Some might have heard of this poem that does the rounds, particularly among our senior brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s a call for singing the old hymns and laments the use of new songs, modernised words and the ongoing changes in our worship gatherings.
A LAMENT TO THE LORD
– Mavis Clark, “This England”, Spring 1990, Vol.23 No.1
They’ve brought you up to date Lord, down at Saint Cecilia’s.
They’ve pensioned off the organ, and they’re praising with guitars.
They’ve done it for the young ones; we want to draw them in,
But I do wish they could worship without making such a din.
For I’m growing rather deaf Lord, and when there’s all that noise,
It gets so very hard Lord, to hear your loving voice.
They’ve written brand new hymns Lord, with tunes that I don’t know,
So I hardly ever sing now, though I did love singing so.
They’re very go-ahead Lord, they’re doing ‘series three’,
But the words are not so beautiful as the others used to be
They’ve modernised the Bible and the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed
When the old ones were so perfect that they filled my every need.
My mind’s not quite so agile, as it was some years ago
And I miss the age-old beauty of the words I used to know.
It’s very clear to me Lord, I’ve overstayed my time;
I don’t take to change so kindly as I did when in my prime.
But it can’t be very long now before I’m called above,
And I know I’ll find you there Lord, and glory in your love.
So ’til then I’ll stick it out here, though it’s not the same for me,
But while others call you ‘You’, Lord, do you mind if I say ‘Thee’?
After some sleuthing on the Internet through historical archives (and a bit of cheeky wordsmithing), I think I’ve “discovered” the second poem in this series.
This poem is a call for singing the old metric psalms and laments the use of new hymns, modernised words and the ongoing changes in our worship gatherings (there’s nothing new under the sun…)
A LAMENT TO THE LORD ABOUT THE HYMNS OF DR WATTS
– circa 18th century, in the spirit of William Romaine1
They’ve brought you up to date, Lord, in the Chapel at Mark Lane2,
They’ve done it for the young ones; we want to draw them in
They’ve put aside the Psalms and now they worship God with hymns,
But I do wish they could sing without resorting to “Watts’ whims”.
They say he’s modernised the psalms to point to Jesus Christ3
But why change what was perfect? The Psalter has sufficed!
These hymns aren’t as divinely blessed as metric psalms, you see
If psalms were good enough for Christ, they’re good enough for me!4
These hymns are new and needless, they’re Quakerish and Popish,5
I’m scared that next they’ll start to bring in instrumental music
These hymns are just a money-making scheme for Watts to gain from,
Why use them? All our fathers got to heaven fine without them!
I miss the age-old beauty of the words I used to know
My mind’s not quite so agile as it was some years ago
And with these brand new hymns, Lord, they use tunes I do not know
So I hardly ever sing now, though I did love singing so
It’s very clear to me, Lord – I’ve overstayed my time
I don’t take to change so kindly I did when in my prime
But it won’t be very long before I’m called above
And once I’m there I’ll sing the Psalms and glory in your love
Till then I’ll stick it out here, though it’s not the same for me
Though others think these hymns are great, I firmly disagree!
Note: I wrote this light-hearted parody to try and illustrate that what’s old was once new, and that by God’s grace Christians young and old can delight in the best old hymns of the faith, while also embracing the best songs that the coming generations have to offer, all so that Jesus might be more beautiful and believable to us.
- Who once said: “Christian congregations have shut out divinely inspired psalms and taken in Watts’s flights of fancy…” and “Why should Dr Watts, or any other hymn maker, not only take precedence over the Holy Ghost, but also thrust him utterly out of the church?” ↩
- Mark Lane Independent Chapel, Stoke Newington, where Isaac Watts began as assistant pastor ↩
- “But since I believe that any Divine Sentence or Christian Verse agreeable to Scripture may be sung, though it be composed by Men uninspired, I have not been so curious and exact in striving every where 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 Peter 1:11-12)” – Isaac Watts, Preface to The Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament, And Applied To The Christian State and Worship ↩
- Nahum Tate recounts the story of a servant-maid who disapproved of singing a revised version of the Psalms: “If you must needs know the plain truth of the matter, as long as you sung Jesus Christ’s Psalms, I sung along with ye; but now you sing Psalms of your own invention, you may sing by yourselves.” ↩
- Said Thomas Symmes in a newspaper editorial in 1723, about Isaac Watt’s hymns:
1. It is a new way, an unknown tongue.
2. It is not so melodious as the usual way.
3. There are so many new tunes, we shall never have done learning them.
4. The practice creates disturbances and causes people to behave indecently and disorderly. 5. It is Quakerish and Popish and introductive of instrumental music.
6. The names given to the notes are bawdy, even blasphemous.
7. It is a needless way, since our fathers got to heaven without it.
8. It is a contrivance to get money.
9. People spend too much time learning it, they tarry out nights’ disorderly.
10. They are a company of young upstarts that fall in with this way, and some of them are lewd and loose persons. ↩