However, just as serious as his handling of Scripture is Watts’ view of Scripture. At the very least he is blatantly guilty of denying the inerrancy of Scripture. And any doctrine of inspiration of Scripture that he could possibly hold would have to be virtually meaningless. Like some contemporary neo-evangelicals, the best construction of his views would be that he believes that the Holy Spirit inspired the authors of the Old Testament to faithfully reproduce the sinful thoughts of men. If he believes that David was inspired when he wrote the Psalms then he is blasphemously attributing “falsehoods” to the Holy Spirit. If he denies that David was inspired then he has subverted the Scriptures, the very foundation of our faith. Either way, the Bible as an infallible rule of faith and practice has been destroyed. His problems run far deeper than his dispensationalism. Watts is not even willing to admit that these “Psalms” were ever fit to be sung in the worship of God. As Bushell states it,

“The contrast between Watts’ estimation of the psalter and that of the Reformers …could hardly be more stark. It reveals an attitude in Watts towards the unity of the Scriptures which is wholly incompatible with a belief in their Divine origin.”1

Watts’ low view of the Old Testament text is amply demonstrated by how he handled it. He presumptuously arrogated to himself the right to review, edit, and censer the text to make it conform to his notions of New Testament Christianity. He is obviously treating it as the words of men and not as the word of God.

“In the case of David’s Psalms, Watts cavalierly omitted as ‘unworthy of paraphrase’ a dozen psalms, and in order to make ‘David speak like an eighteenth century British Christian,’ so altered a score of others as to render them unrecognizable.”2

Such liberties with God’s word did not go unchallenged and as Stevenson records it,

“…there were, however, at least a few abroad who continued to prefer David to Watts. ‘Compared to the Scripture,’ wrote one conscientious divine, ‘they are like a little taper to the Sun; as for his Psalms, they are so far from the mind of the Spirit, that I am sure if David were to read them, he would not know any one of them to be his.’ And the same author continues: “Why should Dr. Watts…not only take precedence of the Holy Ghost, but thrust him entirely out of the Church? Insomuch that the rhymes of a man are now magnified above the word of God.”3

The bitter legacy of Watts’ treatment of the Psalms is still with us today. One merely has to examine a typical hymnal to confirm that. In the Trinity Hymnal for instance many of the Psalms are not metrical translations, but loose paraphrases in the style of Watts. That is they are frequently more hymn than Psalm. Would Christians accept a Bible where each chapter has been heavily edited? Would they preach and teach from a Bible where each chapter has many verses deleted and many more replaced with verses made up by the editors? Would there not be an outcry against taking such liberties with the very word of God? Yet if the Psalms are part of Scripture why do we tolerate their corruption by men who imagine that they can improve on the work of the Holy Spirit? It is high time that we confront these issues in the Church of Jesus Christ.

  1. Bushell, Op. cited, p. 155. 

  2. R. M. Stevenson, Patterns of Protestant Church Music, Duke University Press, 1953, p. 96 

  3. R. M. Stevenson, Patterns of Protestant Church Music, Duke University Press, 1953, p. 99-100.