Chapter XXII

CHAPTER XXII.
FUNERAL HYMNS.

"So when even was come, the Lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire."

Who has not gone to the grave-side often enough, even during a short life, to become mournfully familiar with the solemn magnificence of our English Burial Service? It can scarcely be said which is the more deeply impressive, the holy fervour, reverent submission, soaring faith, and heavenward swell of the prayers, or the simple grandeur of the anthems, awing and melting us by turns. Now the soul kindles, and now it softens into tears; and now again its death-song becomes intense with prayerful feeling, as the utterances rise :—

In the midst of life we are in death:

Of whom may we seek for succour

But of Thee, O Lord!

Who for our sins art justly displeased.

Yet, O Lord God most holy,

0 Lord most mighty,

O holy and most merciful Saviour,

Deliver us not into the bitter pains

Of eternal death!

Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts;

Shut not Thy merciful ears to our prayer;

But spare us, Lord most holy,

O God most mighty,

O holy and merciful Saviour,

Thou most worthy Judge eternal,

Suffer us not at our last hour,

For any pains of death,

To fall from Thee!

This is an ancient hymn. It conies to us borne along from generation to generation by the voices of nearly a thousand years. Just about the beginning of the tenth century, there was a Swiss monk in the celebrated monastery of St. Gall, whose name was Notker. If not " slow of speech," he lisped, and was, therefore, nicknamed by his brethren, Balbulus. His defect of speech, however, as in the case of many a deep thinker and bright genius, was no check upon his thoughts; he was a quiet thinker. Nor did it prevent the play of his somewhat hallowed imagination. As he watched the samphire-gatherers fearfully pendant over the brink of death, as they pursued their perilous calling on the precipices around St. Gall, he caught the suggestion of " death in the midst of life;" and when he saw the bridge-builders at Martinsbruck exposing themselves every moment to death, in order to secure for the living a safe passage over danger, the suggestion ripened into a fruitful form; and his monastery was taught to sing or chant the anthem which soon became common to entire Christendom. Notker himself died, and was buried in 912; but his funeral hymn will never die while any European Christians live to bury their dead amidst the solemnities of the ancient service for the grave-side. Notker's hymn long formed a part of the funeral service in Germany; and Luther's translation of it is still with us, rendered into English thus—

In the midft of life, behold
Death hath girt us round,
Whom for help then shall we pray,

Where shall grace be found f
In Thee, O Lord, alone!
We rue the evil we have done,
That Thy wrath on us hath drawn.

Holy Lord and God!

Strong and holy God!
Merciful and holy Saviour,

Eternal God!

Leave us not to sink beneath
Those dark pains of bitter death,

Eyrie eleison.

In the midst of death, the jaws

Of hell against us gape.
Who from peril dire as this

Openeth us escape?

'Tis Than, O Lord, alone!
Our bitter suffering and our sin
Pity from Thy mercy win,

Holy Lord and God!

Strong and holy God!
Merciful and holy Saviour!

Eternal God!

Let not dread our souls o'erwhelm,
Of the dark and burning realm,

Kyrie eleison.

In the midst of hell would sin

Drive us to despair;
Whither shall we flee away?

Where is refuge, where?
With Thee, Lord Christ, alone!
For Thou hast shed Thy precious blood,
All our sins Thou makest good.

Holy Lord and God!

Strong and holy God!
Merciful and holy Saviour!

Eternal God,

Leave us not to fall on death,
From the hope of Thy true faith,

Kyrie eleison!

In the year 1768, as the month of May was closing, there was a great gathering in the burial ground of Bunhill Fields. The crowd was densely packed around an open grave, by the side of which stood the Rev. Andrew Kinsman, of Plymouth. He was delivering a funeral oration, in the course of which he said of the departed:—" I had the pleasure of knowing, and, I will say, the honour, too, of preaching the Gospel to his aged parents, who both died in the faith. I knew him to be the son of many prayers years ago; and from this knowledge, as soon as I had read his 'Experience' and hymns (believing his tender parents' earnest addresses to the throne of grace for him were in some measure answered), I found my heart warmed with the relation, and my soul knit to the writer. This love led me eagerly to seek after a personal interview, and, from the year 1759, a religious and literary correspondence ensued. Oh, how full were his epistles of sound experience! How sweetly did he write of Jesus and His great salvation! Since that we have loved as brethren and servants of the same Master." The address was ended, and then the multitude lifted up their voices and sang:—

Sons of God by bless'd adoption,

View the dead with steady eyes;
What is sown thus in corruption

Shall in incorruption rise.
What is sown in death's dishonour

Shall revive to glory's light;
What is sown in this weak manner

Shall be raised in matchless might.

Earthly cavern, to thy keeping

We commit our brother's dust;
Keep it safely, softly sleeping,

Till our Lord demand thy trust.
Sweetly sleep, dear saint, in Jesus:

Thou with us shalt wake from death;
Hold he cannot, though he seize us;

We his power defy by faith.

Jesus, Thy rich consolations

To Thy mourning people send;
May we all, with faith and patience,

Wait for our approaching end.
Keep from courage, vain or vaunted;

For our change our hearts prepare:
Give us confidence undaunted,

Cheerful hope and godly fear.

The funeral hymn had been written by the one whose dust was now covered. The grave was closed, and the stone which was laid upon it is still there; and those who visit the spot should linger awhile, and think of the youthful errors and sins, the dark conflicts, the bitter tears, the spiritual struggles, the sound conversion, the consecrated talents, the faithful ministry, and the fresh and fruitful hymns of Joseph Hart; and when they have caught the fragrance of his memory, and hear the songs of those who still thank God for his ministry in the old meeting-house of Jewin Street, they may be ready to chant the soothing and assuring hymn which arose, in some solemn moments, nearly fifty years ago, from the heart of Henry Hart Milman, whose venerable form is now fast bending towards the sepulchre of his fathers, as if in token that the hymn will soon serve as his own requiem :—

Brother, thou art gome before us, and thy saintly soul is flown Where tears are wiped from every eye, and sorrow is unknown; From the burden of the flesh, and from care and fear released, Where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest.

The toilsome way thou'st travelled o'er, and borne the heavy load;
But Christ has taught thy weary feet to reach His hlest abode:
Thou'rt sleeping now, like Lazarus, upon his Father's breast,
Where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest.

Sin can never taint thee now, nor doubt thy faith assail;
Nor thy meek trust in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit fail:
And then thou'rt sure to meet the good, whom on earth thou

lovedst best, Where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest.

Earth to earth, and dust to dust, the solemn priest hath said;
So we lay the turf above thee now, and we seal thy narrow bed;
But thy spirit, brother, soars away among the faithful blest,
Where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest.

And when the Lord shall summon us, whom thon hast left behind,
May we, untainted by the world, as sure a welcome find!
May each, like thee, depart in peace, to be a glorious guest,
Where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest.

In the same hallowed burial-ground with Joseph Hart lies the body of Susanna Wesley, the mother of John Wesley and Charles, the Methodist hymnist. She finished her course in a chamber at the very top of the old building at Moorfields. That chamber, during her parting moments, was the scene of intense devotion; all the saintly woman's daughters sat on her bedside, and sang a requiem, to her parting soul—such a requiem, it may be, as her own son has given us:—

Happy soul, thy days are ended,

All thy mourning days below;
Go, by angel guards attended,

To the sight of Jesus go!

"Waiting to receive thy spirit,

Lo, the Saviour stands above,
Shows the purchase of His merit,

Reaches out the crown of love!

Struggle through thy latest passion,

To thy dear Redeemer's breast,
To His uttermost salvation,

To Hjk everlasting rest.

For the joy He sets before thee,

Bear a momentary pain,
Die to live the life of glory;

Suffer, with thy Lord to reign 1

Her children's tremulous song ceased, and then, says her own son John, "She continued in just the same way as my father was, struggling and gasping for life, though, as I could judge by several signs, perfectly sensible, till near four o'clock. I was then going to drink a dish of tea, being faint and weary, when one called me again to the bedside. It was just four o'clock. She opened her eyes wide, and fixed them upward for a moment. Then the lids dropped, and the soul was set at liberty, without one struggle, or groan, or sigh. We stood around the bed, and fulfilled her last request, uttered a little before she lost her speech, 'Children, as soon as I am released, sing a song of praise to God.'" What psalm they sang is not yet recorded; but that triumphant death-scene would ever live in the souls of those who formed that family choir around the corpse of their gifted, loving, sainted mother. And in the deep, solemn joys of that hour may be found the secret of the inspiration to which we owe several of Charles Wesley's unrivalled hymns. The "psalm of praise to God" which was sung by the bereaved family around the bed of their widowed mother may have given those touches to the hymnist's chastened heart which brought out his Hymn on the Death of a Widow—a hymn which may be supposed to express the triumphant faith which for the moment subdued the more tender feelings of Susanna Wesley's children, and which has many, many a time since then gone swelling upwards from the scene of Christian victory, until the voices of resigned and reliant orphans have mingled with the songs of the reunited parents before God :—

Give glory to Jesus our Head,

With all that encompass His throne;
A widow, a widow indeed,

A mother in Israel is gone!
The winter of trouble is past;

The storms of affliction are o'er;
Her struggle is ended at last, •

And sorrow and death are no more.

The soul hath o'ertaken her mate,

And caught him again in the sky!
Advanced to her happy estate,

And pleasure that never shall die!

When glorified spirits, by eight,

Converse in their holy abode,
As stars in the firmament bright,

And pure as the angels of God.

0 Heaven! what a triumph is there!

Where all in His praises agree;
His beautiful character bear,

And shine with the glory they see:
The glory of God and the Lamb

(While all in the ecstasy join)
Darts into their spiritual frame,

And gives the enjoyment Divine.

In loud hallelujahs they sing,

And harmony echoes His praise;
When, lo! the Celestial Bang

Pours out the full light of His face:
The joy neither angel nor saint

Can bear, so ineffably great;
But, lo! the whole company faint,

And heaven is found—at His feet.

It is probable, too, that his mother's last words, "Sing as soon as I am released," suggested to the son the hymn which so harmonizes with the thoughts and feelings which hallowed her final hour :—

Blessing, honour, thanks, and praise,

Pay we, gracious God, to Thee:
Thou, in Thine abundant grace,

Givest us the victory:
True and faithful to Thy word,

Thou hast glorified Thy Son,
Jesus Christ, our dying Lord,

He for us the fight hath won.

Lo! the prisoner is released,

Lighten'd of his fleshly load;
Where the weary are at rest,

He is gather'd unto God.
Lo! the pain of life is past;

All his warfare now is o'er;
Death and hell behind are cast,

Grief and suffering are no more.

Yes, the Christian's course is run,
Ended is the glorious strife;

Fought the fight, the work is done,
Death is swallow'd up of life!

Borne by angels on their wings,

Far from earth the spirit flies,
Finds his God, and sits, and sings,

Triumphing in Paradise.

Join we then with one accord

In the new, the joyful song:
Absent from our loving Lord

We shall not continue long.
We shall quit the house of clay,

We a better lot shall share;
We shall see the realms of day,

Meet our happy brother there.

Let the world bewail their dead,

Fondly of their loss complain;
Brother, friend, by Jesus freed,

Death to Thee, to us is gain:
Thou art enter'd into joy:

Let the unbelievers mourn;
We in songs our lives employ,

Till we all to God return.

There are no funeral hymns equal, on the whole, to Charles Wesley's; none which so fully express that sublime union of solemn awe, victorious faith, and overflowing joy, which is embodied in the writings and examples of inspired men and primitive saints. With a few exceptions, they are lacking in soft plaintiveness, but in energy and grandeur they are matchless. None but the soul who enjoys a clear and deep interest in eternal life, and has a realizing impression of the nearness of the heavenly world, can sing them with the spirit in which they were written. To be felt in the fulness of their power, they should be heard as they have sometimes been sung by a devout crowd of Cornish miners at the burial of a departed comrade. As a class, or race, Cornish miners seem to be distinguished by a sort of religious instinct or taste. A kind of devotional feeling appears to sway them. At all events, their minds soon take a pious turn under the influence of truth, when suitably administered, especially in some of its forms. They are not to be touched by anything religiously cold in spirit, or entirely bald in devotion. To them naked logic is equally powerless with mere figurative swell or wordy show. They must have a union of the sensuous and the practical. Their hearts are to be reached and moved most easily through the understanding. To call their intellect into pleasurable exercise about religion is most fully to engage their affections on its behalf. They are, indeed, religiously intelligent in a high degree; and Mrs. Schimmelpenninck showed that her discrimination as an observer was quite equal to her power of literary expression, when she said that "the Cornishman who seeks religion, seeks it not to inspire him in conversation, but to support him in adversity, or accidents of the most appalling nature, and at the hour of death. Hence, his religion is a religion not of cant, but of spirit and truth." Then, they love music, too, especially sacred music; and, for the most part, have voices which seem to give out the fine tone of their Christian character. No people have been more benefited by the labours of the Wesleys; no men, as a class, are better prepared to appreciate Charles Wesley's funeral hymns; and none have ever given them more worthy expression.

Those who have rambled among the remarkable variations of Cornish scenery will remember the picturesque hill of Carnbrse. The wild romantic scramble up among its scattered masses of granite, which lie in heaps among the furze and heath, the venerable fragment of a castle on the top, the curious piles of weather-beaten rocks, looking as if they had been familiar with the lights and shadows of the world's childhood, and'the glorious prospect of hill, and plain, and sea, which opens around one—all contribute to give a sense of enlargement and exhilaration, strangely associated with feelings of awe, which can never be entirely lost. Amidst the exciting varieties of the more distant prospect, there is something touching in the appearance of a lonely old grey tower at the foot of the hill, speaking to the soul, as it does so plaintively, in memory of a former race of Cornish saints. It is the parish steeple of Redruth. Some few years ago, of a summer's evening, a long crowd was seen passing down the church path from the town, pressing around a bier as if they would affectionately guard it in front, and flank, and rear, and singing as they moved. The strain was measured like their steps, and it was in the minor key, although it seemed at times more like a triumphant shout than a wail of sorrow. They were keeping up the beautiful custom of their fathers, the evening funeral, and the burial hymn from the house of bereavement to the grave. They were singing one of their grandest tunes to one of Charles Wesley's grandest hymns :—

Rejoice for a brother deceased,'

Our loss is his infinite gain;
A soul out of prison released,

And free from its bodily chain;
With songs let us follow his flight

And mount with his spirit above,
Escaped to the mansions of light,

And lodged in the Eden of love.

Our brother the haven hath gain'd,

Out-flying the tempest and wind;
His rest he hath sooner obtained,

And left his companions behind,
Still toss'd on a sea of distress,

Hard toiling to make the blest shore,
Where all is assurance and peace,

And sorrow and sin are no more.

As the music of the last line melted away, there was the quiet swell of a calm but majestic voice—" I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord."—The bier and the train passed into the ancient sanctuary, by and by again to appear, moving towards the grave. The benediction had scarcely closed the funeral service before the devout multitude once more lifted up its voice—it was a full, a mighty voice—and pressing around the open grave, they uttered, in thrilling tones, that glowing and impassioned hymn that seems to melt the earthly and the heavenly into one:— ,

Come, let us join our friends above,

That have obtained the prize.
And on the eagle wings of love

To joys celestial rise.
Let all the saints terrestrial sing

With those to glory gone,
For all the servants of our King

In earth and heaven are one.

Ono family, we dwell in Trim,

One church, above, beneath,
Though now divided by the stream,

The narrow stream of death.

One army of the living God,

To His command we bow;
Part of His host hath cross'd the flood,

And part is crossing now.

Ten thousand to their endless home

This solemn moment fly:
And we are to the margin come,

And we expect to die;
His militant embodied host

With wishful looks we stand;
And long to see that happy coast,

And reach that heavenly laud.

Our old companions in distress

We haste again to see,
And eager long for our release

And full felicity:
Even now by faith we join our hands

With those that went before,
And greet the blood-besprinkled bands

On the eternal shore.

Our spirits too shall quickly join,

Like theirs with glory crown'd,
And shout to see our Captain's sign,

To hear His trumpet sound.
Oh! that we now might grasp our Guide!

Oh! that the word were given!
Come, Lord of Hosts! the waves divide,

And land us all in heaven!

The swell of the closing appeal was thrilling. The men's voices were not to be surpassed. Their bass tones were distinctive of their class. It might be supposed that the inimitable deep round fulness, the organ-like tone of a Cornish miner's bass voice had some subtle relation to the peculiar atmospheric influences to which his lungs are subject; so that the music of his voice would seem like an unearthly remembrancer of the fact that a great proportion of Cornwall's subterranean workmen are doomed to an early death. Among the singers at that funeral there was one young man who appeared to be rapt while he sang. It seemed as if his music were that of pure spirit. How he kindled as he poured forth some of the last notes! There was something in his voice, something in his expression, something in the flow of light from his eye, which might be thought to mark him as the next to whom a summons from above would come. "Yes," thought one who looked at him that evening under the calm light of the setting sun, "you are singing your own requiem, young man!" And so it was. The one who noted the unmistakable token of his nearness to the land of his fathers, shortly found him on his deathbed. But he had not lost the spirit of that triumphant hymn. "I am going!" said he, "I am going! going early; but God has brightened my short life into a full one! Oh, those hymns! they have taught me to live in the light of the future! They have been 'my songs in the house of my pilgrimage '! How often when I have sung them down deep in the mine has the darkness been light about me! Never, since I learnt to praise God from my heart, have I begun to work in the rock for blasting, without stopping a moment to ask myself, 'Now, if the hole should go off about me, am I ready for heaven?' Sometimes, sir, there has been a little shrinking and some doubt, and then I have dropped on my knees, and asked God to bless me before I gave one stroke; and never did I pray in vain; my prayer has always passed into praise. And those blessed hymns have come bursting from my heart and lips as I have toiled at the point of death! Oh, sir! do you remember our singing at the last funeral?" '" Yes," it was replied, "and some thought then, that you would never sing again;" "Never sing again, sir! why I shall sing for ever! Oh that glorious hymn, let us sing it now!" And he began :—

Oil! that we now might grasp our Guide!

Oh! that the word were given!
Come, Lord of Hosts! the waves divide,

And land us... .land... .me... .now in

"Heaven !" he would have sung, but he was gone! He had joined another choir!

Such uses and such fruits of funeral psalmody might have suggested the lines which a grandson of good Dr. Hawker, of Plymouth, Wesley's contemporary, inscribed on the grave-stone of one of his young parishioners in the quiet burial-place of Morwenstow, on the Cornish coast. The memorial verses are not unworthy of their author, nor of their title, "A Cornish Death-Song : "—

Sing ! from the chamber to the grave,
Thus did the dead man say:

A sound of melody I crave
Upon my burial day!

Bring forth some tuneful instrument,

And let your voices rise; My spirit fisten'd as it went

To music of the skies!

Sing sweetly as you travel on,
And keep the funeral show:

The angels sing where I am gone,
And you should sing below!

Sing from the threshold to the porch,

Until you hear the bell;
And sing you loudly in the church

The psalms I love so welL

Then bear me gently to the grave;

And as you pass along, Remember 'twas my wish to have

A pleasant funeral song!

So earth to earth—and dust to dust—
And though my bones decay,

My soul shall sing among the just,
Until the judgment day!