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.




Puritan Era Treatises on Psalm Singing

Puritans on ‘Psalms, Hymns & Spiritual Songs’

Puritan Psalters



Order of Contents

Puritan Orders of Worship
History of Puritan Psalm Singing in England
End of Puritan Psalm Singing in England



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



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