Baptists Initiate Congregational Hymn Singing

The study of hymns is fascinating. For instance there is a link between Scottish Psalm singing, Appalachian folk music and the blues. In time I hope to post a little on this subject.

The following information, I thought was useful enough to type out and post, I hope you find it helpful.

A quote taken from A Survey of Christian Hymnody:

The Particular Baptists. It was in the Particular, or Calvinistic, Baptist churches that congregational singing of hymns was first introduced. Records of the Broadmead Church of Bristol indicate that congregational singing was regularly carried on from 1671 to 1685.

Benjamin Keach. However, the recognition for leading the movement for hymn signing must go to Benjamin Keach, who become pastor of the Particular Baptist Church in Southwark in 1668. With the consent of his congregation, he began, about 1673, the practice of singing a hymn at the close of the Lord’s Supper. About six years later, the church agreed to sing hymns on “public Thanksgiving days,” and about 1690, hymn singing became a weekly practice of the congregation. Most of these hymns used by Southwark were written by Keach.

Controversy at Southwark. The opposition of a small minority of Keach’s congregation, led by Isaac Marlow, produced bitter controversy in which both sides issued pamphlets representing their beliefs. The most significant of these writings was Keach’s The Breach Repaired in God’s Worship, or, signing of Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs, proved to be an holy ordinance of Jesus, 1691. The issues in their controversy were: (1) whether the only vocal singing in the Apostolic Church was not the exercise of an extraordinary gift of the Spirit; (2) whether the use of a set form of words in artificial rhyme is allowable; and (3) whether the minister sang alone, or a promiscuous assembly together, sanctified and profane, men and women (even though the latter were enjoined to keep silence in the churches). Keach had published some hymns as early as 1674 for use in his church, and in 1691, he published Spiritual Melody, and collection of about three hundred original hymns.

Hymn Singing and the Lord’s Supper. It is of particular interest that the introduction of hymn singing into church service occurred in connection with the Lord’s Supper. There is indisputable scriptural evidence, for in the New Testament account, it is stated, “And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives,” Matthew 26:30. Another Baptist preacher, Joseph Stennett, pastor of the Seventh-Day Baptist Church, Devonshire Squire, London, began, after 1690, to write hymns for use by his own congregation at the service called the Lord’s Supper. A collection of thirty-seven hymns were published in 1697 as Hymns in commemoration of the Sufferings of our Blessed Saviour Jesus Christ, comps’d for the celebration of his Holy Supper.


John Bunyan. During the years of when Keach and others were trying to persuade Baptist congregations to sing hymns, the pastor of the Baptist church in Bedford, John Bunyan, was having difficulties of his own. The powerful effect of Bunyan’s sermons resulted in severe persecution and, for the crime of preaching, he was imprisoned for more than twelve years. Much of his time in jail was devoted to the writing of books, one of which was Pilgrim’s Progress. He never intentionally wrote any hymns, but his “He who would valiant be” (98) from the second part of the Pilgrim’s Progress, 1684, was added to the hymnic compilcations by nineteenth-century editors. [end quote]


  1. Andrew Suttles · April 6, 2011

    Excellent, JM. I knew Keach initiated Baptists to hymn singing, but I had no idea that he was a pioneer in this area for the whole Protestant church. What did those early Baptist brothers do during a service, if not sing hymns? Did they simply pray and preach? Didn’t the Romanists have some form of singing/chanting or something along those lines even before the Reformation?

    This is a very timely subject given all the hullabaloo going on at R. Scott Clark’s blog and several others regarding Psalmody. I prefer hyms, because I prefer to sign the praises of Jesus, not in shadow, but in the full revelation of the New Testament Scriptures.

  2. Pingback: Baptists Initiate Congregational Hymn Singing « Abraham's Seed
  3. jm · April 6, 2011

    From what I can tell, based on the book I quoted; “Protestant forces in England in the sixteenth century chose to disregard Lutheran ideals and practices of hymnody and adopted Calvin’s concept of congregational worship and praise, and psalm singing because the accepted practice.” Baptists having similar roots in the separatist / non-conformist movement would probably have followed Calvin’s lead.

    I know of Primitive Baptists who still use the Scottish Psalter of 1650 if that helps.


  4. Andrew Suttles · April 6, 2011

    I’m sad to say that John Gill disagrees with me on this point.

    He writes here on the issue:

    • Nkurunziza Innocent · May 25, 2011

      Hymns are good and the bible puts it that was but what about the spiritual songs ans psalms and how do we rate them?

  5. irishanglican ~ Fr. Robert · April 6, 2011

    I like Watts too myself! My great-gram was a “Brethren”, i.e. Brethren hymnology. I sang a few of them with her as a boy, etc.

  6. Nkurunziza Innocent · May 25, 2011

    Hymns are good and the bible puts it that way but what about the spiritual songs and psalms and how do we rate them and the people who compose them?
    Music to some regard is culture. But what about African culture where singing hymns sounds as if on burial ceremony.

    • jm · May 25, 2011

      Many of the old mountain hymns are done in model tunings and falsetto, they sound sad and might remind you of a funeral song.

  7. Pingback: Weekend Roundup: Everything Else That We Didn’t Get Around To Posting | The Confessing Baptist
  8. Pingback: Regulative Principle of Worship - Page 3 - Christian Forums

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