HYMNS OF THE SABBATH.
•' How still the morning of the hallowed day!
Mute is the voice of rural labour, . . .
While from yon lowly roof, whose curling smoke
O'ermonnts the mist, is heard, at intervals,
The voice of psalms, the simple song of praise."
"How certainly the outside world sometimes answers to the condition of our inner life! The face of creation seems troubled when our souls are uneasy. Signs 'of sorrow appear around us when our hearts are distressed. All music is discord when we ourselves are out of tune; and all forms are rugged, all outlines harsh, when irregularities and unlovely tempers are taking unholy shapes in our own inward selves. But all forms of creation become lines of beauty, all shapes make themselves agreeable, all sounds harmonize, and all influences are calm, when our souls are conformed to God's will, when we enjoy the repose of a spiritual Sabbath." These were the thoughts of a pilgrim who had lived and journeyed till he had seen all the companions of his earlier course drop oflf from the road, and who had learned to turn with tremulous delight towards anything in nature that seemed to wear an expression of sympathy 'with him ia his loneliness. Hills, rocks, valleys, and waters, flowers, and all tiny forms of beauty, he had become happily familiar with; and friendship with nature, in his case, was so akin to friendship with "the God of all grace," that they seemed to blend their influences for his pleasure, and to act by turns as a sort of brotherhood on his behalf. He was sometimes far away from the Sabbath assemblies of God's people; but everything in the outer world, at such times, tendered its sympathies, and offered its ministrations, and joined him in the celebration of his Sunday service. So it was, one Sunday morning, as he went quietly, but with buoyant footsteps, over the soft, turfy undulations which, like the waves of a quietly-subsiding sea, sank from the hills of the coast down to the low cliff, and formed the marshy, lawn-like approach to a lone cottage which looked out upon the waters of the Atlantic. Every step brought up fragrance from the crushed camomile or the wild thyme. No breeze disturbed the sea. There was something solemnly calm in the very sunlight. "Nature feels her Sabbath," said he to himself, "and is still; but my undertoned music will only deepen her stillness ;" and then, as he went, his steps kept tune with his low chant, as he sang a charming hymn, which in that day was just beginning to float about in a few private circles of religious life:—
Hail, thou bright and sacred morn,
Risen with gladness in thy beams!
Light, which not of earth is born,
From thy dawn in glory streams:
Airs of heaven are breathed around,
And each place is holy ground.
Sad and weary were our way,
Fainting oft beneath our load,
But for thee, thon blessed day,
Resting-place on life's rough road!
Here flow forth the streams of grace,
Strengthened hence we run the race.
Great Creator, who this day
From Thy perfect work didst rest,
By the souls that own Thy sway,
Hallow'd be its hours, and blest;
Cares of earth aside be thrown,
This day given to heaven alone!
Saviour! who this day didst break
The dark prison of the tomb;
Bid my slumbering soul awake,
Shine through all its sin and gloom:
Let me, from my bonds set free,
Rise from sin, and live to Thee!
Blessed Spirit! Comforter!
Sent this day from Christ on high;
Lord, on me Thy gifts confer,
Cleanse, illumine, sanctify:
All Thine influence shed abroad,
Lead me to the truth of G•od!
Soon, too soon, the sweet repose
Of this day of God will cease;
Soon this glimpse of heaven Trill close,
Vanish soon the hours of peace,
Soon return the toil, the strife,
All the weariness of life.
But the rest which yet remains
For Thy people, Lord, above,
Knows nor change, nor fears, nor pains,
Endless as their Saviour's love:
Oh, may every Sabbath here
Bring us to that rest more near!
The last line still lingered on his lips as he entered the cottage.
"Ah! you were singing," said a young woman who was lying on a couch, so placed that she could look out upon the ocean; "you were singing. Well, I do not wonder at that, for who could help singing on a morning like this? Does not all nature seem to feel its Sabbath hush and its Sabbath joy?"
"That was the very thought which moved me to sing," was the reply; "and I was indulging in that sort of inward murmur of which the psalmist speaks as of one of his devotional pleasures. I was murmuring the praise which seemed to rise with a kind of naturalness from my quiet heart, and Mrs. Lyte's beautiful hymn appeared to be my best form of expression."
"That is rather remarkable," said the young sufferer, with a smile that told the whole story of her long discipline of affliction, and the peaceful submission and patience which she had learnt in the process of her trial. "Just before you came in I was humming to myself that sweet Sabbath hymn by Bishop Heber. How often some of his hymns rise within my soul, as if the hand of my Redeemer had touched all the musical chords within me! I sing them to myself, while the sea is whispering and roaring by turns on the beach ; ahd then I look on the waters as I.lie here, and love to think of that cultivated and gifted man crossing the deep under the constraining power of his Redeemer's love, aiid gladly sacrificing all the comforts and honours of his native island for the joy of proclaiming peace to the multitudes of India. I think of him, gentleman, poet, scholar, theologian, as he was, going out to live and die amidst the idolatrous millions of that vast old country, that he might, as he said, 'in some degree, however small, be enabled to conduce to the spiritual advantage of creatures so goodly, so gentle, and now so misled and blinded.' How I love to follow him in his travels! Everything that he describes lives before me. How I like to watch him as the tear trembles in his eye at hearing one of his own blessed hymns sung far up in India, at Meerut, and sung, as he says, 'better than he had ever heard it sung before.' Then to go with him from Delhi to Bombay, from Bombay to Ceylon, where he seems to have caught the inspiration for his missionary hymn :—
What though the spicy breezes
Blow soft o'er Ceylon's isle;
Though every prospect pleases,
And only man is vile:
In vain with lavish kindness
The gifts of God are strewn,
The heathen in his blindness
Bows down to wood and stone.
Can we, whose souls are lighted
With wisdom from on high,
Can we to men benighted
The lamp of life deny?
Salvation! oh, salvation!
The joyful sound proclaim,
Till each remotest nation
Has learnt Messiah's name.
And then to follow him to the south, the scene of his last charge, and his mysterious call to his reward. Oh that last kind, loving, truly Christian address, at Trichinopoly! How often I have read it. 'And now,' says he, 'depart in the faith and favour of the Lord; and if what you have learned and heard this day has been so far blessed as to produce a serious and lasting effect on you, let me entreat you to remember sometimes in your prayers those ministers of Christ who have laboured for your instruction, that we who have preached to you may not ourselves be cast away, but that it may be given to us also to walk in this present life according to the words of the gospel which we have received of the Lord, and to rejoice hereafter with you, the children of our care, in that land where the weary shall find repose, and the wicked cease from troubling; where we shall behold God as He is, and be ourselves made like unto God in innocence, and happiness, and immortality.' Blessed man! he soon found his rest after he had uttered these words. How touching it is, that story of his end! Alone in his last moment, and his happy spirit suddenly departing, and leaving his body in the waters of the bath in which he had sought refreshment after his Sabbath toils. I wonder where he wrote that beautiful Sabbath hymn. I have often pictured him lying yonder, sick and weary, under the pressure of a tropical climate, still bent on his holy mission, but feeling the lack of England's Sabbath pleasures, and looking upwards in hope—
Longing, gasping after home;
and then I seem to have pleasant sympathy with him ; and his Lord's-day song comes with deeper pathos and richer music upon my soul as I sing it :'—
Thousands, 0 Lord of Hosts, to-day,
Within Thy temple meet;
And tens of thousands throng to pay
Their homage at Thy feet.
They see Thy power and glory there,
Where I have seen Thee too;
They read, they hear, they join in prayer,
As I was wont to do.
They sing Thy deeds as I have sung,
In sweet and solemn lays;
Were I among them, my glad tongue
Might learn new themes of praise.
For Thou art in the midst to teach,
While they look up to Thee;
And Thou hast blessings, Lord, for each,
And blessings, too, for me.
Behold Thy prisoner, loose my bands,
If 'tis Thy gracious will;
If not, contented in Thy Lands,
Only be with me still.
I may not to Thy courts repair,
Yet here Thou surely art;
Oh give me here a house of prayer,
Here Sabbath joys impart!
To faith reveal the things unseen,
To hope the joys unfold;
Let love, without a veil between,
Thy glory now behold."
The closing prayer of her hymn was answered. There was an ethereal light on her face as from the unfolding visions of faith. Her eyes seemed to reflect the smile of her loving Saviour. An air of deeper stillness pervaded the little chamber, and for a time the two remained in silence—silence that was full of Sabbath peace and joy. The poor girl had been long a sufferer. A spinal affection kept her to her couch; but she was contented and happy in daily companionship with Jesus. A little table-like bracket had been fixed on the wall by her bed-side, so that she could at any time take a book from it, or regale herself with the perfume of the flowers with which she was daily supplied. On that Sunday morning her visitor saw Herbert's poems near her; she had been using it, he thought, and taking it up, he said, "Do you like Herbert?"
"Oh, yes," said she, "I like him, for he makes me think, while I am enjoying the old-fashion music of his verses. There is that rich old hymn for 'Sunday'; it always sends my thoughts back to the time when, in my childhood, I used to keep my eyes on the glorious old painted window that was over against me in the church, and, while they were singing the anthem, used to fancy that the music and the coloured light were like one another somehow. I wish I could sing that hymn; but I am never tired of saying it over to myself. Bead it to me, will you?"
The hymn was read; and how full of thought and Sabbath feeling it is—
0 day most calm, most bright,
The fruit of this, the next world's bud,
Th' indorsement of supreme delight,
Writ by a friend, and with His blood;
The couch of time, care's balm and bay,
The week were dark but for thy light:
Thy torch doth shew the way.
The other days and thou
Make up one man, whose face thou art,
Knocking at heaven with thy brow:
The working days are the back part;
The burden of the week lies there,
Making the whole to stoop and bow,
Till thy release appear.
Man had straight forward gone
To endless death; but thou dost pull
And turn us round to look on One
Whom, if we were not very dull,
We could not choose but look on still:
Since there is no place so alone
The which He doth not fill.
Sundays the pillars are
On which heaven's palace arched lies:
The other days fill up the spare
And hollow room with vanities;
They are the fruitful beds and borders
In G•od's rich garden: that is bare
Which parts their ranks and orders.
The Sundays of man's life,
Threaded together on time's string,
Make bracelets to adorn the wife
Of the eternal glorious King.
On Sunday heaven's gate stands ope;
Blessings are plentiful and rife,
More plentiful than hope.
This day my Saviour rose,
And did enclose this light for His:
That, as each beast his manger knows,
Man might not of Ms fodder miss.
Christ has took in this piece of ground,
And made a garden there for those
Who want herbs for their wound.
The rest of our creation Our great Redeemer did remove With the same shake, which at His passion Did th' earth and all things with it move, As Samson bore the doors away, Christ's hands, though nailed, wrought our salvation,
And did unhinge that day.
The brightness of that day
We sullied by our foul offence:
Wherefore that robe we cast away,
Having a new at His expense,
Whose drops of blood paid the full price,
That was required to make us gay,
And fit for paradise.
Thou art a day of mirth:
And where the week-day trails on ground,
Thy flight is higher, as thy birth:
Oh let me take thee at the bound,
Leaping with thee from seven to seven,
Till that we both being tossed from earth,
Fly hand in hand to heaven.
"Thank you," said the smiling sufferer. "How often have I repeated that hyinn to myself; and then I have gone off into pleasant dream-like thoughts about 'Holy George Herbert.' I have pictured Montgomery Castle where he was born, and I have imagined that birth-day, April 3, 1593, to be a Sunday; and then I have seen that blessed pious mother of his watching her boy with that look of 'cheerful gravity' which those who knew her wit and kindness and piety so admired; and then I have listened to that evening music from the pious boy's chamber at college, the music with which he cheered himself and guarded his own soul against outward mischiefs. Then comes up the image of Jane Danvers, who fell in love with him before she saw his face, and who became his wife three days after their first interview; and I think of what happy old Isaak Walton says about the wedded pair, 'The eternal lover of mankind made them happy in each other's mutual and equal affections and compliance, indeed so happy that there never was any opposition betwixt them, unless it were a contest which should most incline to a compliance with the other's desires. And though this begat, and continued in them, such a mutual love, and joy, and content, as was no way defective; yet this mutual content, and love, and joy did receive a daily augmentation by such daily obligingness to each other, as still added such new influences to the former fulness of these divine souls, as was only improvable in heaven, where they now enjoy it.' I think, too, of Bemerton, and long to visit it, to see the scene of that holy man's life as a parish priest, happy in his home and happy amidst his flock, happy in the church, and happy in the homes which he visited. I try to picture him on the ground. before the altar in silent prayer on the day of his entrance on his charge; then going with his wife and household twice a day to prayers in the church; then practising psalmody with
The sound of glory ringing in his ears;
then walking twice a week into Salisbury Cathedral, where he used, as he said, 'to find heaven on earth;' and then I see him on his last bed, worn to a shadow, but all soul and all heavenly devotion, glowing with hope and love. And oh! that last Sunday scene before he fled to his rest! when he rose from his bed, seized his favourite instrument, and sang as he played—
My God, my God,
My music shall find Thee,
And every string
Shall have his attribute to sing!
Finishing with part of that very hymn for 'Sunday,' which was just now read; thus at the very last, as Walton says, 'singing on earth such hymns and anthems as the angels, and he and Mr. Ferrar are now singing in heaven.' Blessed to me is the memory of George Herbert, were it only for that Sunday hymn. How pleasant it is to be here so quiet, and so near to Jesus, listening to such hymns! Do you know any others? Please to let me hear them. These spiritual songs so refresh me."
"Well," said the pilgrim, "there are Mason's 'Spiritual Songs;' have you any knowledge of them?"
"No; who was he? Tell me something about him; and then I shall be glad to hear some of his songs."
"I will try to meet your wishes. I am sure you would like some of his hymns. Richard Baxter says that Mason was 'the glory of the Church of England ;' that 'the frame of his spirit was so heavenly, his deportment so humble and obliging, his discourse of spiritual things, and little else could we hear from him, so weighty, with such apt words and delightful air, that it charmed all that had any spiritual relish, and was not burdensome to others, as discourses of that nature have been from other ministers.'"'
"Mr. Mason was a minister, then?"
'' Yes; he was brought up in Northamptonshire, and
began his ministry in the same county, as curate of Isham, after he had gone through his course at Cambridge. In October, 1668, he became vicar of Stanton-Bury, and in January, 1674, rector of Water-Stratford, in Buckinghamshire, where he spent his holy and useful life, and finished his course in the year 1694. Like many other good men, he fell into some rather wild notions in his latter days. Among these notions some would class his persuasion that he had seen the Lord. In that, however, he was not more peculiar than very many highly spiritual Christians whose faith sometimes brightens into something very like open vision. He was wild in his notions about Christ's personal reign upon the earth; and, like many others who mistake fulfilled for unfulfilled prophecy, he led his neighbours astray into the fervent expectation that Christ would appear in His glory at Water-Stratford. But his mistakes were not inconsistent with perfect love, and he left the scene of mortality and human mistakes exclaiming, 'I am full of the loving-kindness of the Lord!' One who followed him in the parish of Stanton-Bury says, 'My acquaintance with Mr. Mason I have esteemed one of the greatest mercies I ever received. His affections were so fervent, and his zeal so great, that as they were the comfort, so they were the admiration of those who feared God and lived near him.' His hymns still live, to testify to his personal holiness, and to keep alive the fruits of his hallowed genius. His songs seem to have been relished by Pope, and Watts, and the Wesleys, who now and then garnished their own verses with choice bits from his hymns. James Montgomery was of opinion that 'his style is a middle tint between the raw colouring of Quarles and the daylight clearness of Watts,' that 'his talent is equally poised between both, having more vigour, but less versatility, than that of either his forerunner or his successor.' That is probably correct. But you would like to hear some of his verses. He has two Sabbath hymns. One of them would rather remind one of Herbert's hymns about which we have talked; this is it:—
Blest day of God, most calm, most bright,
The first and best of days;
The lab'rer's rest, the saint's delight,
A day of mirth and praise:
My Saviour's face did make thee shine,
His rising did thee raise:
This made thee "heavenly and divine
Beyond the common days.
The first-fruits do a blessing prove
To all the sheaves behind;
And they that do a Sabbath love,
An happy week shall find:
My Lord on thee His name did fix,
Which makes thee rich and gay;
Amidst His golden candlesticks
My Saviour walks this day.
He walks in's robes, His face shines bright,
The stars are in His hand;
Out of His mouth, that place of might,
A two-edged sword doth stand.
Graced with our Lord's appearance thus,
As well as with His name,
Thou may'st demand respect from us
Upon a double claim.
This day doth God His vessels broach,
His conduits run with wine:
He that loves not this day's approach,
Scorns heaven, and Saviour's shine. What slaves are those who slav'ry choose,
And garlick for their feast, Whilst milk and honey they refuse,
And the Almighty's rest?
This market day doth saints enrich,
And smiles upon them all;
It is their Pentecost, on which
The Holy Ghost doth fall.
Oh day of wonders! mercies' pawn,
The weary soul's recruit,
The Christian's Goshen, heaven's dawn,
The bud of endless fruit.
Oh could I love as I have loved
Thy watches heretofore:
As England's glory thou hast proved,
May'st thou be so yet more.
This day I must for God appear;
For, Lord, the day is Thine: Oh, let me spend it in Thy fear!
Then shall the day be mine.
Throughout the day cease work and play,
That I to God may rest;
Now let me talk with God, and walk
With God, and I am blest."
"Do you not think," said the young listener, as the pilgrim finished, "do you not think that Mason must have seen Herbert's hymns? He has those happy expressions of Herbert's in his first line—
Most calm, most bright.
Perhaps Herbert's hymn touched his chords of psalmody, and gave him the first note."
"Perhaps so; but he has another 'song of praise for the Lord's-day,' which is generally thought to be the better hymn; and it has original power and beauty enough to show that, though he might for once have caught a keynote from his predecessor, he had native talent distinctive enough to mark him as Herbert's brother hymnist. Listen to this:—
My Lord, my Love was crucified,
He all the pains did bear;
But in the sweetness of His rest
He makes His servants share.
How sweetly rest Thy saints above,
Which in Thy bosom lie;
The Church below doth rest in hope
Of that felicity.
Thou, Lord, who daily feed'st Thy sheep,
Mak'st them a weekly feast:
Thy flocks meet in their several folds
Upon this day of rest.
Welcome and dear unto my soul
Are these sweet feasts of love;
But what a Sabbath shall I keep
When I shall rest above.
I bless Thy wise and wondrous love,
Which binds us to be free;
Which makes us leave our earthly snares,
That we may come to Thee.
I come, I wait, I hear, I pray:
Thy footsteps, Lord, I trace:
I sing to think this is the way
Unto my Saviour's face.
These are my preparation days:
And when my soul is drest,
The Sabbaths shall deliver me,
To mine eternal rest."
"Yes, I like that," said the happy-looking girl,
"What a Sabbath shall I keep,
When I shall rest above I
Some of these old hymns have undying vigour and beauty. I have sometimes thought how much I should like to see and feel all the music and Christian life of the still older Latin hymns. I have one here in a translation, which I am very fond of, and I try to sing it sometimes on a Sunday morning, realizing, as far as I can, the thought that I am singing the very hymn which many, many sincere Christians have sung on Sunday mornings for more than a thousand years, it may be. This is the hymn I mean :—
On this first day, when heaven and earth
Rose at the Triune's word to birth;
The day when He, who gave us breath,
Revived our souls and vanquish'd death;
Why close in sleep your languid eyes?
Shake off dull slumber, wake, arise;
And, mindful of the prophet's voice,
Right early in our God rejoice.
That He may hear the ascending cry;
That He may stretch His hand from high;
That He may cleanse and make us meet
To join Him in that heavenly seat:
That, while each consecrated hour
We praise and sing His glorious power,
The offerings of this day of rest
May with His choicest gifts be blest.
Paternal Glory, Sire of all,
Thee with o'erflowing hearts we call,
That we this day may serve Thee, freed
From guilty thought and sinful deed:
That no foul passion's lawless flame
May injure this corporeal frame,
Nor the unhallow'd heart's desire
Plunge us in flames of fiercer fire.
Saviour of men, whose blood alone
Can for a ruin'd world atone,
Cleanse Thou our hearts, and upward lift
To share in Thy perennial gift.
To Thee, most Holy Sire; to Thee,
Co-equal, only Son, we flee:
With Him, the union to complete,
The Spirit best, the Paraclete."
"That hymn is very old," said the pilgrim. "It has been sung for ages, as you say, in its original form; but this is a translation by Bishop Slant, who was always happier in translating old hymns, and in emulating the ancients in hymns of his own, than he was in fencing with the Methodists in his Bampton Lectures, though his lectures did more than his hymns, it may be, in opening his way to a bishopric. It is always happier to move oneself to devotion by aiding the devotions of others, than to be offering battle to our neighbours about notions which those neighbours never held. It is more gracious to 'admonish one another in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs,' than to array ourselves against foes who do not exist, and to 'fight as one that beateth the air.' I say again, Mant was happy as a hymnist; some of his hymns will long outlive his lectures, and one of his best original hymns is 'commemorative of the Day of Holy Best.' Let me repeat it—
Blest day, by God in mercy given
To soothe, refresh, and cheer,
We greet the blest of all the seven,
And hold thee doubly dear.
We prize thee as the day of rest,
Which toil nor travail knows;
The Sabbath-day, when man and beast
From week-day works repose.
We prize thee as the day design'd
From worldly studies freed,
The Holy Day, to train the mind
To holy thought and deed.
We prize thee as God's living sign
Join'd with His faithful Word,
How man was form'd by power Divine,
By power Divine restored.
Blest day, by God's commandment made
The goodliest of the seven,
Type of the heavenly rest, our aid
In journeying to heaven:
May holy thoughts and holy rites
Thy peaceful hours employ,
Till we, through love of such delights,
God's endless rest enjoy!
There hymn, amid His heavenly host,
The praise on earth begun,
Of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
The uncreated One!"
"Do you know that hymn, 'on'the joys and blessings of the Sabbath,' which begins with—
Dear is the hallowed morn to me?"
"No; whose is it?"
"It is said to be Allan Cunningham's, and I like it all the better. I like hymns that come gushing from the heart of a man of original and uncultured genius in his devotional moments,—they are so fresh; and this one of Cunningham's is like the clear, tuneful rivulet of his native hills, that flows and sparkles with pure, joyful life,
Adown by the greenwood side.
The author was a diligent, earnest man, whose life, from 1784 to 1842, was well filled, every nook, and corner, and chink of it. His work as the superintendent in Sir Francis Chantrey's studio would have been enough for any ordinary man; but, over and above all that, he has immortalized his name as the biographer of eminent British painters, sculptors, and architects, and has adorned his own memory with many a beautiful song. He has helped us to catch the spirit of the old Covenanters' love-songs and hill-side psalmody, and one enjoys his effusions the more entirely because he never prostituted his genius to the claims of vice. It cannot be said of him, as it is alleged of a more popular Scotch songster, that his unpublished songs have left a moral taint upon the social life of the neighbourhood in which they were circulated and sung. But let me sing to you his Sunday song, and then I must say good-bye. Try to sing with me :—
Dear is the hallowed morn to me,
When village bells awake the day;
And, by their sacred minstrelsy,
Call me from earthly cares away.
And dear to me the winged hour,
Spent in Thy holy courts, 0 Lord!
To feel devotion's soothing power,
And catch the nianna of Thy Word.
And dear to me the loud Amen,
Which echoes through the blest abode;
Which swells and sinks, and swells again,
Dies on the walls, but lives to God.
And dear the rustic harmony,
Sung with the pomp of village art;
That holy, heavenly melody,
The music of a thankful heart.
In secret I have often prayed,
And still the anxious tear would fall;
But, on Thy sacred altar laid,
The fire descends, and dries them all.
Oft when the world, with iron hands,
Has bound me in its six-days' chain,
This bursts them, like the strong man's bands,
And lets my spirit loose again.
Then dear to me the Sabbath morn,
The village bells, the shepherd's voice!
These oft have found my heart forlorn,
And always bid that heart rejoice.
Go, man of pleasure, strike the lyre,
Of broken Sabbaths sing the charms;
Ours be the prophet's car of fire,
Wh;ch bears us to a Father's arms.