From An Essay on Psalmody (Chapter 6) by Dr. William Romaine
There is another thing relating to the Psalms, I cannot call it an abuse: for it is a total neglect of them. They are quite rejected in many congregations, as if there were no such hymns given by inspiration of God, and as if they were not left for the use of the church and to be sung in the congregation. Human compositions are preferred to divine. Man's poetry is exalted above the poetry of the Holy Ghost. Is this right? The hymns which he revealed for the use of the church, that we might have words suitable to the praises of Immanuel, are quite set aside: by which means the word of man has got a preference in the church above the word of God; yea, so far as to exclude it entirely from public worship. It is not difficult to account for this strange practice. Our people had lost sight of the meaning of the Psalms. They did not see their relation to Jesus Christ. This happened when vital religion began to decay among us, more than a century ago. It was a gradual decay, and went on, till at last there was a general complaint against Sternhold and Hopkins. Their translation was treated as poor flat stuff. The wits ridiculed it. The profane blasphemed it. Good men did not defend it. Then it fell into such contempt, that people were ready to receive anything in its room, which looked rational and was poetical. In this situation, the hymn-makers find the church, and they are suffered to thrust out the Psalms to make way for their own compositions: of which they have supplied us with a vast variety, collection upon collection, and in use too, new hymns starting up daily—appendix added to appendix—sung in many congregations, yea, admired by very high professors, to such a degree, that the Psalms are become quite obsolete, and the singing of them is now almost as despicable among the modern religious, as it was some time ago among the profane.
I know this is a sore place, and I would touch it gently, as gently as I can with any hope of doing good. The value of poems above Psalms is become so great, and the singing of men's words, so as quite to cast out the word of God, is become so universal (except in the church of England) that one scarce dares speak upon the subject: neither would I, having already met with contempt enough, for preferring God's hymns to man's hymns, if a high regard for God's most blessed word did not require me to bear my testimony; and if I did not verily believe, that many real Christians have taken up this practice without thinking of the evil of it; and when they come to consider the matter carefully, will rather thank me, than censure me, for freedom of speech.
Let me observe then, that I blame nobody for singing human compositions. I do not think it sinful or unlawful, so the matter be scriptural. My complaint is against preferring men's poems to the good word of God, and preferring them to it in the church. I have no quarrel with Dr. Watts, or any living or dead versifier.
I would not wish all their poems burnt. My concern is to see Christian congregations shut out divinely inspired Psalms, and take in Dr. Watts' flights of fancy; as if the words of a poet were better than the words of a prophet, or as if the wit of a man was to be preferred to the wisdom of God. When the church is met together in one place, the Lord God has made a provision for their songs of praise—a large collection, and great variety—and why should not these be used in the church according to God's express appointment? I speak not of private people, or of private singing, but of the church in its public service. Why should the provision which God has made be so far despised, as to become quite out of use? Why should Dr. Watts, or any hymn-maker, not only take the precedence of the Holy Ghost, but also thrust him entirely out of the church? Insomuch that the rhymes of a man are now magnified above the word of God, even to the annihilating of it in many congregations. If this be right, men and brethren, judge ye. Examine with candour the evidence which has determined my judgment; so far as it is conclusive may it determine yours.