Thomas Dickson Baird.

An inquiry into the privilege and duty of the Christian church, in the exercise of sacred praise: a chronology and history of Scripture songs .. online

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Online LibraryThomas Dickson BairdAn inquiry into the privilege and duty of the Christian church, in the exercise of sacred praise: a chronology and history of Scripture songs .. → online text (page 12 of 16)
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the truth is, as the Lord hath hid from us the Hebrew tunes,
Jest we should think ourselves bound to imitate them; so
also the course and frame (for the most part) of the Hebre w
poetry, that we might not think ourselves bound to imitate
that, but that every nation without scruple might follow as
the graver sort of tunes of their own country songs, soe the
graver sort of verses of their own country poetry."

The writer then professes that the sense of the text is
closely follovv^ed in this translation; but after all, he is obli-
ged to make an apology for some changes which the tyranny
of metre compelled him to make; such as * God's fearers' in-
stead of ' those who stand in awe of God;' ' humbly blesse'
for ^blesse;' 'rejoice' instead of ' shout for joy,' &c.

About the same time that tlie above was published
in New England, the versioo of Mr. Rouse, which is still
in use, was prepared. The introduction of it to the public
notice, was by the secular authority, as it appears that the
*" House of Commons, (of England) by an order bearing date
JVovember 20, 1643, recommended the Psalms published
by J\Ir. Rouse, to the consideration of the Assembly of
Divines," sitting at Westminster. Francis Rouse, Esq.
was an influential member of both bodies, the house of
Commjans and General Assembly. Whether there were
any, and, if any, what connexion between him and the au-
thor of this version of the Psalms, I am not at present able
to say.

The next year after the above recommendation, the Com-
missioners from Scotland, in writing to their constituents,
the Scotch Assembly, an account of their proceedings, a-
mong other things, say "There v/as also presented to the
Assembly, a new paraphrase of the Psalms in English
meeter, which was well liked of, and commended by some of
the members of the Assembly; but because we conceived
that one psalm book in all the three kingdoms was a point
of uniformity much to be desired, we took the boldness (al-
though we had no such express and particular commission)
to oppose the present allowing thereof, till the Kirk of
Scotland should be acquainted with it; and therefore, we
have sent an essay thereof in some Psalms. We have also
sent another speciwejz, in print, done by some ministers of
the city. Your wisedome bes to consider, whether it bti


meet to examine them by your commissioners there, tha-t
their judgments be sent up unto the Assembly here, both
about the generall of uniformity in this point, and about
the particular way of effecting it, whether by either of these
two, or by any other paraphrase, or by changing some ex-
pressions in the books now in use, which is aymed at by
the first of these two. — Worcester House London, May
20, 1644 — Jo. Maitland, Alexander Henderson, Sam.
Mutherford, Robert Bailie, George Gillesjne.^^

The reply of the Scotch Assembly is added in the next
month of that year, as follows : " That point concerning a
change of the paraphrase of the Psalmes in meeter, we
have referred to the commissioners here, whose power and
commission granted by the preceding A^Jsembly, we have
renewed and continued. Subscribed in the name of the
Generall Assembly, by the Moderator, Edinburgh, 4th June,
1644." Acts of the Assembly.

The Westminster Divines completed their work in fa-
vour of this version in the next year, as appears from the
following account. "The Assembly perfected nothing
further this year; but complaint being made of the obsolete
version of the Psalms by Sternhold and Hopkins, the Par-
liament desired them to recommend some other to be used
in churches; accordingly they read over Mr. Rouse^s ver.-
sion, and after several amendments, sent it up to the House,
•A^or. 14, 1645, with the following recommendation: —
' Yfhereas the Honourable House of Commons, by an or-
der bearing date JVou. 20, 1643, have recommended the'
Psalms published by Mr. Rouse to the consideration of the
Assembly of Divines, the Assembly has caused them to be
carefully perused; and as they are now altered and amen-
ded, do approve them, and humbly conceive they may be
useful and profitable to the church, if they be permitted to
be publicly sinig;' accordingly they were authorised by the
two Houses." Neil's History of the Puritans, v. 3. p. 315.
. The English having published their revision of Rouse's
paraphrase, by the advice of the Assembly and the authority
of Parliament, the Scotch Assembly continued th^evision
ix>r some years longer. It was nearly two years after the
adoption of it in England, before we hear any thing farther
from the comnnssioners to w horn the business was entrus-
ted,, A committee was tUen appointed on the subj.ectj. and


their report was taken into consideration by the Asseniblj,
at ^^ Edinburgh, 2^h Aiigiist, I647j Post meridian, Sess.
25 — Act for revising the jjciraphrase of the Psalmes brought
/ro7ji England, ivitli a recommendation for translating the
other scripturall songs in meeter. '

The General Assembly having considered the report of
the committee, concerning the paraphrase of the Psalms
sent from England; and finding that it is very necessary
that the said paraphrase be yet revised : Therefore, doth ap-
point Master John Adamson to examine the first forty
psalms, Master Thomas Crauford the second forty, Mas-
ter John Itowe the third forty, and Master John JWi'iJ the
the last thirty psalms of the paraphrase; and in their ex-
amination, they shall not only observe what they think
needs to be amended, but also to set down their own essay
for correcting thereof; and for this purpose recommends
to them, to make use of the travels of Rowallen, Master
Zachary Boyd, or of any other on that subject,- but espe-
cially of our own paraphrase, that what they finde better in
any of these works may be chosen; and likewise they shall
make use of the animadversions sent from presbyteries,
who for this cause, are hereby desired to hasten their ob-
servations unto them; and they are to make report of
theiWabours herein to the commission of the assembly for
publick affaii-s against their first meeting in February next z
and the commission after revising thereof, shall send the
same to the provincial assemblies, to bee transmitted to
presbyteries, that by their further consideration, the mat-
ter may bee fully prepared to the next assembly; and be-
cause som€ psalms in that paraphrase sent from England^
are composed in verses which do not agree with the com-
mon tuneSy Therefore, it is also recommended, that
these psalms bee likewise turned in other verses, which
may agree to the common tunes, that is, having the first
line of eighty sylabs, and the second of six, that so both
versions being together, use may be made of either of them
in congregations, as shall bee found convenient ; x\nd the
Assembly doth further recommend, That Mr, Zachary
Boyd bee at the pains to translate the other scripturall songsr
in meeter, and to report his travels also to the commis-
sion of Assembly, that after their examination thereof^ they

i'26 dxV PSALMOD r.

may send the same to presbyteries, to be there considered^
r.ntil the next general Assembly." Acts of Assembly.

The next year, 1648, they passed an ''Act for examin-
ing the paraphrase of the Psalmes, and other scripturall

"The General! Assembly appoints Kouse's Paraphrase of
the Psalms, with the corrections thereof now given in by the
pej'sons appointed by the last Assembly for that purpose,
to bee sent to presbyteries. That they may carefully re-
A ise and examine the same, and thereafter send them with
their corrections to the commission of this Assembly to be
appointed for publick aftairs. Who are to have a care to
cause re-examine the animadversions of presbyteries, and
prepare a report to the next General! Assembly; Intima-
ting hereby, That if presbyteries be negligent hereof, the
next Generall Assembly is to go on and take the same
paraphrase to their consideration without more delay; And
the Assembly recommends to Master John Jdamson and
Mr. Thomas Craivford, to revise the labours of Mr. Zach-
ary Boyd, upon the other scripturall songs, and to prepare"
a report thereof to the said commission for publick aftairs;
That after their examination, the same maybe also re-
ported to the next Generall Assembly," ibid.

The next year, 1649, the Assembly disposed oflpithis
matter by a " Reference to the commission for publick af-
fairs for re-examining the paraphrase of the Psalmes, and
the emitting the same for publick use.

The Generall Assembly having taken some view of the
new paraphrase of the Psalms in meeter, with the corrections
and animadversions thereupon, sent from several persons
and presbyteries; and finding that they cannot overtake
the review and examination of the whole in this assembly;
Therefore, now after so much time and so great pains a-
bout the correcting and examining thft'eof from time to
time, some years bygone, that the whole may come now to
riome conclusion. They do ordain the brethren appointed
for perusing the same during the meeting of this Assembly,
viz. Masters James Hamilton, John Smith, Hew Mackaily.
Robert Traill, George Hutcheson, and Robert LawrieSy
after the dissolving of this Assembly, to goe on in that'
worke carefully, and to report their travels to the com-
mission of tlie Generall Assembly for publick affairrs, at^


llieir meeting at Edmburgh^ in JS^ovember. And the said
commission, after perusall and re-examination thereof, is
hereby authorised with full power to conclude and estab-
lish the paraphrase, and to publish and emit the same for
publick use,'' ibid.

In virtue of the aforesaid powers, granted to the com-
mission of Assembly, they proceeded to pass the following

" Jlct of the commission of the General Jissemblyj appro^
ving the JYew paraphrase of the Psalms in metre^ and ap-
pointing them to be made use of in congregations and

Edinburgh, 23d November, 1649, Postmeridian.

The commission of the General Assembly, having with
great diligence considered the paraphrase of the Psalms in
metre, sent from the Assembly of divines in England, by
our commission whilst they were there, as it is corrected
by former General Assemblies, committees from them, and
now at last by the brethren deputed by the late Assembly
for that purpose, and having exactly examined the same,
do approve the said paraphrase as it is now compiled : and
therefore, according to the power given them by the said
Assemblies, do appoint it to be printed and published
fo^Jiblic use : hereby authorising the same to be the only
pan^fhrase of the Psalms of David to be sung in the Kirk of
Scotland; and discharging the old paraphrases, and any
other than this new paraphrase to be made use of in any
congregation or familie after the first day of May, in the
year 1650. And for uniformity in this part of the wor-
ship of God, do seriously recommend to Presbyteries, to
cause make public intimation of this act, and take special
care that the same be timeously put to execution, and duly
observed. A. KER."

This act of t]||j|om mission of the General Assembly
was confirmed aWRupported by an " Act of the commit-
tee of the estates of Parliament, authorising the said par-
aphrase in Kirks and families.

Edinburgh, 8th January, 1650.

The committee of estates having considered the English
paraphrase of the Psalms of David in metre, presented
this day unto them, by the commissioners of the General
Assembly, together with their act and the act of the late



Assembly, approving the said paraphrase, and appointinjr
the same to be sung through this Kirk. Therefore thS
committee doth also approve the said paraphrase, and in-
terpone then- authority for the publishing and practisino-
thereof: hereby ordaining the same and no otlier to be
inade use of tliroughout this kingdom, accordino; to the
tenor of the said acts of the General Assembly and their
commissioners. T. HENDERSON." ihicL

Ihus, the version of the Psalms by Rouse, was fully es-
tablished by the highest authority of both church and state,
m the year 16-19^ only one hundred and seventv-iive vears
"il\^,.P^^*' ^'' ^''^ y^^^'' 1^82, a version prepared by
VNiiham Barton, was published by the company of sta-
tioners in London. The title of the book is, '^ The Book
ot Psalms m metre. Close and proper to the Hebrew:
smooth and pleasant for the metre. To be sung in usual
and known times." This however, is the second edition
with amendments, and the addition of fresh metres.

In the year 1686, Simon Ford, D. D. published anoth-
er version, which he entitles '*A new version of the
isalms of David into metre, smooth, plain and easie to-
the most oramary capacities; and yet as close to the orig-
inal languages, and the last and best English translaikn,
as the nature of such a work will well permit." W

The use of all these, however, in the English chu^;
was superceded by the versification of Tate and Brady^
which IS that now found in all the Episcopal prayer

The next work which we shall notice in the En«>-lish
language, is entitled '- Psalter iuni Jlmericanmn. The
Booic ot Psalms, in a translation exactly conformed unta
the originalf but ail in blank verse, fitted unto the tunes
commonly used in our churches. Which pure oflerino- is
accompanied with illustrations d%ginojfcidden treasul-es*
m It; and rules to employ it upon the Pfious and various
intentions of it. Whereunto are added, some other por-
tions of the Sacred Scriptures, to enrich the cantionaL
Boston, in N. E. Printed by S. Kneeland, for B. Elliot,
fe. Oeerish, D. Henchman, and J. Edwards, and sold at
their shops, 1718."

Whether this book w^as ever brought into use, I cannot
iearn. It is anonymous; and has a very learned and pr.


ons preface. The writer in justifying his undertaking says>
*'Our poetry has attempted many versions of the Psalms^,
in such numbers and measures as might render them capa-
ble of being sung, in those grave tunes which have been
prepared and received for our christian psalmody. But
of all the more than twice seven versions, which I have
seen, it must be affirmed, that they leave out a vast heap of
those rich things, which the Holy Spirit of God speaks in
the original Hebrew; and that they put in a large heap of
poor things, which are entirely their own. All this has
been merely for the sake of preserving the clink of the
rhyme; which after all, is of small consequence unto a
generous poem; and of none at all unto the melody of sing-
ing; but of how little then in singing unto the Lord."

The author, after going on to vindicate his blank verse
says, ''For the new translation of the Psalms, which is
here endeavoured, an appeal may with much assurance be
made unto all who are masters*^ of the Hebrew tongue^
whether it be not much more agreeable ta the original, than
the old one; (Rouse's version was now about 70 years in
use) or than any that has yet been offered to the world."

And yet when he comes to give his "Admonition con-
cerawg the tunes," he tells us that "the version is fitted
to^ oPKhe tunes, the notes whereof are eight and six" — that
is* common metre; and the expedient adopted to procure
variety is to add in black letter, words enough to every
other line to make long metre, or take away a siiitabl&
number to make sfiort metre.

Thus, in 103d psalm, ^e have long or common metre,
by retaining or excluding the words printed in brackets:

" O my awakened soul, do thou
Bless [always] the eternal God;
And all my inward powers the name
Of hi^ure [soptless] holiness.''

• There are in tl^P^ersioh hundreds of interpolations of
this sort.

Dr. Watts' book of hymns was published in 1707', his
psalms in 1719. ' " A revision of Watts' paraphrase was
made some thirty years ago by Joel Barlow, author of the
Columbiad, and subsequently, by the late Dr. Dwight,
who versified the psalms omitted by W^atts. These are in
general use among the Dissenters in England, and in most
of the churches in the United States."



Having given this brief and imperfect historical sketch,
I shall subjoin specimens of the rare versions mentioned,
that the reader may compare them. I shall for this pur-
pose take two verses of the 18th psalm, simply because I
have no copy of Sternhold and Hopkins before me; and
this is the only part of that version which I now retain in
memory. But first, the passage in the common translation
may properly be transcribed. Psalm xviii. 9, 10 — '"He
bowed the heavens also and came down, and darkness was
under his feet. .And he rode- upon a cherub, and did fly;
yea, he did fiy upon the wings of the wind."

SternJwld 9. The Loid descended from above,

8f And bowed the heavens most high;

Hopkimi. And underneath his feet he cast

The darkness of the sky.

JO. On cherubs and on cherubim.
Full royally he rode,
And on the wings of mighty winds
Came flying all abroad.

yew England 9. Likewise the heavens he downe bowed^^
version- And he descended, and there was

Under his feet a" gloomy cloud 5

10. And he on cherub rode and flew,
Yea he flew on the wines of winde.

Ilciisc'S version- 9- He also bowed down the heaven?,
And thence he did descend;
And thicltest clouds of darkness did
Under his feet attend.

10. And he upon a cherub'rodc,
And thereon he did fly;
Yea on the swift wings of the wind
His flight was fro|» on hh


Barton^s version- 9. The AlmishtyLord the heavens bowed,
And downward did descend:
Beneath his feet a sable cloud
Of darkness did extend :

10. A cherub-chariot did liim bear,
Whose plumes lie made his sail;
The winds his winged coursers were,
And darkness was his vail.


FortTs version. 9. The Leavens, when their Lord came down.
Did in an humble posture bendj
And for the footcloth of his throne.
Vast darkness did itself extend.
10. His steed a glorious cherub was,

Whose wings did swiftly him convey;

As swiftly as the winds do pass,

■\yhen through the air they force their way.

Taie ^S* Brady's 9- He left the beauteous realms of light,

version. Whilst heaven bow'd down its awful headj

B eneatli his feet substantial night,
Was. like a sable carpet spread.
10. The chariot of the King of kings,

Which active troops of angels drew;
On a strong tempest's rapid wings,
With most amazing swiftness flew.

Psalterium 9. The heavens also he bowed down,
*/l7nericanum. And he made his descentj

A cloudy darkness then there was
"Under his feet displayed;

10. Upon cherub then he rode,

And flew with wondrous wings,
Yea he flew swiftly on the wings
Of the spirituous wind.


TFaits* version. 9. He bow'd his ear to my complaint.
Then did his grace appear divine.
10. With speed he flew to my relief.
As on a cherub's wing he rode;

C. JH. 10. He rides upon the vdnged wind.

And angels in array
In millions wait to know his mindj
And swift as flames obey.


Davi^'' version. 9MSie bow'd the heavens, and as he past
Darkness beneath his feet he cast—

10. He left the heaven of his abode.
And on a cherub swiftly rode.

** Tlie reader4»y compare these several versions with t\m
common translation, and judge for himself in which the
S€«Se is given with the greatest precision. The conclusioDj
if I am not greatly mistaken, will be t^is, that to turn the


psalms into metre, however bald and limping, it is unavoid-
. able to add words to which there is nothing correspondent
in the original. And surely he that can adopt, for his own
use, one of these versifications, ought not to cry out against
those who prefer the others, as corrupters of the word of
God in this part of his worship. Let every man be fully
persuaded in his own mind; and let no one judge his broth-
er, nor throw an occasion of stumbling in his brother's way.
The history of Church-psalmody, if it would be fully
and fairly given, would at once cure all the prejudices
which are entertained on this subject. God has been
worshipped acceptably in Hebrew psalms, the rhyme and.
tunes of which are now utterly unknown; in Greek and

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Online LibraryThomas Dickson BairdAn inquiry into the privilege and duty of the Christian church, in the exercise of sacred praise: a chronology and history of Scripture songs .. → online text (page 12 of 16)