The Historical Development Of Sacred Music



Man is basically a religious though unregenerate being. In all human life there is a consciousness of a supreme power. Even the most primitive savage is a religious being as he attempts to fulfill his duties to the invisible powers he senses about him. Since the beginning of recorded time, music has always had a unique association with man’s worship experiences.

There has been much evidence uncovered that the Egyptian culture, one of the earliest known, made extensive use of music in religious rites. The Egyptians possessed many musical instruments, from the little tinkling sistrums to the ornamented harps of twelve or thirteen strings. Undoubtedly Greece, the next important culture in early human history, gained musical knowledge and practice from the Egyptians.

The Greeks made extensive use of music in their religious rituals and also ascribed to it an influence over the moral and emotional nature of man and credited its origin to their gods. In his writings concerning music, Plutarch says: “The right moulding of ingenuous manners and civil conduct lies in a well-grounded musical education.”

Although the Hebrews used music in their worship of Jehovah, it was never developed to the extent that it was under Grecian influence, where notation and the entire organization of a musical system first took form. The Hebrews, unlike the Greeks, did not associate music with morality or with magical properties. For the Hebrew, the arts obtained significance only as they could be used to adorn the courts of Jehovah or could be employed in the ascription of praise to Him.

Most of what is known about the use of music in Hebrew worship is learned from the Old Testament. Here numerous references are found to prove the importance of both vocal and instrumental music in Hebrew worship. The first mention of music in the Bible is found in Genesis 4:21, where Jubal is spoken of as “the father of all such as handle the harp and pipe.” In the Scriptures there are about thirteen different instruments mentioned, which can be classified as stringed instruments, wind instruments or instruments of percussion. There are a number of singers and songs mentioned in the Old Testament. For example:

Miriam’s Song, Exodus 15:20-21.
Moses’ Song, Exodus 15:2.
The Song of Deborah and Barak, Judges 5:3.
Hannah’s Song of Thankfulness, I Samuel 2:1-10.
David’s Song of Thanksgiving and Deliverance from Saul, II Samuel 22.

Altogether, the words “music,” “musicians,” “musical instruments,” “song,” “singers” and “singing” appear 575 times in the complete Bible References to music are found in 44 of the 66 books in the Bible. One entire book, the Psalms, containing 150 chapters, is believed to have been in its original form a book of songs.

With the capture of Jerusalem under David and the permanent establishment of the Tabernacle at that city, the worship service increased greatly in splendor and musical display. Part of an entire priestly tribe, the Levites, were commissioned with the task of providing musical instruction and leadership for these services. Under King David’s leadership the first large choir and orchestra were organized for use in the Tabernacle worship.

When Solomon, David’s son, became king and built the first temple, the splendor and musical display of the worship services increased even more. The third chapter of the eighth book of Josephus, the Jewish historian, states that in this first temple there were 200,000 trumpets and 200,000 robed singers trained for taking part in these services. The fifth chapter of II Chronicles gives an interesting account of a large group of singers and instrumentalists, arrayed in white linen gowns, taking part in the service. The climax of the service came when both united in one glorious expression of praise:

“It came 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; So that the priests could not stand to minister by the reason of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of God” (II Chronicles 5:13, 14).

Following the return from Babylonian captivity, temple worship was once again restored to the Hebrews with the building of the second temple. Although this temple was not as elaborate as the first, there is evidence that musical grandeur and display had an important role in these services as well. The Jewish Talmud describes the traditions of the psalm singing of this second temple. It states that when a sign was given on the cymbals, twelve Levites stood upon the broad step of a stairway leading from the place of the congregation to the outer court of the priests and played upon nine lyres, two harps and one cymbal. While they did so, the priests poured out the wine offering. Younger Levites played other instruments but did not sing. Still other Levitical boys added their voices to the treble part but did not play instruments. The pauses of the psalm, or its divisions or selahs, were indicated by blasts of trumpets at the right and left of the cymbalists.


With the advent of a new era at the birth of Jesus Christ, a new spirit and a new motive, unknown to the earlier Egyptian, Greek, Roman or Hebrew cultures, pervaded religious consciousness. It was a spirit of joy, a joy of having a personal and intimate relationship with God through the person and redemptive work of His Son, Jesus Christ. No longer was worship confined to the temple or synagogue, but rather each believer himself became a temple of the living God. This was not a joy of hilarity and rhythmic demonstrations as in the primitive religions. It was a joy tempered with a deep sense of personal unworthiness, awe and intense devotion to the Person of Christ.

Although much of the church worship had to be done in secret because of Roman oppressors, nevertheless music was a natural expression for this newly found Christian joy. Church history records many incidents of early Christians marching triumphantly to their martyrdom singing hymns of praise about their Saviour. The fact that music was used extensively in the early Apostolic and Post Apostolic churches can be learned from such New Testament references as Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16, Acts 16:25, and James 5:13. Other testimony regarding the use of music by early Christians is contained in the celebrated letter of the younger Pliny from Bithynia to the Emperor Trajan, in the year 112 A.D., in which the Christians are described as coming together before daylight and singing hymns to Christ.

As had been true in the worship services of ancient Judaism, the chief source of early Christian music was the Psalms. In addition to this, however, there was the use of texts such as Mary’s song, the Magnificat — “My Soul Doth Magnify the Lord . . . ,” Luke 1:46-55; the song of Zacharias, the Benedictus — “Blessed -“Blessed Be the Lord God of Israel . . . ,” Luke 1:68-79; The Angels’ Song, Gloria in Excelsis -“Glory to God in the Highest . . . ,” Luke 2:14; Simeon’s Song, Nunc Dimittis–“Lord Now Lettest Thou Thy Servant Depart in Peace. . ,” Luke 2:29; the singing of Jesus–“And When They Had Sung an Hymn . . . , “Matthew 26:30. Other songs mentioned in the New Testament include the singing of Paul and Silas, Acts 16:25, and the future songs of the redeemed, Revelation 14:3 and 15:3. The music of the early Christian churches was entirely vocal, with little regard for instruments of any kind. In fact, the early church fathers, such as Clement of Alexandria, St. Chrysostom, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, strongly denounced the use of instruments with sacred singing.

With the legalizing of Christianity in 313 A.D. under Constantine the Great, the simple organization of the apostolic churches gradually developed into a complex system of liturgy and ritual. The clergy were no longer the servants or representatives of the people, but held a mediatorial position as the channels through which divine grace was transmitted to the faithful. During these early years of the Christian church, St. Ambrose of Milan, born at Treves, France about 340 A.D., did much to encourage congregational singing. Gradually, however, the individual worshiper assumed more and more the role of a passive onlooker rather than that of an active participant, as the clergy assumed charge of nearly all of the details in this liturgical service, including the musical portion of the service.


The next one thousand year period, covering a span of time roughly from the fourth century to the Renaissance-Reformation period, is generally spoken of by historians as the “Middle-Ages,” “Medieval Period,” or the “Dark Ages.” The chants or plain songs performed by the priests are the most important musical development of the church from the fourth through the sixth centuries. The exact origin of these chants is unknown. The church’s next important musical leader was St. Gregory the Great toward the close of the sixth century. The chants or plain songs of this time are often referred to as “Gregorian Chants.”

The ensuing years, from the seventh century to the time of the Renaissance-Reformation, witnessed many important musical activities and developments. The liturgy of the Mass was definitely established. This consisted of two main parts: the Mass Ordinary or the unchanging portions of the Mass and the Mass Proper or the variable portions of each Mass. The Mass Ordinary consisted of five main divisions: the Kyrie, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei and the Benedictus. The Mass Proper consisted of the various activities necessary to supplement the Mass Ordinary, depending on the emphasis of the day. Other kinds of Masses for special occasions also were developed during this time. These included High Mass, Solemn High Mass, Low Mass, Requiem Mass of the Pre-sanctified, Nuptial Mass, Votive Mass. The liturgy of these Masses is important since it has provided the musical structures for many of the finest choral compositions by master composers of both Catholic and Protestant faiths for many centuries. An example is Bach’s B Minor Mass.

This medieval period also witnessed the growth of harmony, progressing from unison singing to the harmonizing of two or more voices to a main melody voice. These main melody parts, known as the cantus firmus, were generally borrowed from the earlier church chants. The complicated polyphonic and contrapuntal devices used in this music reached their complete fruition in the music of two of the finest composers of sacred music of all time, Palestrina of the sixteenth century and J. S. Bach, 1685-1750. Other important musical developments from approximately 1150 to 1450, generally referred to as the Gothic Period during the Middle Ages, included the use of antiphonal singing; the development of the staff and the system of modern notation; and the rise of the instrumental concept, especially with regard to the use of church organs.


The next period of time of historical importance is the Renaissance-Reformation Period from approximately 1450 to 1600. This period marked a great revival of interest in intellectual activity and in the arts. In the religious sense, the Reformation, which was climaxed by Martin Luther with his Ninety-five Theses at the Augsburg Confession in 1517, was extremely important both theologically and musically to all followers of this new movement. Once again the barrier of an intermediary priesthood between the believer and his God was broken down. Much of that same joy known by the early Christians during the apostolic period was again experienced by the Christians of the Reformation as they realized anew the truths of a personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ alone.

It was perfectly natural that with this new found personal joy there came the desire to express adoration and praise in one’s own vernacular language. Congregational singing of hymns and chorales was a powerful force in this new movement. Both friends and foes of Luther often said that he gained more converts through his use and encouragement of congregational singing than he did through his preaching. Luther himself said that music was one of the finest and noblest gifts of God in the world and that young men should not be ordained as preachers unless they had also been trained in music.

Other important reformers of this period such as John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli also realized the importance of congregational singing, although not with the same intensity that Luther did. Calvin, while insisting that the ear should not be more attentive to the harmony of sounds than the soul to the hidden meanings of the words, did decree in Geneva that music should be taught to the children in the day school, so that when they had learned to sing the Psalms thoroughly there, they might sing properly in the public worship services on Sundays. Since these reformers felt that only songs with Scriptural settings were proper for worship, only the metrical versions of the Psalms were used in churches of Reformed conviction, and then sung only in unison. Clement Marot was one of the Reformed Church musicians most responsible for various publications of metrical psalmody during this time. The most important psalter was the Geneva Psalter, published in 1562. The musician who supplied most of the tunes for this psalter was Louis Bourgeois. Another important psalter of this time was the Scottish Psalter, published in Scotland in 1564.

The Reformation in England was quite different from that upon the continent. In Germany, France, Switzerland and the Netherlands the revolt against Rome was primarily religious. In England, the break with Rome was not because of doctrinal disagreement, but solely for political advantage. In 1534, Henry VIII issued a royal edict repudiating the papal authority. Although this accomplished a separation with Rome, there were no basic changes in the doctrines of the Church of England. Edward VI, 1547-1553, was much more receptive to the true spirit of the Reformation as England more and more felt its influence from the other countries. During Edward’s reign, two religious loaders, Thomas Sternhold and John Hopkins, were influential in making several important publications available to the English public. The Book of Common Prayer, containing the entire ritual of the Anglican Church, was published in 1549 while the complete setting of metrical psalmody was published in 1562. During the reign of “Bloody” Mary, 1553-1558, there was a brief return to Catholicism in England. However, with the rule of Elizabeth, 1558-1603, Protestantism was once again permanently restored. One of the important injunctions issued by Queen Elizabeth was in 1559 when she declared: “In the beginning, or at the end of Common Prayer, there may be sung a hymn or such like song to the praise of Almighty God, in the best sort of melody and music that may be conveniently devised.” With that encouragement came the gradual rise of English hymnody, with its rich treasures of poetry and music.


Among the most bitter opponents of the Anglican Church during this time were the Puritans. They repeatedly assailed the church as being half-papist. They did their best to reduce worship to the barest simplicity as well as to set up a more democratic form of church government. Their influence was first exerted during the time of Queen Elizabeth, but as a result of her strong stand for the established church, they were repressed. The Puritan movement increased in fervor under the weaker rule of James I, 1603-1625, and finally culminated with the overthrow of the monarchy during the reign of Charles I, 1625-1649. This temporary triumph was completed with the rule of the Commonwealth replacing that of the monarchy from 1649-1660. With the restoration of the throne in 1660, the liturgy and elaborate musical service of the Church of England were re-established.

The non-ceremonial practices of the Puritans were largely promoted by the fervent teachings of John Calvin on the continent. As is often the case, however, the followers were far more extreme in their practices than was their leader. Though the Puritans gave strict adherence to such Calvinistic ideals as complete acceptance of the Scriptures for all rule and authority of life, the acceptance of only the metrical psalms sung in unison for congregational singing, refusal to accept choirs and church organs, their ruthless and radical tactics for accomplishing these ideals will always be one of the dark blights in church history. As the Puritans reacted to the High Church, many ancient sanctuaries were demolished, stained glass windows broken, ornaments torn down, libraries ransacked, and many fine church organs completely destroyed by this religious fanaticism.

With the restoration of the Stuart rule, Charles II, 1660-1685, and the re-establishment of the Anglican Church liturgy, there developed an important new musical form, the anthem. The ancient antiphonal form of the anthem was actually the counterpart of the choral motet of the Catholic Mass. The modern form of the anthem in the English language is attributed to the influence of one of England’s finest composers, Henry Purcell, 1658-1695. The anthem in its present form is a mixture of the ancient motet and the German cantata. The modern anthems are generally found in three forms: The full anthem, where all voices are used throughout; the verse anthem, where portions are sung by selected voices; and the solo anthem, containing passages for a single voice.

During the seventeenth century other minority groups continued to rebel against the established church. These groups were known as Dissenters or Non-Conformists. After their first wave of initial enthusiasm wore off, things went progressively worse for these groups. The dullness and plainness of their services as well as their fantastic concepts of individualism, which led many of the leaders to expound the idea that singing as well as praying should be completely spontaneous in a service, nearly led to the ruin of sacred music in these churches.


The eighteenth century truly was ready for the new hymns of Isaac Watts, 1674-1748, often called the “father of English hymnody,” and the soul stirring music of the Wesleys. The myth of “inspired psalmody” was soon shattered as Christians everywhere thrilled in singing this new type of sacred music. As was said of the Lutheran chorales, so it can be said of these hymns: They often were more instrumental in winning converts to Christ than was the preaching of the leading evangelists of this time, John Wesley, 17031791, and George Whitefield, 1714-1770.

Isaac Watts used his hymns to summarize his sermons and to express his Calvinistic theology. He firmly believed that since songs are human offerings of praise to God, the words, therefore, ought to be one’s own. If the Psalms were to be used, he contended that they ought to be Christianized and modernized. Being a Dissenter and Congregationalist and having the convictions that he did, Watts was often called a revolutionist in his day. Several of his best known hymns found in our hymnals today are “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”; “Jesus Shall Reign Wher’er the Sun”; “Joy to the World”; “O God, Our Help in Ages Past”; “Before Jehovah’s Awful Throne.”

The Wesleyan Movement was the spark that set off a great revival of religious fervor. This did much to combat the spirit of agnosticism that was so prevalent during this time. The state churches had become more and more corrupt, with little concern for the individual. Even the dissenting groups were becoming easy going and non-evangelistic. The new vitalized singing introduced by the Wesleys was an important factor in these great revivals. Together, John the preacher and Charles the musician (1708-1788) wrote and translated approximately 6,500 hymns, although the majority are no longer found in our hymnals today. Their theology was strongly opposed to the “election” emphasis of Calvin’s teachings. They wrote hymns on nearly every phase of Christian experience with warmth and conviction. Several of their best known hymns found in our hymnals today are “Jesus, Lover of My Soul”; “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”; “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing”, “Soldiers of Christ, Arise” “Ye Servants of God, Your Master Proclaim”; “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing”, “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today.”

In addition to the names of Watts and Wesley, the eighteenth century also produced other well-known hymn composers such as Joseph Addison, 1672-1719,
“When All Thy Mercies, O My God”; Philip Doddridge, 1702-1751, “O Happy Day
That Fixed My Choice”; Anne Steele, 1716-1778, “Father of Mercies, in Thy Word”; Joseph Grigg, 1720-1768, “Jesus, and Shall It Ever Be”; William Williams, 1717-1781, “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah”; John Cennick, 1718-1755, “Children of the Heavenly King”; John Byrom, 1692-1763, “Christians, Awake, Salute the Happy
Morn”; Thomas Olivers, 1725-1799, “The God of Abraham Praise”; Augustus
Toplady, 1740-1778, “Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me”; Edward Perronet, 1721-1792, “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name”; John Newton, 1725-1807, “Amazing Grace, How
Sweet the Sound”; William Cowper, 1731-1800, “God Moves in a Mysterious Way”, John Fawcett, 1739-1817, “Blest Be the Tie That Binds”; George Heath, 1745-1822, “My Soul, Be on Thy Guard.” Other well-known eighteenth century hymns whose authors are unknown are: “Come, Thou Almighty King,” “How Firm a Foundation,” and “Praise the Lord! Ye Heavens Adore Him.”

The eighteenth century also produced another important form of sacred music, the oratorio. Although Germany’s Heinrich Schutz, 1585-1672, and still later J. S. Bach, 1685-1750, had written much fine dramatic music known as Passion Music, which presented texts based on the sufferings of Christ as recorded in the various gospels, George Frederick Handel, 1685-1759, was one of the first to write sacred dramatic music in the English language. His most popular oratorio, The Messiah, was first performed in Ireland in 1743. Other later important oratorio composers were: Franz Joseph Haydn, 1732-1809, The Creation; Felix Mendelssohn, 1809-1847, The Elijah.


Whereas most of the hymn writers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were primarily concerned with composing hymns that expressed a particular emphasis of their doctrinal convictions, nineteenth century hymnists, influenced by the prevailing Romantic Age spirit found in all forms of art, were more concerned with improving the literary quality of hymnody. Important hymn composers of this time included Reginald Heber, 1783-1826, “Holy, Holy, Holy”; Thomas Kelly, 1769-1854, “Look, Ye Saints, the Sight Is Glorious”; Thomas Moore, 1779-1852, “Come, Ye Disconsolate”; James Montgomery, 1771-1854, “In the Hour of Trial”; John Keble, 1792-1866, “Sun of My Soul”; James Edmeston, 1791-1867, “Savior, Breathe an Evening Blessing”; Henry Hart Milman, 1791-1868, “Ride On! Ride On in Majesty”, Henry Francis Lyte, 1793-1847, “Abide With Me”; Sir John Bowring, 1792-1872, “In the Cross of Christ I Glory”; Hugh Stowel, 1799-1865, “From Every Stormy Wind That Blows”; Andrew Reed, 17871862, “Holy Ghost, With Light Divine”; William Hiley Bathurst, 1796-1877, “O For a Faith That Will Not Shrink”, Sir Robert Grant, 1779-1838, “O Worship the King”; Charlotte Elliott, 1789-1871, “Just As I Am.” Another fine hymn of this time, which remains anonymous, is “Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us.”

On July 14, 1833, a new religious movement in England known as the Oxford or Tractarian Movement was begun with a sermon by John Keble entitled “National Apostasy.” This movement was originally intended to vindicate the privileges of the state church under the threat of spoilation by a Whig government by defending the theory of a Catholic and Apostolic Church ordained by Christ Himself. It also sought to establish a more devout and reverent worship with a renewed use of music in the service. This emphasis was a reaction too much of the indifferent and careless worship of that time. For ten years this movement held religious England with great tenacity, during which time many of the church’s leaders either went back to the Roman Church or became a rejuvenated High Church Party known as Anglo-Catholics. This influence was also felt in many other Protestant churches with such practices as the institution of boys’ choirs, the use of vestments, and other elaborate ritualistic practices such as the use of symbols, processionals and recessionals. Important hymn writers who were influenced by this movement were John Henry Newman, 1801-1890, “Lead, Kindly Light”; Edward Caswall, 1814-1878, “When Morning Gilds the Skies”; John Mason Neale, 1818-1866, “The Day of Resurrection.” Both Caswall and Neale are primarily noted for their work in translating some of the Greek and Latin hymns of the early church fathers. Other church leaders such as Frederick William Faber, 1814-1863, “Faith of Our Fathers, Living Still,” and Matthew Bridges, 1800-1894, “Crown Him With Many Crowns,” later became prominent leaders in the Roman Catholic Church. In 1861 this movement produced an important hymnal, Hymns Ancient and Modern, for High Church use.

At the height of the Oxford Movement, Queen Victoria, who ruled England from 1837-1901, inherited the throne. The hymns written throughout this Victorian Era are generally classified as being High Church Hymns; Evangelical or Low Church Hymns; Broad Church Hymns; Dissenting Hymns; Post-Victorian Hymns.

A. High Church Hymn Writers of the Victorian Era. These churchmen were Anglicans who resisted the drift toward Rome as well as toward the spirit of agnosticism, which was prevalent at this time. They were primarily concerned with preserving the integrity of the liturgy, creeds, sacraments and practices of the Anglican Church Important hymn composers of this group included: Mrs. Cecil Frances Alexander, 1818-1895, “There Is a Green Hill Far Away”; Christopher Wordsworth, 1807-1885, “O Day of Rest and Gladness”; William Whiting, 1825-1878, “Eternal Father, Strong to Save”; Francis Pott, 1832-1909, “Angel Voices Ever Singing”; Folliett Sandford Pierpoint, 1835-1917, “For the Beauty of the Earth”; Edward Hayes Plumptre, 1821-1891, “Rejoice, Ye Pure in Heart”; Sabine BaringGould, 1834-1924, “Onward, Christian Soldiers”; Samuel John Stone, 18391900, “The Church’s One Foundation”, and Dorothy Frances Gurney, 18581932, “O Perfect Love, All Human Thought Transcending.”

B. The Evangelical or Low Church Hymn Writers of the Victorian Era. These churchmen were Anglicans who also remained in the Anglican Church but who were generally more concerned with the spiritual and social welfare of individuals rather than in merely maintaining the integrity and practices of the church. Important hymn composers of this group included: Anna Laetitia Waring, 1820-1910, “In Heavenly Love Abiding”; Dean Henry Alford, 1810-1871, “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come”; George Croly, 1780-1860, “Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart”; Emily Elizabeth Steele Elliott, 1836-1897, “Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne and Thy Kingly Crown”; Arabella Katherine Hankey, 18341889, “I Love to Tell the Story”; Frances Ridley Havergal, 18361878, “Take My Life and Let It Be.”

C. Broad Church Hymn Writers of the Victorian Era. This group of churchmen represented the liberal and modern faction in the Anglican Church. They supported the traditions and practices of the established church but attempted to reconcile the church with higher criticism and scientific and philosophical findings and developments. Important hymn composers of this group included Alfred Lord Tennyson, 1809-1892, “Strong Son of God, Immortal Love”; William Walsham How, 1823-1897, “O Word of God Incarnate”; John Ellerton, 1826-1893, “Savior, Again to Thy Dear Name We Raise”; John Ernest Bode, 1816-1874, “O Jesus, I Have Promised”; Edwin Hatch, 1835-1889, “Breathe On Me, Breath of God”; Rudyard Kipling, 1865-1936, “Father in Heaven, Who Lovest All.”

D. Dissenting Church Hymn Writers of the Victorian Era. This group represented those who had broken from the established state churches in England or Scotland. The greatest number of these independent writers were of Scotch Presbyterian background. Important hymn composers of this group included: Horatius Bonar, 1808-1889, “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say”; Elizabeth Douglas Clephane, 1830-1869, “Beneath the Cross of Jesus”; George Matheson, 1842-1906, “O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go”; Sarah Flower Adams, 1805-1848, “Nearer, My God, to Thee”; Thomas Toke Lynch, 1818-1871, “Gracious Spirit, Dwell With Me.”

E. Post-Victorian Church Hymn Writers. The following English hymn writers have written important hymns following the death of Queen Victoria in 1901 and throughout the reigns of Edward VII (1901-1910), George V (1910-1936), George VI (19361952), and Queen Elizabeth (1952- ). Several of these composers are: John Oxenham, 185?-1941, “In Christ There Is No East or West”; Frank Fletcher, 1870-1936, “O Son of Man, Our Hero Strong and Tender”; Clifford Bax, 1886- , “Turn Back, O bran, Forswear Thy Foolish Ways.”

F Russia Choral Music Another important contribution to the field of sacred music was made in the latter half of the nineteenth century by a group of Russian composers. This choral music, with its intensely emotional and worshipful character, modal harmonies and extreme ranges, is an outgrowth of the Greek Orthodox Church, which had separated from the Western Roman Church in 1054 A.D. The many fine “cherubim songs” and other anthems of praise written in this style are used in worship services in many of our evangelical churches. Several of these leading Russian composers are: Michael Glinka, 1804-1857; Dimitri Bortniansky, 1751-1825; Mili Balakirev, 1837-1910; Cesar Cui, 18351918; Alexander Borodin, 18341887; Rimsky Korsakoff, 1844-1908; Modeste Moussorgsky, 1835-1881; Peter Tchaikovsky, 1840-1893.


In America, the early settlers used the psalters taught them in England, still clinging to the idea that God would be insulted if men offered to Him any hymns other than those He had dictated in Scripture. The Puritans of Salem used the Sternhold and Hopkins Psalter, while the Pilgrims at Plymouth brought the Ainsworth Psalter, and later made their own metrical version, the Bay Psalm Book, published in 1640. In the eighteenth century and early part of the nineteenth century, the “human composure” hymns of Watts, Wesley, and other English hymn writers gradually became accepted in American churches. It is interesting to note that during our early history, 1620-1820, only one hymn from the pen of an American composer is still found in our hymnals today. This hymn, “I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord,” written by Timothy Dwight, 1752-1817, influential in education, theology and literature, is still widely sung.

Perhaps the most distinct form of sacred music contributed to hymnology by the Americans is the gospel song. This has been defined and described by Edmund S. Lorenz in his book, Church Music: What a Minister Should Know About It, as follows: “A sacred folk song, free in form, emotional in character, devout in attitude, evangelistic in purpose and spirit. The hymns are more or less subjective in their matter and develop a single thought, rather than a line of thought. That thought usually finds its supreme expression in the chorus or refrain which binds the stanzas together in a very close unity, just as it does in lyrical poetry where it is occasionally used.” 1

The gospel song is generally said to have had its outgrowth from the spirituals and early Sunday school songs of the nineteenth century. The gospel songs received their real impetus, however, in the latter part of the nineteenth century with the evangelistic endeavors of D. L Moody and Ira Sankey, both in this country and in Great Britain. Once again, as had been experienced by the apostolic church Christians, by the Christians of the Reformation period, and by the Christians who sang the hymns of Watts and Wesley, people rediscovered the thrill of raising their voices in praise and thanksgiving to God. These were songs which had a melody and rhythm easy to sing as well as words that were easy to understand. The words expressed truths that had warmth and personal meaning to those who sang them. These are the songs that have characterized the singing in many of our evangelical churches to the present time.


Some of the earliest important gospel song writers include: Charles H. Gabriel, E. O. Excell, P. P. Bliss, Fanny Crosby, William Bradbury, Robert Lowry, James McGranahan, George Stebbins, William Doane, C. C. Converse, Tames M. Gray, A. H. Ackley, B. D. Ackley, H. Lillenas, Wm. J. Kirkpatrick, W. A. Ogden, C. Austin Miles, A. T. Pierson, Charles Alexander, and Homer Rodeheaver.

Several of the present day gospel song writers include: Beatrice Bixler, Norman Clayton, Merrill Dunlop, Robert Harkness, Robert J. Hughes, Paul Hutchens, Phil Kerr, Harry Dixon Loes, Wendell P. Loveless, John Peterson, George Schuler, Al Smith, Herman Voss, Keith Whitford. It should be noted that many of the musical changes taking place in contemporary secular serious music are also found to some degree in present day gospel songs and anthems. These musical changes include: More emphasis on dissonant harmonies, more rhythmic variety, and more emotional restraint. Several of the leading contemporary composers writing sacred anthems in this modern style include: Randall Thompson, Gustav Holst, and Ralph Vaughan Williams.


In addition to the name of Timothy Dwight, other important American hymn writers are: Thomas Hastings, 1784-1872, “Hail to the Brightness of Zion’s Glad Morning”; George Doane, 1799-1859, “Fling Out the Banner!”; Ray Palmer, 1808-1887, “My Faith Looks Up to Thee”; Samuel Francis Smith, 1808-1895, “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee”; Joseph Scriven, 18201886,”‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus”; Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1811-1896, “Still, Still With Thee, When Purple Morning Breaketh”; Elizabeth Payson Prentiss, 18181878, “More Love to Thee, O Christ”; George Duffield, 1818-1888, “Stand Up, Stand Up For Jesus”; Edmund Hamilton Sears, 18101876, “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear”, Sylvanus Dryden Phelps, 1816-1895, “Savior, Thy Dying Love”; John Henry Gilmore, 1834 1918, “He Leadeth Me! O Blessed Thought”; Mary Ann Thomson, 1834-1923, “O Zion, Haste”; Edward Hopper, 1816-1888, “Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me”; Annie Sherwood Hawks, 1835-1918, “I Need Thee Every Hour”; Daniel Crane Roberts, 1841-1907, “God of Our Fathers, Whose Mighty Hand”; Mary Artemesia Lathbury, 18411918, “Break Thou the Bread of Life”; Jeremiah Eames Rankin, 18281904, “God Be With You Till We Meet Again”; John Greenleaf Whittier, 1807-1892, “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind” Phillips Brooks, 1853-1893, “O Little Town of Bethlehem”; Ernest Warburton Shurtleff, 1862-19i1, “Lead On, O King Eternal”; Maltbie Davenport Babcock, 1858-1901, “This Is My Father’s World”; Henry Van Dyke, 1852-1933, “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee”; Washington Gladden, 1838-1918, “O Master, Let Me Walk With Thee.”

It can generally be said that hymn writers of the late nineteenth and the twentieth centuries, both in this country and in England, were more concerned with writing texts that expressed the virtues, ethics and social implications of the Gospel rather than in expounding doctrinal truths.


A study of the past reveals that the Christian church has inherited rich musical treasures throughout the centuries from such sources as: translations of Greek and Latin hymns; hymns and chorales from the Reformation period; metrical psalmody embodied in Calvin, Marot, and psalters of this time; the free verse, “human composure” hymns of Watts, Wesley and other seventeenth and eighteenth century composers with their strong doctrinal teachings; the fine literary hymns of the early nineteenth century; the gospel music of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, especially useful for evangelistic endeavors; and the late nineteenth and twentieth century hymns with their greater emphasis on Christian behavior and the social responsibilities of the Gospel. A good church hymnal should be representative of all of these sources of hymnody.

A look at the present and future indicates many favorable trends taking place in evangelical church music. More Bible schools, colleges and seminaries are giving emphasis and instruction in church music than ever before.

Another promising sign for church music is the greater interest shown by many church leaders. This is indicated in the growing number of church music conferences, clinics, and workshops held periodically around the country. It is also encouraging to note that more churches, both large and small, are beginning to see the value of having more than just a senior choir. These churches realize that if there is to be a good senior choir in the future, it must begin with the children and carry through each age group. Further, since the music and education ministries are closely related, a total music program in a church serves as an important tool in developing a strong Christian education program. The fact remains, however, that there is yet much to be accomplished. The great majority of evangelical churches still do not have a music ministry that has a vital influence on its individual members.


Any church music director soon realizes that achieving an effective and total music program in an individual church is usually a slow, tedious task, requiring much effort and patience. There generally are such factors as indifference, complacency, deficient musical education, traditions and prejudices that must be overcome. It is quite possible that a music director may never see the fruition of his work during his own ministry in a church. However, one must continually remind himself that a Christian leader should be interested primarily in faithfulness to God and the ideals of the future rather than self-glory and mere apparent success.

Although there is a continual struggle on the part of church music directors for better musical standards, it should be cautioned that good music and a large music program are not merely ends in themselves. The ultimate objectives of the church music program must always be to attract individuals to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and then to lead them to a fuller, more Spirit-filled Christian life. This is the ministry of music with which we must be earnestly concerned.


1. In what ways can an understanding of the historical development of sacred music be helpful to a church music director?

2. Discuss the importance of music to the Hebrews as recorded throughout the Old Testament. Discuss the basic differences between Hebrew worship and Christian worship of the apostolic period. Discuss the history, meaning, structure and musical importance of the Mass.

3. Discuss why the Reformation as climaxed by Martin Luther in 1517 is important both theologically and musically to the evangelical church.

4. Discuss the differences between the hymns of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and the hymns of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

5. Discuss ways and means of improving the total music program in the local evangelical church.


1. Christian Music in Contemporary Witness by Donald Ellsworth. Published by Baker Book House.

2. Church Music in History and Practice by Douglas. Published by C. Scribner’s Sons.

3. Church Music: What a Minister Should Know About It by Edmund S. Lorenz. Published by Fleming H. Revell Co.

4. Jubilate! Church Music in The Evangelical Tradition by Donald Hustad. Published by Hope Publishing Co.

5. Patterns of Protestant Church Music by Stevenson. Published by Duke University Press.

6. Protestant Church Music in America by Davison. Published by E. C. Schirmer Co.

7. The Gospel in Hymns by Bailey. Published by Charles Scribner’s Sons.

8. The Hymnody of the Christian Church by Benson. Published by George H. Doran Co.

9. The Rise and Growth of English Hynmody by Marks. Published by Fleming H. Revell Co.

10. The Story of Our Hymns by Halussler. Published by Eden Publishing Co.