“The Reformed and Presbyterian Churches in America were exclusively Psalm singing for nearly two hundred years, from the Pilgrim Fathers to the Jacksonian Era, as were the Congregationalists and Baptists.”[1]

 “Ironically Watts’ hymns and Psalm paraphrases were the primary vehicle through which hymns finally were accepted into the public worship of Protestants, yet not without considerable controversy in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Still it was not until the middle of the nineteenth century that hymns began to overtake the Psalms in popular use.”[2] [3]

“The supplanting of the metrical psalms by hymns was gradual in American Protestantism. From  1620 to 1800, metrical psalmody dominated the American church scene.”[4]

“By 1800 the battles over the inclusion of hymns in public worship had largely been fought and won or lost according to one’s perspective. Subsequent hymnbooks for the next sixty-five years included both psalms and hymns, typically with a large opening section of psalms.”[5]

“This eclipse of psalmody in the late nineteenth century is quite unprecedented. The psalms… had been the dominant form of church song beginning with the church fathers, all through the Middle Ages, during the Reformation and Post-Reformation eras, and into the modern era. By the beginning of the twentieth century the church had lost the voice through which it had expressed its sung praise for more than eighteen hundred years.”[6]

“The actual transition from the old Psalmody… into the new Hymnody, was a gradual one, proceeding through the eighteenth century. It was effected not by a formal displacement of the metrical Psalter, but by the admission of the Hymn Book to an equal status and the churches’ preference of the hymns.”[7]

“When Van Raalte’s little group of immigrants were struggling with all the problems of pioneer life, in the summer of 1847, they met for worship each Sunday in the cathedral of the forest… the forests resounded with the solemn, majestic melodies of the old Dutch. Americans who happened to be passing by were amazed at the way these rugged and often crude Dutchmen sang. If they could have looked into the hearts of the singers, they might have been even more amazed, for the Psalms were a constant source of spiritual strength to those pioneers. As they sang they applied to their own hearts the exhortations and the comforts of the sweet singers of old.”[8]

“In most of the churches, if not all, Psalms were the only music approved for church singing.[9] It was only natural that the young people should be attracted to hymns. About 1880 the young people of Spring Street requested permission to use a hymnbook, probably Neerbos Zangboek, in Singing School. Permission was refused. Inside the church building they were to sing nothing but Dutch Psalms. The young people knew a way out, however. They looked for another meeting place and when they found a suitable one they asked for permission to meet there. So they finally broadened their repertoire…”[10]

“through the years, the desire for hymns cropped up again and again, only to be denied by successive Synods… but no Synod can command the human heart. There was a longing to use the name Jesus in church worship. Men and women sang New Testament hymns in their homes and found them beautiful; why should they not be permitted to sing them in congregational worship?”[11]

“[amongst the Dutch Reformed churches in the early 19 century] the singing of hymns was identified with liberalism. And in the Secession of 1834 the protests of the orthodox included the condemnation of the introduction of hymns. The immigrants who came to America in 1847 to escape religious persecution were from among those seceders. They carried with them the bias against the singing of hymns in church. When Gysbert Haan and his followers advocated separation from the Reformed Church of America, the singing of hymns was one of the ‘evils’ against which they protested. Thus the exclusion of hymns from divine worship became one of the principles upon which the Christian Reformed Church was founded.”[12]

“the young people were learning English hymns, singing them in “Singing School” and at home. For the sake of the young folk, churches began introducing 15 minutes of song service before the regular service… Finally Synod appointed a committee to select hymns which were to be added to the Psalter, stipulating that they must be doctrinally sound, and in the character of the New Testament, and have dignity, depth of devotional spirit, and clearness and beauty of expression. In 1934 our Psalter Hymnal was welcomed into all the churches.”[13]

“We shall in the end have a mass of corrupting religious poetry against which the church will have to wage a sore contest.”[14]

1Johnson, Terry. “The History of Psalm Singing in the Christian Church.” Sing a New Song: Recovering Psalm Singing for the Twenty-First Century. Edited by Joel R. Beeke and Anthony T. Selvaggio. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Reformation Heritage Books, 2010, page 54.
2Author’s footnote: Louis F. Benson tells this story in The English Hymn: Its Development and Use in Worship (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1915), 161–218.
3Johnson, page 54.
4 Johnson, page 55.
6Johnson, page 57.
7Benson, Louis Fitzgerald. “John Calvin and the Psalmody of the Reformed Churches.” Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Calvin College. Web. 16, January, 2016.
8Schoolland, Marian M. Children of the Reformation: The Story of the Christian Reformed Church, Its Origin and Growth. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1958, page 87.
9Prior to the 1932 the Church Order of the Christian Reformed Church read as follows: “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 Simeon, the Morning and Evening Hymns, and the Hymn of Prayer before the sermon shall be sung.” (Article 69) G. Hoeksema & W. Stuart. Church Order of the Christian Reformed Church. Grand Rapids: The Van Noord Book and Publishing Co., 1921, page 55.
10Schoolland, pages 88-90.
11Schoolland, page 92.
12Schoolland, page 93.
13Schoolland, pages 93-94.
14Hughes, James R. In Spirit and Truth: Worship as God Requires (Understanding and Applying the Regulative Principle of Worship), 2009. PDF e-book, page 81 (quoting Robert Dabney).