Singing the Psalms
Enlarged May 23, 2023 (first published October 4, 2022)
David Cloud, Way of Life Literature, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061
“Speaking to yourselves IN PSALMS and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19).

“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” (Colossians 3:16).

New Testament churches are instructed to sing the Psalms, referring, of course, to the Psalms in our Bibles. The book of Psalms is a divinely-inspired songbook.

The Psalms are so magnificent that it is difficult to know where to begin in describing their glory. Psalms is a peerless book. There is nothing like the Psalms in all of human literature.

The book of Psalms is God’s hymnbook, God’s worship book, God’s poetry book, God’s treatise on suffering, God’s comfort book, God’s book on prayer. Its Messianic prophecy is peerless. I love everything about the Psalms!

The 150 psalms deal with every facet of God’s character and every situation in human life.

Psalms is infinite in teaching. It is a whole world of revelation. William Law said, “Singing psalms awakes all that is good and holy within you, calling your spirits to their proper duty, setting you in your best posture toward heaven, and tuning all the powers of your soul to worship and adoration.” John Berridge, in the preface to his hymnbook, wrote, “The book of Psalms seems intended as a model for Hymns; and after this model I have copied as nearly as I could. Here we find instruction, exhortation, caution, and Christian experience, blended with prayer and praise. The thoughts are easy and free, flowing from the heart, and the language simple and plain, yet neat and elegant. And nothing, sure, can be more unsuitable than humble prayer uttered in pompous expressions.”

Since the largest book in the Bible is a songbook, we see the importance of sacred music before God.

The language of the entire Bible is beautiful, but the Psalms have a beauty all their own. It far surpasses anything that the pens of the most acclaimed men have produced apart from divine inspiration. And the King James Bible captures the exquisite language of the Psalms in peerless English. Dr. Leland Ryken, professor of English emeritus at Wheaton College, in his 2002 book
The Word of God in English: Criteria for Excellence in Bible Translation, called the King James Bible “MATCHLESS IN ITS LITERARY QUALITIES among all English translations” (p. 188) “THE NOBLEST MONUMENT OF ENGLISH PROSE” (p. 258), “unquestionably the most beautiful book in the world” (p. 267), and a “PEERLESS LITERARY MASTERPIECE” (p. 270).

The title “Psalms” in the English Bible is from the Greek
Psalmoi. It means “a poem to be sung to a stringed instrument.” It is the title that is used in the New Testament (Acts 1:20; Eph. 5:19). Psalmos is from psallo, which refers to touching or plucking the strings of a harp. The name of the book of Psalms in Hebrew is te’hillim (songs of praises). The individual psalms are called miz’mor, meaning melody of praise.

The Psalms have been sung by God’s people from ancient times, beginning in the Davidic kingdom.

The following link is to Psalm 24 sung in Hebrew at the Great Synagogue in Sydney, Australia -

Singing by Meter

Before we provide a brief history of the singing of psalms, we need to give an overview of singing by meter. This refers to music that is written to match the poetry of a song’s lyrics. Meter is a notation indicating the number of syllables in each line of a song. The first number is the number of syllables in the first line of the song, and the second number is the number of syllables in the second line, etc.

For example, the most popular meter is, which is called Common Meter. There are 8 syllables in the first line, 6 in the second, 8 in the third, 6 in the fourth, etc. Consider “Amazing Grace” -

Am-az-ing grace, how sweet the sound,
6 That saved a wretch like me.
8 I once was lost but now am found,
6 Was blind, but now I see.

Some Basic Types of Poetic Meter

The pattern is weak-strong-weak-strong - duh-DUH, duh-DUH. It has a skipping feel when read.

“Because I Could Not Stop for Death” by Emily Dickinson
passed the school where children played, Their lessons scarcely done; We passed the fields of gazing grain, We passed the setting sun.

In hymns, “Sweet Hour of Prayer” is a prominent example:
hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer!
calls me from a world of care.
bids me at my Father’s throne
all my wants and wishes known.
Other examples: “Amazing Grace” and “O God Our Help in Ages Past.”

The pattern is strong-weak - DUH-dah, DUH-dah.

“MacBeth” by Shakespeare (1606)
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and caldron bubble.

“The Raven” Edgar Allen Poe (1845)
And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door.

A hymn example is “Onward Christian Soldiers.”
Onward, Christian soldiers,
marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus
going on before!
Christ, the royal Master,
leads against the foe;
Forward into battle,
see His banner go!”

Another example is “Jesus, What a Friend for Sinners.”
Jesus! what a friend for sinners! Jesus! Lover of my soul; Friends may fail me, foes assail me, He, my Savior, makes me whole.”

Another example is “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.”

The pattern is strong-weak-weak - DUM-da-da.

“The Charge of the Light Brigade” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1854)
Half a league, half a league, Half a league onward, All in the valley of Death Rode the six hundred. “Forward, the Light Brigade! Charge for the guns!” he said. Into the valley of Death Rode the six hundred.

An example of a hymn written to dactylic meter is “Be Thou My Vision.”
Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart-
Nought be all else to me, save that Thou art;
Thou my best thought, by day or by night-
Waking or sleeping Thy presence my light.”

Anapestic (reverse dactyl)
The pattern is two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed; weak-weak-strong - da-da-DUM.

“Twas the Night Before Christmas” by Clement Clarke Moore (1822)
Twas the
night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a
creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
stockings were hung by the chimney with care, In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.
The children were nestled all snug in their beds, While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads. And mamma in her kerchief, and I in my cap, Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.

“The Destruction of Sennacherib” by Lord Byron (1815)

The As
syrian came down like the wolf on the fold, And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold; And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea, When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.

Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green, That host with their banners at sunset were seen: Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown.
That host on the morrow lay withered and strown.

For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed;
And the
eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,
And their
hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still! ...

there lay the rider distorted and pale,
With the
dew on his brow, and the rust on his mail:
And the
tents were all silent, the banners alone,
The lances
unlifted, the trumpet unblown.

And the
widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,
And the
idols are broken in the temple of Baal;
And the
might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,
melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!

A hymn example is “Sweet By and By.”
“There’s a
land that is fairer than day,
And by
faith we can see it afar,
For the
Father waits over the way
To pre
pare us a dwelling place there.”

Though songs of a certain meter can generally be sung to any tune written for that meter, it is important to match the mood and tone of the tune and lyrics. Some lyrics require a somber tune, while some require a lighter tune. For example, “There Is a Fountain” and “Joy to the World” are both, but the moods of the songs are very different and call for different styles of tune.

Also, songs with the same meter can differ according to “poetic foot.” This refers to the pattern of emphasis. This can make it difficult to match tunes with lyrics, even if the meter matches.

Helpful lists of meters and tunes (with audio) can be found at the following links

Common Meter CM (
All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name
Am I a Soldier of the Cross
Amazing Grace (the tune is
New Britain)
America the Beautiful
At the Cross
Auld Lang Syne
Come, Every Soul by Sin Oppressed
Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee (St. Agnes)
Joy to the World
Lead Me to Calvary (Duncannon)
Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone
My Faith Has Found a Resting Place
O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing
O God Our Help in Ages Past (St. Anne)
Oh Little Town of Bethlehem
On Jordan’s Stormy Banks (I Am Bound for the Promised Land)
There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood
This Is the Day
While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks

Common Meter Double CMD (D means the meter is doubled--used twice in each verse)
It Came Upon the Midnight Clear
There Is a Fountain

Short Meter SM (
Blessed Be the Tie That Binds
Come, We That Love the Lord
Crown Him with Many Crowns
O, Bless the Lord, My Soul

Long Meter LM (
Doxology (Old Hundredth)
Just As I Am
On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand
Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow
The Solid Rock
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

Tunes for Long Meter
Give of Your Best to the Master (tune “Bernard”) (D means the meter is doubled--used twice in each verse)
All the Way My Saviour Leads Me
Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing
Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken
I’ve Found a Friend
Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee
Love Divine, All Loves Excelling
Saviour, Like a Shepherd
Shall We Gather at the River
What a Friend We Have in Jesus
Faith of Our Fathers
Jesus, Thy Boundless Love to Me
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
Rejoice, the Lord Is King
Come Thou Almighty King
My Faith Looks up to Thee

The Psalms were sung by Israel (Ps. 95:2; 105:2)

David organized the continual singing of Psalms by the Levites in preparation for the building of the temple. This began when David brought the ark to Jerusalem (1 Ch. 15:1-28). See also 1 Ch. 16:4-6; 23:1-5; 25:1-31. David wrote Psalms specifically for use by the priests. See the headings to Psalm 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 31, 36, 39, 40, 41, 42, 44, 45, 46, 47, 49, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 70, 84, 88, 109, 139, 140. Some of these psalms incorporate psalms David had written earlier. David invented special musical instruments for singing the Psalms (2 Ch. 7:6). (For lessons from this, see the study on David in
Mastering the English Bible - Genesis to the Silent Years, “David organizes the music worship for the temple.”)

Solomon expanded this great musical worship enterprise with the completion of the temple (2 Ch. 5:12-13; 9:11). In the early part of Solomon’s kingdom, before his apostasy, the grand worship consisting of singing the Psalms to the accompaniment of musical instruments reached its zenith, and it must have been glorious indeed. Consider this description of the dedication of the temple: “It came even to pass, as the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the LORD; and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of musick, and praised the LORD, saying, For he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever: that then the house was filled with a cloud, even the house of the LORD” (2 Ch. 5:13). Sometimes there were 120 trumpets sounding together in perfect accord with the singers (“the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the LORD,” 2 Ch. 5:12)!

The public singing of the Psalms in the temple was revived whenever there was spiritual renewal in Israel. This happened in the days of
Jehoshaphat (2 Ch. 20:18-22). It played a prominent role in the revival under Hezekiah, who restored the singing and playing that had been practiced in David’s day (2 Ch. 29:25-30). They used cymbals, harps, psalteries (a stringed instrument similar to a lyre or harp, probably with 12 strings), and trumpets, and they sang “praise unto the Lord with the words of David, and of Asaph the seer” (2 Ch. 29:30). The singing of the psalms was also revived in the days of Josiah (2 Ch. 35:15).

The psalms were also doubtless sung by individuals and in homes and on many occasions. Psalms were sung during Passover. It is stated in the Talmud that the Hallel (Ps. 113-118) were sung in the morning service of the synagogue during Jewish holidays, the new moon, and during the Passover meal. The songs of degrees (Ps. 120-134) might have been sung by pilgrims on their approach to the temple during the festivals (Ps. 122:1; 132:7).

The Psalms were sung by Protestants

French Calvinists sang the Psalms through twice a year on a weekly schedule (P. Janson, “Once Again: How to Sing Psalms,” Christian Study Library, 1989).

In 1562, John Calvin published the first complete psalter in French. It is called
The Genevan Psalter. “In order to accommodate meter and rhyme, it was sometimes necessary to add words to the psalm. The poets were not permitted to ‘pad’ the translation with anything that was not there; words were added only to exegete the psalm in order to clarify the meaning. Thus, it is correct to describe these versions as “close paraphrases” (Robert Copeland, “The Experience of Singing the Psalms,” The Book of Psalms for Worship, 2009)

In 1545, a visitor to Strasbourg described the French Calvinist services as follows: “On Sundays ... we sing a psalm of David or some other prayer taken from the New Testament. The psalm or prayer is sung by everyone together, men as well as women with a beautiful unanimity, which is something beautiful to behold. For you must understand that each one has a music book in his hand; that is why they cannot lose touch with one another. Never did I think that it could be as pleasing and delightful as it is. For five or six days at first, as I looked upon this little company, exiled from countries everywhere for having upheld the honor of God and His Gospel, I would begin to weep, not at all from sadness, but from joy at hearing them sing so heartily, and, as they sang, giving thanks to the Lord that He had led them to a place where His name is honored and glorified. No one could believe the joy which one experiences when one is singing the praises and wonders of the Lord in the mother tongue as one sings them here’ (Charles Garside, The Origins of Calvin’s Theology of Music)” (

Claude Goudimel, one of the Huguenots who were killed in 1572 in the St. Bartholomew Day Massacre, had produced a musical edition of the Psalms for singing in the home (Needman, 2000 Years of Christ’s Power, Vol. 3, p. 229).

The first widely used English psalter was the
Sternhold and Hopkins, originally published in 1562 by John Day. It incorporated psalms by Thomas Sternhold and John Hopkins. The Puritans who established the Massachusetts Bay Colony (1630) used the Sternhold and Hopkins.

The first book published in America was the
Bay Psalm Book (1650). “It was published in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the basement of the President’s house at Harvard College, on a press imported specifically for the purpose” (Robert Copeland). The revision was called the New England Psalm Book (1651).

THE SCOTTISH PSALTER was first published in 1564. A new edition was produced by the Westminster Assembly in England and was approved by the Church of Scotland in 1650. It is called by many Presbyterians “the gold standard of Psalters.” Many conservative Presbyterian churches still use it. “That version embedded itself in the Scottish soul ... and has been sung by countless presbyterians of every stripe around the globe for 350 years. ... at its best, the Scottish Psalter has an incomparable majesty of language which sinks deep into the heart” (Copeland).

Unlike Watts, the Scottish Psalter covers most verses, and it stays much closer to the biblical text.

An edition we like is
The Scottish Psalter by To Be A Pilgrim Press. It includes sample meter tunes. As of Oct. 2022, it was available via Amazon.

There is a “
1650 Split Leaf Psalter app” on the Google Play store where one can get the psalter for free with its tunes (Thomas Ross).

The user must understand that the language of
The Scottish Psalter is a bit difficult in a few places, such as the following from Psalm 18:26, “Pure to the pure, froward thou kyth’st unto the froward wight.” Thankfully, there is very little of that!

Following are samples from the Scottish Psalter that can be heard online:

Psalm 51 to the tune Ottawa (87.87.77)

Psalm 130 to the tune Martyrdom (common meter

Psalm 23 to the tune Bays of Harris (common meter

ISAAC WATTS (1674-1748) published an influential English metrical psalter (1719). Watts is known as “the father of English hymnology.” He spent 19 years producing his Psalter and wrote another 697 hymns. Watts was a premillennialist who believed that Israel would return to the land and be converted.

He was a pioneer in adapting the Psalms to New Testament truth. He wrote,

“Far be it from my thoughts to lay aside the Book of Psalms in public worship. ... But it must be acknowledged still, that there are a thousand lines in it which were not made for a Church in our Days, to assume as its own. There are also many deficiencies of Light and Glory, which our Lord Jesus and his Apostles have supplied to the Writings of the New Testament. ... You will also find in this Paraphrase dark expressions enlightened, and the Levitical ceremonies and Hebrew forms of speech changed into the Worship of the Gospel, and explained in the language of our time and nation” (Preface,
Hymns and Spiritual Songs, 1707).

He also said,

“I have not been so curious and exact in striving everywhere to express the ancient sense and meaning of David, but have rather exprest myself as I may suppose David would have done, had he lived in the Days of Christianity. And by this means perhaps I have sometimes hit upon the true Intent of the Spirit of God in those verses farther and clearer than David himself could ever discover, as St. Peter encourages me to hope, 1 Pet. 1:11, 12” (Preface.
The Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament, 1719).

Watts’ Psalter, with its mere five meters, is an example of singing hymns to simple melodies (“making melody,” Eph. 5:19).

Watts Psalm 1 (sung to the Common Meter,, i.e., “Oh God Our Help in Ages Past,” “Amazing Grace”)

1. Blest is the man who shuns the place
Where sinners love to meet;
Who fears to tread their wicked ways,
And hates the scoffer’s seat;
2. But in the statutes of the Lord
Hath placed his chief delight;
By day he reads or hears the Word,
And meditates by night.
3. He like a plant of gen’rous kind,
By living waters set,
Safe from the storms and blasting wind,
Enjoys a peaceful state.
4. Green as the leaf and ever fair
Shall his profession shine,
While fruits of holiness appear
Like cluster on the vine.
5. Not so the impious and unjust;
What vain designs they form!
Their hopes are blown away like dust,
Or chaff before the storm.
6. Sinners in judgment shall not stand
Amongst the sons of grace,
When Christ the Judge, at His right hand
Appoints His saints a place.
7. His eye beholds the path they tread.
His heart approves it well;
But crooked ways of sinners lead
Down to the gates of hell.

Watts Psalm 24 (sung to Long Meter, i.e., “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow”)

1 This spacious earth is all the Lord’s,
And men, and worms, and beasts, and birds:
He raised the building on the seas,
And gave it for their dwelling-place.
2 But there’s a brighter world on high,
Thy palace, Lord, above the sky:
Who shall ascend that blest abode,
And dwell so near his maker God?
3 He that abhors and fears to sin,
Whose heart is pure, whose hands are clean,
Him shall the Lord the Saviour bless,
And clothe his soul with righteousness.
4 These are the men redeemed by grace
That seek the God of Jacob’s face;
These shall enjoy the blissful sight,
And dwell in everlasting light.
5 Rejoice, ye shining words on high, Behold the King of glory nigh! Who can this King of glory be? The mighty Lord, the Saviour’s He.
6 Raised from the dead He goes before, He opens heav’n’s eternal door, To give His saints a blest abode Near their Redeemer, and their God.

A good study of, and presentation of, Watts’ Psaltery is
Singing Psalms with Isaac Watts and a Biography by N.A. Woychuk.

The Book of Psalms for Worship is published by the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America. It includes the musical notations together with the lyrics and covers all 150 psalms, with multiple editions for some. The 2009 edition is based on earlier Reformed psalters. We haven’t looked through this psalter extensively, but the psalms we have looked at are excellent. It uses some of the psalms from the Scottish Psalter, plus a wide assortment of songs from earlier Psalters, including German and French ones, and hymnodists, such as John Wesley, Ira Sankey, William Doane, Robert Lowry, William Bradbury, Charles Gabriel, and Lowell Mason.

The Book of Psalms for Singing is another psalter. Thomas Ross says, “As for alternatives, the Book of Psalms for Singing is, in my opinion, somewhat better than the Book of Psalms for Worship, but both are far better than not singing the psalms ... They are not quite as literal as the 1650 psalter, but they are very singable. Both of them also put the psalms to well-known (to hymn singers with no experience in psalm-singing) and easily singable tunes, and copies are easy to find in good quality, durable hardbacks.”

Trinity Hymnal contains a partial Psalter. The psalms are not listed by number but can be found by an index in the rear of the book.

The Psalms were sung by Baptists

The Metropolitan Tabernacle of London, England, has represented the old Particular Baptist style of congregational singing throughout its history.

The church’s name originally was New Park Street Baptist Church. The name was changed to Metropolitan Tabernacle in 1861 when it moved to its new building at Elephant & Castle. The building seated 5,000, with standing room for another 1,000.

John Rippon (1751-1836), pastor of New Park Street Baptist Church for 63 years (1773 to 1836), published a hymnal in 1787 popularly called Rippon’s Selection. (The full title was A selection of Hymns from the best authors, intended as an Appendix to Dr. Watts's Psalms and Hymns.) An expanded edition was published in 1844 entitled The Comprehensive Edition, popularly called The Comprehensive Rippon. It contained more than 1170 hymns in 100 meters. Rippon’s hugely influential hymnal was reprinted 27 times in over 200,000 copies. Rippon himself authored some hymns, though none have been popularized by wide use. Rippon was considered the foremost authority on Isaac Watts’ hymns. In 1801, he published a comprehensive edition entitled An Arrange­ment of the Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs of the Rev. Isaac Watts, D.D. The 718 Watts’ hymns were arranged by subject.

Charles Spurgeon, who pastored Metropolitan Tabernacle from 1853 to his death in 1892, took the ministry of singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs seriously and was careful about the selections as well as about every aspect of the congregational singing. In 1866, the church published an update of Rippon’s hymnal called Our Own Hymn Book. The first 150 selections were Watts’ psalter.

In Spurgeon’s day, congregational singing at Metropolitan Tabernacle was strictly
a cappella. Following are two descriptions of the singing:

“The singing was almost overpowering. When that ocean of people rose and sung, ‘Grace, ’tis a charming sound,’ it seemed as if the windows of heaven were opened. This seemed like worshiping God, like making melody in the heart unto the Lord. How unlike this is an organ and a choir, making music for a sitting, silent congregation” (Eugenio Kincaid).

“Mr. Spurgeon evidently takes delight in the service of song, and is anxious above all things that every man, woman, and child in the place should sing. In announcing the hymn he generally makes some remark, such as, ‘Let us sing joyfully the 48th Psalm,’ – ‘Dear friends, this hymn is full of joy, let’s sing it with all our hearts,’ &c.” (J.S. Curwen,
Studies in Worship Music, 1880).

Under the leadership of
Peter Masters (since 1970), Metropolitan Tabernacle uses the same sacred music it used in Spurgeon’s day, with additions representing the same deep theological depth and sacred style, avoiding a contemporary sound by conviction and with clear purpose and understanding. The 1991 edition of the Tabernacle’s Psalms & Hymns of Reformed Worship, edited by Peter Masters, has 736 songs, hymns, and spiritual songs. The first batch are renditions of the 150 Psalms, with selections from the Scottish Psalter, the 1912 American Psalter, plus Isaac Watts (about 80 selections), Charles Wesley, Charles Spurgeon, John Newton, Anne Steele, Henry Lyte, Augustus Toplady, Martin Luther, John Milton, Philip Doddridge, Nahum Tate, Harriet Auber, and others. All of the selections are metrical, and the tunes are published in a separate music edition.

The Metropolitan Tabernacle sings a lot of the Psalms, as we are commanded to do. In his Preface to
Psalms & Hymns of Reformed Worship, Dr. Masters observes: “This hymnal follows Spurgeon in allocating the first 150 hymn numbers to various of the psalms. We believe the Book of Psalms to be an inspired manual of praise for God’s people in every age. Its themes and its special balance of objective praise, subjective reflection, repentance, intercession, etc., should shape all our worship. Often more than one version of a psalm is provided, resulting in a total of 266 different psalm items. We retain Spurgeon’s title for this section--Spirit of the Psalms--because it perfectly describes the ‘new song’ approach which is taken in this selection. This is in the tradition of Isaac Watts and a host of other writers who produced Christianized, or ‘evangelical,’ renderings of the psalms.”

At Metropolitan, the singing is accompanied by an organ which is played in a low key manner. Everything is focused on the lyrics and edification and singing from the heart to one another and to God, which is true biblical worship. The service is conducted in a serious demeanor; there is no flippancy. It is the opposite of the light revivalist approach. We don’t agree with the Tabernacle’s “sovereign election” Calvinism--not even their evangelistic, “non-hyper” brand of it--but Baptists today could learn a lot from John Rippon and his heirs about congregational singing.

Metropolitan Tabernacle congregational singing -

Tim Kelly of Lewiston Baptist Church, Lewiston, Maine, is putting some of the Psalms to music with new melodies and arrangements. His email is and his psalms can be found at the following site:

Another way to “sing” the Psalms is by responsive reading. By this means, the Psalms can be read just as they appear in our Bibles. By responsive reading, a psalm is divided into sections and the first section is read by the leader, while the next section is read by the congregation. The congregation can also be divided into parts and the parts can read responsively to one another.


The one we like best is
The Scottish Psalter, if we must be limited to one, but there is no one ideal psalter, in our estimation. What we want to do is to encourage homes and churches to continually expand their repertoire, and this includes their repertoire of singing Psalms.

Each psalter has its advantages and disadvantages, but what we have in English today is an absolute wealth of psalms put to music in the various psalters.

We have found great spiritual edification in studying the old hymn books and psalters.

Watts, for example, does not refrain from paraphrasing the psalms dramatically to incorporate New Testament truth and theology. He wanted to “make David sing as a Christian.” For example, here is how he ends his rendition of Psalm 24 -

5 Rejoice, ye shining words on high, Behold the King of glory nigh! Who can this King of glory be? The mighty Lord, the Saviour’s He.
6 Raised from the dead He goes before, He opens heav’n’s eternal door, To give His saints a blest abode Near their Redeemer, and their God.

Watts was right. Jesus Christ is the King of glory, and there is nothing wrong with saying so! In fact, we find this beautiful and very edifying. It is not exactly Psalm 24, but it is biblical.

The 1991 edition of Metropolitan Tabernacle’s
Psalms & Hymns of Reformed Worship includes the following wonderful rendition of Psalm 24 by Charles Wesley, who took a similar approach to the Psalms as Isaac Watts. It depicts Jesus Christ as the King of glory, entering victoriously and splendidly into heaven at His ascension. It is sung to Long Meter (i.e., Doxology or Old Hundredth).

1 Our Lord is risen from the dead;
Our Jesus is gone up on high;
The powers of hell are captive led--
Dragged to the portals of the sky.
2 There his triumphal chariot waits,
And mighty angel voices say:
“Lift up your heads, ye heavenly gates,
Ye everlasting doors, give way!”
3 Roll back the bounds of mortal sight,
And wide unfold the heavenly scene;
He claims those mansions as His right:
Receive the King of Glory in.
4 “Who is the King of Glory, Who?”
The Lord Who all His foes o’ercame;
The word, sin, death, and hell o’erthrew,
And Jesus is the Conqueror’s name.
5 “Who is the King of Glory, Who?”
The Lord of glorious power possessed,
The King of saints and angels too;
God over all, for ever blessed!

At the same time, the Scottish Psalter stays close to the biblical text. Here is how it renders the last four verses of Psalm 24:

7 Ye gates, lift up your heads on high,
ye doors that last for aye,
Be lifted up, that so the King
of glory enter may.
8 But who of glory is the King?
The mighty Lord is this;
Ev’n that same Lord, that great in might
and strong in battle is.
9 Ye gates, lift up your heads; ye doors,
doors that do last for aye,
Be lifted up, that so the King
of glory enter may.
10 But who is he that is the King
of glory? who is this?
The Lord of hosts, and none but he,
the King of glory is.

There is a place for both types of psalteries, so long as the theology is sound. It is helpful to think about the biblical text in various ways through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.

As for Psalters in English, we recommend all of the ones we have reviewed in this report. All of them are edifying, and we enjoy having a large variety to choose from.

Consider Psalm 1 from various Psalters -

Psalm 1 (
The Book of Psalms for Worship, Common Meter)

1 That man is blessed who does not walk As wicked men advise,
Nor stand where sinners meet, nor sit Where scorners pose as wise.
Instead he is the one who makes The LORD’s law his delight,
And in that law he meditates By day and in the night.

2 He’s like a deeply planted tree Beside a water stream,
Which in its season bears its fruit, Whose leaves stay fresh and green.
In all he does he will succeed. The wicked are not so,
But they are like the scattered chaff Swept by the winds that blow.

3 The wicked therefore will not stand When time of judgment comes,
Nor will the sinners stand among Assembled righteous ones.
Because the LORD the righteous loves; The path they walk He knows.
The wicked walk a different path, That to destruction goes.

Psalm 1 (
Scottish Psalter, Common Meter)

1 That man hath perfect blessedness,
who walketh not astray
In counsel of ungodly men,
nor stands in sinners’ way,,
Nor sitteth in the scorner’s chair.
2 But placeth his delight
Upon God’s law, and meditates
on his law day and night.
3 He shall be like a tree that grows
near planted by a river:
Which in his season yields his fruit,
and his leaf fadeth never:
And all he doth shall prosper well.
4 The wicked are not so;
But like they are unto the chaff,
which wind drives to and fro.
5 In judgment therefore shall not stand
such as ungodly are;
Nor in th’ assembly of the just
shall wicked men appear.
6 For why? the way of godly men
unto the Lord is known:
Wheres the way of wicked men
shall quite be overthrown.

Psalm 1 (Isaac Watts, Common Meter)

1. Blest is the man who shuns the place
Where sinners love to meet;
Who fears to tread their wicked ways,
And hates the scoffer’s seat;
2 But in the statues of the Lord
Hath placed his chief delight;
By day he reads or hears the Word,
And meditates by night.
3 He like a plant of gen’rous kind,
By living waters set,
Safe from the storms and blasting wind,
Enjoys a peaceful state.
4 Green as the leaf and ever fair
Shall his profession shine,
While fruits of holiness appear
Like cluster on the vine.
5 Not so the impious and unjust;
What vain designs they form!
Their hopes are blown away like dust,
Or chaff before the storm.
6 Sinners in judgment shall not stand
Amongst the sons of grace,
When Christ the Judge, at His right hand
Appoints His saints a place.
7 His eye beholds the path they tread,
His heart approves it well;
But crooked ways of sinners lead
Down to the gates of hell.

Watts has been criticized for marking the beginning “of the long, dark night of metrical psalmody” (Robert Copeland, “The Experience of Singing the Psalms,”
The Book of Psalms for Worship, 2009). This is because “the preference for songs of lighter theological weight figured heavily in the growing adoption of hymns, which were not bound to biblical texts. During the following century and a half, Watt’s Imitations [The Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament] were the key to prising open the congregational repertoire in England, the United States, Canada, and even Scotland. Successive editions of hymnals displayed ever-declining numbers of psalm texts” (Copeland).

The decline of singing psalms and the advance of songs of lighter theological weight is certain, and we agree that this is an error. But the shallowness of the last century and a half wasn’t Watts’ fault. His psalms and hymns are anything but shallow. It was the fault of revivalists, southern gospelers, Pentecostals, and others who came later. It was a product of spiritual lukewarmness, worldliness, heresy, and apostasy. (For a study of revivalist singing, see
The History and Heritage of Fundamentalism and Fundamental Baptists,

There was nothing wrong with what Watts was doing. Churches aren’t required to sing only psalms or even to sing the psalms in a rote manner.

A combination of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs is the right balance.

We want to exercise discernment to weed out shallow and unscriptural songs (of which there are many in the popular Baptist hymnals).

And we want to put the emphasis where the Bible tells us to put it, which is on the Word of God dwelling in the congregation in all wisdom and sobriety, speaking and admonishing one another, praising God with good understanding, theological soundness and depth, true spirituality, and rejection of every taint of worldliness.

We urge churches to sing the Psalms as God commands and to continually expand their repertoire of songs and hymns to include an ever-increasing number of those of challenging, sanctifying theological depth.

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