Churches of Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands, Scotland and France, as well as the History of Psalm Singing generally.

Order of Contents

Puritan Treatises on Psalm Singing
About the Psalm Singing of the Puritans
The Puritans on ‘Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs’
Puritan Psalters
Puritan Orders of Worship
Quotes on the History of Puritan Psalm Singing in England
The End of the Psalm Singing of the Puritans in England

Puritan Treatises on Psalm Singing  English, Scottish & American

Mather, Richard et al. – ‘Preface’ to the Bay Psalm Book, which was the first book printed in New England.  See also the ‘Introduction’.

Holmes, Nathanael – Gospel Music: or, The Singing of David’s Psalms, etc. in the public congregations, or private families asserted and vindicated against a printed pamphlet entitled, Certain reasons by way of confutation of singing Psalms in the letter; Objections sent in, in writing; Scruples of some tender consciences… unto which is added the judgment of our worthy brethren of New England touching singing of Psalms  Buy  1644  46 pp.

Cotton, John – Singing of Psalms: A Gospel Ordinance  Buy  1647  128 pp.

Cotton argues for inspired Bible-song singing.

Sydenham, Cuthbert – A Gospel-Ordinance Concerning the Singing of Scripture Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs  Buy  1654  122 pp.

Clapham, Jonathan – A Short and Full Vindication of that Sweet and Comfortable Ordinance, of Singing of Psalms. Together with some profitable rules, to direct weak Christians how to sing to edification. And a brief confutation of some of the most usual cavils made against the same. Published especially for the use of the Christians…  1656

MacWard, Robert – pp. 272-280 of The True Non-Conformist, Dialogue 5  1671  9 pp.

MacWard was a Scottish covenanter and the protege of Samuel Rutherford.  He argues that (1) singing is a distinct element from prayer with different Biblical regulations, and (2) that inspiration is a requirement for sung praise (contra man-made hymns and praise songs).

Roberts, Francis – Of Singing of Psalms  1675, 10 pp.  being pp. 118-128 from his The Key of the Bible: Unlocking the Richest Treasury of the Holy Scriptures

Roberts argues for inspired Bible-song singing.

Allen, Richard – An Essay to Prove the Singing of Psalms with Conjoined Voices, a Christian Duty: and to resolve the doubts concerning it  1696  150 pp.

About the Palm Singing of the Puritans


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

Davies, Horton

‘The Praises of the Puritans’, being chapter 10 of The Worship of the English Puritans  Buy  p. 162-181,  2003  304 pp.

This book was the 1940’s doctoral dissertation of this Princeton professor surveying the simple, Biblical worship of the puritans.

‘Praises’, being ch. 5 of The Worship of the American Puritans, 1629-1730  Buy  pp. 124-145  1999

Earle, Alice – The Sabbath in Puritan New England, and the Various Psalm Books they Used, Chapters 11-15  Buy  1891, 104 pages, pp. 125-130

This often humorous sketch of New-England puritan psalm singing by the often unsympathetic Earle is filled with interesting details and is a delight to read.  The chapter titles are: (11) The Psalm-Book of the Pilgrims, (12) The Bay Psalm-Book, (13) Sternhold and Hopkins’ Version of the Psalms, (14) Other Old Psalm Books, (15) The Church Music.  

Prothero, Rowland – ‘Hooper & Ridley’‘The Struggle Between Protestant England and Roman Catholic Spain’ and ‘The Puritans, 1600-1660’, being part of ch. 5 and all of 6 & 9 from The Psalms in Human Life (1905), pp. 137-143, 144-179, 229-260



Bider, Noreen Jane – Tudor Metrical Psalmody and the English Reformations  1998  PhD thesis

Cattrell, Kevin Robert – Colonial New England Psalmody and the Poetics of Discord in Translation  2011  PhD thesis

Duguid, Timothy

Sing a New Song: English and 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)

Hubbard, Charles Meredith – Early New England psalmody and its effect on the works of Williams Billings  1949

MacDougall, H.C. – Early New England Psalmody (Stephen Daye Press, 1940)

Todd, Henry – Observations upon the Metrical Versions of the Psalms made by Sternhold, Hopkins and others..  1822

In Chapter 3, pp. 50-85, Todd comments on the psalters of: (1) Archbishop Parker, (2) Henry Dod, (3) George Wither, (4) King James’ first version, (5) George Sandy, (6) William Barton, (7) Tate and Brady, (8) Richard Blackmore

Wenske, Rebecca Rose – The Influence of Hymns and Metrical Psalms on the Spread of the English Reformation  1969  Masters thesis



The Puritans on ‘psalms, hymns and spiritual songs,’ Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16

While there were a few exceptions, the vast majority of puritans interpreted ‘psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs’ to be a triadic, poetic reference in the Greek (psalmos, humnos, odee) to the Hebrew titles of the psalms (mizmor, tephillah, shir) in the Book of Psalms.  

It should be noted that where a few of the puritans interpreted the phrase as including songs other than the psalms, many did not see the passages as relating to public worship, and still practiced exclusive psalmody in public worship.  See Paul Bayne analyzed by Rev. Winzer below for an example.  Other examples of psalm singing puritans who thought hymn singing was allowed outside of public worship include the group of 26 puritans who endorsed the 1673 Preface to the Scottish Psalter (below) and Thomas Manton on James 5:13. 

Most of the following quotes were collected from Rev. Winzer’s excellent article on the Exclusive Psalmody of the Westminster Standards.

For a careful exegesis of Eph. 5:19 and Col. 3:16, see John Murray’s Minority Report on Song in the Public Worship of God

Preface to the 1673 edition of the 1650 Scottish Metrical Psalter

A print version of this may be found in The True Psalmody (Edinburgh: James Gemmell, 1878)  Buy  p. 98

Good Reader,

’Tis evident by the common experience of mankind, that love cannot lie idle in the soul. For every one hath his oblectation [pleasure] and delight, his tastes and relishes are suitable to his constitution, and a man’s temper is more discovered by his solaces than by anything else. Carnal men delight in what is suited to the gust of the flesh, and spiritual men in the things of the Spirit. The promises of God’s holy covenant, which are to others as stale news or withered flowers, feed the pleasure of their minds; and the mysteries of our redemption by Christ are their hearts’ delight and comfort.  But as joy must have a proper object, so also a vent: for this is an affection that cannot be penned up: the usual issue and out-going of it is by singing. Profane spirits must have songs suitable to their mirth; as their mirth is carnal, so their songs are vain and frothy, if not filthy and obscene; but they that rejoice in the Lord, their mirth runs in a spiritual channel: “Is any merry? let him sing psalms,” saith the apostle (Jam. 5:13); and, “Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage,” says holy David (Ps. 119:54).

Surely singing, ’tis is a delectable way of instruction, as common prudence will teach us.  Aelian tells us that the Cretians enjoined their children, ‘τοὺς παῖδας τοὺς ἐλευθέρους μανθάνειν τοὺς νόμους ἐκέλευον μετά τινος μελῳδὶας,’ to learn their laws by singing them in verse.†

† Claudius Aelianus (c. 175 – c. 235), Variae Historiae, lib. 2, cap. 39.

And surely singing of Psalms is a duty of such comfort and profit, that it needs not our recommendation.  The new nature is instead of all arguments, which cannot be without thy spiritual solace.  Now though spiritual songs of mere humane composure may have their use [some puritans held that hymns were allowed to be sing outside of public worship], yet our devotion is best secured, where the matter and words are of immediately divine inspiration; and to us David’s Psalms seem plainly intended by those terms of “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” which the apostle uses (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16).  But then ’tis meet that these divine composures should be represented to us in a fit translation, lest we want David, in David; while his holy ecstasies are delivered in a flat and bald expression.  The translation which is now put into thy hands comes nearest to the original of any that we have seen, and runs with such a fluent sweetness, that we thought fit to recommend it to thy Christian acceptance; some of us having used it already, with great comfort and satisfaction.

Thomas Manton, D.D.
Henry Langley, D.D.
John Owen, D.D.
William Jenkyn
James Innes
Thomas Watson
Thomas Lye
Matthew Poole
John Milward
John Chester
George Cokayn
Matthew Mead
Robert Franklin
Thomas Doolittle
Thomas Vincent
Nathanael Vincent
John Ryther
William Tomson
Nicholas Blaikie
Charles Morton
Edmund Calamy [the son of the Westminster divine]
William Carslake
James Janeway
John Hickes
John Baker
Richard Mayo

William Perkins

‘The Art of Prophesying,’ in Works, volume 2 (London: Printed by John Legatt, 1631) p. 650

The book of Psalms, which contains sacred songs to be fitted for every condition both of the Church and the particular members thereof, and also to be sung with grace in the heart, Col. 3.16.

Henry Ainsworth

‘Annotation on Ps. 3, title,’ in Annotations upon the Book of Psalms (1617)

There be three kinds of songs mentioned in this book: 1. Mizmor, in Greek psalmos, a psalm: 2. Tehillah, in Greek humnos, a hymn or praise: and 3. Shir, in Greek ode, a song or lay.  All these three the apostle mentions together, where he wills us to speak to ourselves with ‘psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs,’ Eph. 5:19.

Nathanael Homes

Gospel Musick, or, The Singing of David’s Psalms (London: Printed for Henry Overton, 1644) p. 16

David’s Psalms are so full of praises, that they are called Tehillim, praises. Therefore the Apostles in that, Eph. 5, Col. 3, and Matt 26:30, use a Greek word of the same signification; namely, humnos, a hymn.

Edward Leigh

Annotations upon all the New Testament (London: 1650) p. 306

…as the Apostle exhorts us to singing, so he instructs what the matter of our song should be, viz. Psalms, Hymns, and spiritual Songs.  Those three are the titles of the songs of David, as they are delivered to us by the Holy Ghost Himself.

William Barton

A View of Many Errors (London: Printed by W.D., 1656), Epistle to the Reader

Scripture-psalms (even David’s Psalms, called in Hebrew by the name of Psalms, and Hymns, and spiritual Songs), and no other, should be used in the Church; for no other are the word of Christ, and consequently cannot have that certainty, purity, authority and sufficiency that the Scripture psalms have….  God has ordained and indited a Psalm-book in his Word, for the edification of his Church.

Jonathan Clapham

A Short and Full Vindication of that Sweet and Comfortable Ordinance, of Singing of Psalms (London: 1656) p. 3

The Apostle, Eph. 5 and Col. 3, where he commands singing of Psalms, does clearly point us to David’s Psalms, by using those three words, Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, which answer to the three Hebrew words, Shorim, Tehillim, Mizmorim, whereby David’s Psalms were called.

Thomas Manton

Works, volume 4 (Pennsylvania: Maranatha Publications, rpt., n.d.) p. 443

Now these words (which are the known division of David’s psalms, and expressly answering to the Hebrew words Shurim, Tehillim, and Mizmorim, by which his psalms are distinguished and entitled), being so precisely used by the apostle in both places, do plainly point us to the Book of Psalms.

Cuthbert Sydenham

A Christian Sober and Plain Exercitation (London: Printed by Thomas Mabb, 1657) p. 179

I find they are used in general as the title of David’s psalms, which are named promiscuously by these three words.

Isaac Ambrose

The Complete Works (London, 1682) p. 256

Whether may not Christians lawfully sing Davids or Moses Psalms? and how may it appear? Answered affirmatively: Eph. 5:19, where, under those three heads, of Psalms, and Hymns, and Spiritual songs, Davids Psalms are contained.

John Cotton

Singing of Psalms, A Gospel Ordinance (1647, republished as Greg Fox, ed., John Cotton on Psalmody and the Sabbath, p. 21, Puritan Publications, 2006)

The reasons for our faith and practice are these:

1. Taken from the commandment, or exhortation of the Apostle, Eph. 5:19, Be you filled with the Spirit, (saith he) speaking to yourselves (that is, to one another) in Psalms and Hymns and Spiritual Songs, singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord.  To the like purpose is his commandment and exhortation to the Colossians, Col. 3:16, Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another, in Psalms and Hymns and Spiritual Songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

In both places, as the apostle exhorts us to singing, so he instructs us what the matter of our song should be, to wit, Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs; Now these three be the very titles of the songs of David, as they are delivered to us by the Holy Ghost Himself: some of them are called Psalms, some Hymns, some Songs, Spiritual Songs. Now what reason can be given why the apostle should direct us in our singing to the very titles of David’s Psalms, if it were not his meaning that we should sing them?  Yea, either we must exclude the Psalms of David, from the name of Psalms, and Hymns, and Spiritual Songs; or else we must be forced to acknowledge, that we are exhorted to sing them, as well as any other.

George Swinnock

The Christian Man’s Calling, (Part 1, Ch. 27), in The Works of George Swinnock, Vol. 1, pp. 341-342 (1868, 1992, Banner of Truth)

3.  Singing of psalms must be used in your family.  The Lord Jesus and his family did practice this duty: Matt 26:30, ‘And when they sang a hymn, they went out into the Mount of Olives.’  David in that psalm, at the dedication of his house, speaks that his glory should sing praise to God, and not be silent, Ps. 30 title, verses 4 and 12.  Our tongues are called our glory, not only because by our speech we excel beasts, but chiefly because therewith we should glorify God.  It is observable that most of these places which prophesy the Gentiles’ conversion, do mention their worshipping the true God by singing, Ps. 108:3; Ps. 100, and Ps. 64:4; Isa. 54:1, and 52:8.  The Holy Ghost when He commands that the word should keep house with us, does also enjoin us to ‘teach and admonish one another in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs,’ (which are the titles of David’s psalms, and the known division of them, expressly answering to the Hebrew words, Shurim, Telhillim, and Mizinurim, by which his psalms are distinguished and entitled, as the learned observe,) ‘singing and making melody with grace in our hearts to the Lord,’ Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:19; James 5:13.  Basil speaks high in the praise of praising God by this holy exercise.  Chrysostom speaks of some in his time who always concluded their suppers with singing a psalm, and, saith he, they lived like angels.

This ordinance will much quicken holy affections, and help a Christian to serve God with more cheerfulness.  When the Israelites were singing the 136th psalm at the bringing in the ark, the glory of the Lord filled the house, 2 Chron. 20:22.  The sweet singer in Israel was the man after God’s own heart.

Only, reader be careful to sing David’s psalms with David’s spirit, and not like a nightingale to sing by rote: ‘I will sing with my spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.’  Making melody with grace in the heart, is the best tune to set all David’s psalms with.

Francis Roberts

The Key of the Bible, Unlocking the Richest Treasury of the Holy Scriptures, 1675, p. 122-3

The Subject-matter of Christians singing now under the New Testament should peculiarly be the scripture-Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs.

May be evinced by these ensuing arguments or reasons, viz.

1.  Because, the denominations of the subject-matters which Christians and churches under the New Testament are exhorted and required by the apostles to sing, viz. Psalms, Hymns, and Songs, are the very scripture-denominations which are prefixed to David’s Psalms, and other scripture Psalms.  For,

1.  These three Greek words are borrowed from the Greek Version of the LXXII [72, that is the number of translators of the Septuagint] upon the Psalms: (the apostles in the New Testament much following the version of the LXXII, as the learned well know)

‘Psalms’ is used by the LXXII in the titles of Ps. 3,4,5,7,8,9 and most frequently in the titles of other Psalms.  

‘Hymns’ is used by the LXXII in the titles of Ps. 6 (‘in hymns upon the eight, etc’), of Ps. 54 (‘in hymns of instruction to David’), of Ps. 60 (‘in hymns a psalm of David), and in the close of Ps. 71, according to the Greek, but which is according to the Hebrew, verse 20.  The Greek says, ‘Ended are hymns of David son of Jesse.  

‘Odes’, or songs, is used by the LXXII in the titles of all the Psalms of Degrees from Ps. 120 to 135 (according to the Hebrew account) and in the titles also of many other Psalms.  Yea, all these three names, Psalms, Hymns and Songs are used by the LXXII in the title of Ps. 75, ‘A Psalm to Asaph, a Song unto the Assyrian.  

All these particulars I have exactly examined and found to be thus in the Greek Version of the psalms by the LXXII

2.  These three Greek words do also notably answer in signification and sense to the other three Hebrew words used in the titles of the Psalms in the Hebrew.  ‘Psalms’ to the Hebrew mizmorim, ‘psalms’.  ‘Hymns’, to the Hebrew tehillim, or thilloth, ‘praises’.  And the Hebrews call the whole Book of Psalms, sepher tehillim, The Book of Hymns, or Praises.  ‘Odes’, or songs, to the Hebrew shirim, ‘songs’.  But of this and of the proper notation and signification of these three Hebrew words, and wherein they differ one from another, I have formerly spoken enough.  There see.

4.  These things well considered, how can any rational man choose but [to] conclude that the apostle, requiring Christians to sing Psalms, Hymns and Songs now under the New Testament, did peculiarly intend their singing of those which were eminently and notoriously known in the churches and among Christians by these names of Psalm, Hymns and Spiritual Songs, and which can those be imagined to be, but the psalms, hymns, and songs recorded in Scripture?  for (as one has well noted,

‘What reason can be given why the apostle should direct us in our singing to the very titles of David’s Psalms, if it were not his meaning that we should sing them?  yea, either we must exclude the Psalms of David from the name of Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs, or else we must be forced to acknowledge that we are exhorted to sing them.’ ¹

¹ John Cotton, Of Singing of Psalms, ch. 4, at the end.  

So he.  And another says thus,

‘Now the apostle calling them by the same names by which the Greek translation‘ (which the New Testament so much follows) ‘renders the Hebrew, is an argument that he means no other than David’s psalms.’ (I add, and other Scripture-psalms, hymns or songs)  ‘Besides, when ever the New Testament quotes the Psalms, it means those of David: and so the apostle speaks, as taking it for granted, that they to whom he wrote, knew what Psalms he meant.’ ²

² Thomas Ford, Of Singing Psalms, Sermon 1, p. 16-17, London, 1653

 Paul Baynes, as analyzed by Rev. Matthew Winzer

Westminster and 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, and the Use of Musical Instruments in the Public Worship of God, from the Confessional Presbyterian #4 (2008)  Buy  p. 264

Paul Baynes specifically denies that the terms [‘psalms, hymns and spiritual songs’] refer to the matter to be sung:

“It may be asked, what is the difference betwixt these words? Ans[wer]. Some take it from the matter of them, some from the manner; that of the matter will not hold.” ¹

¹ Paul Baynes, A commentary upon the whole Epistle of the apostle Paul to the Ephesians (London: Printed for S. Miller, 1658) p. 504.

He subsequently discusses the difference of the words in terms of the manner of singing.  He does say that a spiritual song might be one which is framed according to the Scripture (Baynes, p. 505), but makes no suggestion that this is to be used in an ordinary public worship context.  When he comes to “the sum of the verse,” he speaks of “singing both in private and publick, which this Scripture and Col. 3:16 do commend;” but where he speaks of the church service he confines his terms to “Psalms”—”and all things, Psalms, Prayers in the Church must be to edify” (p. 505).  When he finally applies the passage he provides this maxim: “get the spirit of David to sing a Psalm of David” (p. 506).  There is certainly no evidence for Mr. Needham’s suggestion that Paul Baynes “might have approved of newly written uninspired worship-songs other than the Davidic psalms” (Westminster, 267).


Edwards, Jonathan

Sermon Notes on Col. 3:16  in Sermons, Series II, 1736 (WJE Online Vol. 51)

“Teaching and admonishing one another.  This is one way wherein we are to be the means of each others’ instruction and one means whereby the Word of God, particularly that part of the Word that consists in psalms & hymns and spiritual songs is to dwell in us richly in all wisdom.  Singing of Psalms is a Great help to a spiritual understanding of the Psalms.  The mind of the Holy Ghost in the Psalms is often times conveyed while the Psalm is a singing, and as it is a means of a spiritual understanding of that excellent part of the Word of God…

What should be sung, viz. Psalms.  What seems to be here intended, at least chiefly, is the Psalms and spiritual songs that are contained in the Word of God, for the apostle is speaking of the Word of God.  Let the Word of God, says he, dwell in you richly in all wisdom, and then he mentions singing as a means, but then it must be singing some part of the Word of God.”



Puritan Psalters

See the many puritan psalters from England and America from the 1500’s and 1600’s linked on Psalters Online.



Puritan Orders of Worship  (only including English and American orders, not Dutch, Scottish, etc.)

Thomas Cartwright, A Directory of Church Government, p. v-vi  1585, being the first (preserved) English presbyterian directory for worship.

Andrew Myers: “Cartwright’s ‘Directory’ is built upon the earlier ‘Directory’ by Walter Travers (1574).   At the time Cartwright was arrested in 1585, he was carrying a copy of it.  All original Latin copies were destroyed, but a few copies in English survived.  This (specifically, a copy found in Cartwright’s study) was reprinted for Parliament and the Westminster Assembly in 1644 and was used by Alexander Henderson as the model for the 1645 ‘Westminster Directory of Public Worship’ and the companion ‘Directory and Form of Church Government’.” 

As outlined by Horton Davies, The Worship of the English Puritans (1948, SDG 1997) p. 124

Exhortation to Worship
Prayer of General Confession and Prayer of Pardon
Lord’s Prayer
(Reading and) Sermon
Prayers of Petition and Intercession for the Church
Lord’s Prayer
Aaronic or Apostolic Benediction

The Waldegrave Liturgy  1584/5

For an introduction to this liturgy, see below on the Middleburg Liturgy.  As given by Horton Davies, The Worship of the English Puritans (1948, SDG 1997) Appendix A, p. 263

(Reader’s Service: chapters of Scripture)
Scripture Sentences
Confession of Sins
Metrical Psalm
Prayer for Illumination and Lord’s Prayer
(Scripture Reading) Text
Prayer of Intercession for whole state of Christ’s Church to conclude with Apostle’s Creed, Decalogue and Lord’s Prayer
Metrical Psalm
Blessing (Aaronic or Apostolic)

The Middleburg Liturgy of the English Puritans  1586

Historical Background

The Middleburg Liturgy is a fuller fleshing out of what is contained in abbreviated form in Cartwright’s Directory for Church Government above.

Bard Thompson, Liturgies of the Western Church (Fortress, 1961), pp. 311, 313-6

Around 1570, there arose a new generation of Puritans, who were not content to inveigh against Anglican vestments [ministerial attire], but proposed in earnest to presbyterianize the Church of England in polity, discipline and worship.  Chief of them was Thomas Cartwright…

In 1584 the Puritans began a concerted effort to introduce the presbyterian system on the basis of two standards: (1) the Knox Liturgy and (2) a formal Discipline that was then being prepared.  The first of these was presented to the Parliament of 1584-5 by Peter Turner in the form of ‘a bill and a book;.  The ‘bill’ was a proposal to make the Genevan liturgy authoritative in public worship…

The ‘book’ was not precisely the Knox Liturgy but an adaptation of it published in London during this era by the Puritan printer, Robert Waldegrave; hence it is called the Waldegrave Liturgy…

When the [civil] Star Chamber restricted Puritan printing printing (June, 1586), the Waldegrave Liturgy was taken to Middleburg, an English trading community in the Low Countries where Travers, Cartwright and Fenner served successive pastorates; and there it was republished… in 1586.  The Middleburg Liturgy (reproduced below) was faithful to [John Knox’s, Genevan] The Form of Prayers, with a few notable exceptions…

The Middleburg Liturgy purported to be ‘agreeable to God’s Word and the use of the Reformed Churches.’  In that subtitle lie two of the chief characteristics of Puritan worship.

The Middleburg Liturgy  (Outlined by Travis Fentiman from Bard, Liturgies, pp. 322-340.  Notice the absence of any responsive readings.)


Reading of consecutive chapters of Scripture interspersed with singing of Psalms, led by a layman appointed by the eldership.


Votum (minister reads Ps. 112:4)
Prayer of Confession of Sins (by minister)
Singing of a Psalm
Prayer of Illumination and the Lord’s Prayer (by minister)
Reading of Scripture (by minister)
Prayer for Christ’s Church (by minister)
Singing of a Psalm

The Service of the Lord’s Supper (usually once a month, sitting at a table)

Words of Institution
Guarding of the Table Exhortation
Prayer of Thanks (by the minister)
Fraction (breaking of bread, etc.)
Minister comes to the Table

Scripture Reading on the Death of Christ
Distribution of the Elements
Prayer of Thanks
Singing of Psalm 103
Departure from the Table

The Westminster Directory for Public Worship  1644

That the Westminster Standards have been overwhelmingly proven to be exclusive psalmody in their historic intention, see The Westminster Assembly and Divines on Psalm Singing.  As outlined by Horton Davies, The Worship of the English Puritans (1948, SDG: 1997), p. 263

Call to Worship
Prayer of Approach (adoration, supplication, illumination)
Metrical Psalm
O.T. Lection (one chapter)
(Metrical Psalm)
N.T. Lection (one chapter)
Prayer of Confession & Intercession
General Prayer and Lord’s Prayer (if no Communion is to follow)
Metrical Psalm
Blessing (Aaronic or Apostolic)

John Owen  1667

The Independents’ Catechism, or, a Brief Instruction in the Word of God and Discipline of the Churches of the New Testament, by way of Question and Answer, in Works, vol. 15, p. 477

Q. 17.  Which are the principal institutions of the gospel to be observed in the worship of God?

A. The calling, gathering and settling of churches, with their officers, as the seat and subject of all other solemn instituted worship;¹ prayer, with thanksgiving;² singing of psalms;³ preaching the Word;º administration of the sacraments of baptism and the supper of the Lord;ª discipline and rule of the church collected and settled; most of which have also sundry particular duties relating unto them, and subservient unto their due observation.‡

¹ Mt. 28:19,20; Acts 2:41-42; 1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11-12; Mt. 18:17-18; 1 Cor. 4:17; 7:17; Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5; 1 Tim. 3:15;
² 1 Tim. 2:1; Acts 6:4; 13:2-3;
³ Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16;
º 2 Tim. 4:2; Acts 2:42; 1 Cor. 14:3; Acts 6:4; Heb. 13:7;
ª Mt. 28:19; 26:26-7; 1 Cor. 11:23;
‡ Mt. 18:17-19; Rom. 12:6-8; Rev. 2-3.

Matthew Henry  1662-1714

Bogue & Bennett, History of Dissenters (1833) vol. 1, pp. 361-2

‘…the method of conducting public worship by Matthew Henry, at Chester, and afterwards at Hackney, affords a specimen of what was practiced by the Presbyterians of that generation.’  

Order of Worship  (as outlined by Travis Fentiman from Bogue & Bennett)

Singing of Ps. 100
Short Prayer
Scripture Reading (O.T. in morning, N.T. in afternoon)
Expounding of Scripture Reading
Singing of a Psalm
Prayer for a half hour
Sermon, about an hour
Singing of a Psalm

The American Puritans

Horton Davies, The Worship of the American Puritans (1990, 1999), p. 8

…what then are the form and order of Puritan worship of the earliest years as certified by [John] Cotton and Lechford with remarkable unanimity?

…Each service was arranged in the following order and we may assume that what was done in Boston was also done elsewhere in New England:

Opening Prayer of Intercession and Thanksgiving
Reading and exposition of a chapter of the Bible
Psalm singing
Psalm singing

Quotes on the History of Puritan Psalm Singing in England

The Beginning of Puritanism

Charles Baird, Eutaxia, or the Presbyterian Liturgies (1855, reprinted 1960) pp. 200-202

There was certainly on the part of the English Reformers, no lack of willingness to transcribe those customs which were commendable in other Protestant Churches…  The Liturgy of John Knox [1556] was then, and continued long after, in common use, as a manual of private devotion.  Under the form of a collection of ‘Christian Prayers and Godly Meditations,’ it had been published in 1569, by [English] royal authority.  Only a few years later, it became customary to print, by authority, the Calvinistic Prayers, together with the Psalms in metre, as an appendix to the Bible; in some editions of which we find the Common Prayer prefixed to the Sacred Books, while Knox’s Liturgy is appended.  This remarkable feature may be observed in Bibles printed as early as the year 1596 [1569?], and as late as 1640

The practice of singing metrical psalms, introduced about the time, was also borrowed from the Calvinistic worship; it became popular at once and has continued to form an important part of religious observance.

¹ ‘The — day of September [1559] the new Morning Prayers began now first at St. Antholin’s in Bridge-row, ringing at five in the morning; and then a Psalm was sung, as was used among Protestants of Geneva, all men, women, and young folks singing together; which custom was about this time brought also into St. Paul’s.’ – Strype’s Life of Archbishop Grindal, b.i.c.3.

The Early Separatists and Later Independents

Louis Benson, The English Hymn: Its Development and Use in Worship  (1915) p. 101, 103 ff.

There is no reason to doubt that the early Independents as a class were in substantial accord with the general Puritan position as to the singing of the psalms.  Such certainly was the case with the church of the exiled Separatists at Amsterdam…  [Henry] Ainsworth in his Defence of the Holy Scriptures, worship and ministrie used in the Christian churches separated from Antichrist… in 1609, professes himself unable to understand why [John] Smyth [who had ‘peculiar views’] should not use psalm singing in the services of his church, and he speaks for the whole body of the earlier exiles in saying, we

do content ourselves with joint harmonious singing of the Psalms of Holy Scripture, to the instruction and comforts of our hearts, and praise of our God.‘  

In 1612 Ainsworth prepared a complete metrical Psalter for the use of the exiles, accompanying it with tunes and also with a prose rendering for comparison and with annotations for critical study.  Some of these versions in manuscript may have been already in use; the printed Psalter was used both in Amsterdam church and in Robinson’s at Leyden, and was by the Pilgrim Fathers out of the Leyden congregation taken to New England.

The ‘controversy of Singing’ [mainly over scruples] had spent its force before the period of the Restoration [of King Charles II,
1660 and following], and seems to have ended in a general adoption of psalm singing in Independent congregations.  Several churches are on record in the preceding years as resolving to maintain or take up the ‘Singing of Psalms.’  And in June, 1663, Dr. [Thomas] Goodwin and Mr. [Phillip] Nye, as well as Mr. [Joseph] Caryl, in their interview with Charles II, were able to report that

we have in our churches all parts of worship, as preaching, praying, reading, and singing of psalms, and the sacraments.’…

And then, too the Independents felt the full stress of the persecutions that followed the Act of Uniformity.  The Conventicle Act [which legislated that non-state-authorized religious meetings could not be held within 5 miles of towns] bore hardly [hard] upon the established congregations with well known places of meeting, to whom the houses of great Puritan families, which often provided shelter and even places for worship to the Presbyterians, were not open.  

During the enforcement of these Acts, their services could be held only in secluded places and at unexpected hours, with a guard at the door to give notice of interruption.  It is obvious that with the need of avoiding observation by neighbors and passers by, singing would be the first ‘part of worship’ to suffer.  Speaking of one of the periods of persecution, [the historian Daniel] Neale says that in the meetings ‘they never sung Psalms.’  Equally suggestive is a record under date of April 1, 1682, of a church once meeting at St. Thomas’, Southwark: ‘We met at Mr. Russell’s, in Ironmonger Lane, where Mr. Lambert, of Deadman’s Place, Southwark, administered to us the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper, and we sang a psalm in a low voice..’

These conditions of restraint ceased with the [Glorious] Revolution of 1688, which brought freedom of worship and a beginning of a meeting house building era to Independents as to Presbyterians.  The lengthy sermon and protracted extemporaneous prayer were the main features of worship in the Independent meeting houses.  They left little opportunity [for time] for psalm singing, and there is no evidence that the new conditions put new heart into it.  The singing was still confined to canonical Psalms.  While [the psalter of] Sternhold and Hopkins had been largely given up, no other version [of the Psalter] was received in common.  Some who craved a ‘pure’ version favored Barton’s, and others the Bay Psalm Book of the New England divines.  Nathaniel Homes, afterwards one of the ejected ministers, had called attention to it [a better psalter] as early as 1644 in his Gospel Musick, reprinting its preface with approval.  Three English editions had already appeared and more were to follow, though not necessarily for exclusively English use.  Among those who turned toward a modified Psalter [being more stylistic and less literal,] Patrick’s version became the favorite.

The End of the Psalm Singing of the Puritans in England


Benson, Louis – ‘Richard Baxter Leads a Movement to Introduce Hymns Among the Ejected Presbyterians‘  1915  8 pp., being part of ch. 2 of The English Hymn: Its Development and Use in Worship  (1915) p. 82-90

Note that while Benson calls the persons throughout this chapter ‘presbyterians’, many or most of them were Independents.  Some were presbyterians, some conformists, and some were epsicopalians.  Any leader or church which practiced rule by elders (presbyters), though it were only at the local church level (such as Independents), were often known as ‘presbyterians’ in the late-1600’s.



Louis Benson, The English Hymn: Its Development and Use in Worship  (1915) pp. 104,106

The singing of hymns in Independent meeting-houses began in the last quarter of the 17th century, introduced there as elsewhere by divines who had become restless under the limitations of an Old Testament Psalmody.  With the right of each congregation to regulate its own worship and the prevalence of the practice of lining out the words, the use of hymns in manuscript required merely the agreement of pastor and people.  With the fraternization of Independents and Presbyterians, and the frequent occupancy of Independent pulpits by Presbyterian divines, it would be difficult to distinguish a separate origin of hymn singing in either body.  It would be still more difficult to show that the impulse came from the Independent side.

These [several hymn] books [of the late 1600’s and early 1700’s] make it evident enough that there was a beginning of Independent hymn singing before [Isaac] Watts.  We have indeed his own testimony that
some ministers had already commenced to use ‘evangelical hymns.’  But such use was exceptional; the books marking the tentative efforts of progressive individuals rather than the general practice.  In the body of the meeting houses the singing of psalms obtained exclusively, though not perhaps very jealously

In view of the new leaven about to be introduced into this situation, and of the fact that from among the Independents was to arise the principal agent [Isaac Watts] of the effective transition from the old Psalmody to the new Hymnody




Related Pages

Psalm Singing

The History of Psalm Singing

Psalters Online

Musical Instruments in Worship

The Westminster Confession and Musical Instruments in Worship