Chapter V


"Showing to the generations to come the praisea of the Lord"

Primitive Christianity soon found its way to the old seats of patriarchal life. Some of its first songs came from across the land which has "neither mountain, valley, or even plain—the whole being an unequal surface like the high and long waves of a deep sea when subsiding from a tempest into a calm ;" with verdant hollows here and there, but with no "tree any where in sight to relieve the monotony of the scene." Along this mysterious reach, this Mesopotamia, Abraham came, refreshing himself now and then on a grassy plot, on his way to Canaan. He came out of "ITr of the Chaldees" to be the Father of the faithful; and from the same place one, at least, of the Christian fathers came. He, too, was faithful; and by his Christian hymns he made faithfulness pleasant to his own generation and to many following ages. Ephrem Syrus was born by the crystal waters which refresh the city of Orfah, once Edessa, and which form the lake known to those who enjoy the mulberry groves which overshadow its banks as "Abraham the beloved, or the Friend of God." Ephrem, like all who aimed at high spirituality in the fourth century, became a devoted monk; and on some aspects of his character there still remain shadows of the asceticism which was peculiar to a time of reaction from social licentiousness and decay. 'But with all Ephrem's asceticism, his hymns testify that he had learnt the lesson which the Saviour so gracefully taught his disciples; that, though in some cases religious celibacy might be in keeping with the spirit and principles of His kingdom—hardness and severity were in no case consistent with Christian piety; that the hardness which the law of Moses admitted, and which showed itself in those stern rebukes which were cast on the women who brought their infants to Jesus, must yield to that gentle love which looked with utmost tenderness upon the little ones whose humility, simplicity, and submissiveness typify the highest style of the Christian character. The venerable Mesopotamian hymnist, however severe in his treatment of self, was like his divine Master in his feelings towards children. He must have laid his hands on them lovingly. His smile must have been full of blessing. How sweetly he attunes his music to the voices of his "little flock," while he teaches them to sing in unison with the children in paradise—

To Thee, O God, be praises
From lips of babes and sucklings,
As in the heavenly meadows

Like spotless lambs they feed.

'Mid leafy trees they pasture,
Thus saith the Blessed Spirit;
And Gabriel, prince of angels,
That happy flock doth lead.

The messengers of heaven,
With sons of light united,
In purest regions dwelling,
No curse or woe they see.

And at the resurrection,
With joy arise their bodies;
Their spirits knew no bondage,
Their bodies now are free.

Brief here below their sojourn,
Their dwelling is in Eden,
And one bright day their parents
Hope yet with them to be.

The heart that is gentle enough to be childlike among children must always have deep sympathy with parents, especially under the sorrows of bereavement. And many a lover of little children, though never himself really touched by the unspeakable pang of seeing his own babe breathe its last, has shown himself capable of entering very deeply into the feeling of the desolated parent, almost as if that feeling were his own. A few touching verses from a living author afford an example of such inspirations of sympathizing genius. The author of "Records of the Western Shore," had no child of his own when he issued his first volume but he utters the grief of a Cornish mother thus:—

They say 'tis a sin to sorrow,
That what God doth is best,

But 'tis only a month to-morrow
I tuned it from my breast!

I know it should be a pleasure

Your child to God to send,
But mine was a precious treasure

To me and to my poor Friend!

I thought it would call me mother

The very first words it said;
Oh! I never can love another,

Like the blessed babe that's dead!

I shall make my best endeavour

That my sins may be forgiven;
I will serve God more than ever

To meet my child in heaven!

I will check this foolish sorrow,

For what God doth is best;
But oh! 'tis a month to-morrow,

I buried it from my breast!

Ephrem Syrus, too, monk as he was, could deeply sympathize with a bereaved heart; and he shows how truly he made another's sorrows his own when he personates the Christian father lamenting the death of his boy. He becomes as natural in his utterance of parental feeling as he is happy in the expression of living faith:—

Babe, the gift of God's sweet mercy

To thy mother's heart and mine,
To this world of Borrow coming,

Beautiful by Grace Divine;
Fair as some sweet summer flower:

Till that hand of deathly shade
Scathed the beauty of my blossom,

Made the lovely petals fade.
Tet I will'not grieve nor murmur,

For the King of kings is thine;
To his marriage chamber taken,

Bridal joys are ever thine.

Nature would have me repining,

Love would hold a mournful sway:
But I tell them heav'n has call'd thee

To its scenes of endless day.
And I fear that by lamenting,

Breathing tearfully thy name,
I might in the Royal presence

For my sorrow merit blame;
By my tears of bitter anguish

Desecrate the home of joy;
Therefore will I, meekly bending,

Give thee up to God, my boy.

Still thy voice, thy infant music

Dwells for ever in my ears;
And fond mem'ry, while I listen,

Sheds forth many natural tears.
Of'thy pretty prattle thinking,

And the lispings of thy love,
I should soon begin to murmur,

Were I not to look above;
But the songs of blessed spirits

Make me wonder, love, and long:—
Oh those endless sweet hosannas;

Angels sing thy bridal song.

Hymns like these come down to us as pleasant records of that Christian simplicity with which some of the fathers showed forth the spirit and meaning of their Saviour's words, "Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, ^he same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven." 'One of the finest examples of this Christian greatness, this beautiful association of mental dignity and spiritual power with childlike simplicity and pure humbleness and submissiveness, is seen in the justly-celebrated and sainted Augustine. He has not, like Ephrem, embalmed his gentle spirit in hymns for little ones; but he has immortalized those who, like himself, were " converted and became as little children," and who, amidst the joys of their first love, consecrated their genius to the work of providing both the elders and the children of the Church with hymns and spiritual songs. "I remember," says he, in his holy converse with God—"I remember the tears I shed at the psalmody of Thy Church, in the beginning of my recovered faith. .... How did I weep through Thy hymns and canticles, touched to the quick, by the voices of Thy sweet attuned Church. The voices sank into mine ears, and the truth distilled into mine heart; whence the affections of my devotions overflowed, tears ran down, and

happy was I therein And how at this time I was

moved, not with the singing, but with the things sung. When they are sung with a clear voice and modulation most suitable, I acknowledge the great use of this institution." His account of the first hymn-service in the church at Milan, the place of his first love, is touching and instructive. "It was a year, or not much more, that Justina, mother to the Emperor Valentinian, then a child, persecuted Thy servant Ambrose in favour of her heresy, to which she was seduced by the Arians. The devout people kept watch in the church, ready to die with their bishop, Thy servant. There my mother, Thy handmaid, bearing a chief part in those anxieties and watchings, lived for prayer. We, yet unwarmed by the heat of Thy Spirit, still were stirred up by the sight of the amazed and disquieted city. Then it was instituted that, after the manner of the Eastern Churches, hymns and psalms should be sung, lest the people should wax faint through the tediousness of sorrow, and from that day to this the custom is retained." The Christian "Hock which thus kept up their chant and song in "troublous times," were supplied with many of their favourite hymns by their diligent, 'faithful, and gifted bishop, Ambrose, Augustine's beloved friend. Some of his songs are favourites still, and have been sung from age to age, becoming fresher and fresher until our own times, and are now giving the promise of renewed life. It is interesting to see that the man who, under the prejudices of his times, utters libels upon matrimony, melts into childlike tenderness when he sings of Jesus, and feels that his Saviour became an infant that He might save'infants, and hallow human nature in all its relations. This more pure and gentle Christian feeling may be. traced in the " Advent Hymn," so well known as one of the flowers which wreathe his memory—

Redeemer of the nations, come;
Pure offspring of the Virgin's womb,
Seed of the woman promised long,
Let ages swell Thine advent song.;

Once from the Father came He forth,''
Home to the Father rose from eartfc;

The depths of hell the Saviour trod,
Now seated on the throne of God.

To God the Father equal, Word,
Thy mortal vesture on Thee gird;
The weakness of our flesh at length
Sustaining by Thy changeless strength.

Thy cradle shine the darkness through,
Illuming night with lustre new,
Which never night shall hide again,
But faith in ceaseless light retain.

Nor has hallowed genius lost its tender affection for the "Holy Child Jesus." Ephrem 8yrus has long since left his Eastern retreat, and the cloisters of the West no longer echo to the voices of Ambrose and his companions; but spirits of equal simplicity, and voices of even more than equal sweetness continue to supply God's children with hymns and spiritual songs. One of Ambrose's last strains seems to have some gentle relation to the hymn of a modern bishop, whose amiable soul breathes its music from an Eastern mission Church. Ephrem, and Ambrose, and Heber were kindred spirits. They might be thought to emulate each other in songs on " the childhood of Christ." The pure and delicate beauty of Heber's hymn would have charmed the ancient hymnists, as it insinuates its affectionate devotion into every "new-born babe "'in Christ who has learnt to sing it—

By cool Siloam's shady rill

How sweet the lily grows;
How sweet the breath beneath the hill

Of Sharon's dewy rose!

Lo, such the child, whose early feet

The paths of peace have trod;
Whose secret heart, with influence sweet,

Is upward drawn to God!

By cool Siloam's shady rill

The lily must decay;
The rose that blooms beneath the hill

Must shortly fade away.

And soon, too soon, the wintry hour

Of man's maturer age,
Will shake the soul with sorrow's power,

And stormy passions rage!

0 Thou whose infant feet were found

Within Thy Father's shrine!
Whose years, with changeless virtue crowned,

Were all alike divine.

Dependent on Thy bounteous breath,

We seek Thy grace alone,
In childhood, manhood, age, and death,

To keep us still Thine own!

We can never sing thus about the childhood of Christ without having our pleasures deepened by the assurance that our children have a sacred interest in "the Holy Child." Yes, Jesus smiles to see the cradled infant hushed by a Christian lullaby. Each little one is sacred to Him who was once swaddled in the manger. It was this thought that used at once to melt and brighten the sturdy German Reformer as he hung over his sleeping darling, and sang—

Sleep well, my dear; sleep safe and free;
The holy angels are with thee,
Who always see thy Father's face,
And never slumber nights nor days.

Thou liest in down, soft every way;
Thy Saviour lay in straw and hay;
Thy cradle is far better drest
Than the hard crib where He did rest.

None dare disturb thy present ease;
He had a thousand enemies;
Thou liv'st in great security;
But He was punished, and for thee!

God make thy mother's health increase,
To see thee grow in strength and grace,
In wisdom and humility,
As infant Jesus did for thee!

God fill thee with His heavenly light
To steer thy Christian course aright;
Make thee a tree of blessed root,
That ever bends with godly fruit!

Sleep now, my dear, and take thy rest;
And if with riper years thou'rt blest,
Increase in wisdom, day and night,
Till thou attain'st th' eternal light!

And who that knows Ge'orge Wither's "rocking hymn1' is not thankful to providence that it has outlived the story

that beset its author's later life, and ia still adapted to its original purpose ?" Nurses," says he, quaintly, "usually sing their children asleep, and, tnrought want of pertinent matter, they oft make use of unprofitable, if not worse songs; this was therefore prepared, that it might help acquaint them and their nurse children with the loving care and kindness of their heavenly Father."

Sweet baby, sleep; what ails my dear;
What ails my darling thus to cry?
Be still, my child, and lend thine ear,
To hear me sing thy lullaby.

My pretty lamb, forbear to weep;

Be still, my dear; sweet baby, sleep.

Thou blessed soul, what can'st thou fear?
What thing to thee can mischief do?
Thy God is now thy Father dear,
His holy spouse thy mother too.

Sweet baby, then, forbear to weep;

Be still, my babe; sweet baby, sleep.

Whilst thus thy lullaby I sing,

For thee great blessings ripening be;

Thine eldest brother is a king,

And hath a kingdom bought for thee.

Sweet baby, then, forbear to weep;

Be still, my babe; sweet baby, sleep.

Sweet baby, sleep, and nothing fear,
For whosoever thee offends,
By thy protector threaten'd are,
And God and angels are thy friends.

Sweet baby, then, forbear to weep;

Be still, my babe; sweet baby, sleep.'

When God with us was dwelling here,
In little babes He took delight;
Such innocents as thou, my dear!
Are ever precious in His sight.

Sweet baby, then, forbear to weep;

Be still, my babe; sweet baby,'sleep.'

A little infant once was He,

And strength in weakness then was laid

Upon his virgin mother's knee,

That power to thee might be conveyed!.

Sweet baby, then, forbear to weep;

Be still, my babe; sweet baby sleep.-:

In this thy frailty and thy need,
He friends and helpers doth prepare.
Which thee shall cherish, clothe, and feed;
For of thy weal they tender are.

Sweet baby, then, forbear to weep;

Be still, my babe; sweet baby, sleep.

The King of kings, when He was born,
Had not so much for outward ease;
By him such dressings were not worn,'
Nor such like swaddling clothes as these.

Sweet baby, then, forbear to weep;

Be still, my babe; sweet baby, sleep.

Within a manger lodged thy Lord!
Where oxen lay, and asses fed;
Warm rooms we do to thee afford,
An easy cradle or a bed.

Sweet baby, then, forbear to weep;

Be still, my babe; sweet baby, sleep.

The wants that He did then sustain
Have purchased wealth, my babe, for thee;
And by His torments and His pain
Thy rest and ease secured be.

My baby, then, forbear to weep;

Be still, my babe; sweet baby, sleep.

Thou hast yet more to perfect this,
A promise and an earnest got,
Of gaining everlasting bliss,
Though thou, my babe, perceiv'st it not.

Sweet baby, then, forbear to weep;

Be still, my babe; sweet baby, sleep.

The author of this pattern Christian lullaby was born June 11, 1588. His portrait has come down to us surrounded by the quaint motto, '' I grow and wither both together;" but neither the portrait nor the motto gives us so deep and clear an insight into his character as the poems of his earlier life. His genius shone brightest while he was a Royalist; and his "Rocking Hymn" was probably written before his tenderness had given way to the more bitter spirit of satire, which he sometimes vented after he had sided with Cromwell, and had tasted the bitter fruits of change in the loss of both power and fortune. Who is not sorry to see the man whose early hymns gave forth "the finest bursts of sunshine," struggling for popularity under the thick cloud which gathered at last over his party and his character, by sending out squibs under the title of "abuses whipt and stript?" Nevertheless, peace to his memory. He has taught many a Christian mother and nurse to hush her baby into rest by singing of its happy relation to Jesus: and perhaps Watts had seen his verses, and caught from them the notion of his own "Cradle Hymn." At• all events, we naturally think of Watts as we sing the "Hocking Hymn" over the cradle. Nobody can sing about 'children, or teach children to sing, without grateful thoughts of Isaac Watts. He, too, had felt deeply that the "Holy child Jesus" had procured for our children the joy of taking a part in "Hosannas to the Son of ])avid;" that the voice of "little ones" is divine music in the ears of Jesus; and that to Him the songs of infancy are as the incense of the morning. "During my stay by the sea-side, at one time," said a lady whose appearance was always graceful, though she never seemed to follow the fashion, "I used to be charmed every morning by the voices of the children in the nursery, singing as they dressed, under the guidance of the nurse, the inimitable little song by Watts, 'against pride in clothes.' The music seemed to be the voice of innocence itself! I used to think of Him who taught us how to be clothed with. humility; and my soul felt now and then as if He must be listening with pleasure to the dear little creatures singing thoir morning lesson about the 'blest apparel.' The lesson was hallowed to me. The exquisite little song was never to leave me, and I am all the better for the habit which those darling children taught me of humming to myself, now and then—

Why should our garments, made to hide
Our parents' shame, provoke our pride?
The act of dross did ne'er begin
Till Eye Out mother learnt to sin.

When first she put the covering on,
Her robe of innocence was gone;
And yet her children vainly boast
In the sad marks of glory lost.

How proud we are, how fond to show
Our clothes, and call them rich and new;
"When the poor sheep and silkworm wore
That very clothing long before.

The tulip and the butterfly

Appear in gayer clothes than I:

Let me be drest fine as I will,

Mies, worms, and flowers exceed me still.

Then will I set my heart to find
Inward adornings of the mind;
Knowledge and virtue, truth and grace,
These are the robes of richest dress.

No more shall worms with me compare,
This is the raiment angels wear;
The Son of God, when here below,
Put on this blest apparel too.

It never fades, it ne'er grows old,

Nor fears the rain, nor moth, nor mold;

It takes no spot, but still refines,

The more 'tis worn, the more it shines.

In this on earth would I appear,
Then go to heaven, and wear it there;
God will approve it in His sight,
'Tis His own work, and His delight."

Would that tho childish multitude were learning to "murmur" this beautiful lesson, and to practise it, in these days of growing strife and vicious rage for mere appearances. "Watts" should be a household name among all English children. He is always at home with little ones. He is heart to heart with them, and therefore always makes them understand; and never fails to sway their feeling. He is the childVhynmist. As such, none have surpassed him; few are his equals. He never lowers the manliness of his simplicity when he sings with children, though he not unfrequently becomes puerile when lie provides hymns for men. In this respect Charles "Wesley has the advantage over him. Wesley never, like Watts, brings a mature congregation plump down from grandeur into childishness. When leading the devotions of adults, his vigour never fails, though his music may now and then falter. He never has to make so curious an apology for namby-pamby verses as Watts puts forth in excuse for occasional trips into tameness. "If," says Watts, "the verses appear so gentle and flowing as to incur the censure of feebleness, I may honestly affirm that sometimes it cost me labour to make it so. Some of the beauties of poesy are neglected, and some wilfully defaced, lest a more exalted turn of thought or language should darken or disturb the devotions of the weakest souls." Who can wonder that such an apologist should sometimes flatter the devotions of adult worshippers by forcing on them a sense of the ridiculous? Wesley never does that; at the same time, as a child's hymnist, he is never below the standard of Watts; never being out of tune with the voices, thoughts, Or hearts of little ones. Some of his hymns for children have been issued, on some occasions, with Watts's name attached, comparative ignorance of hymnology favouring the notion that all merit in juvenile psalmody must necessarily belong to the author of "Divine and Moral Songs." So it has happened with one of the best known of Wesley's " Hymns for the Youngest."

Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,
Look upon a little child;
Pity my simplicity,
Suffer me to come to Thee.

Fain I would to Thee be brought,
Dearest God, forbid it not;
Give me, dearest God, a place
In the kingdom of Thy grace.

Put Thy hands upon my head,
Let me in Thy arms be stay'd,
Let me lean upon Thy breast,
Lull me, lull me, Lord, to rest.

Hold me fast in Thy embrace,
Let me see Thy smiling face,
Give me, Lord, Thy blessing give,
Pray for me, and I shall live:

I shall live the simple life,
Free from sin's uneasy strife,
Sweetly ignorant of ill,
Innocent and happy still.

O that I may never know

What the wicked people do!
Sin is contrary to Thee,
Sin is the forbidden tree.

Keep me from the great offence,
Guard my helpless innocence,
Hide me, from all evil hide,
Self, and stubbornness, and pride.

The second part of this favourite hymn is of surpassing beauty. It wins its way into the soul of every child who lisps it; gently opening the heart to let the infant Saviour in : —

Lamb of God, I look to Thee,

Thou shalt my example be;

Thou art gentle, meek, and mild;

Thou was't once a little child.

Fain I would be as Thou art,
Give me Thy obedient heart;
Thou art pitiful and kind,
Let me have Thy loving mind.

Meek and lowly may I be,
Thou art all humility;
Let me to my betters bow,
Subject to Thy parents Thou.

Let me above all fulfil
God my heavenly Father's will,
Never His good Spirit grieve,
Only to His glory live.

Thou did'st live to God alone,
Thou did'st never seek Thine own,
Thou thyself did'st never please,
God was all Thy happiness.

Loving Jesus, gentle Lamb,
In Thy gracious hands I am,
Make me, Saviour, what Thou art,
Live Thyself within my heart.

I shall then show forth Thy praise,
Serve Thee all my happy days,
Then the world shall always see
Christ, the holy Child, in me.

James Montgomery has followed Watts and Wesley, not to rival their fame, or to eclipse it; hut to claim a share in the joy of teaching childhood to honour and love the Divine lover of little children. Nor does he claim an equal place in vain. His voice, his taste, his manner, and his heart are all worthy of a position in the leading choir of children's hymnists; and one of his tender expressions of youthful devotion may be gracefully associated with the most pure and touching hymns of the fathers about the childhood of Jesus.

When Jesus left His Father's throne,

He chose an humble birth;
Like us, unhonoured and unknown,

He came to dwell oil earth.

Like Him, may we be found below
In wisdom's paths of peace;

Like Him, in grace and knowledge grow,
As years and strength increase.

Jesus pass'd by the rich and great

For men of low degree;
He sanctified our parents' state,

i''or poor, like them, was He.

Sweet were His words, and kind His look,
When mothers round Him press'd;

Their infants in His arms He took,
And on His bosom bless'd.

Safe from the world's alluring harms,

Beneath His watchful eye, Thus in the circle of His arms

May we for ever lie!

When Jesus into Salem rode,

The children sang around; For joy they pluek'd the palms, and strew'd

Their garments on the ground.

Hosanna our glad voices raise,

Hosarma to our King!
Should we forget our Saviour's praise,

The stones themselves would sing!