THE FIRST HYMN-BOOK. "Thy statutes have teen my songs in the house of my pilgrimage."
Speak to yourselves in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord. Happy advice from a happy man! If ever man had his life on earth enriched and brightened by the psalmody of heaven, St. Paul was that man. He seems now and then to be an impersonation of the jubilant religion which he preached. Here and there he uses a threefold form of speech, as if the notion of a Trinity were ever in his mind, and as if the Triune form gave the completest possible expression to his feeling as to that full harmony of fixed belief, triumph ant principle, and exultant feeling, to which he called the Christian Church. He challenged the generations of the future to an unbroken service of song, and the family lines of God's children have ever since been singing and chanting in response. Paul had heard the chant of the Temple service, and had eo often joined in the songs and hymns of the synagogue, that, like his fellow apostles of the circumcision, he enjoyed ample means of expression for all the joys of the Holy Spirit's dispensation. The church of his fathers had treasured the forms of praise which now furnish the kingdom ,of Christ with hymns and songs for all ages of its militant and triumphant course. Nor is the harmony of inspired truth ever felt to be more impressive than in the use which the blessed Spirit makes of Old Testament psalmody in his work on the souls of New Testament saints. The three inspired songs which graced the manifestation of Immanuel: the rich gush of Mary's devotional
joy, the prophetic strain of Zacharias, and the holy song of Simeon, all show the influence of Old Testament style and spirit. "The Word of Christ," as once issued in the law of "Moses, and in the Prophets, and in the Psalms," had dwelt in Mary's heart so " richly" as to give its own character to her rapturous utterances. The lips of Zacharias were touched with fire from the very altar before which the Messianic seers had kindled into ecstasy. And Simeon had chanted the hymns of his rapt ancestry until his own inspired sentences breathed in unison with voices from "holy men of old." Mary, and Hannah, and Deborah drank into one another's spirit; and their tones have that likeness and*unlikeness which belong to daughters of the same family. The celebration of Old Testament victories and the joy of gospel salvation melt into oneness and harmony in "the song of Moses and the Lamb." And when will earth or heaven cease to echo to the psalms of ancient Zion? Judah's holy song book, "the Book of Psalms, hath exercised the hearts and lips of all saints, and is replenished with the types of all possible spiritual feelings, and suggests the forms of all God-ward emotions, and furnishes the choice expressions of all true worship, the utterances of all divine praise, the expressions of all spiritual humility, with the raptures of all spiritual joy." This well-spring in the desert has never failed to refresh the pilgrim church from age to age. Israelite and Samaritan, "Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bond and free," east and west, the old world and the new—all confess the sacred power and sweetness of David's voice; all kindle into songs under his leadership. That ever-living sympathy with the most cherished interests of God's children, that spirituality which so deeply touches the believer's inner man; and that expression which so engages all conditions of men, and adapts itself to all circumstances of humanity; indeed, all the immortal sweetness, grandeur, and power which distinguish the Old Testament Psalms, are found living still, and renewing their freshness in the inspired hymns and songs of those who went up to the Temple in "the last days," and spoke "in other tongues the wonderful works of God, as the Spirit gave them utterance." How much like a psalm of ancient Israel is that early song of the primitive Christians which the Spirit has left on record. The little persecuted community sang in the style of their fathers, when they "lift up their voices to God with one accord and said,"
Lord, Thou art God,
Which hast made heaven and earth,
And the sea,
And all that in them is:
Who by the mouth of David
Thy servant, hath said,
Why did the heathen rage
And the people imagine vain things?
The kings of the earth stood up,
And the rulers were gathered together •
Against the Lord,
And against His Christ.
For of a truth,
Against Thy Holy Child Jesus,
Whom Thou hast anointed,
Both Herod and Pontius Pilate,
With the Gentiles,
And the people of Israel,
Are gathered together;
For to do whatever Thy hand
And Thy counsel
Determined before to be done.
And now, Lord!
Behold their threatenings!
And grant unto Thy servants,
That with all boldness
They may speak Thy word,
By stretching forth Thy hand to heal;
And that signs and wonders
May be done
By the name
Of Thy Holy Child Jesus.
Nearest akin to these odes of highest inspiration are the songs of the synagogue service. The family features, and much in the distinctive manner, sometimes deeply touch the soul. In their simple grandeur, lofty vigour, solemn measure, and glow of holy feeling, they are felt to be close allies of the anthems of revelation; though not bearing the divine honours of those holier forms into which the Spirit of God once "breathed the breath of life." Would you realize the grand simplicity of primitive hymns? Then go to the synagogue and hear the lineal descendants of God's ancient people sing in their Sabbath morning service—
Praised be Thy name for ever, 0 our King!
Thou Sovereign God!
The Great and the Holy in heaven and in earth:
For unto Thee, Jehovah, our God,
And the God of our fathers,
Belong song and praise;
Hymn and psalm;
Strength and dominion;
Victory, greatness, and power;
Adoration and glory;
Holiness and majesty;
Blessings and thanksgivings;
From this time forth and for ever!
Blessed art Thou, Jehovah!
Great in praises;
The God of thanksgivings;
The Lord otwonders;
The Chooser of song and psalmody;
King Eternal! Ever-living God!
Sometimes the utterance of the synagogue is as the voice of one longing soul; now jubilant, now melting into warm, tender, spiritual feeling, and now swelling again into lofty celebrations of Divine Majesty; as if the devout heart breathed by turns the spirit of the Psalms, the Canticles, and the Prophets. So it is in " the Hymns of Glory."
Sweet hymns I attune,
And songs I weave,
For my soul panteth after Thee!
My soul longeth in the shadow of Thy hand
AU Thy secret of secrets to know!
Whilst my words speak Thy glory,
My heart is yearning for Thy love.
Therefore in Thee I speakof Thy glorious things;
And with songs of love I honour Thy name:
I will tell of Thy glory
Though I saw Thee not;
And though I knew Thee not,
I arrange my similitudes of Thee.
By the hand of Thy prophets,
By Thy trusty servants,
Thou hast symbolized the glorious honour of Thy majesty.
Thy greatness and Thy might
They named after the powers of Thy creation.
They compared Thee,
But not as Thou art;
And they likened Thee,
According to Thy works,
They represented Thee in multiplied visions:
Yet behold, Thou art one in all semblances!
The Head, Thy "Word, is the Truth,
Proclaiming from the beginning,
From generation to generation,
Thy people are ever seeking Thee!
Array thyself in the multitude of my psalms,
And let my singing come near to Thee!
Let my praise be a crown to Thy head,
And my hymns acceptable incense.
Let the song of the poor be precious to Thee,
As the anthems over the gifts of the altar.
Let my blessing ascend to the Almighty Head,
The Beginning, the Lif egtver, the Righteous Mighty One!
And when I bless, let Thy Head be inclined to me,
And take it to Thyself as chief perfumes;
Let it be pleasant to Thee,
For my soul panteth unto Thee!
The daughters of Israel have not yet lost the spirit of ancient psalmody. There are Hebrew women now who can emulate the mothers of Hebrew song, who have spiritual warmth enough to revive the service of praise in both synagogue and household; and whose heart, intellect, taste, and culture are sufficient to prove that the hymns of their fathers may be happily rendered in English metre and rhyme. Mrs. Hester Rothschild has inserted the opening hymn of the Sabbath morning service in her volume of "Prayers and Meditations," and acknowledges her obligation to the talented pen of Mrs. Julius Collins for this beautiful version:—
Before Thy heavenly Word revealed the wonders of Thy will; Before the earth and heavens came forth from chaos, deep and
still; E'en then Thou reignedst Lord supreme! as Thou wilt ever
reign, And moved Thy Holy Spirit o'er the dark unfathomed main;
But when through all the empty space Thy mighty voice was
Then darkness fled, and heavenly light came beaming at Thy word;
All nature then proclaimed the kiug, most blessed and adored!
The great Creator! God alone !—the Universal Lord!.
And when this vast created world returns to endless night,
When heaven and earth shall fade away at Thy dread word of
Still Thou in Majesty wilt rule, Almighty One alone,
Great God, with mercy infinite, on thy exalted throne.
Immortal power! Eternal One! with Thee what can compare,
Thy glory shines in heaven and earth, and fills the ambient air;
All time, all space, by Thee illumed, grows bright and brighter still,
Obedient to Thy high behest, and to Thy heavenly will.
To Thee dominion sole belongs, and 'tis to Thee alone,
My Father! Saviour! living God! I make my sorrows known;
Thy love celestial and divine descends upon my heart,
Inspiring courage, hope, and joy, and bidding grief depart.
Protected by Thy boundless love, my body sinks to rest;
My soul, within Thy heavenly arm reposes, calm and blest.
Lord of my life! in darkest night I sleep and have no fear,
And in the early dawn of day I wake and find Thee near.
As the official honours and powers which have their united seat in Him who is Head over all things to the Church, are by His Spirit divided and distributed among His people, so the "lights and perfections" which are all harmoniously embodied in the psalmody of Holy Writ, are scattered and variously apportioned among the later children of song. With one is the grandeur, with another the beauty; here the sweetness, there the power; this voice is plaintive, that triumphant. Now we have harmony, now gracefulness; now deep contemplative life, and now a full and holy unction. There are different ministrations. Nor has the gift of coming most agreeably near to the standard of highest hymnic inspiration always fallen on those to whom the Church would soonest look for aid. That God, who perfectly knows every man's mental and moral constitution, and sees at a glance all the fitnesses of human agency for the fulfilment of His own purposes, may sometimes tax the gifts of even a Balaam, and, wrapping him in awful visions, constrain him to give out utterances with which his own will and disposition are somewhat in discord, and which become immortalized as at once witnesses for God, and memorials of the faithless prophet's unconsecrated talents. A Rousseau may dream of heavenly music, and wake to jot down the melody which has helped many Christians to give touching expression to their purest and sweetest hymns. And who would expect a combination of features so near akin to those of old prophetic psalmody as are now associated in a few productions of Byron, Scott, and Olivers? What a trio! a sensuous scorner, and idolized novelist, and a Methodist preacher! And were all these among the prophets? If to write hymns like prophets' hymns is to have the shadow of a prophet's claim, let them share the honour of being in the train of prophetic hymnists. The three men wrote three remarkable hymns, each of which is instinct with some virtue of Hebrew psalmody. Byron has happily caught the spirit of the 137th Psalm, and in his plaintive but spirited melody gives the soul pleasant yet mournful touches, after _ the manner of the original ode, "By the rivers of Babylon," etc.—
We sat down and wept by the waters
Of Babel, and thought of the day
When our foe, in the hue of his slaughters,
Made Salem's high places his prey;
And ye, oh her desolate daughters!
Were scatter'd all weeping away.
While sadly we gazed on the river
"Which rolled on in freedom below,
They demanded the song; but, oh never
That triumph the stranger shall know!
May this right hand be wither'd for ever,
Ere it string our high harp for the foe.
On the willow that harp is suspended—
Oh Salem! its sound should be free;
And the hour when thy glories were ended,
But left me that token of thee•:
And ne'er shall its soft tones be blended
With the voice of the spoiler by me!
He who could breathe so deeply in unison with the harp of captive Judah cannot, with all his sins and errors, be shut out from among the children of sacred minstrelsy. It may still be a wonder how such a hand as his could string its harp to melody like this; but there must have been something in the poet, both in his heart and intellect, which was capable of occasional sympathy with the sublime mysteries of the Old Testament, the grand march of its history, and the deep variations of its prophetic songs. It was this occasional sympathy which expressed itself in the awful dramas, "Cain" and "Heaven and Earth," and which sometimes showed itself in more pleasing beauty and power in his " Hebrew Melodies." Will the religious world ever forget his musical verses on Sennacherib?
The Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold;
but where and when had the touch been given which ever after acted now and then like a charm, and hushed his dark tempestuous soul into communion with the scenes, and the men, and the music of the 13ible? Minds and hearts like his are not left by God without Divine visitation from above. Truth speaks at intervals with commanding power. A loving voice sometimes whispers, "My salvation is near;" and to Byron such a voice came in his earlier course.
"Lord Byron and I met once," said an old man to a friend, as they sat in the window of a quiet little parlour looking out upon Falmouth harbour. "It was one evening in the year 1809. I had been sitting here thinking how Providence and the Holy Ghost work together in promoting the salvation of man, when the servant girl, who had gone out on an errand, came rushing back in a great hurry, and ran upstairs. She was closely followed by a gentleman, who, when he saw me, apologized in a jaunty way for his intrusion, but at the same time walked in, took a seat, and seemed at perfect ease. He was a noble, handsome young man. I shall never forget the bright glance of his light eyes as they playfully lightened from under his very dark eyebrows. There sparkles of fire seemed to float on the surface of a thoughtful depth.
"'Was that your girl, old gentleman?' said he.
"'Yes, sir ; pray what is the matter?'
"' Oh, nothing; but I wanted to make her acquaintance on the terrace yonder. She gave me a spirited reception, and provoked me to the chase; so here I am. I admire that girl of yours for her virtuous energy. But now, letting her alone in her retreat, turn out your cards, and let us have some play.'
"'We keep no cards here, sir,' said I, looking at him gravely.
"'No cards! Perhaps you have a novel or two one could look over?'
"'No, sir; such things are never found in this house.'
"' What have you got then, eh?'
"'I have a book here that might interest you,' I replied, 'and one that I am sure will not only refine your taste, but do your heart good.' I opened the Bible before him. He started. The gay life passed away from his countenance, and he was silent and thoughtful, while I gave him some lessons on the Bible and from the Bible. 'I have not the pleasure of knowing your name, sir,' said I, as he rose to depart, 'but I pray God to bless you.'
"'Thank you,' was his parting reply, 'my name is George, Lord Byron. Good-bye !'"
It was the future poet on his way to Lisbon, and who knows how far the quiet old Methodist's lesson "on the Bible and from the Bible" influenced his after thought and feeling, as the author of "Hebrew Melodies;" and was it the echo of that good little man's touching appeal that sometimes in after days, and in other climes, made him "silent and sombre," as when he said in the presence of his friend Shelley, "Here is a little book which somebody has sent me about Christianity, that has made me very uncomfortable ; the reasoning seems to me very strong, the proofs are very staggering. I don't think you can answer it, Shelley, at least, I am sure I can't, and what is more, I don't wish it." Poor Byron! his heart cherished some early lessons "on the Bible and from the Bible;" and sometimes, as in his correspondence with Mr. Shepherd, prompted him to express his feelings of concern about his own spiritual condition, by nobly saying, "I can assure you that all the fame which ever cheated humanity into higher notions of its importance would never weigh in my mind against the pure and pious interest which a virtuous being may be pleased to take in my welfare." But whatever he owed to the words and prayers of the old man in the quiet parlour at Palmouth, he owed something, and, perhaps, much, to another, who seems to have been the only man who was kind, and faithful, and Christian enough to warn him against evil, and recommend him to the good, in the midst of his successes, and in the height of his poetic glory. That man was Sir Walter Scott.
"Would you have me turn Methodist?" said Byron, in reply to his friend's advice.
"No," was the reply, "I cannot conceive of your being a Methodist, but you might be a Catholic Christian."
His heart seems never to have lost the impression of that affectionate touch, and he recorded it by saying, "I have known Sir Walter Scott long and well, and in occasional situations which call forth the real character; and I can assure you that his character is worthy of admiration. I say that Walter Scott is as nearly a good man as man can be, because I know it by experience to be the case." Scott had shown himself to be Byron's true friend ; but he proved too that he ^was akin to him in sympathy with the Hebrew psalmist. His higher moral standing, however, gave him the advantage, and his immortal hymn is more full in its conformity to the ancient and holy standard. Byron had the pathos and the tone of wailing Israel, but Scott, equal in all this, entered into the spirit of Hebrew worship, and rises into the grandeur of devout submission and holy trust.
When Israel of the Lord beloved.
Out of the land of bondage came;
Her father's God before her moved,
An awful gnide in smoke and flame.
By day along the astonished lands
The cloudy pillar glided slow;
By night, Arabia's crimsoned sands
Returned the fiery column's glow.
There rose the choral hymn of praise,
And trump and timbrel answered keen:
And Zion's daughters poured their lays,
With priest's and warrior's voice between.
No portents now our foes amaze,
Forsaken Israel wanders lone;
Our fathers would not know Thy ways,
And Thou hast left them to their own.
But present still, though now unseen,
When brightly shines the prosperous day;
Be thoughts of Thee a cloudy screen
To temper the deceitful ray.
And oh, when stoops on Judah's path.
In shade and storm the frequent night;
Be Thou long-suffering, slow to wrath,
A burning and a shining light.
Our harps we left by Babel's streams,
The tyrant's pest, the Gentile's scorn:
No censer round our altar beams,
And mute are timbrel, trump, and horn.
But Thou hast said the blood of goat,
The flesh of rams I will not prize;
A contrite heart, a humble thought,
Are mine accepted sacrifice.
But it remained for the Methodist preacher to show the modern hymn in its stronger family likeness to those old spiritual songs in which all beautiful, grand, and devout thoughts, expressions, and feelings are so richly combined. He has done more than this. He has brought the spirit of the old covenant into harmony with that of the new ; and in one hymn has finely blended theYoioes of all Abraham's spiritual children, whether "Greek or Jew, barbarian, Scythian, bond or free." His hymn takes position above those of Byron and Scott. The hymns of this remarkable trio are like a "psalm of degrees." They move in an upward gradation, raising the swell of Christian song until it rivals the music of Hebrew fathers. Under Byron's hand, the distinctive form of beauty began to breathe and unfold its tender charms. At Scott's touch it expands into more majestic proportions, and puts forth more of its inner life. But at Olivers' command, it manifests its maturity of soul, and gives full and harmonious expression to all its heavenliness of thought and affection. In the course of conversation a few years ago, the son of an old minister said, "I remember my father telling me that he was once standing in the aisle of City-road Chapel, during a Conference in Wesley's time, and Thomas Olivers, one of the preachers, came down to him, and unfolding a manuscript, said, 'Look at this, I have rendered it from the Hebrew, giving it as far as I could a Christian character, and I have called on Leoni, the Jew, who has given me a synagogue melody to suit it; here is the tune, and it is to be called Leoni.' I read the composition, and it was that now well-known, grand imitation of ancient Israel's hymns—
The God of Abraham praise,
Who reigns enthroned above,
Ancient of everlasting days,
And God of love;
Jehovah! Great I am!
By earth and heaven conf eat;
I bow and bless the sacred name
For ever blest!
The God of Abraham praise!
At whose supreme command
From earth I rise and seek the joys
At His right hand:
I all on earth forsake,
Its wisdom, fame, and power,
And Him my only portion make,
My shield and tower.
The God of Abraham praise!
Whose all-sufficient grace
Shall guide me all my happy days
In all my ways:
He by Himself hath sworn,
I on His oath depend;
I shall, on eagle's wings upborne,
To heaven ascend;
I shall behold His face,
I shall His power adore,
And sing the wonders of His grace
Though nature's strength decay,
And earth and hell withstand,
To Canaan's bounds I urge my way
At His command:
The watery deep I pass
With Jesus in my view,
And through the howling wilderness
My way pursue.
The goodly land I see,
With peace and plenty blest,
A land of sacred liberty,
And endless rest:
There milk and honey flow,
And oil and wine abound,
And trees of life for ever grow,
With mercy crowu'd.
There dwells the Lord our King,
The Lord our Righteousness,
Triumphant o'er the world and sin,
The Prince of Peace! On Zion's sacred height His kingdom still maintains, And glorious with His saints in light, For ever reigns!
He keeps His own secure;
He guards them by His side;
Arrays in garments white and pure
His spotless bride;
With streams of sacred bliss,
With groves of living joys,
With all the fruits of Paradise,
He still supplies.
Before the great Three-One
They all exulting stand,
And tell the wonders He hath done,
Through all their land;
The listening spheres attend
And swell the growing fame,
And sing in songs which never end,
The wondrous name!
The God who reigns on high,
The great archangels sing,
And " Holy, Holy, Holy," cry,
Who was and is the same,
And evermore shall be!
Jehovah! Father! great I Am!
We worship Thee!"
Before the Saviour's face
The ransom'd nations bow,
Overwhelm'd at His almighty grace,
For ever new:
He shows His prints of love;
They kindle to a flame,
And sound, through all the worlds above,
The slaughter'd Lamb!
The whole triumphant host
Give thanks to God on high;
"Hail! Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!"
They ever cry:
Hail! Abraham's God and mine!
I join the heavenly lays;
All might and majesty are Thine,
And endless praise!
How little Byron knew, when he shrank from what he thought to be Scott's recommendation of Methodism, that a Methodist preacher would be honoured as more than his equal in true "Hebrew melodies." And how little Scott thought, when he found himself arrested by Wesley's preaching in Kelso churchyard, that the name , of one of Wesley's itinerant companions would stand in the lists of immortality above his own, in the line of Israelitish hymnists. It is interesting, too, to see posterity balancing the relative claims of Olivers and his bitter theological antagonist Toplady. Wesley employed Olivers as his "corrector of the press." But he was more. He sometimes took part in the doctrinal strife which was raging then between the Arminians and the Calvinists. Olivers, though once a cobbler, had a great deal of native logic, and could use a syllogism with all the effect which he was once apt to give to his awl. He knew how to stitch up collegians like Toplady; and poor Toplady was now and then irritated under the process, until bitter and even vulgar outcries were his only mode of defence. "Mr. Wesley," cries he, "has taken refuge under a cobbler's apron!" Alas! for the gentleman when the theological polemic rises. Human nature is a strange complexity, even in its most hallowed condition, especially when its religious taste and temper take the form of controversy. He who grins about a cobbler's apron to-day, sings tomorrow,
of Ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in Thee!
and has thus rendered it difficult to say whether he or his cobbler foe was the greater benefactor to the Christian world when they exercised their higher and diviner calling as Christian hymnists. Toplady's name will ever be balmy to those whose tremulous spirits feel the need of the cross; while those who can rise into the jubilant assurance of pilgrims on the very banks of Jordan will bless the memory of the man whose memorial is thus recorded by his companions in travel with characteristic brevity and force. '' Thomas Olivers died advanced in years. In his younger days he was a zealous, able, and useful travelling preacher; but for a long period of his life he was employed by Mr. Wesley as the corrector of his press. His talents were very considerable: and his attachment to Mr. Wesley and Methodism was fully evidenced by several masterly publications." He proved himself to be no mean writer, logician, poet, and musical composer. With all this he was a good man; and long ago he fully realized the blessedness which his last stanza anticipated—
Hail! Abraham's God and mine!
I join the heavenly lays;
All might and majesty are Thine,
And endless praise!