“…no one can dispense with the command of God, and no one can by his wit compose hymns to be compared with the Psalms of God. I want a name for that man who should pretend that he could make better hymns than the Holy Ghost.”

William Romaine 1714-1795

William Romaine
1714-1795

“God has given us a large collection of psalms, has commanded them to be sung in the church, and has promised his blessing to the singing of them. No respect here must be paid to names or authorities, although they be the greatest on earth, because no one can dispense with the command of God, and no one can by his wit compose hymns to be compared with the psalms of God. I want a name for that man who should pretend that he could make better hymns than the Holy Ghost. His collection is large enough, it wants no addition. It is perfect, as its author, and not capable of any improvement. Why in such a case would any man in the world take it into his head to sit down to write hymns for the use of the church? It is just the same as if he was to write a new Bible, not only better than the old, but so much better that the old may be thrown aside. What a blasphemous attempt! And yet our hymn [singers], inadvertently I hope, have come very near to this blasphemy, for they shut out the Psalms, introduce their own verses into the church, sing them with great delight and as they fancy with great profit, although the whole practice be in direct opposition to the command of God, and therefore cannot possibly be accompanied with the blessing of God.”

by William Romaine, An Essay on Psalmody, 1757, republished in 1880

According to Angus Stewart (found here):

“This Anglican evangelical was an ardent advocate of Psalm singing (of which his favourite was Psalm 121; p. 298). Shenton summarises his position:

“Romaine’s zeal for the Psalms was principally directed towards upholding and, where necessary, re-establishing biblical theology in the church. He wanted the pure Word of God read, preached and sung by Christian congregations. Nothing, in his view, should be countenanced that threatened the supremacy of Scripture. He strongly opposed hymns on the ground that they were man’s creation and not God’s, and that they lowered worship to the level of entertainment (pp. 276, 278).”

Romaine saw hymn singing, according to George Ella, as a

“substitute for true worship and a grave departure from the scriptural norm. Wherever there was a lack of “vital religion,” he thought, people left off praying, singing the Psalms and hearing the Word, and descended into singing [Isaac] Watt’s “flights of fancy,” along with other flippant pastimes. The words of man had become more important to a backsliding church than the word of God (p. 278).”

Angus’ review of An Iron Pillar, The Life and Times of William Romaine by Tim Shenton can be found in full here.

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4 responses to ““…no one can dispense with the command of God, and no one can by his wit compose hymns to be compared with the Psalms of God. I want a name for that man who should pretend that he could make better hymns than the Holy Ghost.”

  1. It is my understanding, to be scrupulously fair and accurate, that Romaine moderated his views on hymn singing in later years. I am sure there is something to this effect in the Complete Works of Augustus Toplady, though I do not have that tome to hand at present to pinpoint the exact quotation.
    Still, from wat we read above, it would seem to have been quite a volte face on Romaine’s part to start to tolerate hymns.
    Can anyone shed further light on this, possibly by reference to an indexed edition of Toplady’s Works?

  2. Ewan,

    I think I have read that Romaine was in favor of musical instruments, but not uninspired hymns. I would not expect his view to be as strict as many of us in the EP camp, I just thought the quote was really cool.

    Also, there are several biographies listed in the link above. Perhaps they would shed some light on his later views. Thanks for mentioning it, I would like to know as well.

  3. Mark,
    Strangely, in one of those unexpected twists of providence, I today was in the Glasgow Free Presbyterian Bookshop and chanced upon a new edition, beautifully produced, of Romaine’s full treatise on Psalmody. I think you must be right and it was on musical instruments that he was more lax, though until I can locate the passage, I cannot state this categorically! Interestingly, Romaine was a good friend of, indeed virtual spiritual mentor to that doughtiest of calvinists, Rev Augustus Toplady, also incidentally a prolific hymn writer as we all know. It ran in my mind it was this friendship that influenced him to mildly moderate his view.
    The book, for any interested, is entitled ‘ Hymns Most Perfect’ and is splendidly edited by Abigail Fox. There is a delightful foreword by her father, one John L. Fox in which he recounts how Romaine’s psalmody views were brought to his attention by the ferocious overreaction of an older pastor who discovered the young Fox and his friend were unwittingly selling an old fashioned pamphlet version of Romaine’s essay amongst other calvinist literature at their conference stall. The intensity of the ire made John Fox wonder what exactly was so offensive in this obscure pamphlet and so he would later closely peruse it and thus be introduced to EP!!

  4. Ewan,
    What a cool story! It is amazing how God used such an obscure work to bring someone to EP. Thanks for the Toplady reference as well.

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