How Adam Rankin Tried to Stop Presbyterians from Singing “Joy to the World”

Rankin's protests have fallen to the wayside, and Watts' famous tunes live on.

The first General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States convened at the Second Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia in 1789.  One of the Presbyterian ministers of the time, a man by the name of Rev. Adam Rankin, rode horseback from his Kentucky parish to Philadelphia to plead with his fellow Presbyterians to reject the use of Watts ‘ hymns.  He cautioned the Assembly Commissioners “to refuse to allow the great and pernicious error of adoption of the use of Watt’s hymns in public worship in preference to Rouse’s versifications of the Psalms of David.”

 

In 1770, When Isaac Watts was 18 years of age, he criticized the hymns of the church in his English hometown of Southhampton.  In response to his son’s complaints, Watts ‘ father is reputed to have said, “If you don’t like the hymns we sing, then write a better one!”  To that Isaac replied, “I have.”  One of his hymns was shared with the church they attended and they asked the young man to write more.

For 222 Sundays, Isaac Watts prepared a new hymn for each Sunday, and single-handedly revolutionized the congregational singing habits of the English Churches of the time.  In 1705, Watts published his first volume of original hymns and sacred poems.  More followed.  In 1719, he published his monumental work, “The Psalms of David, Imitated.”  Among those many familiar hymns is the Christmas favorite “Joy to the World,” based on Psalm 98.

For many years, only Psalms were sung throughout the Presbyterian Churches and the old “Rouse” versions were the standard. The first General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States convened at the Second Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia in 1789.  One of the Presbyterian ministers of the time, a man by the name of Rev. Adam Rankin, rode horseback from his Kentucky parish to Philadelphia to plead with his fellow Presbyterians to reject the use of Watts ‘ hymns.  He cautioned the Assembly Commissioners “to refuse to allow the great and pernicious error of adoption of the use of Watt’s hymns in public worship in preference to Rouse’s versifications of the Psalms of David.”

Rankin’s protests have fallen to the wayside, and Watts ‘ famous tunes live on.

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