John Newton on Writing Hymns

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In preparation for a sermon this Sunday I came across this wonderful little piece of advice by my favorite hymn-writer, John Newton. This comes from the preface to his collection of hymns, Olney Hymns.
There is a style and manner suited to the composition of hymns, which may be more successfully, or at least more easily attained by a versifier than by a poet. They should be hymns, not odes, if designed for public worship, and for the use of plain people. Perspicuity (clarity), simplicity, and ease, should be chiefly attended to.

I wholeheartedly agree with Newton. The most successful hymns have just enough poetry to satisfy the artistic sensibilities of those inclined to notice such devices, but no so much that the average, unlearned person would have a difficult time understanding the meaning. Newton could at times be justly condemned for oversimplification, even very bad poetry (or versification), especially when compared to his co-writer William Cowper, a poet par-excellence.


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