HYMNS OF GETHSEMANE AND THE CROSS.
'' God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ."
There are some doctrines of Christianity which all true believers acknowledge as peculiarly sacred — doctrines whose proper place in the Christian system is far removed from the inquisitive touch of mere reason; so that they stand confessedly exempt from the test of human controversy. Such doctrines seem to be the "heavenly things" which answer to the most hallowed types of former ages. Like the consecrated symbols of the "holiest place," they are designed neither to gratify the eye of vain curiosity, nor to furnish the disputer with materials for strife. No, they are never to be approached but for purposes of devotion. Among these inviolable truths is the doctrine of the cross. This excites the highest devotion of the glorified; while it is viewed with the deepest veneration by " the holy church throughout all the world." What the ark or the altar was to the ancient Jew, the cross is to the true Christian, his holiest thing. While he comes to it as his guide to the mercy-seat, it is his joy, his glory, his life; but when he carries it into the battle-field, he loses his Shekinah, and that in which he gloried is profaned by the aliens of Askalon and Gath. While he comes to the altar of the cross with his hands washed in innocency, he receives the blessings of a propitiation; but when he ventures to mutilate the altar that he may secure weapons for theological combat, he is in danger of being scathed by the fire which but now had kindled his sacrifice. Hence there is nothing which revelation so carefully guards as the cross of Jesus Christ. Around this the angels make their circles, with holy desire to look into its mysteries. By this, Moses and the prophets take their stand, and pour around it the jasper light of visions and the glory of prophetic oracles. Here are trains of typical priests, attended by the prefigurations of bleeding victims and sacrificial patterns. By the scene of agony and the cross, apostles and martyrs bear witness, and watch, and pray. Of the cross they write and speak; for the cross they toil, and suffer, and die. The cross is their only altar, their highest boast, their strength in life, their hope in death, their song in heaven. What a mysterious hush comes over the soul at the mention of Gethsemane! What a holy charm is there in the cross! How deeply the heart, in its best moments, responds to the name of Christ crucified!—
Is it not strange, the darkest hour
That ever dawn'd on sinful earth
Should touch the heart with softer power
For comfort, than an angel's mirth?
That to the cross the mourner's eye should turn,
Sooner than where the stars of Christmas burn?
Yet so it is: for duly there
The bitter herbs of earth are set,
Till temper'd by the Saviour's prayer,
And with' the Saviour's life-blood wet,
They turn to sweetness, and drop holy halm,
Soft as imprison'd martyr's death-bed mini.
But those only know this "sweetness" who have felt the bitterness of sin, and have come to Calvary hopeless of healing balm from every other source. Nor has any human psalmist ever breathed the spirit of Gethsemane or the cross until his own heart has been agonized by a sense of its sinfulness, and, by virtue of the Redeemer's blood, has been melted into loving sympathy with his suffering Lord. No mere genius can worthily sing of the "agony and bloody sweat." No unhallowed poetic intellect has ever produced a hymn replete with the Divine life and saving power of the cross. Those hymns of Gethsemane and the cross which are most precious to saintly hearts, and which will be sung with deeper and deeper feeling by every coming generation of English Christians, are from the pens of those whose will and affections have been most profoundly hallowed in fellowship with Him whose soul, for our sakes, was "exceeding sorrowful, even unto death." One of these has said, "The week before Easter, 1757, I had such an amazing view of the agony of Christ in the garden, as I know not well how to describe. I was lost in wonder and adoration; and the impression was too deep, I believe, ever to be obliterated. I shall say no more of this; but only remark, that, notwithstanding all that is talked about the sufferings of Jesus, none can know anything of them, but by the Holy Ghost; and I believe, that he that knows most knows but very little. It was then I made the first part of my hymn ' On the Passion.'" That hymn remains, thus :—
Come, all ye chosen saints of God
That long to feel the cleansing blood,
In pensive pleasures join with me
To sing of sad Gethsemane.
Gethsemane, the olive press!
(And why so call'd let Christians guess,)
Fit name, fit place, where vengeance strove,
And grip'd and grappled hard with love.
'Twas here the Lord of life appeared,
And sigh'd, and groan'd, and pray'd, and fear'd!
Bore all Incarnate God could bear,
With strength enough, and none to spare.
The powers of hell united pressed,
And squeezed His heart, and bruised His breast.
What dreadful conflicts raged within,
When sweat and blood forced through the skin!
Despatched from heaven an angel stood,
Amazed to find Him bathed in blood;
Adored by angels, and obeyed;
But lower now than angels made!
He stood to strengthen, not to fight:
Justice exacts its utmost mite.
This Victim vengeance will pursue:
He undertook, and must go through.
Three favoured servants, left not far,
Were bid to wait and watch the war;
But Christ withdrawn, what watch we keep
To shun the sight, they sank in sleep.
Backwards and forwards thrice He ran,
As if He sought some help from man:
Or wished, at least, they would condole
('Twas all they could) His tortured soul.
Whate'er He sought for, there was none:
Our Captain fought the field alone.
Soon as the Chief to battle led,
That moment every soldier fled.
Mysterious conflict! dark disguise!
Hid from all creatures' peering eyes.
Angels astouish'd view'd the scene,
And wonder yet what all could mean.
O Mount of Olives, sacred grove!
O garden, scene of tragic love!
What bitter herbs thy beds produce!
How rank their scent, how harsh their juice!
Rare virtues now these herbs contain;
The Saviour suck'd out all their bane.
My mouth with those if conscience cram,
I'll eat them with the Paschal Lamb.
O Kedron, gloomy brook, how foul
Thy black, polluted waters roll!
No tongue can tell, but some can taste,
The filth that into thee was cast.
In Eden's garden there was food
Of every kind for man while good;
But banish'd hence, we flee to thee,
O garden of Gethsemane!
The hymnist who thus so deeply sympathized with his agonizing Lord was Joseph Hart, who, from 1760 to 1768, was the earnest, eloquent, and much-beloved minister of the congregation which met in the old wooden meetinghouse in Jewin Street, built in 1672 for the well-known William Jenkyn. Born in London, about the year 1712, and brought up by pious parents, he began, when entering on manhood, to be deeply anxious about his personal salvation. For seven years his life was, as he tells us, "an uneasy, restless round of sinning and repenting, working and dreading. At length the Lord was pleased to comfort me a little by enabling me to appropriate, in some measure, the merits of the Saviour to my own soul. In this blessed state my continuance was but short, for, rushing impetuously into notions beyond my experience, I hasted to make myself a Christian by mere doctrine, adopting other men's opinions before I had tried them; and set up for a great light in religion, disregarding the internal work of grace began in my soul by the Holy Ghost. This liberty, assumed by myself and not given by Christ, soon grew to libertinism, in which I took large progressive strides, and advanced to a dreadful height, both in principle and practice. In a word, I ran such dangerous lengths both of carnal and spiritual wickedness, that I even outwent professed infidels, and shocked the irreligious and profane with my horrid blasphemies and monstrous impieties. . . In this abominable state I continued for more than ten years. . . . Then I began by degrees to reform a little, and to live in a more soberly and orderly manner. . . . For several years I went on in this easy, cool, smooth, and indolent manner, with a lukewarm, insipid kind of religion. . . . But the fountains of the great deeps of my sinful nature were not broken up. . . . Nor was the blood of Christ effectually applied to my soul. I looked on His death, indeed, as the grand sacrifice for sin, but I did not see the inestimable value of His blood and righteousness clearly enough to make me abhor myself, and count all things but dung and dross. On the contrary, when I used to read the Scriptures (which I now did constantly, both in English and the original languages), though my mind was often affected, and my understanding illuminated by many passages that treated of the Saviour, yet I was so far from seeing or owning that there was such a necessity for His death, and that it could be of such infinite value as is represented, that I have often resolved—oh, the horrible depth of man's fall, and the desperate wickedness of the human heart!—that I never would believe it. After a time, I fell into a deep despondency of mind, and, shunning all company, I went about alone, bewailing my sad and dark condition. . . . This suffering was aggravated by physical infirmity and pain, and in this sad state I went moping about till Whit Sunday, 1757, when I happened to go in the afternoon to the Moravian Chapel in Fetter Lane. The minister preached from Rev. iii. 10. I was much impressed. I thought of hastening to Tottenham Court Chapel, but presently altered my mind, and returned to my own house. I was hardly got home, when I felt myself melting away into a strange softness of affection which made me fling myself on my knees before God. My horrors were immediately expelled, and such light and comfort flowed into my heart as no words can paint. The Lord, by His Spirit of love, came not in a visionary manner into my brain, but with such Divine power and energy into my soul that I was lost in blissful amazement. I cried out, 'What, me, Lord?' His Spirit answered in me, 'Yes, thee!' I objected, 'But I have been so unspeakably vile and wicked!' The answer was, 'I pardon thee freely and fully!' The alteration I then felt in my soul was as sudden and palpable as that which is experienced by a person' staggering and almost sinking under a burden when it is immediately taken from his shoulders. Tears ran in streams from my eyes for a considerable while, and I was so swallowed up in joy and thankfulness that I hardly knew where I was. I threw myself willingly into my Saviour's hands; lay weeping at His feet, wholly resigned to His will, and only begging that I might, if He were graciously pleased to permit it, be of some service to His Church and people. . . . Jesus Christ and Him crucified is now the only thing I desire to know. All things to me are rich only when they are enriched with the blood of the Lamb." In this remarkable course of soul discipline, and this deep experience of Divine mercy through the sufferings and death of the Saviour whom he had blasphemed, is to be found the secret of that spiritual freshness and touching power of his hymn on the " passion and the cross." None but a heart like his could have uttered his hymn on Good Friday :—
Oh! what a sad and doleful night
Preceded that day's morn,
When darkness seized the Lord of light,
And sin by Christ was borne!
When our intolerable load
Upon His soul was laid,
And the vindictive wrath of God
Flamed furious on His head!
We in our Conqueror well may boast:
For none but God alone
Can know how dear the victory cost,
How hardly it was won.
Forth from the garden fully tried,
Our bruised Champion came,
To suffer what remain'd beside
Of pain, and grief, and shame.
Mock'd, spat upon, and crown'd with thorns,
A spectacle He stood;
His back with scourges lashed and torn,
A victim bathed in blood.'
Kail'd to the cross through hands and feet,
He hung in open view;
To make His sorrows quite complete,
By God deserted too!
Through nature's works the woes He felt
With soft infection ran;
The hardest things could break or melt,
Except the heart of man!
This day before Thee, Lord, we come,
Oh, melt our hearts, or break;
For, shouM we now continue dumb,
The very stones would speak!
True, Thou hast paid the heavy debt,
And made believers clean;
But he knows nothing of it yet
Who is not grieved at sin.
A faithful friend of grief partakes;
But union can be none
Betwixt a heart like melting wax
And hearts as hard as stone;
Betwixt a Head diffusing blood,
And members sound and whole;
Betwixt an agonizing God,
And an unfeeling soul.
Lord, my long'd happiness is full,
When I can go with Thee
To Golgotha: the place of skull
Is heav'n on earth to me!
With a soul thus finding its heaven at the foot of the cross, and overflowing with the love of Christ, and pity and compassion for those whose sins were laid upon Jesus, and to whom his Divine Master was saying, "Come unto me," Mr. Hart had his way opened to the pulpit in Jewin Street, where, for eight years, he zealously and affectionately pressed the invitations of his Lord upon the hearts of his fellow-men. Nor ean the spirit of his ministry be better expressed than in his simple, warm, and persuasive hymn, entitled, " Come, and welcome, to Jesus Christ: "— Come, ye sinners, poor and wretched,
Weak and wounded, sick, and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, joined with power,
He is able,
He is willing; doubt no more.
Ho! ye needy, come, and welcome,
God's free bounty glorify;
True belief, and true repentance, •
Ev'ry grace that brings us nigh,
Come to Jesus Christ and buy.
Let not conscience make you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requireth,
Is to feel your need of Him.
This He gives you;
'Tis the Spirit's rising beam.
Come, ye weary, heavy-laden,
Bruised and mangled by the fall;
If you tarry till you're better,
You will never come at all.
Not the righteous,
Sinners Jesus came to call.
View Him grov'lling in the garden,
Lo! your Maker prostrate lies;
On the bloody tree behold Him.!
Hear Him cry before He dies,
Sinner, will not this suffice?
Lo! th' incarnate God ascended
Pleads the merits of His blood;
Venture on Him, venture wholly,
Let no other trust intrude.
None but Jesus
Can do helpless sinners good.
Saints and angels, join'd in concert,
Sing the praises of the Lamb;
While the blissful seats of heaven
Sweetly echo with His name.
Sinners here may sing the same.
All who are familiar with hymns of the cross will always associate the names of two hymnists in loving companionship at the Saviour's feet, the names of two men of different training and different temper, in some things alike, and yet unlike—Newton and Cowper—more happy in their union as hymnists than in the fruit of their spiritual fellowship. There was Newton on the banks of the Ouse, with his iron frame still unbroken by the hardships, changes, and excesses of an ungodly life, spent in hostile climates and on shipboard, now giving his redeemed energies to Christ, and pouring forth the peace, and joy, and hope, and love of his regenerated nature from the pulpit, and in his Olney hymns. Ever alive to the virtue of the atonement, he touch ingly records the story of his own conversion in the hymn which he teaches us to sing while "looking at the cross" :—
In evil long I took delight,
Una wed by shame or fear,
Till a new object struck my sight,
And stopp'd my wild career.
I saw One hanging on the tree,
In agonies and blood,
Who fixed His languid eyes on me,
As near His cross I stood.
Sure never till my latest breath
Can I forget that look;
It seem'd to charge me with His death,
Though not a word He spoke.
My conscience felt and own'd the guilt,
And plunged me in despair;
I saw my sins TTia blood had spilt,
And help'd to nail Him there.
Alas! I knew not what I did,
But now my tears are vain;
Where shall my trembling soul be hid?
For I the Lord have slain.
A second look He gave, which said
"I freely all forgive;
The blood is for thy ransom paid,
I die that thou may'st live."
Thus, while His death my sin displays
In all its blackest hue,
(Such is the mystery of grace),
It seals my pardon too.
With pleasing grief, and mournful joy,
My spirit now is fill'd,
That I should such a life destroy,
Yet live by Him I kill'd.
There, too, was the timid, gentle Cowper, ever tremulous as he thought of eternal woe. There, on the banks of the same quiet Ouse, brooding over the inward horrors of his diseased imagination, yet ever proving to those around him the goodness of his heart, and out of his gracious treasures preparing blessings for the future generations of those who love purity, beauty, and truth. Unhappy, and yet happy Cowper! Who does not weep over his sorrows? Who does not bless heaven for his genius, his devotion, and his works? Who does not, as he speeds past on the rail, look with a sigh and a smile upon his quiet birth-place, Berkhampstead, still reposing in its verdant hollow? And few, perhaps, as the old tower of his father's church is lost to sight, will fail to indulge in pensive thoughts about the pensive man, who, after a youth-tide spent " from morning to night in giggling and making giggle," was found shattered and broken in spirits, victimized by morbid melancholy, living, as he tells us, like one descending a ladder which dipped into the infernal regions, until he hung on the last frail step, only needing a touch to send him for ever into the fiery abyss. Now at Huntingdon, now at Olney, and then at Weston. Ministered to, as by angels, by his Mary, Mrs. Unwin, Lady Austen, and Lady Hesketh; tormented ever and anon by dark fiendish thoughts about himself, he writes for amusement or for relief; and with a fancy ever fresh, a poetic genius as pure and clear as the morning, and, amidst all his dreadful fears, with a heart most tenderly alive to good, and most warmly devoted to his Redeemer, he graced his friend Newton's Olney Hymn-book with many a precious gem, and taught all who have followed him to the cross to sing of the Blessed One in whose Divine presence he and the kind companions of his fitful life are now for ever at rest. He now realizes the hopes which in one of his happier moments on earth he uttered in that immortal hymn of "Praise for the Fountain Opened ; " that hymn that will always be on some happy lips:—
There is a fountain fill'd with blood,
Drawn from Emmanuel's veins,
And sinners plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains.
The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day;
And there have I, as vile as he,
Wash'd all my sins away.
Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood
Shall never lose its power,
Till all the ransom'd Church of God
Be saved to sin no more.
E'er since by faith I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die.
Then in a nobler, sweeter song,
I'll sing Thy power to save,
When this poor lisping, stamm'ring tongue
Lies silent in the grave.
Lord, I believe Thou hast prepared
(Unworthy though I be)
For me a blood-bought free reward,
A golden harp for me!
'Tis strung, and tuned, for endless years,
And formed by power Divine,
To sound in God the Father's ears
No other name but Thine.
Many consecrated singers gather around the cross; generation after generation they press upward to the holy scene; and each brings its tributary hymns. The devoted genius is of all variety; the manner of the music changes as the hymnists follow each other; but amidst all changes of time, all variations of circumstance, rhythm, rhyme, metre, and tone, the theme is the same, ever fresh, never exhausted—the holy, the mysterious, the life-giving cross. Greek choristers may pass away, Latin hymnists may leave the world—a Wesley, a Toplady, a Hart, a Newton, and a Cowper may cease their mortal psalmody, but voices come on still; the hymning does not cease. Witness this strain that floated across the Irish Channel a few years ago from one who still lives to sing on a "Good Friday." "And it was about the sixth hour, and there was darkness all over the land until the ninth hour" :—
Dark and dim the daylight rose,
Destined with Thy life to close;
With the life Thou didst assume
As Thy passport through the tomb;
But a drop in the great sea,
Lord, of Thine eternity.
On the tree accursed dying,
Death and hell beneath Thee lying,
There their doom long look'd for meet,
Crush'd beneath Thy bruised feet;
Bitter scorn and cruel pain
Do their worst with Thee in vain,
For Thou answerest not again!
Prayers for them are Thy replies
To Thy taunting enemies;
From Thy pierced side doth flow
Medicine for all our woe.
Thy dear arms outstreteh'd we see,
Drawing the whole world to Thee;
And that head so meekly bow'd
"Neath the momentary cloud,
Breathes, with its departing breath,
Life accomplished in death.
Lo! the veil is rent asunder,
Darkness over head, and under;
Graves are open'd, earth doth quake,
And the very dead awake.
Angels who beside Thee kept
Watch, and o'er Thy passion wept,
Now before Thee, at the gate
Of Thy paradise, do wait;
Hymns celestial round Thee pouring,
As they bend, the might adoring
Of Thy Godhead laid to rest
In the regions of the blest.
Saviour of Thy people! Now,
With Thy wounded hands and brow,
Gone to plead beside the Throne,
Thy redemption for Thine own,
Grace to seek in large supplies,
Even for Thine enemies;
Hear us when to Thee we cry,
Make us feel that Thou art nigh,
Help us when in time of need,
We Thy great deliv'rance plead;
Cleanse us with Thy precious blood,
0 Thou gentle Lamb of God!
By Thy cross and passion save us;
By the hope those suff'rings gave us;
By Thine agony and sweat;
By Thy prayers on Olivet;
By Thy sighs and by Thy tears;
By Thy people's hopes and fears;
By the peace vouchsafed to Thee
When in dark Gethsemane!
By the sacramental tide
Gushing from Thy wounded side;
By the load of others' sin,
That oppress'd Thy soul within;
By the wondrous love Thou bore us,
That by death Thou shouldst restore us;
By that mercy and that love,
Hear us, Lord, in heav'n above!'
In the midnight of our sadness,
In the noontide of our gladness,
Through each changing scene of life,
Calm and sunshine, storm and strife;
At the last dread parting hour,
In Thy judgment's might and power—
Lord, deliver and defend us,
Let Thy Spirit still attend us;
Be Thine eye our leading star,;
Guiding upward from afar;
Here,—the surety Thou art nigh,
There,—the blest reality!
This fine help to our devotion on the anniversary of the Holy Cross is from the "Parish Musings" of John S. B. Monsell, now the vicar of Egham, in Surrey. And every heart that has learnt to utter a daily litany, and with holy fervour to cry, "By Thine agony and bloody sweat; By Thy cross and passion, Good Lord deliver us!" will ever think of the reverend hymnist as one whose "Musings" have kindled holy fire in many, many a heart beside his own. Nor can our gratitude ever equal the blessing which comes upon England in answer to the metrical prayers of her pious laymen; laymen whose simple and earnest piety adorns many a lordly home of the land; laymen, who wear their knightly honours in humble dependence on their Saviour; and who, like Sir Robert Grant, have mind and heart enough to lead the devotions of the multitudes around them, in solemn litanies like this:—
Saviour, when in dust to Thee
Low we bend the adoring knee;
When repentant to the skies
Scarce we lift our weeping eyes;
Oh! by all the pains and woe
Suffer'd once for man below,
Bending from Thy throne on high,
Hear our solemn Litany!
By Thy helpless infant years;
By Thy life of want and tears;
By Thy days of sore distress
In the savage wilderness;
By the dread mysterious hour
Of th' insulting tempter's power:
Turn, oh, turn a favouring eye,
Hear our solemn Litany!
By the sacred griefs that wept
O'er the grave where Lazarus slept;
By the boding tears that flowed
Over Salem's loved abode;
By the anguish'd sigh that told
Treachery lurk'd within Thy fold;
From Thy seat above the sky,
Hear our solemn Litany!
By Thine hour of dire despair;
By Thing agony of prayer;
By the cross, the nail, the thorn,
Piercing spear, and torturing scorn;
By the gloom that veil'd the skies
O'er the dreadful sacrifice!
Listen to our humble cry,
Hear our solemn Litany!
By Thy deep expiring groan;
By the sad sepulchral stone;
By the vault, whose dark abode
Held in vain the rising God;
Oh! from earth to heaven restored,
Mighty re-ascended Lord,
Listen, listen to the cry
Of our solemn Litany!
Calvary was a scene of mournful attraction to the "women which followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto Him. Among which was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee's children." Blessed women! To them it was a dark day indeed. That cross was to them a bitter cross; for it was the cross of their beloved Master. But they found life in that very cross; and out of that deep darkness came the light of life, healing for ever their broken hearts. Women have never ceased to surround the cross. They come from age to age, not from Galilee merely, but from far off among the Gentiles. Theirs has been the deepest homage; theirs the warmest devotion; theirs the profoundest sympathy; theirs the sweetest songs. Among the women, the English women, who have loved the cross, and sung of its salvation, Caroline Bowles, afterwards Mrs. Southey, has left one touching proof of her own living, happy interest in her Saviour's death. It comes to us in a hymn which devoutly records her own heart's experience on Calvary; while it affords the secret of that Christian tenderness which she exemplified as the gentle and pious helpmeet of the declining and departing Southey. Her hymn beautifully shows the harmony between reverent peacefulness and holy joy in all true devotion to the cross: thus:—
Down from the willow bough
My slumbering harp I'll take,
And bid its silent strings
To heavenly themes awake;
Peaceful let its breathings be
When I sing of Calvary.
Love, love divine I sing;
Oh for a seraph's lyre,
Bathed in Siloa's stream,
And touch'd with living fire;
Lofty, pure the strain should be
When I sing of Calvary.
Love, love on earth appears,
The wretched throng His way;
He beareth all their griefs,
He wipes their tears away!
Soft and sweet the strain should be,
Saviour, when I sing of Thee.
He saw me as He passed,
In hopeless sorrow lie,
Condemned and doomed to death,
And no salvation nigh;
Loud and long the strain should be,
When I sing His love to me.
"I die for thee," He said—
Behold the cross arise; And lo, He bows His head—
He bows His head and dies. Soft, my harp, thy breathing be, Let me weep on Calvary.
He lives! again He lives!
I hear the voice of love,
He comes to soothe my fears,
And draw my soul above; Joyful now the strain should be, When I sing of Calvary.