SONGS IN PRISON.
"From the freed spirit every shackle falls,
Earth's gloom is lost in heaven's glorious light."
Who would not like to have heard that midnight song of Paul and Silas in the prison at Philippi? With bodies lacerated by the executioner's whip, and cast upon the bare floor of the dungeon under the torturing burden of the Roman stocks, parched and weary after a day's labour, excitement, and abuse, whither should they look for help and comfort? They knew their refuge, and, "having prayed, they sang a hymn to God, and the prisoners heard them." They sang heartily, "with the spirit and with the understanding also." Their hymn is not recorded; but we may be sure that Jesus was its leading theme, that they uttered their theme distinctly enough for the prisoners to know what they were singing about, and that the spirit of their hymn and its rhythm, its manner and its music, were such as accorded most fully with the simple, childlike devotion of the unselfish and heavenly-minded prisoners. Had their strain come down to our ears with sufficient clearness and certainty to allow us to render it into English metre or rhyme, it might have appeared somewhat similar to an ancient hymn which broke forth from the bars of a prison a few centuries later. It was on a Palm Sunday, about seven hundred and fifty years after Paul's song in the prison. The Emperor Louis, the Debonnaire, and his Court, were on their way to the cathedral at Mentz in full procession, and, when passing a dungeon, the following hymn issued from an open window, and was taken up by the choristers:—
Glory, and honour, and praise,
To Thee, our Redeemer and King;
To whom little children sang lays,
To whom our hosannas we bring.
David's own heir to the throne
Of Israel's royal domain;
Thou Blessed One, come to Thine own,
Thy kingdom for ever maintain!
Angelical choirs above
Sing glory to Thee from on high;
And mortals and all things that move
Give anthems and songs in reply.
Those Hebrew people of old
Went singing before Thee with psalms;
With prayers and praises untold,
We, too, will be waving our palms!
While hastening on to Thy death,
They loudly uplifted their voice;
But we with our every breath,
In Thy exaltation rejoice.
Fragrant to Thee was their praise,
Oh smile on the offering we bring;
Thy joy is in all pleasant lays,
Thou Blessed and All-gracious King!
This was the prison song of Theodulph of Orleans, afterwards named in the calendar as a "saint"; and not without some reason, for he was a saintly man. Like many other saintly men, he had incurred the ill-will of those on whom his goodness reflected reproof, and suffered imprisonment on the testimony of false accusers. His hymn from the prison, however, touched the heart of Charlemagne's imperial son, and the persecuted bishop, like Paul and Silas, found the joy of deliverance coming after his song. Those who have Christian cheerfulness enough to begin their hymns in the straits of tribulation will often find themselves swelling the chorus "in a large place."
Songs in prison! who can think of them without some thought about the "beloved disciple," the last of his order, the apostle of love, in his banishment, his narrow sea-girt prison. Shut up "for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ," he had songs nevertheless. His Patmos was "compassed about with songs of deliverance"; songs from the New Jerusalem; songs that for ever filled his heart with responsive music. How his soul must have repeated the hymns which he had caught in his vision of the Holy City! His record of the vision is a lofty hymn, whose music lives for ever. "And I John saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her hushand. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people; and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no death, neither sorrow nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away." How many suffering Christians, from generation to generation since "the Lord's-day" of the apostle's vision, have caught the light of the city from the narrow windows of their prisonhouse in the flesh. Into how many a deep cell has his ever-living vision shed its cheering radiance! Some fragments of one "prisoner's song" have come to our ears, witnessing to the power of Christian hope in giving the soul a refreshing sense of its heavenly freedom, even while the body is pining in bondage. The prisoner solaced himself in his loneliness by writing and singing of the New Jerusalem. Happy man! his cell became his little heaven, while he was preparing for a "better inheritance." Some cell in that storied old "Tower" on the banks of the Thames was often illumed by a light from the distant home, towards which the imprisoned citizen of heaven was daily and nightly turning his longing eyes. It was there, probably, towards the end of Elizabeth's reign, that a long prison song was written by F. B. P., alias Francis Baker. His hymn found a home in the British Museum. It is too long to be sung every hour, but it had too much life to stay, all of it, in its Museum cell. Precious bits have slipped out into tuneful liberty, and have found their way into thousands of hearts, north and south, in the Old World and in the New. How many a prisoner of hope has been heard singing—
Jerusalem, my happy home,
When shall I come to thee?
When shall my sorrows have an end,
Thy joys when shall I see?
Oh happy harbour of the saints!
Oh sweet and pleasant soil!
In Thee no sorrow may be found,
No grief, no care, no toil.
There lust and lucre cannot dwell,
There envy bears no sway; There is no hunger, heat, nor cold,
But pleasure every way.
Thy walls are made of precious stones,
Thy bulwarks diamonds square; Thy gates are of right orient pearl,
Exceeding rich and rare.
Thy turrets and thy pinnacles
With carbuncles do shine;
Thy very streets are paved with gold,
Surpassing clear and fine.
Oh, my sweet home, Jerusalem,
Would God I were in thee!
Would God my woes were at an end,
Thy joys that I might see!
Thy saints are crown'd with glory great;
They see God face to face;
They triumph still, they still rejoice,
Most happy in their case.
We that are here in banishment
Continually do moan,
We sigh, and sob, we weep, and wail,
Perpetually we groan.
Our sweet is mix'd with bitter gall,
Our pleasure is but pain,
Our joys scarce last the looking on,
Our sorrows still remain.
But there they live in such delight,
Such pleasure and such play, As that to them a thousand years
Doth seem as yesterday.
Thy gardens and thy gallant walka
Continually are green, There grow such sweet and pleasant flowers
As nowhere else are seen.
Quite through the street with silver sound
The flood of life doth flow; Upon whose banks on every side,
The wood of life doth grow.
There trees for evermore bear fruit
And evermore do spring;
There evermore the angels sit,
And evermore do sing.
Jerusalem, my happy home,
Would God I were in thee!
Would God my woes were at an end,
Thy joys that I might see!
Many versions of this "prisoner's hymn" have found their way into different parts of Europe; and many a home and many a prison, it may be, have been made the happier by its simple soothing tones, and its tuneful alternations of plaintiveness and triumph. Snatches of it used to be heard among the hills and glens of Scotland. They lived in the memory and heart of many a Scotch mother; and seem to have been sung as devout and cheering accompaniments to the daily duties of cottage life. Nor was this without good fruit even in distant lands—fruit that sprang up far away from the spot where the seed first fell. A young Scotchman who was on his death-bed at New Orleans, says the American biographer of Whitefield, was visited by a Presbyterian minister, but continued for a time to shut himself up against all the good man's efforts to reach his heart. Somewhat discouraged, at last the visitor turned away, and scarcely knowing why, unless it was for his own comfort, began to sing, "Jerusalem, my happy home." That was enough, a tender chord was touched. The young patient's heart was broken; and with bursting tears he said, "My dear mother used to sing that hymn." His softened spirit was now open to his Redeemer. Jesus gave the penitent peace; and hope threw light upon his passage to the city which is now for ever the " happy home" of his mother and her son. The prisoner, too, whose song went out from the Tower to fulfil such heavenly missions, now enjoys the city of his desire; and many have gathered around him there, whose way thither had been brightened by the music of his hymn. And there he has met with others, once psalmists like himself in prison, but now at large to commune amidst the joys of immortal freedom, and to watch the accumulating fruit of their prison psalmody. Among the rest is one rapt spirit, the spirit of a sainted lady who now realizes the truth of her Saviour's words, "Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven."
Jane Marie Bouviers de la Mathe Guion was a sufferer for Christ; and was in one sense a martyr for the. honour of the Blessed Spirit. "In the time of the ancient law," as she herself remarks, "there were several of the Lord's martyrs, who suffered for asserting and trusting in the one true God. In the primitive Church of Christ, the martyrs shed their blood for maintaining the truth of Jesus Christ crucified; but now there are martyrs of the Holy Spirit, who suffer for their dependence on Him, for maintaining His reign in souls, and for being subject to the Divine will. . . . The devil now directly attacks the dominion of the Holy Spirit, opposing His celestial unction in souls, and discharging his hatred on the bodies of those whose minds he cannot hurt." Like many others whose spirituality has been too high and full for a carnal world and a worldly Church, she was called to suffer from human efforts to repress and shut up the overflowings of "perfect love." She was imprisoned for her spiritual-mindedness and her uncontrollable zeal for a religion of inward spirit and power. Born on Easter Eve, April 13, 1648, at Montargis, about 50 miles south of Paris, of gentle blood, tender and delicate constitution, and trained in a style which prepared her for intercourse with frequenters at court, while it made her familiar with the sorrows of ill-tempered government at home; this distinguished woman entered on her remarkable course of suffering, discipline, and activity, in her sixteenth year, when, as a tall, beautiful girl, she was made the victim of convenience, by marriage with an elderly gentleman, who in conjunction with his mother ruled her as a pupil if not a slave. Her decided conversion to vital Christianity, however, very soon laid the foundation of that exemplary piety, charity, and devotion, which she sustained for so many years as a wife, a mother, a widow, and a consecrated evangelist-for Christ. The instrument of her conversion was a modest but devoted religious recluse, who quietly dropped a passing word to her on the subject of inward godliness. It was "a word in season." She had been groping after truth, feeling after God; but those few "good words" opened the blessed to her heart. "They were unto me," she says, "like the stroke of a dart, which pierced my heart asunder. I felt at the instant a wound very deep, smitten with the love of God; a wound so delightful that I desired it never to be cured. These words brought into my heart what I had been seeking so many years. ... 0 infinite goodness! 0 Beauty ancient and new! why have I known Thee so late? Alas! I sought Thee where Thou wast not, and did not seek Thee where Thou wast. It was for want of understanding these words of Thy gospel, 'The kingdom of God cometh not with observation; neither shall they say, lo here, or lo there; for behold the kingdom of God is within you.' This I now experienced, since Thou became my King, and my heart Thy kingdom, where Thou didst reign as sovereign, and didst all Thy will. This fell out on Magdalen's Day, 1668." On Magdalen's Eve, 1676, her husband died, and on the following morning she renewed what she called her marriage-contract with the Lord Jesus Christ. "I renewed it every year," she writes, "on Magdalen's Day." She proved herself equal to all the business of settling her husband's affairs; and then, she gave herself as a " widow indeed " to the work of proclaiming the salvation which she had found, and of gathering souls for her Divine Lord. Full of spiritual power and love, she went everywhere, wherever her way was open, in France and in Italy; and under great bodily suffering, '' in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by her own countrymen, in perils of the city, in perils of the wilderness, in perils among false brethren," and false sisters, "in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, and in fastings often," she prayed, and exhorted, and taught, and persuaded, until in convents, in monasteries, in homes, by the way, wherever she came indeed, the fruit of her labours multiplied in many souls saved from sin, and brought to love Christ with all their heart, and to commune with the Father and the Son in the Holy Ghost. Her writings were voluminous, and these brought upon her, at last, the ecclesiastical authorities of the day. Her soul-converting power excited the wrath of many; but her writings, not in all points accurate, and never to be understood by those who were most forward to judge, afforded seeming reason for that continued persecution which resulted, at length, in her consignment to prison by order of the king. She was at first consigned to a convent, under the cruel oversight of a severe nun; her child was torn from her, and all comforts were withdrawn; but she had "an interior joy at her new humiliation." By and by, however, after various examinations by church dignitaries, she was thrown into the prison at Yincennes. "There," she tells us, "I passed my time in great peace, content to pass the rest of my life there, if such were the will of God. I sang songs of joy, which the maid who served me learned by heart, as fast as I made them; and we together sang Thy praises, 0 my God! The stones of my prison looked in my eyes like rubies. I esteemed them more than all the gaudy brilliancies of the world. My heart was full of that joy. Thou givest to them that love Thee in the midst of their greatest crosses." The free music of her hymn, and her warm and flowing devotion, move us even now as she and her maid sing—
Great God, here at ease,
Thee singly to please,
I sing all the length of the day;
Shut up in a cage,
Yet sheltered from rage,
Oh listen and smile on the lay!
From sorrow released,
With solace increased,
The bars of my prison I love;
All toil here untried,
All wants well supplied,
I am blest and enriched from above.
What if aliens are prone
To despise, as unknown,
A language in heaven understood?
"Tis a feast to the taste
Of the soul that is chaste,
As it flows from the fountain of good.
Tho' my foes have combined,
And my body confined,
Yet my soul is with liberty blest;
I am humbly content
With whatever is sent,
For I know that Thy pleasure is best.
Oh pleasure divine,
All excellence Thine,
And Thee will I love and adore;
The more piercing my pain,
The more freedom I gain,
And of every choice blessing the more.
Accept then, I pray,
The tribute I pay,
I sing, as a bird full of joy;
In a cage when enclosed,
His warbling effusions employ.
Grant my hymns uttered here,
Melodious to cheer,
Tho' tend'rer and softer than fine;
And the strength ever deign
Of my life to sustain,
Of that durable life which is Thine.
Thy wondrous defence
Makes a cell seem immense—
It sheds so peculiar a grace;
Such a pleasure abounds,
Such a glory surrounds,
And the joys of Thy kingdom embrace.
All my foes I behold,
All the stout and the bold,
Perplexing their hearts with their pain;
Confounded, I see,
While happily free,
How they vent all their furies in vain!
With a spirit thus unsubdued, and a soul thus joyfully communing with the heaven which the storms of persecution never disturb, she found her enemies still unwearied with the efforts of their false zeal. They kept her in prison several years in a sick and suffering condition. Her keepers in every case learnt to respect and love her; and then, to avert the danger of such attachments, she was moved from prison to prison. Now at Vincennes, then at Vaugirard, and from Vaugirard to the Bastile. Still her truthfulness was clear, her purity was transparent, and her unsullied character as a Christian convinced even the gainsayers. Her songs, too, were unfailing. Nor was the notorious Bastile left unsanctified by a hymn. There she sang—
My dearest Protector, see how they detain
My life in a dungeon! Yet let me remain
While such is Thy pleasure: for better no doubt
In a, prison with Thee than a, palace without!
No thought in my heart dares to lift up its head, •
But the thought which to love, and to serve Thee, is led.
I wish'd to be Thine from my tenderest age:
No lovers beside have I sought to engage;
No slender supports of the loftiest reeds;
No trust in their words, and no hope of their deeds.
In every probation, to Thee the recourse
Of my soul, in Thy grace is its only resource.
What else can I do, so surrounded with foes,
But fly to Thy goodness which heals all my woes?
When my hair shall grow white, and infirmities shake
This old shatter'd fabric, Thou wilt not forsake.
I was formerly pain'd when I saw night and day,
What innocence suffered in walking her way;
But since I have learn'd, we are summon'd to prove
By the weight of our suffering the weight of our love.
Love perfect and pure goes farther than thought;
None knows, till he proves it, how dear 'twill be bought;
Yet 'tis well worth its price, and a thousand times more,
Since it brings us to heaven when our labours are o'er.
The imprisoned sufferer was happy in the will of God; but she felt herself called ceaselessly to demand a fair trial, that her crime, if there were any, might be openly specified and proved. The only response to her appeals seems to have been an inquisitorial process of inquiry for some evidence to damage her case. All, however, was vain; her character was stainless. She was dismissed from prison; but because of the alleged doubtfulness of her doctrines, they banished her to Blois, where for nearly twelve years her example shed the calm and pure light of a Christian eventide, and in the end left bright memorials of its holiness in the hearts of all who knew her. She died in peace amidst a few of her best friends. Some of Madame Guion's teachings would have seemed less doubtful, it may be, had her terminology been fully understood; or had her mode of expression been less symbolical and dreamy. Her experience as a Christian was not far different from that of many other highly spiritual Christians
who have never been accused of an approach to error. "Perfect love," in all ages, bears the same Divine impress. Some of Madame Guion's last sayings must ever secure a hallowed memory for her name. "Nothing," says she, "is greater than God, nothing/less than myself. He is rich, I am poor; and yet I want nothing. Life or death is equal to me; God is love. I want nothing but God and His glory." The leading notion of her theology, if she may be said to teach theology, is given in her "Spiritual Torrents." "As soon as a soul is touched of God in such a manner as to return to Him in all sincerity, after the first purgation, or cleansing, which confession and contrition have made, God gives it a certain instinct for turning to Him in a more perfect manner, to be united to Him; as it then clearly sees that it was not created for the amusements and trifles of the world, but that it has a centre, to which it must strive to return, and out of which it can never find true repose." That her holiness was truly Christian is seen in her last words to her many spiritual children: "Oh, my dear children, open your eyes to the light of truth. 'Holy Father, sanctify them through Thy truth.' Thy Divine Word has spoken to them through my mouth. Christ alone is the Truth. He said of His apostles, 'For their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also may be sanctified through the truth.' Oh, say the same thing to my children. Sanctify Thyself in them and for them. It is being truly sanctified in all holiness, to have none of our own, but only the holiness of Jesus Christ. Let Him alone be all in all in us, and for us, that the work of sanctification may be carried on through the experimental knowledge of
the Divine truth My children, receive the
instruction from your mother, and it will procure you life. Receive it through her, not as for her, but as of and for God. Amen. Lord Jesus Christ." Amen!
Give glory to Jesus, our Head,
With all that encompass His throne;
A widow, a widow indeed,
A mother in Israel is gone!
Rejoice for a sister deceased,
Our loss is her infinite gain;
A soul out of prison released,
And free from its bodily chain.
"With song let us follow her flight,
And mount with her spirit above,
Escaped to the mansions of light,
And lodged in the Eden of love.
It is pleasant to read the songs of a prisoner who has learned to be happy in prison; and the pleasure is greater when the hymns come from a " prisoner of Jesus Christ"— one who suffers bondage purely for Christ's sake. But even that pleasure is equalled, if not surpassed, by the joy with which we joy over that goodness of heart, that overflowing charity which constrains a man to task his genius in providing appropriate, instructive, and cheery prison hymns for those who have neither heart nor genius to compose hymns for themselves, or in teaching those who have merited imprisonment so to sing as to beguile their hours of confinement, to make legal penalties contribute to their heart's welfare, and to prepare themselves while in bondage for the privileges and duties of freedom. Such is the joy which must bless those who tune themselves for companionship with the man under whose striking old portrait the lover of quaint but well-strung psalmody may read—
So this is he whose infant muse began
To brave the world before years styled him man;
Though praise be slight, and scorns to make his rhymes
Beg favours or opinion of the times,
Yet few by good men have been more approved
None so unseen, so generally loved.
A very good character, especially for a man whose sympathy with prisoners was strengthened by his own experience as a prisoner, having been in."durance vile" three successive times—once for writing a little too freely, as some people thought, about public abuses ; a second time because he chose to be a "roundhead," while some of his more powerful neighbours lorded it as cavaliers; and once more because it was thought impertinent for him to remonstrate against being stripped of the spoils which he had picked up while he happened to stand on the winning side of the game. His second period of bondage might have been fatal but for the plea of a fellow-poet, Denham, who wore royalist colours. "Let him live," was the plea, " for while he lives I shall not be thought the worst poet." It was a good joke, for it saved a good life; and George Wither lived to show his tuneful sympathy with poor prisoners. "Men in affliction, " says he, very kindly, "are somewhat easier when they can find words whereby to express their sufferings; to help them who want expression of their endurance in imprisonment, and to remember prisoners of such meditations as are pertinent to their condition, is the intent of this hymn :"—
I whom of late
No thraldom did molest,
Of that estate
Am wholly dispossess'd:
My feet once free,
Are strictly now confined,
Which breeds in me
A discontented mind.
Those prospects fair
Which I was wont to have,
That wholesome air
Which fields and meadows gave,
Are changed now
For close, unpleasant cells,
Where secret woe
And open sorrow dwells.
Instead of strains
Delightful to mine ear,
Gyves, bolts, and chains
Are all my music here;
And ere I get
Those things for which I pray,
I must entreat
With patience in delay.
To feed or sleep,
To work or take mine ease,
I now must keep
Such hours as others please;
To make me sad,
Complaints are likewise heard,
And often made
Of wrongs without regard.
Lord! as I ought
My freedom had I used,
Of this, no doubt,
I might have been excused:
But I confess
The merit of my sin
Deserves no less
Than hath inflicted been.
Let me, O God!
My sin Thine anger move;
But let this rod
Correct my faults in love:
With patient mind
Let me Thy stripes endure,
And freedom find
When they have wrought their cure.
Whilst here I 'bide
Though I unworthy be,
Do Thou provide
All needful things for me:
And though friends grow
Unkind in my distress,
Yet leave not Thou
Thy servant comfortless.
So though in thrall
My body must remain,
In mind I shall
Some freedom still retain;.
And wiser made
By this restraint shall be,
Than if I had
Until my death been free.
Tender-hearted Wither! This hymn, which in his
fentleness he offers to the lips and heart of a prisoner as a evout mode of beguiling his solitary hours, was doubtless the very song of his own soul, under the rigours of his unalleviated confinement, and in the damp and gloomy atmosphere of his comfortless dungeon. His were hard times; and those who got the upper hand sometimes for
fot their own sufferings in their turn. It was not easy, owever, to clip or singe the wings of Wither's muse. Some of his best verses were made in the Marshalsea; and we cannot but pay honourable tribute to the memory of the man who, while he helped those who had less genius and fewer resources than himself to sing with him, cheered on his own muse in a style like this—
If thy verse do bravely tower,
As she makes wing she gets power;
Yet the higher she doth soar,
She's affronted still the more;
Till she to the high'st hath past,
Then she rests with fame at last:
Let naught, therefore, thee affright,
But make forward in thy flight;
For, if I could match thy rhyme,
To the very stars I'd climb;
There hegin again, and fly
Till I reached eternity.
But alas ! my muse is slow;
For thy page she flags too low:
Yea, the more's her hapless fate,
Her short wings were clipt of late;
And poor I, her fortune rueing,
Am myself put up a-mewing;
But if I my cage can rid,
I'll fly where I never did,;
And though for her sake I'm crost,
Though my best hopes I have lost,
And knew she would make me trouble
Ten times more than ten times double:
I should love and keep her too,
Spite of all the world could dc.
For, though banish'd from my flocks,
And confin'd within these rocks,
Here I waste away the light,
And consume the sullen night,
She doth for my comfort stay,
And keeps many cares away.
She doth tell me where to borrow
Comfort in the midst of sorrow;
Makes the desolatest place
To her presence be a grace;
And .the blackest discontents
Be her fairest ornaments.
In my former days of bliss,
Her divine skill taught me this,
That, from everything I saw,
I could some invention draw;
And raise pleasure to her height,
Through the meanest object's sight:
By the murmur of a spring,
Or the least bough's rustleing;
By a daisy, whose leaves spread,
Shut when Titan goes to bed;
Or a shady bush or tree,
She could more infuse in me,
Than all Nature's beauties can
In some other wiser man.
By her help I also now
Make this churlish place allow•
Some things that may sweeten gladness,
In the very gall of sadness.
The dull loneness, the black shade,
That these hanging vaults have made;
The strange music of the waves,
Beating in these hollow caves;
This black den which rocks emboss,
Overgrown with eldest moss;
The rude portals that give light
More to terror than delight;
This my chamber of neglect,
Walled about with disrespect;—
From all these and this dull air,
A fit object for despair,
She hath taught me by her .might
To draw comfort and delight.
Therefore, thou best earthly bliss,
I will cherish thee for this.
"Well sung, "Wither! He has broken his prison; he has reached the home of freedom, and now drinks at its very• source the inspiration which still gives life to his best hymns. Let his name be wreathed with peace!