Submitted to the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church, 1906.
Written by Henry Beets and Henry Vander Werp.
Translator unknown; edited by Michael Kearney

[124] Supplement XII. THE NEW AMERICAN RHYMING OF THE PSALMS.

For a number of years our American [English-speaking] churches have had a great need for a new rhyming of the Psalms. The poetic interpretations in use until the present, in our as well as other English-speaking churches, are of Scottish origin. And the Scots believed that the Psalms had to be as literal as possible in rhyming. They preferred to do it without rhyming. But naturally, the nature of music and song required an accurate measure, and thus from necessity they permitted rhyming. But just because they wanted to be as closely conformed to the original text as possible, the translation in many places was a crippled rhyming, and in most instances crippled in both feet. Here, for example, are a couple of examples, and yet of the most recent and comparatively of the best rhyming, namely, of the United Presbyterian Church [probably the 1887 revision, pictured below], also in use by our own American Churches.

1887 United Presbyterian Psalter

1887 United Presbyterian Psalter

Psalm 85:8.

Truth met with mercy, righteousness
And peace kissed mutually;
Truth springs from earth, and righteousness
Look down from heaven on high.

[125] Psalm 91:9-11.

Because the Lord, who ever is
My refuge and my aid,
Ev’n God Most High, has been by Thee
Thy habitation made.

No plague shall near thy dwelling come,
No evil thee befall:
For thee to keep in all thy ways
His angels charge He shall.

They in their hands shall bear thee up,
Still waiting thee upon,
Lest thou at any time shouldst dash
Thy foot against a stone.

Psalm 22:25,26.

Earth’s fat ones eat and worship shall:
All who to dust descend
Shall bow to him; and no one can
His soul from death defend.

A seed shall service do to him,
It to Jehovah shall
A generation counted be
Ev’n unto ages all.

There surely is no need for fine poetic feeling to discover that such rhyming is very imperfect. This certainly has been experienced in our country, especially in the last years, now that the literary standards are much higher than formerly, so that the farmer as well as the city-bred have enough poetic gifts of differentiation to understand that such rhyming is far below the standard of ordinary poems. The people in our own American churches experience this, and thus are hardly satisfied with such defective translations.

Dutch Psalter, 1773 translation

Dutch Psalter, 1773 translation

The greatest defectiveness, however, with respect to the rhyming of the Psalms in our country is the spiritual poverty. In order to cling scrupulously to the Hebrew text, they have, so to speak, placed handcuffs upon the spirit thereof in many places. The glorious worshipful spirit of the Psalms cannot spread out its wings far enough in such narrow boundaries. This is especially understood by those of us who from their childhood were fed with the glorious Dutch Psalms, and whose hearts were exalted by the broad, free, evangelical wingspread of the rhyming of 1773 [pictured at right]. Surely there is a great poverty in the spiritual, New Testament meaning. As [126] an example thereof we cite a few more stanzas from the Psalter of the United Presbyterian Church, and next to it the same portion of Scripture in the Dutch translation:

Psalm 68:1-4

Let God arise, and scattered far
Let all His en’mies be,
And let all those who do Him hate
Before his presence flee.

As smoke is driv’n, so drive thou them,
As fire melts wax away;
Before God’s face let wicked men
So perish and decay.

But let the righteous all be glad,
Rejoice before God’s sight;
Let them exult exceedingly,
And joy with all their might.

O sing to God, and praise his name,
Extol him with your voice,
That rides on heav’n with his name JAH;
Before his face rejoice.

Over against this place the Dutch rhyme of exactly the same portion of the unrhymed Psalm, and see what riches, beauty, and majesty shine forth from the Dutch translation. This is like the sun, the English like the moon, and not even a full moon! Just listen to the rich, full tones of this old Huguenot song:

Psalm 68:1,2

De Heer zal opstaan tot den strijd;
Hij zal zijn haters wijd en zijd,
Verjaagd, verstrooid doen zuchten;
Hoe trotsch zijn vijand wezen moog.
Hij zal voor zijn ontzaglijk oog,
Al sidderende vluchten.
Gij zult hen daar g’ in glans verschiint,
Als rook en damp, die ras verdwijnt,
Verdrijven en doen dolen;
’t Godlooze volk wordt haast tot asch,
’t Zal voor uw oog vergaan als was,
Dat smelt voor gloende kolen.

Maar ’t vrome volk, in U verheugd,
Zal huppelen van zielevreugd,
Daar zij hun wensch verkrijgen;
[127] Hun blijdschap zal dan onbepaald,
Door ‘t licht, dat van zijn aanzicht straalt,
Ten hoogsten toppunt stijgen.
Heft Gode dankbre psalmen aan;
Verhoogt, verhoogt voor Hem de baan;
Laat al wat leeft Hem eeren;
Bereidt den weg, in Hem verblijd,
Die door de vlakke velden rijdt,
Zijn naam is Heer der Heeren.

And this contrast you find between glorious riches and disappointing poverty throughout the entire Psalm.

Here, for example, are two stanzas (Ps. 68:19,20):

Blest be the Lord, who is to us
Of our salvation God,
Who daily with his benefits
Us plenteously doth load.

He of salvation is the God,
Who is our God most strong;
And unto God the Lord from death
The issues do belong.

What now is the Dutch rhyming of these two verses? Nothing less than Psalm 68:10, that invaluable song that is sung so often:

Geloofd zij God met diepst ontzag!
Hij overlaadt ons dag aan dag
Met Zijne gunstbewijzen;
Die God is onze zaligheid;
Wie zou die hoogste majesteit
Dan niet met eerbied prijzen?
Die God is ons een God van heil,
Hij schenkt uit goedheid, zonder peil,
Ons ’t eeuwig zalig leven;
Hij kan en wil en zal in nood,
Zelfs bij het naadren van den dood,
Volkomen uitkomst geven.

What a tremendous difference in riches and poetic beauty! And don’t think that this is the situation with Psalm 68 only. No, this spiritual poverty reveals itself in the entire English rhyming, at present being used in the United Presbyterian Church and our Church. And that of the Covenanter Church [i.e. Reformed Presbyterian Church] here and in Scotland is much poorer and less poetic.

Where such is the naked truth, everyone understands that the believer [128] who from childhood was nurtured in the Dutch Psalms, and changes to English worship services, will constantly (especially at first) be homesick for the old Psalms of his childhood. From this is to be understood the great urge for spiritual songs [i.e. hymns] which are used in the American churches. At first these hymns found entrance because the Scottish rhyming did not do enough for the Christian heart, which felt a need greater than the stiff, crippled, spiritually poor rhyming used for centuries in the Scottish churches could supply.

Hence there are very few Psalms found in the hymnbooks of most American churches. Even in our sister churches, the United Presbyterian Church and the Covenanter Church, where, up until now nothing else is sung than the 150 Psalms of David, they have become convinced that it is time to change the landmarks, and to obtain a new and better rhyming.

It is from the two abovementioned denominations that the present movement for a revision of the rhyming of the Psalms has originated.

In 1893 the Rev. Dr. R.G. Brown of the United Presbyterian Church at New Castle, Pa., requested the General Assembly of his denomination to put in motion the assembly of a committee of all Reformed and Presbyterian churches in our country, to implement a better rhyming.

This led to the formation of a “Joint committee on a uniform version of the Psalms in meter,” as the committee called itself. It met for the first time on April 8, 1897, at Philadelphia, Pa.

At this first meeting a number of rules was established by which the work would be accomplished. They are these:

  1. The translation should be faithful to the text.
  2. The “Revised Version” would be the standard translation.
  3. The rhyming should be in perfect, metrical form, and in idiomatic English.
  4. A second translation shall be placed next to the first only by means of a great exception.
  5. The Scottish rhyming shall be preserved as much as possible.

Rules 1 and 5 were made because of the Covenanter brethren, who were definitely opposed to a free translation.

The committee mentioned above consisted at first of delegates of the Northern Presbyterian Church of our country, the Presbyterian Church of Canada, the United Presbyterian Church, the General Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, the Reformed Church of America, the Associate Presbyterian Church, and the Associate Reformed Church of the South.

At the Philadelphia meeting there was not an officially-appointed delegate present from our Church.

[129] The Synod of 1900, however, appointed Rev. J. Groen, and the one of 1902 appointed the first undersigned, who since that time has attended various meetings. The second undersigned is the alternate.

Under the chairmanship of Rev. W.J. Dey (Canada Pres.), from April 20, 1900, to the last meeting in April, 1905, the Committee has met eleven times, nine times in the eastern part of our country and twice in Canada. The average attendance was sixteen.

All the Psalms were revised, some as many as three times. All alterations were voted on by the raising of hands. Some of the Psalms received completely new versifications by the most poetically talented committee members. From the best translations the best and most beautiful portions were chosen. At first the Committee held scrupulously to the Scottish interpretation, but later some of the more conservative members became somewhat more lenient, and permitted the Committee to choose the best, even though it did not conform to their old Scottish and precious rhyming. A dozen second versifications of the Psalms most often sung were adopted because of their excellence.

After much work the new rhyming had been completed to such an extent that the Committee felt free to give it to the participating churches, with the idea that they would appoint committees to scrutinize the recommended rhymings, to make suggestions for improvement, changes, etc. to the Joint Committee, and to find out if the new Psalter could for the present be recommended for use.

Our Synod of 1904 appointed the undersigned as a committee for examination. This committee added a number of our brethren, which Synod permitted, namely, Revs. Bosma, J.W. Brink, Groen, Breen, Hoefker, Westervelt, Voorhis, Poppen, and Trompen. These brethren each received a complete copy of the Psalms, and examined them. Many small revisions, mostly pertaining to the poetic form, were suggested, which will be compiled by the first undersigned and sent to the Joint Committee.

Possibly, even probably, many of these suggestions will be incorporated in the rhyming in the final revision by the Joint Committee.

All the brethren of our Committee have the highest praise for the proposed rhyming. With one accord they claim it to be a great improvement. To give just one example: On January 11, 1906, Rev. J. Groen wrote as follows: “I have examined the ‘Psalms in meter’ which you sent to me for suggestions. Since I myself have [130] attended some of the meetings of the Joint Committee, I am somewhat acquainted with this work. With care and earnestness, labor has been bestowed on this important task, and the outcome has been blessed. This English rhyming of the Psalms surpasses all others. May they soon be accepted by all the churches.”

Concerning the character of the proposed rhyming, it should be remarked that the poetic form in most of the Psalms is fairly satisfactory, even though it is not so fluent as to measure up to the Dutch. Possibly this is partly due to the character of the English language. Some of the Psalms have been translated beautifully, and will easily find a place in the heart of God’s people. The proposed rhyming is not perfect, just as evidently none are. The Dutch is not either. Concerning the evangelical tone, and what makes our Dutch Psalms so precious and even satisfying in the New Dispensation, the new English rhyming must take a back seat for the Dutch sister. But compared with the present translations, it is unquestionably a great improvement, as is generally agreed, an improvement which will be welcomed by our congregations. With longing the new rhyming is already looked for.

Upon the ground of the above unified favorable testimony the undersigned hope:

  1. That your honorable Synod will show its fascination [appreciation?] for the work that has been performed hitherto, and further
  2. Continue its members, so that our denomination, which has an increasing concern with this matter, may continue to work together with other denominations, that finally the new rhyming can be recommended to the churches in its final form. By this action our Church naturally is not bound to accept the rhyming in final form for the worship services in the English language. The next Synod may possibly have to face that question.

Humbly submitted, the committee:

HENRY BEETS,

HENRY VAN DER WERP.

–from Acts of Synod 1906, pp. 124-130.

Last updated August 15, 2015

1 Response to “Report on the New American Rhyming of the Psalms, 1906”



  1. 1 “Crippled in Both Feet” | URC Psalmody Trackback on August 15, 2015 at 4:51 pm

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