The Isaac Watts Hoax

It took a few minutes, but I finally tracked down the source to a pesky, oft-repeated Isaac Watts quote. Forgive me for taking a long time to trace it, but it has been used so much, it was hard to get to the source. Patient readers will be interested to learn its history.

Whenever someone starts a story with “recently on Twitter,” you can be almost certain that the story will end with “someone threw gasoline on me and lit a match.” Even so, recently on Twitter, I commented on worship style and Contemporary Christian Music, and almost immediately, some old, gray-headed guy provided me with a link to an article on “The Controversial Organ.”

The article includes two editorials – one from 1863 and one from 1890, in which objections were raised to the “new” worship songs and musical selections of that day – “Just As I Am” and “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” 

I shyly pointed out that no source was offered for either of these letters – something that shouldn’t be hard to do if one is copying letters from that long ago.  Surely someone has a source for that, right?  And my Twitter companion immediately roasted me: “It wouldn’t matter to you if they did, you legalist.” 

Well, humphhhh. 

A few months before this exchange, I was told by a straight-faced young man in our church lobby that “Christians have always been resistant to change in worship styles.  Pastors objected to Isaac Watts in his day.  They thought it was too new and too worldly.” 

I’ve heard that before, but I always wondered about it.  How do we know this?  Where do I find this information in the history?  What was controversial about Isaac Watts?

Maybe you’ve heard this same argument.  If so, perhaps you also had the panicked thought, am I standing in the way of progress?  “Am I on the wrong side of history?   Who knows if Zach Williams or Kari Jobe might be the next Isaac Watts?  And here I am, like a stone wall in the middle of the prairie, making everyone ride around me.” Let me get out of the way so the people can get to Michael W. Smith.  Mercy Me.  Let’s get back to Casting Crowns and have some Elevation Worship in this place!

Now, I’ll admit to being a stodgy, old-but-not-ancient “fundamentalist.” I reject – out of conviction – the use of Contemporary Christian Music in worship and in everyday life (thus the conversation in the church lobby).  On Twitter, we get called legalists and cultists.  Face-to-face, we get treated to the Isaac Watts argument.

Still, I am curious about this part of the CCM narrative.  From whence the Isaac Watts claim?  Has anyone actually seen, in print, an objection to Watts, from his era?  Can someone please produce a facsimile of a newspaper article from the 1700s with a black-and-white printed complaint? 

Like a good detective, I launch my own independent investigation.  This one won’t increase the size of the national debt, but it will turn up some interesting facts.

The Internet, where Google knows everything, contains an actual skin-and-bones quote from a 1723 newspaper editorial renouncing the music of Isaac Watts in concrete terms:

There are several reasons for opposing it: It’s too new.  It’s too worldly, even blasphemous.  The new Christian music is not as pleasant as the more established style.  Because there are so many new songs you can’t learn them all.  It puts too much emphasis on instrumental music rather than on godly lyrics.  This new music creates disturbances, making people act indecently and disorderly.  The preceding generation got along without it.  It’s a money-making scheme and some of these new music upstarts are lewd and loose.

This particular quote shows up not once, not twice, not three times, but enough times to take it to the bank.  Copy it into Google and look for yourself.  Then take it to Google Books and copy it there.  You’ll see what I mean.  So, amidst all these myriads of appearances of the quote, we should expect to find at least one authentic, flesh-and-blood citation.  Right?  Surely, somebody knows what newspaper in the early 1700s – fifty years before the Declaration of Independence was written – contains this quote.

Photo by Digital Buggu on Pexels.com

I took it upon myself to discover the quote’s source.  I’ll admit to some prejudice – not against the fact of the quote – but to the style of the writing.  The syntax seems suspiciously modern.  As an avid reader, I hardly recognize this style as fitting with that era.  For one thing (channeling my inner nerd), writers of that day tended to capitalize words at random.  Yes, that is a minor point.  Still.

Perhaps somewhere along the line, someone (helpfully) removed all the random capitalizations.  But somewhere upstream of the quote, I should be able to find at least one version of it with the random capitalizations intact.  Right?

So, I search.  And I find a credible newspaper quote about church music (including the name of the newspaper!), citation intact, in the 1998 book The Cambridge History of American Music by David Nicholls.  This quote appears on page 90:

An irate letter written to the Portsmouth New Hampshire Gazette in January, 1764 introduces a new issue in the story of Congregational worship music – that of unfamiliar and inappropriate repertory being sung by the new church choirs:

There are a set of Geniuses, who stick themselves up in a Gallery, and seem to think that they have a Priviledge of engrossing all the singing to themselves; and truly they take away a very effectual Method to secure this Priviledge, namely by singing such Tunes, as is impossible for the Congregation to join in.  Whom they get to compose for them, or whether they compose for themselves, I will not pretend to determine; but instead of those plain and easy Compositions which are essential to the Awful Solemnity of Church Music, away they get off, one after another, in a light, airy, jiggish Tune, better adapted to a Country Dance, than the awful Business of Chanting forth the Praises of the King of Kings.”

(Pichierri 1960, pp. 37-38)

The young people were not quite yet “composing for themselves,” but the quantity and diversity of music available to them was rapidly increasing.  The “light, airy, jiggish Tune(s)” they sang were taken from the publications of contemporary English country psalmodists such as John Arnold, William Knapp, Joseph Stephenson, and William Tans’ur…

I’ll let the reader decide how closely the 1723 anonymous newspaper editorial resembles the language style of the 1764 New Hampshire Gazette editorial. 

As I continued my little search, I found (to my surprise) that the particular quote in question didn’t appear in any blogs before 2000.  But I recall that blogging didn’t become a thing until around 2000, so I don’t make much of that.   

In a Google Books search, I could only find one book before 2000 that included the quote.  I can’t take this as conclusive evidence that the quote does not exist in some newspaper somewhere.  According to Wikipedia, about 40 million of the approximately 130 million books worldwide have been scanned into Google Books.  Due to copywriting issues, the scanning process has slowed considerably.    

Where am I going with this?  You wonder. 

Leslie B. Flynn’s Worship: Together We Celebrate, published in 1983, is the one book written before 2000 that, according to Google Books, contains the quote.   I ordered a copy of this book, as Google Books only offered a snippet, preventing me from accessing the text to see whether Flynn offers a credible citation.  While waiting (with breath appropriately bated) for the book, we will see what else we might find.

If a book included the quote and I couldn’t see the citations, I ordered a copy to examine the sources myself.  Yes, I am a nerd. 

I also examined every blog or website that includes the quote.  My research led me down two trails, and then suddenly, a third surprise trail emerged that seemed like the most plausible explanation for the selection.    

Before I drag you along as I trace the quote, I shouldn’t fail to mention that a surprising number of blogs and books pilfer the paragraph almost verbatim from other websites, with slight variations on a standard follow-up comment to the quote.  They do this, shockingly, without citation. 

The use of the quote might be excusable.  Filching the follow-up comment without citation (for those who didn’t know this) is what editors once upon a time called “plagiarism.” Many books and blogs have plagiarized this quote. 

I don’t judge.  Let he that is without sin cast the first stone.  I only report the news.  The “offense” of plagiarism has dramatically diminished recently, thanks to the woke faction of the Southern Baptist Convention.  So, I’ll let that particular grievance slide.

A few key players from the world of Contemporary Music are caught in this non-scandal (nothing to see here, people).  Matt Redman, for example, plagiarized the quote in January of last year on his Worship Leader blog.

Notice the quote and the follow-up because before we finish, we’ll see the two paired together enough to be on a first-name basis with it.  Here is Redman’s comment (sans citation):

I recently came across the comments of an American pastor objecting to new trends in worship music:

“There are several reasons for opposing it.  One, it’s too new.  Two, it’s often worldly. … The new Christian music is not as pleasant as the more established style.  Because there are so many new songs you can’t learn them all.  It puts too much emphasis on instrumental music rather than godly lyrics.  This new music creates disturbances making people act indecently and disorderly.  The preceding generation got along without it.  It’s a money making scheme, and some of these new music upstarts are lewd and loose.”

Perhaps you’ve encountered this kind of comment before?  Yet, strikingly, this is not a recent outburst, aimed at the modern worship movement.  Not our own one at least.  Instead it comes from a pastor in 1723 attacking Isaac Watts, regarded now by many to be the father of North American hymnody.

Watts is considered the Father of English Hymnody, but we won’t quibble.  Redman might be the most notable to pinch the quote; he is not the only one. 

Popular musician and composer Brenton Brown also quotes it, though he somehow manages to get the date wrong.  Brown refers to a newspaper article in 1707 – perhaps the original article?  The one I still can’t find?  A commenter to this post provided evidence of malfeasance regarding the quote, but the comments seem to have mysteriously disappeared.

I keep searching. 

Integrity Music is also a significant player in the CCM world.  On their weareworship blog, Beth Croft sticks to the template.  Croft also fails to offer any source for the quote.  Nor does she acknowledge those who have dropped the clincher at the end, shocking us all with the news that (gasp!) this quote comes from a 1723 newspaper article (though she makes it about the pipe organ rather than Isaac Watts). 

Whether it’s using loops and tracks, new songs or even different instruments, we as the Church have historically “approached with caution”, for many – and often valid – reasons, with similar questions to the ones I was asking.  We’ve all read articles like this one from a newspaper that’s a response to new styles of music being introduced in church:

“There are several reasons for opposing it.  One, it’s too new.  Two, it’s often worldly, even blasphemous.  The new Christmas music is not as pleasant as the more established style.  Because there are.  A.  Many new songs you can’t learn then all, it puts too much emphasis on instrumental music rather than godly lyrics.  This new music creates disturbances making people act indecently and disorderly, the preceding generation got along without it, it’s a money making scam and some of these new music upstarts are lewd and loose.” 

Every time I read this, I get shocked again when I realise it was written in 1723 objecting to the use of hymns, and the instrument that previously had only been used in bars: the pipe organ!  How times have changed…

In their 2011 book Now to Him: Putting Christ back at the centre of our worship, Neil Bennets and Simon Ponsonby repeat the Watts quote without citation (page 15).  Tyler Braun repeats the section in his 2012 book, ironically titled Why Holiness Matters: We’ve Lost our Way – But We Can Find It.  Again, he pinched the quote without a sniff of a credit.

And in June of 2022, the Experiencing Worship blog snatched the quote and follow-up, sticking to the script and providing no source.  I would quote it for you, but you’ve seen it enough already.

Perhaps we should move on from these quotation rustlers.  Plenty of books and blogs offer a source.  We should follow their trails.

Stewart Holloway’s 2016 book The Privilege of Worship: Keys to Engaging Worship uses the quote without citation.  He does footnote a later statement in reference to Isaac Watts’s hymn “We’re Marching to Zion,” though his source gives no evidence of the 1723 newspaper article.

It is said that Isaac Watts wrote “We’re Marching to Zion” to shame those who left church early because they thought singing hymns as opposed to singing Psalms was frivolous.  The second verse is especially telling.  It says, “Let those refuse to sing who never knew our God. …” Basically, Watts was saying, “If you refuse to sing these new songs you never knew God anyway.” Ouch.

For this particular quote, he cites a Renewing Worship blog post, which will come into play in a moment. 

Actual citations generally point in a couple of directions.  As I searched, I found two websites that offered William Romaine’s Essay on Psalmody as the source of the quote.  I first encountered that suggestion on the Baptist Board and then on this website from 2016.  It seemed like a credible source, so  I ordered Romaine’s Essay on Kindle and read it in about an hour.  I didn’t find anything like this quote in Romaine’s book, though Romaine does discuss Isaac Watts’ music extensively.  Maybe that explains the connection. 

But Romaine is discussing the neglect of the Psalms in favor of “man’s words.”  And his language hardly resembles the wording of the quote. For example, consider this quote from page 87 (Kindle edition) of the essay:

The neglect of it as an ordinance has led many people entirely to neglect it.  I have scarce ever seen a congregation, in which everyone joined in singing.  This is a very great abuse, because it is defeating the end of God’s institution.  He commanded Psalms to be sung for mutual edification.  It was to be the service of the whole church.  All were to join; whereas among us it is performed by some few, and they are sometimes set by themselves in a singing gallery, or in a corner of the church, where they sing to be admired for their fine voices, and others hear them for their entertainment.  This is a vile prostitution of church music, and contrary to the letter and spirit both of the Old Testament and also of the New.

Romaine discusses the neglect of the Psalms and the embrace of man’s words on pp. 94ff (kindle edition).  But he does not say what this quote says.  In fact, he says,

Let me observe then, that I blame nobody for singing human compositions.  I do not think it sinful or unlawful, so the matter be scriptural.  My complaint is against preferring men’s poems to the good word of God, and preferring them to it in the church.  I have no quarrel with Dr. Watts, or any living or dead versifier.

I would not wish all their poems burnt.  My concern is to see Christian congregations shut out divinely inspired Psalms, and take in Dr. Watts’ flights of fancy; as if the words of a poet were better than the words of a prophet, or as if the wit of a man was to be preferred to the wisdom of God. 

Why should Dr. Watts, or any hymn-maker, not only take the precedence of the Holy Ghost, but also thrust him entirely out of the church?  Insomuch that the rhymes of a man are now magnified above the word of God, even to the annihilating of it in many congregations.

Romaine offers a wealth of great arguments for singing Psalms. He doesn’t reject the singing of hymns but rather objects to the elimination of Psalmody.  He praises Watts quite well and even quotes Watts, who never intended his hymns to replace the singing of Psalms.  If interested, read what he says on pp. 110-113.

William Romaine is not the source of the 1723 editorial.

In 2016, Kenneth J. Spiller wrote Journey of a Worshiper: Exploring Matters of Faith and Leadership.  Spiller presents the Watts quote in essentially the same way as others, but his source is Elmer Towns and Warren Bird, Into the Future (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2000), 134-135. 

When I examined Into the Future, I was surprised to find that Towns cites himself, pointing to his book, Putting an End to Worship Wars, published in 1997. Moreover, the citation offers a page range – from pages 54-61 – rather than the traditional single-page citation.  Are we to believe that this Isaac Watts editorial, which requires less than half a page of writing, came from eight pages of another book? 

I searched Towns’ entire book (Putting an End to Worship Wars) three times on Kindle but couldn’t find the actual quote.  Assuming that I might be missing something, I ordered a hard copy of the book to put the eyeballs on pp. 54-61 and examine all the citations.  When the book finally came, I scrutinized pp. 54-61.  I reviewed all references in the endnotes.  And I found nothing. 

I assume Towns means to reference his sentiments about our resistance to change and modernization of worship since that is the theme of his book.  The pages in question discuss six areas of tension regarding modern worship, which include “Seeker Sensitivity Versus Biblical Values,” “Human-Centered Versus God-Centered,” “Dumbing Down Rather Than Shaping Up,” “Conforming to the World Versus Transforming the World,” “Egotism Versus Community,” and “Institutional Event Versus Individual Event.” 

Nothing in there about all these objections to Isaac Watts.  As a matter of fact, nothing about Isaac Watts at all.  Hard Stop.  Elmer Towns makes off with the quote like a bandit.

The deeper I drilled into this mystery 1723 newspaper editorial, the more I became convinced that Elmer Towns cooked up the quote in his own brain.  For about a week, I was convinced of it.  Because his use of the quote is so early in the game (11 years before it started showing up in books and blogs), I assumed that others borrowed from Towns without citation. 

I kept my handy-dandy magnifying glass and my decoder ring at the ready.  I wasn’t done sleuthing yet. 

In 2015, Independent Baptist Pastor Robert Bakss entered the fray over worship music with a predictable theme on this topic – “can’t we all just get along?”  His book Worship Wars was, as far as I know, the first by an Independent Baptist Pastor on the topic, and Bakss came out squarely on the side of Contemporary Worship.  His book was heavily promoted by Josh Teis, who has probably done more to influence Independent Baptists toward contemporary worship than anyone else, including the Paul Chappell family and West Coast Baptist College. 

Bakss borrows this same go-to argument when making a case for Contemporary Worship: “people objected to Isaac Watts in his day.”  In the introduction to chapter 2 of his book (“Predicament with Worship Music”), Bakss promoted the exact same oft-repeated claim about the 1723 newspaper article and followed up the quote with this line of commentary:

There are several reasons for opposing it: It’s too new.  It’s too worldly, even blasphemous.  The new Christian music is not as pleasant as the more established style.  Because there are so many new songs you can’t learn them all.  It puts too much emphasis on instrumental music rather than on godly lyrics.  This new music creates disturbances, making people act indecently and disorderly.  The preceding generation got along without it.  It’s a money-making scheme and some of these new music upstarts are lewd and loose.

Some would think this is a current complaint after the use of some new songs has pushed the envelope in worship too far.  In fact, it was written by a pastor in 1723 attacking Isaac Watts, the writer of great hymns like When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, Joy to the World, and O God, Our Help in Ages Past.

Bakss to his credit is one of the rare authors to provide a source.  An earlier footnote refers to Elmer Towns’ 1997 book, so he had read Towns.  However, for the quote in question, he cites an article on the “Renewing Worship” Blog (his citation links to a 2011 article, now broken).  According to Bakss’ citation, the quote comes from Steven Hamrick. 

I could not find any place on the Renewing Worship blog where Steven Hamrick uses the quote, though he has written for the blog.  However, I found the quote attributed to Hamrick on the Music Academy blog.

The Renewing Worship Blog offers this article from Kenny Lamm.  You might notice that Lamm uses the same graphic as the cover of Bakss’ book.  And Bakss presents the Watts editorial in much the same style as the Lamm article, though with a few added embellishments.  Here is Lamm’s version:

Take a look at this excerpt from a US newspaper objecting to the new trends in church music:

There are several reasons for opposing it.
One, it’s too new.
Two, it’s often worldly, even blasphemous.
The new Christian music is not as pleasant as the more established style.
Because there are so many songs, you can’t learn them all.
It puts too much emphasis on instrumental music rather than Godly lyrics.
This new music creates disturbances making people act indecently and disorderly.
The preceding generation got along without it.
It’s a money making scene and some of these new music upstarts are lewd and loose.

Does this sound like some of the “fan” mail you receive the week after you have pushed the envelope in worship with some new worship songs?

This was written by a pastor in 1723 attacking Isaac Watts, the writer of great hymns like When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, Joy to the World, and O God, Our Help in Ages Past.

You see, “worship wars” are nothing new to our decade.  As long as we have had organized church and people with personal preferences, there has been conflict.

Other blogs and books use Kenny Lamm’s article as source material. Take, for example, this article from Langley Immanuel Christian Reformed Church.  Lamm gets cited so much that one would think the quote is his (though Towns uses the quote a decade earlier). But, like almost every other quote thief, Kenny Lamm offers no citation or source for the quote. 

Imagine my surprise when, as I scrolled through the comments to Lamm’s post, I saw that an astute reader of his blog post, commenting just two days after it was written, pointed out a problem with the quote.  And Kenny Lamm, who responded to quite a few of the other comments, ignored this particular comment, though it refutes the claim that the quote comes from a 1723 editorial.

I provide the entire comment (linked above) here.

The above is from “Worship: Together We Celebrate” Leslie B Flynn ….p.75.

Unfortunately, the conclusions are inaccurate as noted in this comment on Brenton Brown blog http://www.brentonbrown.com/blog/2010/03/19/the-truth-will-out/ (link since broken)

“Good day: I would like to call attention to an entry posted on your husband’s blog on March 17th: “What’s Wrong with Modern Church Music?”  With great respect to Mr. Brown, the anecdote is false.

The words are from a fictional pamphlet, written by Pastor Thomas Symmes of Manhattan in 1723.  (Dr. Watts’ verses would not even be published in America until 1729).  Symmes is actually portraying a church-goer who does not want try (sic) a “new trend” in worship: that is, learning to read music.

The pamphlet, titled Utile Dulce, is a made-up conversation between a puritan pastor and his “neighbor.”  They discuss the current state of worship, which were songs that were repetitive and easy to memorize, since most of the church was illiterate.  Now that a new generation was learning how to read, the pastor wants to introduce written music into the service.  The music would help the church learn new songs, and, for the first time, they could actually read what they were singing about.  He hoped it would edify and revitalize worship.

The neighbor, on the other hand, is unwilling to go along with this idea.  He gives a list of reasons:

  1. That it is a New Way, an Unknown Tongue.
  2. That it is not so Melodious as the Usual Way.
  3. That there are so many Tunes, we shall never have done learning.
  4. That the Practice of it give Disturbance: Rolls & Exasperates men’s Spirits: grieves sundry good People, and causes them to behave themselves indecently & disorderly.
  5. That is Quakerish & Popish, and introductive of instrumental Musick.
  6. That the Names given to the Notes are Bawdy, yea Blasphemous.
  7. That it is a Needless way, since their good Fathers that we Strangers to it, are got to Heaven without it.

(Source: Utile Dulce, pages 11-12)

The reasons are ridiculous because Symmes meant for them to sound that way.

His point was: there really is no excuse for us to not be pursuing excellence and skill in our worship, always for the glory of God.

Thank you for taking the time to read my email.

In Christ,

Jennifer Rincon

Calvary Chapel of Visalia”

See also:

http://www.earlyamerica.com/review/fall97/sing.html

http://www.reformedreader.org/watts.htm

Ahhh!  The Leslie Flynn book.  My interest is piqued.  But Amazon is slow, and my book isn’t delivered yet.  I am dying to investigate. Then, finally, the book arrives.  I open to page 75.  And there, in black and white, is the exact quote – and yes, it includes a citation.

Are you ready?  Leslie Flynn cites a 1981 article in Christian Life Magazine.  His reference says, “From the article, ‘What’s Wrong with the Beat’ in Christian Life, by Michael Wilshire, Feb. 1981, p. 28, footnote says, Thomas Symmes, ‘A Joco-Serious Dialogue Concerning Regular Singing, 1723, in History of Christian Music’.”  So, a quote of a quote of a quote.

I try to access the Christian Life archives.  Christian Life requires a donation, but the website says the minimum donation is $0.  I have $0, so I sign up for that option.  Oops!  They require a minimum donation of $5 to get to the archives.  I make a $5 donation.  Now my profile says that I have access to the free content only.  My $5 donation hasn’t made it to my profile yet.  I am frustrated.  So close to tracking down the quote.    

Meanwhile, I search for Pastor Symmes’ letter.  You can examine Utile Dulci for yourself if you like.  In the Puritan tradition, the complete title of the book is quite long:

Utile Dulci, or A joco-serious dialogue, concerning regular singing: calculated for a particular town, (where it was publicly had, on Friday Oct 12, 1722.) but may serve some other places in the same climate. 

You can see the text here. Scroll down to page 11, and you will see the same list provided in Jennifer Rincon’s comment above.  I’m guessing someone thought the Symmes list was tedious and sounded too much like Puritan writing.  So, they modified it, misrepresented the gist of it, and presented it as fact to a gullible wing of the Christian church all too anxious for a trump card to slap down on the traditionalists.

Symmes said the opposite of what Contemporary Worship leaders claim.  He poked at those who resisted a move towards more serious music, music that challenges the congregation to reach up. Somehow, that became an argument against those who wish to make worship simpler and more contemporary.  In other words, defenders of contemporary worship have turned the quote on its head.

Whether Michael Wilshire manipulated the Symmes quote or found it modified in the “History of Christian Music” text, I cannot say.  But somewhere along the line, someone revised the selection, yanked it out of the ground, and applied it in a “fresh” (I suppose) new way.

That’s it.  That’s my conclusion on the matter.  The Isaac Watts letter is a hoax.  Phony.  Fake news.  Made up.  A mystery meat bologna sandwich.  And a bad fake at that. 

The IFB, as we are derisively labeled, has earned some of the scorn heaped upon us.  We aren’t known for careful scholarship, and we haven’t always made our case justly.  Sometimes we make enormous logical leaps, and we have been known to stretch a text and strain at meanings, sometimes quite violently. 

But this Isaac Watts letter has been waved around for the past twenty years by those who wish we would let up and embrace a little change.  And IT IS A SCAM!  From start to finish, from beginning to end, from top to bottom, it is as fake as Joel Osteen’s smile. 

Were there debates about worship three hundred years ago?  Sure.  There always have been, and there always will be.  And something as important as worship – God’s created purpose for mankind – ought to be handled with great care.   

The debate three hundred years ago was over the amount of Psalm singing, not the style of the music.  The music of Isaac Watts was ground-breaking in that it introduced “man’s words” into worship, and some of Christianity was not prepared to embrace that. However, his melodies were not a dramatic shift away from the majestic music already used in his day. 

Comparing contemporary worship to the music of Isaac Watts is like comparing a high school art project to the Mona Lisa.  They just aren’t the same thing.  But if some wish to debate the merits of contemporary worship music, I’m happy to oblige.  Only, please, don’t weary me with hoax letters from the 1700s. 

*****

Recently in a Twitter exchange, a man who thinks I am a legalist about this stuff slapped down a different variation of the Isaac Watts hoax.  Turns out, some phony letters from early America decry the use of the pipe organ in churches.  My anti-legalist friend shared this article, containing two more hoax letters.  The first, supposedly written in 1863, protests the hymn “Just As I Am.”

I am no music scholar, but I feel I know appropriate church music when I hear it.  Last Sunday’s new hymn – if you an (sic) call it that – sounded like a sentimental love ballad one would expect to hear crooned in a saloon.  If you insist on exposing us to rubbish like this – in God’s house! – don’t be surprised if many of the faithful look for a new place to worship.  The hymns we grew up with are all we need.”

The second letter claims to be from 1890 and speaks against “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”

What is wrong with the inspiring hymns with which we grew up?  When I go to church, it is to worship God, not to be distracted with learning a new hymn.  Last Sunday’s was particularly unnerving.  The tune was un-singable and the new harmonies were quite distorting.”

Somehow, I’m supposed to take this seriously, as if it were from the 1800s.  “Crooned” wasn’t used that way for another 20 years after this letter was supposedly written.  But I suppose I should squint my eyes and just believe.  Both hymns entered everyday use decades before the letters were supposedly written.  They weren’t new then.  But never mind those pesky facts.  I can’t find the word “unsingable” before 1900, and the earliest use comes from something William Butler Yeats said.  You can check me here:   But again, I’m probably just too fussy.  Plus, I hate to be scammed. 

And Contemporary worship is as authentic as Stephen Furtick with a super soaker.

5 thoughts on “The Isaac Watts Hoax

  1. chrisyetzer

    It is shocking how many quotes are fabricated or manipulated in some way. I started with about 25 really nice quotes from scientists on creation and by the end had about 5 legitimist ones. Same thing with Baptist history quotes even from the 1600s which still get repeated today.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Paul Boyce

    Thank you for the work you put into this and sharing the details plainly without attempting to skew one way or the other. Truth and research matter more than ever in a world where it is so easy to publish content.

    Liked by 2 people

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