CHAPTER XIII. HYMNS ABOUT THE BOOK. "In God will I praise His word; in the Lord will I praise TTia word.''
Enolamd has her classic divinity; a theological creation affording everything to enlighten the minds, regulate the lives, and warm the hearts of the most cultivated Christians, as long as the English language lives. In the midst of this brilliant firmament of religious literature, like a central and imperishable sun, stands our Bible. This is the one Book of the Christian; that which affords enough, to form his character, were all other volumes consumed with the dust of their authors. The great design of this Book is to regulate the affections of man, and to perfect his character for an immortal state. But it affords innumerable pleasures to the mind which it sways, and allures the soul toward religious maturity by gratifying its distinctive taste. Do we seek for beauty of composition? In the Bible we find the most natural simplicity and force, the most genuine strength and grandeur. Do we look for poetry? Here we may feast on the amazing sublimities of Isaiah, and read with pleasure the pastorals of Solomon; we are excited to heavenly feeling by the sound of David's lyre, are sometimes melted by the pathetic strains of Jeremiah, and at intervals overwhelmed by the awful grandeurs of the entranced Ezekiel. Does our taste lead us to inquire for the beauties of logic? In the Bible \ve have the most delicate distinctions, the most acute reasonings, and the most perfect developments of the human mind. Do we wish to gratify our taste for the science of numbers? Questions may be drawn from this Book, the solution of which may deeply engage the most profound calculators. Are we astronomical in our propensity? Then we may follow the inspired penman, and ride upon the wings of the wind, fly above these lower elements, perform the circuit of the earth, consider the influences of the moon, mark the Pleiades, measure the bands of Orion, follow the "going forth" of Mazaroth, or commune with Arcturus and his sons. Are we in pursuit of geographical knowledge? Here are notices interesting, explanatory, and illustrative. Are we students in natural philosophy? Here the wide field of nature is open to us; and the philosophical writers of this Book direct us to particulars and universals. In the Bible the pious politician meets with the great principles of civil and ecclesiastical polity, and here is a system of moral philosophy which far transcends all that has been produced among men. And all these secondary lights are so placed in the sphere of truth, that their beams unite to glorify and render prominent the great Source of all good. Nor can we trace their rays without being led to contemplate the glorious character and righteous will of the Divine Being. The Book that thus gratifies our taste introduces the mind to God, and assimilates it to His image by calling it to enjoy the writings of the law, the oracles of the prophets, the .doctrine of types, the experience of histories, the instruction of proverbs, the beauty of promises, and the music of psalms. There is no book which has such power to transform and perfect the character of the Christian; none which holds in such pleasurable servitude the intellect over which it has the entire sway. While the mind has a strong passion for books, and a relish for great variety prevails, it is difficult for the young Christian to give the Bible its proper place, to afford it its proper share of his time, attention, and heart. But to the self-denying student, who devotes himself to revealed truth, that Book opens its hitherto veiled beauties, and fixes and absorbs the wondering and ravished mind. Dr. Kennicott was occupied for thirty years on his edition of the Hebrew Bible. During that time it was Mrs. Kennicott' s office, in their daily airings, to read to him those different portions to which his immediate attention was called. When preparing for their ride, the day after his great work was completed, upon her asking him what book she should now take, "Oh," exclaimed he, "let us
begin the Bible again." So, then, the love of the sacred
volume grows as our acquaintance with it deepens; and
just as its various riches and powers open our hearts, we
shall take up the simple but touching melody of Anne
Steele's hymn on "the excellency of the Scriptures," and
Father of mercies, in Thy "Word,
What endless glory shines!
For ever be Thy name adored
For these celestial lines.
Here mines of heavenly wealth disclose
Their bright unbounded store;
The glittering gem no longer glows.
And India boasts no more.
Here may the wretched sons of want
Exhaustless riches find;
Riches above what earth can grant,
And lasting as the mind.
Here the fair tree of knowledge grows,
And yields a free repast;
Sublimer sweets than nature knows
Invite the longing taste.
Here may the blind and hungry come,
And light and food receive;
Here shall the meanest guest have room,
And taste, and see, and live.
Amidst these gloomy wilds below,
When dark and sad we stray;
Here beams of heaven relieve our woe,
And guide to endless day.
Here springs of consolation rise,
To cheer the fainting mind;
And thirsty souls receive supplies,
And sweet refreshment find.
When guilt and terror, pain and grief,
United rend the heart,
Here sinners meet divine relief,
And cool the raging smart.
Here the Redeemer's welcome voice
Spreads heavenly peace around;
And life, and everlasting joys,
Attend the blissful sound.
But when His painful sufferings rise
(Delightful, dreadful scene!)
Angels may read with wondering eyes
That Jesus died for men.
Oh, may these heavenly pages be
My ever dear delight,
And still new beauties may I see,
And still increasing light.
Divine instructor, gracious Lord,
Be Thou for ever near;
Teach me to love Thy sacred Word,
And view my Saviour there.
There is something, too, in this blessed Book which seems to infuse a kind of immortal vigour into the writings of those men who have made it their chief study. There are two authors whose writings breathe immortality, whose books will live, while myriads of subsequent productions pass into oblivion — John Milton and John Bunyan. Milton's masterpiece is his "Paradise Lost," and though every page of that poem shows the vast range of his reading, it would seem that we owe the life of its best parts to the poet's deep communion with the Hebrew Scriptures. Some of the most sublime passages of "Paradise Lost" are poetic translations and paraphrases of Hebrew words and sentences used by Moses and the prophets; in his daily intercourse with whom, Milton's soul gathered strength for a flight through the depths of chaos, and into the regions of the blessed. And where is the secret of that life which animates "Pilgrim's Progress"? that undying vigour and immortal beauty which enchant every successive generation of readers? Why, you have it in the fact that Bunyan was a man of one Book, and that Book was the JUnglish Bible. Bunyan and Milton, both imperishable authors, gather their life, the one from the Hebrew Scriptures, and. the other from their incomparable English version.
To the same volume we may trace that power which formed those mature and influential characters who have left such gracious impressions on the Church and the world— Luther, Calvin, Wesley, and Whitefield. One of them has opened his heart to us, and has shown the source of that energy which distinguished his preaching, and which still lives in the volumes which he wrote. He says:—" To candid, reasonable men, I am not afraid to lay open what have been the inmost thoughts of my heart. I have thought I am a creature of a day, passing through life as an arrow through the air. I am a spirit come from God, and returning to God; just hovering over the great gulf, till, a few moments hence, I am no more seen; I drop into an unchangeable eternity! I want to know one thing—the way to heaven; how to land safe on that happy shore. God Himself has condescended to teach the way; for this very end He came from heaven. He hath written it down in a Book. Oh give me that Book! At any price, give me the Book of God! I have it. Here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be a man of one book. Here I am, far from the busy ways of men. I sit down alone; only God is here. In His presence I open, I read His Book; for this end I find the way to Heaven. Is there a doubt concerning the meaning of what I read? Does anything appear dark or intricate? I lift up my heart to the Father of lights:—Lord, is it not Thy word, 'If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God'? Thou ' givest liberally and upbraidest not.' Thou hast said, 'If any man ,be willing to do Thy will, he shall know.' I am willing to do, let me know Thy will. I then search after and consider parallel passages of Scripture, 'comparing spiritual things with spiritual.' I meditate thereon with all the attention and earnestness of which my mind is capable. If any doubt still remains, I consult those who are experienced in the things of God; and then the writings, whereby being dead, they yet speak. And what I thus learn, that I teach." Thus speaks John Wesley in his preface to his sermons ; and the spirit of the beautiful and striking passage has been happily caught by his brother Charles, and embodied in the form of a metrical paraphrase on Deut. vi. 6, 7—"And these words, that I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart; and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up."
The table of my heart prepare
(Such power belongs to Thee alone),
And write, O God, Thy precepts there,
To show Thou still canst write in stone,
So shall my pure obedience prove
All things are possible to love.
Father, instruct my docile heart,
Apt to instruct I then shall be,
I then shall all Thy words impart,
And teach (as taught myself by Thee)
My children, in their earliest days,
To know and live the life of grace.
When quiet in my house I sit,
Thy Book be my companion still,
My joy Thy sayings to repeat,
Talk o'er the records of Thy will,
And search the oracles divine,
Till every heartfelt word is mine.
Oh, might the gracious words divine
Subject of all my converse be,
So would the Lord His follower join,
And walk and talk Himself with me;
So would my heart His presence prove,
And burn with everlasting love.
Oft as I lay me down to rest,
Oh, may the reconciling Word
Sweetly compose my weary breast,
While on the bosom of my Lord
I sink in blissful dreams away,
And visions of eternal day.
Rising to sing my Saviour's praise,
Thee may I publish all day long,
And let Thy precious word of grace
Flow from my heart and fill my tongue;
Fill all my life with purest love,
And join me to Thy Church above.
This hymn has become a sort of household joy to thousands who "guide the daily devotions of their families; and its music promises to be happily familiar to a widening circle of devout Bible students whose homes are hallowed as scenes of daily communion with inspired truth. As a hymnist, however, Charles Wesley was never content merely to record his own or even his brother's experience in tuneful measures. He was not among the lyric poets who find full employment for their muse amidst the intricacies and subtle workings of their own inner world. He had a large share of that unselfishness which so eminently distinguished his more active brother, and longed, like an apostle, "to spend and be spent," rather in guiding, blessing, and saving others than in dwelling complacently or uneasily upon the throne of his own spiritual kingdom. Or if, like St. Paul, he sometimes threw his own experience into the form of an example, it was only that he might the more effectually teach the world, and assist the devotions of the Church. Thus, while in one hymn he takes the individual mode of expression, singing as a person, that every like-minded person may have a song about the Book; in another he pours the desire of his soul into a metrical prayer so adapted to the many, that ministers and people may sing together in "the great congregation."
Inspirer of the ancient seers,
Who wrote from Thee the sacred page,
The same through all succeeding years,
To us in our degenerate age,
The spirit of Thy Word impart,
And breathe the life into our heart.
While now Thine oracles we read,
With earnest prayer and strong desire,
0 let Thy Spirit from Thee proceed,
Our souls to awaken and inspire;
Our weakness help, our darkness chase,
And guide us by the light of grace!
Whene'er in error's paths we rove,
The living God through sin forsake,
Our conscience by Thy Word reprove,
Convince and bring the wanderers back,
Deep wounded by Thy Spirit's sword,
And then by Gilead's balm restored.
The sacred lessons of Thy grace,
Transmitted through Thy Word, repeat;
And train us up in all Thy ways,
To make us in Thy will complete;
Fulfil Thy love's redeeming plan,
And bring us to a perfect man.
Furnish'd out of Thy treasury,
Oh may we always ready stand
To help the souls redeemed by Thee,
For what their various states demand;
To teach, convince, correct, reprove,
And build them up in holiest love!
There are but two hymns "on the Scriptures" in the Olney collection; and they stand side by side, as if to remind us of that bond of spiritual fellowship which once held their authors heart to heart. In some respects it was a strange association, that of Cowper and Newton. The one robust, trained to hardihood upon the high seas; the other frail, instinctively shrinking from both wave and wind. Unlike in birth and education, and, indeed, in all the circumstances of their earlier course, yet one in their love of truth, and united in their work of giving new songs to the Christian world. Many passages of the blessed Book, Cowper, in his morbid depression, would misinterpret against his own soul; as if he were unwilling that the fire of Divine wrath should ever glance on any but the one on whom they were to be concentrated—himself. Whether his friend Newton's spiritual direction was the best for him has been a question; but, however that may be, there were times when his enjoyment of the Sacred Volume was equal not only to his own support, but to the consolation of all lovers of truth, who have followed him, and have learnt his bright and hopeful little hymn, on " The Light and Glory of the Word:"—
The Spirit breathes upon the Word,
And brings the truth to sight;
Precepts and promises afford
A sanctifying light.
A glory gilds the sacred page,
Majestic like the sun;
It gives a light to ev'ry age,
It gives, and borrows none.
The hand that gave it still supplies
The gracious light and heat;
His truths upon the nations rise,
They rise but never set.
Let everlasting thanks be Thine,
For such a bright display,'
As makes a world of darkness shine
With beams of heavenly day.
My soul rejoices to pursue
The steps of Him I love;
Till glory breaks upon my view
In brighter worlds above.
Then comes Newton's happy song on "The Word more Precious than Gold." How like a man of his temper is this hymn? How expressive from the lips of one who had passed through the remarkable experiences of his life. How differently Cowper and he had been dealt with by Divine mercy. But as it was in both cases the same providence and the same spirit, so they were brought to the same goal. Newton himself has put this in his own style. "Imagine to yourself a number of vessels, at different times, and from different places, bound to the same port, there are some things in which all these would agree—the compass steered by, the port in view, the general rule of navigation, both as to the management of the vessel and determining their astronomical observations, would be the same in all. In other respects they would differ; perhaps no two of them would meet with the same distribution of wind and weather. Some we see set out with a prosperous gale; and when they almost think their passage secured, they are checked by adverse blasts; and after enduring much hardship and danger, and frequent expectations .of shipwreck, they just escape, and reach the desired haven. Others meet the greatest difficulties at first; they put forth in a storm, and are often beaten back; at length their voyage proves favourable, and they enter the port with a 'rich and abundant entrance.' Some arc hard beset with cruisers and enemies, and obliged to fight their way through; others meet with little remarkable in their passage. Is it not so in the spiritual life? All true believers 'walk by the same rule,' and mind the same things; the Word of God is their compass; Jesus is their polar star. .... Yet their experience, formed upon these common principles, is far from being uniform. The Lord, in His first call, and His following dispensations, has a regard to the situation, temper, talents of each, and to the particular sorrows or trials He has appointed them for. Though all are exercised at times, yet some pass through the voyage of life much more smoothly than others."
With all the varieties of their personal histories, both Cowper and Newton had learnt to love the Bible; and both hearts found an inexhaustible treasure in that "one Book." Newton's mother had taught him to read the Bible, and to store his memory with its' chapters,' when he was but four years old, and, as he says, "though in process of time I sinned away all the advantages of these early impressions, yet they were for a great while a restraint upon me ; they returned again and again, and it was very long before I could wholly shake them off; and when the Lord at length opened my eyes, I found a great benefit from the recollection of them." In the course of his subsequent wanderings, he picked up Shaftsbury's "Characteristics," "in a petty shop at Middleburg in Holland." "The title," says he, allured me to buy it, and the style and manner gave me great pleasure in reading Thus with fine words and fair speeches,
my simple heart was beguiled No immediate
effect followed; but it operated like a slow poison." Evil companionship finished what Shaftsbury began,—it confirmed him in blank infidelity. But when, at last, extreme suffering and danger brought him to cry to God for mercy, the sacred utterances with which his youthful mind had been stored unfolded their meaning to his heart; and that Word which he had taught himself to despise was now his best friend, the companion of his leisure hours, and the source of those holy lessons which, as a preacher, he afterwards gave out to his flock, and with which, as a hymnist, he enriched his undying hymns. Who can wonder that he sang of the Book thus ?—
Precious Bible! what a treasure
Does the Word of God afford?
All I want for life or pleasure,
Food and med'eine, shield and sword:
Let the world account me poor,
Having this I need no more.
Food to which the world's a stranger,
Here my hungry soul enjoys;
Of excess there is no danger,
Tho' it fills, it never cloys:
On a dying Christ I feed,
He is meat and drink indeed!
When my faith is faint and sickly,
Or when Satan wounds my mind,
Cordials to revive me quickly,
Healing med'cines here I find:
To the promises I flee,
Each affords a remedy.
In the hour of dark temptation
Satan cannot make me yield;
For the word of consolation
Is to me the mighty shield:
While the Scripture truths are sure,
From his malice I'm secure.
Vain his threats to overcome me,
When I take the Spirit's sword;
Then with ease I drive him from me,
Satan trembles at the Word:
'Tis a sword for conquest made,
Keen the edge and strong the blade.
Shall I envy then the miser,
Doting on his golden store?
Sure I am or should be wiser,
I am rich, 'tis he is poor:
Jesus gives me in His Word,
Food and med'cine, shield and sword.
Charles Lamb once resolved, if possible, to check a young friend who was rather too ready to abandon himself to dependence on a literary profession, and he wrote to him, saying, "Throw yourself on the world, without any rational plan of support beyond what the chance employ of booksellers would afford you! Throw yourself rather, my dear sir, from the steep Tarpeian rock, slap-dash headlong upon iron spikes. If you have but five consolatory minutes between the desk and the bed, make much of them, and live a century in them, rather than turn slave to the booksellers. They are Turks and Tartars when they have poor authors at their beck. Hitherto you have been at arm's length from them—come not within their grasp. I have known many authors want for bread—some repining, others enjoying the blessed security of a counting-house—all agreeing they had rather have been tailors, weavers, what not? rather than the things they were. I have known some starved, some go mad, one dear friend literally dying in a workhouse. Oh, you know not—may you never know—the miseries of subsisting by authorship!" This strong preventive was effectual; and Bernard Barton stuck to his banking establishment at Woodbridge in Suffolk. Lamb knew his man, and gave wise counsel. Happy was it for Barton that he listened to a true friend. His were not the talents for the general literary market. In 1820 he published a volume of miscellaneous poems, remarkable for their simple elegance, chasteness of style, and purity of feeling. The pieces will always be agreeable to those who love quiet English scenery pictured with gentle feeling ; or meditative verses breathing tenderness and devotion, always soothing and always happy. There is little that would strike, little that would seem original; yet Bernard Barton is always welcome to the cultivated taste. He was a hymnist, and one hymn is about "the Book" and full of sweetness. With all his distinctive notions as a Quaker about "inward light," he had a deep reverence for the written Word, and a childlike trust in the certainty of its guidance; and expresses his love for inspired truth, and his faith in its lessons, in the hymn founded on Psalm cxix. 105—" Thy word is a lamp unto my feet"—
Lamp of our feet, whereby we trace
Our path when wont to stray,
Stream from the fount of heavenly grace,
Brook by the traveller's way.
Bread of our souls whereon we feed,
True manna from on high:
Our guide and chart, wherein we read
Of realms beyond the sky:
Pillar of fire through watches dark,
And radiant cloud by day;
When waves would whelm our tossing bark,
Our anchor and our stay:
Word of the everlasting God,
Will of His glorious Son;
Without thee how could earth be trod,
Or heaven itself be won?
Lord, grant us all aright to learn
The wisdom it imparts;
And to its heavenly teaching turn,
With simple, childlike hearts.
But pleasant as it is to sing these later hymns about the Book, the older songs must not be forgotten. Who can forget George Herbert's hymn on "the Holy Scriptures"? More antique it is, more quaint, less adapted to popular
music than some others ; yet how full of deep thought—too full, perhaps, for most thinkers now-a-days—and how richly it is coloured by the living b^ath of inspired truth itself! Nobody would expect anything but hymns and songs about truth and love from him. Whether at home or abroad, in the church or in the household, the author of the "Country Parson" was always, in appearance, manner, and spirit, the holy parson. "He was," says his venerable biographer, "for his person, of a stature inclining towards tallness; his body was very straight; and so far from being cumbered with too much flesh, that he was lean to an extremity. His aspect was cheerful, and his speech and motion did both declare him a gentleman; for they were all so meek and obliging, that they purchased love and respect from all that knew him." He entered, in his thirty-sixth year, on his parsonage at Bemerton, saying, "I beseech God that my humble and charitable life may so win upon others, as to bring glory to my Jesus, whom I have this day taken to be my Master and Governor; and I am so proud of His service, that I will always observe, and obey, and do His will, and always call Him Jesus my Master." And Herbert's life answered to his prayer. It was "so full of charity, humility, and all Christian virtues," says a friend, "that it deserves the eloquence of St. Chrysostom to commend and declare it!—a life that, if it were related by a pen like his, there would then be no need for this age to look back into times past for the examples of primitive piety, for they might be all found in the life of George Herbert." Alas! his holy career was short, though full. Dr. Humphrey Henchman, afterwards Bishop of London, who was present at his ordination to the priesthood, plaintively says, "I laid my hand on Mr. Herbert's head, and, alas! within less than three years, lent my shoulder to carry my dear friend to his grave." But "he, being dead, yet speaketh;" and speaketh in rich, glowing praise of the blessed Book from whose commands, doctrines, and promises he gathered the secret of his holy character and life.
Oh Book! infinite sweetness! let my heart
Suck every letter, and a honey gain,
Precious for any grief in any part,
To clear the breast, to mollify all pain.
Thou art all health, health thriving, till it make
A full eternity: thou art a mass
Of strange delights, where we may wish and take.
Ladies, look here; this is the thankful glass,
That mends the looker's eyes: this is the well
That washes what it shows. Who can endear
Thy praise too much? Thou art heaven's lieger here,
Working against the states of death and hell.
Thou art joy's handsel: heaven lies flat iu thee,
Subject to every mounter's bended knee.
Oh that I knew how all thy lights combine,'
And the configurations of their glory!
Seeing not only how each verse doth shine,
But all the constellations of the story.
This verse marks that, and both do make a motion
Unto a third, that ten leaves off doth lie;
Then as dispersed herbs do watch a potion,
These three make up some Christian's destiny.
Such are thy secrets, which my life makes good,
And comments on thee; for in everything
Thy words do find me out, and parallels bring,
And in another make me understood.
Stars are poor books, and oftentimes do miss:
This Book of stars lights to eternal bliss.
Would young men improve their taste, their thinking powers, and, above all, the tone of their piety? Let them make George Herbert their companion and study, until they lose sight of all in him that at first appears rugged,' grotesque, and quaint in their deep enjoyment of his fragrant thoughts, poetic glow, and heavenly feeling ; and when they wish for an occasional change to the more simple style of psalmody, they may turn to Watts's hymn on "Instruction from Scripture," founded on parts of Psalm cxix.:—
How shall the young secure their hearts,
And guard their lives from sin?
Thy Word the choicest rule imparts,
To keep the conscience clean.
When once it enters to the mind,
It spreads such light abroad,
The meanest souls instruction find,
And raise their thoughts to God.
'Tia like the sun, a heavenly light,
That, guides us all the day;
And through the dangers of the night,
A lamp to lead our way.
The men that keep Thy law with care,
And meditate Thy Word,
Grow wiser than their teachers are,
And better know the Lord.
Thy precepts make me truly wise;
I hate the sinner's road; I hate my own vain thoughts that rise,
But love Thy love, my God.
The starry heavens Thy rule obey,
The earth maintains her place;
And these Thy servants night and day
Thy skill and power express.
But still Thy law and gospel, Lord,
Have lessons more divine:
Not earth stands firmer than Thy Word,
Nor stars so nobly shine.
Thy Word is everlasting truth,
How pure is ev'ry page;
That holy Book shall guide our youth,
And well support our age.