A History of Our Hymnbooks

A History of Our Hymnbooks

by Wayne S. Walker
originally published in Faith and Facts, October, 1999

Back in the very late 1700's and early 1800's, the conditions in this new nation appeared just right for a number of different men from different denominational backgrounds in different parts of the country to begin calling for a return to New Testament Christianity by renouncing all denominational divisions created by the various creeds of men and uniting solely upon what the Bible actually says. One of the facts discovered and emphasized by these "restorers" was that the early church used only congregational singing in worship, rather than the trained choirs and instrumental music which had been added by men over the years. So it is no surprise that very early many of them began publishing hymnbooks for use in congregational singing.

In 1805 Elias Smith of Vermont, who withdrew from the Baptists and established independent churches, published A Collection of Hymns. He was soon joined by Abner Jones, and together they published Hymns, Original and Selected, around 1807, probably a revision of Smith's 1805 work. A third edition was published in 1809, and a seventh in 1816. In 1810 David Purvience, who was a coworker with Barton Warren Stone in Kentucky, published The Christian Hymnbook. A second edition was published in 1815. Also that year, Joseph Thomas, a coworker with James O'Kelly of Virginia and North Carolina, published The Pilgrim's Hymn Book. A second edition was published in 1817, but by then James O'Kelly had published his own Hymns and Spiritual Songs in 1816. In 1818 Rice Haggard, who had been with O'Kelly, then moved to Kentucky and worked with Stone, and eventually became a coworker with Alexander Campbell, published A Selection of Christian Hymns.

In 1826, Robert Foster, who was a coworker of Elias Smith, published Hymns, Original and Selected. Foster later went to Kentucky and worked with Barton W. Stone. In 1828 Alexander Campbell of Virginia (now West Virginia) published Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs. A second edition was published in 1829, and a third in 1832. In 1829 Barton W. Stone of Kentucky published The Christian Hymnbook. A second edition was published in 1832. However, in 1832, Campbell and Stone joined forces, and in 1834 they published a united hymnbook, Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs, Original and Selected. From 1834 to 1843 five editions were published. In 1843 a new edition appeared with a "Part II." Still another edition was published in 1848, and five more were produced from 1851 to 1865.

Alexander Campbell desired for there to be one hymnbook for the entire brotherhood. However, even in his lifetime, competition to his hymnbook arose, primarily because he preferred the older, more stately hymnody while others in the brotherhood found appeal in the newer gospel song. In 1839, Walter Scott, one of Campbell's closest associates, published Christian Psalms and Hymns, and in 1844 published a revision called The Christian Hymn Book. In 1847 Silas White Leonard published the Christian Psalmist with Augustus Damon Fillmore of Cincinnati, OH. In 1849 Amos Sutton Hayden, also a friend of Campbell's, published The Sacred Melodeon. And in 1852 B. F. Hall, an early associate of Campbell in Kentucky, published Christian Songs.

Campbell published the last edition of his hymnbook in 1865 and died in 1866. The American Christian Missionary Society had been founded in 1849 with Campbell as its first president, and he felt that it represented the churches in America. It formed a committee, headed by Isaac Errett, to produce a revision of Campbell's hymnal, which was also published in 1865. Subsequent editions were published from 186 5 to 1871. Up to this time, almost all hymnbooks were printed with words only. In 1870, A. S. Hayden produced a tune book for use with the Society's hymnbook. Then in 1871, the Society published an alternative volume with both words and music, The Christian Hymnal. The last two Society editions of Campbell's hymnbook were published in 1875 (The Christian Hymnal: A Choice Collection of Hymns and Tunes), and in 1882 (the Christian Hymnal: Revised).

Thus, competition doomed the Campbell book to failure. A. D. Fillmore had been publishing books since around 1853 and Knowles Shaw since 1868. In 1882 Fillmore's son, James Henry Fillmore, published The New Christian Hymn and Tune Book, which contained practically the same material as the Society book of that year and sold for half the price. The original book contained Parts I and II, and a revision with Part III was published in 1887. This book dominated among the churches into the twentieth century, although other Fillmore books followed and in 1888 Christopher Columbus Cline edited The Standard Church Hymnal for the Standard Publishing Company. However, a controversy had been brewing for some time which would soon bring about a division among those who had formerly worked and sung together. And this division became evident in their hymnbooks.

During the latter part of the nineteenth century, churches in the "restoration heritage" debated the existence of the missionary society and the use of instrumental music in worship. Finally, in 1906, the U.S. Census Bureau listed the Churches of Christ (non-instrumental and anti-society) and the Christian Churches (instrumental and pro-society) separately. The Christian Churches further divided in 1968 with the Disciples of Christ becoming a full-fledged denomination and the Christian Churches striving to maintain some semblance of independence. The Gospel Advocate Co., one of the most vocal opponents of both the society and instrumental music had begun publishing hymnbooks in 1889, although editors Lipscomb and Sewell sold an 1878 edition of The Christian Hymnal published in 1871.

The Advocate's eight hymnbooks issued between 1889 and 1914 were published with one of its editors or a well-known preacher among the non-instrumental churches to oversee the words and a musician of whatever affiliation to edit the music. But beginning in 1923 with Choice Gospel Hymns, edited by Thomas B. Mosley, C. M. Pullias, and S. P. Pitman, the Advocate began using only members of non-instrumental churches in editing its hymnbooks. Gospel Advocate hymnbooks were the most popular east of the Mississippi River. West of the Mississippi, the Firm Foundation began publishing hymnbooks in the early twentieth century, the most popular of which was New Wonderful Songs in 1938. The Advocate's competition in the east came from S. H. and Flavil Hall, who published several books between 1910 and 1927, including The Cross and Resurrection in Song; F. L. Rowe's The Wonderful Story in Song in 1917 and others; and Marion Davis, who published the Complete Christian Hymnal in 1940 and The Hymnal in 1960, both used primarily in the Southeast.

The Foundation's competition in the West came from independent publishers. F. L. Eiland's Trio Music Company and its successor, the Quartet Music Company, published a stream of paperback hymnbooks. Will W. Slater published several books beginning in 1926 with Spiritual Melodies. Tillit S. Teddlie also published many hymnals. However, in 1921, an attempt was made to publish a hymnbook that would appeal to brethren of all geographical and doctrinal backgrounds with E. L. Jorgenson's Great Songs of the Church (No. 1). A supplement was added in 1922 and the combined edition was published in 1925. For some twenty years, this was probably the most popular hymnbook among non-instrumental churches of Christ throughout the nation.

In 1935, the Gospel Advocate employed Lloyd Otis Sanderson to begin editing its hymnbooks and published Christian Hymns (No. 1), which received widespread usage. Two years later, in 1937, E. L. Jorgenson published a revision of his book and called it Great Songs of the Church No. 2, which was also very popular. This writer was born in 1954. Among the congregations with which I was familiar growing up, a few still used Christian Hymns (No. 1), and some still had Great Songs No. 2. However, most of them had replaced those and begun using Christian Hymns No. 2, edited by Sanderson and published by the Gospel Advocate in 1948. Of course, my experiences growing up were pretty well limited to east of the Mississippi River, since I am a native of southern Ohio.

In 1959 the Firm Foundation published The Majestic Hymnal No. 2 (No. 1 had been published in 1953), but it was used primarily in the West. The last Firm Foundation book, Hymns of Praise, was published in 1978 but was apparently not in print for very long. In 1963 Robert. C. Welch published Abiding Hymns which was used in several congregations of my acquaintance, and that same year Nelson Slater published the Christian Hymnal which was used by a small number of churches that I knew of Tillit Teddlie's last major hymnbook, The Great Christian Hymnal No. 2, was published in 1965, but it was also used primarily in the West. In 1966, L. O. Sanderson came out with the Gospel Advocate's last hymnbook, Christian Hymns No. 3, which was adopted by a few congregations in our area. In 1975, a supplement of seventy hymns was added to Great Songs No. 2.

While some of the churches that I had association with had used other books in previous years, the hymns in Great Songs No. 2, the Christian Hymns series (No. 1, No. 2, and No. 3), Abiding Hymns, and Christian Hymnal were the ones that I sang in my most formative years while growing up in the late 1950's and early 1960's. These hymnbooks were "small" by today's standards (from 400 to 600 selections) and all came from the same tradition of combining the older "classic" hymns with the best of the newer, more popular gospel songs. However, by 1970 this tradition seemed rapidly to be dying out with the advent of larger books drawing a greater number of songs from more different backgrounds, including those of the jazzier country-western "singing convention" variety often associated with Stamps-Baxter, James D. Vaughan, and other similar music publishers.

In 1956, just two years after I was born, Ellis J. Crum published Sacred Selections for the Church (slightly revised in 1959 and again in 1960). However, it was not introduced into the area where I lived until around 1970. But after that, it became one of the most popular and almost universally used books I had ever seen. In fact, within a few years, practically all other previously published books went out of print, except for Great Songs No. 2. When I started preaching in 1974 with the church in Sandusky, OH, we began using some older copies of Christian Hymns No. 2, but quickly obtained copies of Sacred Selections. I moved to Warrenton, MO, in 1975, and the church there also used Sacred Selections, although other congregations in the area used Great Christian Hymnal No. 2 or Majestic Hymnal No. 2, and this is where I became familiar with these.

Returning to Ohio in 1977, I found that the next three congregations where I labored (Thayer St. and Harpster Ave. in Akron, and Medina) used Sacred Selections too. The next major hymnbook published by a member of the church was Songs of the Church by Alton Howard in 1971 (revised in 1975 and again in 1977). This became popular rather quickly, moving from west to east. One church in northeast Ohio was already using it when I lived in that area, and when I came to Dayton, OH, in 1987, the Haynes St. church, where I now preach, and several other congregations in the southeast Ohio (Dayton and Cincinnati) area were using it by then. Ellis Crum also published Special Sacred Selections in 1977, although it has never been generally considered a major hymnbook among a majority of brethren.

In 1978 V. E. Howard published Gospel Songs and Hymns and then came out with a revision called Church Gospel Songs and Hymns in 1983. This book appears to be somewhat popular in the South. In 1986 Forrest H. McCann edited Great Songs, Revised for Abilene University Press, but its use among most churches of Christ is limited because it is not in shaped notes. In 1987 R. J. Stevens published Hymns for Worship, which has been rather continuously amended since then and is currently published as Hymns for Worship, Revised. This is the book that we now use at Haynes St. and is gaining popularity among "non-institutional" brethren. In 1990 Alton Howard published Songs of the Church, 21st Century Edition (revised in 1994). In 1992 John Wiegand edited Praise for the Lord (revised in 1997). And in 1994 Alton Howard published Songs of Faith and Praise.

A quick look at catalogs put out by bookstores operated by members of churches of Christ indicates that the oldest songbook currently available is Great Songs of the Church No. 2, originally published by E. L. Jorgenson in 1937 and since 1957 published by Abilene Christian University Press with supplement added in 1975. Jorgenson followed seven standards for hymn selection: literary excellence, lyrical quality, appropriateness, reverence, spiritual reality, scripturalness, and unity. As a result, for some thirty years, this book was the benchmark for hymnbooks among churches of Christ. Since around 1957, several hymnbooks published among brethren contained anywhere from 25% to 50% photographic reproductions from it. Forrest McCann notes, "This copying of Great Songs is leading to its demise, and unless something changes it will soon be a thing of the poet Jorgenson's work, which has done much to elevate and standardize our hymnody than any other, is now in its death throes."

It is a shame that L. O. Sanderson is no longer around to edit hymnbooks and the Gospel Advocate is no longer publishing them. In 1985, just seven years before his death, Sanderson said, "I've spent my life trying to get good music in the church." Sacred Selections by Ellis Crum and Church Gospel Songs and Hymns by V. E. Howard are both available, although the former is no longer as popular as it once was. Alton Howard's Songs of the Church and Songs of the Church, 21st Century Edition are also still published, although his Songs of Faith and Praise, along with John P. Wiegand's Praise for the Lord seem currently to be controlling the field among "mainstream" churches of Christ.

Howard's book contains a large number of the recent "praise songs" (some refer to these as "camp songs") and has many arrangements which seem more adapted for trained singing groups. Wiegand's book relegates most of the recent "praise songs" to a special section at the end, and its arrangements are adapted strictly to congregational singing. Paul Brown noted that someone has called these "praise songs" 7/11 songs: seven words sung eleven times. Forrest McCann observed, "Some of these songs may well live, but it seems questionable to fill standard hymnals with what may prove to be ephemeral productions." R. J. Stevens's Hymns for Worship seems to strike as good a balance as can be currently found.

When it came time for the Haynes St. church to purchase new books, we did have several choices. One of the biggest objections to Great Songs of the Church No. 2 was that the editor was associated with the premillennial doctrine of R. I. Boll and this influence did show through in some songs. Great Songs, Revised, is not published in shaped notes, a part of our musical heritage which I believe deserves to continue since a lot of our people have come to rely on them for learning how to sing. The church here had used Sacred Selections before I came and was using Songs of the Church when I arrived, so we wanted something different. Our basic choices were between Songs of Faith and Praise, Praise for the Lord, and Hymns of Worship.

Regarding Songs of Faith and Praise, consider this review in The Spiritual Sword (10/95). "A perusal of the 1030 entries manifests 130 scriptural entries, many from the NIV, 1 poem, and 1 story. At least five hymns are included twice. Musically, there is much that is offensive to those of us who find no scriptural authority for choirs and solos or duets. Optional, syncopated, even jazzy descants are added to many old hymns, including 'Amazing Grace' and 'Rock of Ages.' This type of arrangement, along with optional extended endings has become fashionable in denominational or inter-denominational books. These arrangements lend themselves to choirs or 'special music' situations with one or more individuals being featured soloists. Several hymns contain soprano/alto duets for extended periods of time. The ration of new music to standard hymns is probably higher in Howard's new book than other recent hymnals. ... The new material chosen contains music with syncopated rhythms and stanzas with irregular syllabification, difficult for an unrehearsed group to follow. Certainly, the adage, 'Keep it simple,' was not applied here."

Praise for the Lord is one of the most complete selection of hymns that have been used among churches of Christ through the years. However, the print is rather small. Therefore, we chose Hymns for Worship. Regarding hymnbooks today, Forrest McCann wrote, "At the end of the 20th century, many changes have occurred in American church song. We are rearing a generation of future church leaders who will be unaware of the historic hymns and therefore, will not care about such. If this evaluation is correct, we may find ourselves again out of the mainstream of Christian song." I truly hope that this will not be the case among us.


Autry, Philip. "Book Reviews: Songs of Faith and Praise;" The Spiritual Sword, October, 1995 (Vol. 27, No. 1); p. 45.

Brown, Paul. "A Song to Sing;" Gospel Advocate, December, 1998 (Vol. CXL, No. 12); pp. 17-18.

McCann, Forrest M. "Changing Our Tune: The History of Hymnals;" Gospel Advocate, December, 1998 (Vol. CXL, No. 12); pp. 12-16.

McCann, Forrest M. Hymns and History: An Annotated Survey of Sources (Abilene, TX: A.C.U. Press, 1997); pp. 9-35.