The great period of English hymnody was the Eighteenth Century during the First Great Awakening. The four greatest hymn writers were Isaac Watts, John Newton, William Cowper, and Charles Wesley. The people trying to write worship music today could learn a few things from those guys. Think about the fact that Watts was also the author of a widely used logic textbook and Cowper an accomplished poet who would show up in English literature even if he had not written a single hymn. That might tell you something about our current difficulties.
Newton, Cowper, Wesley, Watts
Worked within their garden plots;
Domesticated by their toil
Exotic plants in English soil:
Pungent spices, soothing balms,
Cadences of David’s psalms;
Parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme,
Words of God in English rhyme.
Weeded, hoed, the Garden bears
But few of thistles, thorns, or tares–
Rather, carrots, beans, and maize,
Solid sustenance of praise;
Waving grain and curling vine,
Wheat for bread and grapes for wine;
‘Most every plant beneath the sun–
But leeks and garlic grew they none.
Much sand now through the glass has spilled;
They lie beneath the ground they tilled.
But still the seeds they sowed abide
And thrive, transplanted far and wide:
Where e’er a congregation sings,
Anew from earth their produce springs.
Such honor still their Lord allots
To Newton, Cowper, Wesley, Watts.
Donald T. Williams, PhD