From Hymns to Gospel Songs
The Protestant Reformation resulted in two conflicting approaches to the use of hymns in the church. One considered that anything not directly supported by the Bible was to be rejected. All hymns that were not direct quotations from the Bible fell into this category and thus, instead of hymns, Psalms were chanted to very basic melodies. The other approach, using hymns to teach principles of faith to worshipers, produced an explosion of hymn writing and congregational singing. Martin Luther, the German reformer and author of many hymns, the most famous being A Mighty Fortress is our God, was a proponent and user of this approach. The principal impetus for early English hymnody came in the late 17th century from the hymn writer Isaac Watts. Watts and others tended to paraphrase biblical texts and Watts is credited with having written the first English hymn which was not a direct paraphrase of Scripture. The evangelical revival of the mid-18th century under John and Charles Wesley firmly established this new concept of hymnody in England and America. Wesley developed a focus, building on the work of Watts and others, of expressing in hymns one's personal feelings in the relationship with God. Many of Wesley's hymns used a variety of experimental meters, and John Wesley's translations introduced many of the finest German hymns to the English audience. The contribution of the Wesley's, along with the Second Great Awakening in America, led to a new style of hymn called gospel. The result was an explosion of sacred music writing with Fanny Crosby, Philip P. Bliss, Ira Sankey, and others producing testimonial music for revivals, camp meetings, and evangelistic crusades. This tune style was named "gospel song" as distinct from hymns.