HYMNS FROM BENEATH THE CROSS.
"When gathering clouds around I view,
And days are dark, and friends are few,
On Him I lean, who not in vain
Experienced every human pain;
He sees my wants, allays my fears,
And counts and treasures up my tears."
The "mercy-seat" of old was sometimes covered with a mysterious cloud, whose shade graciously qualified the lustre of Divine majesty, and from whose depths were evolved the most cheering tokens of God's favour. From that cloud Aaron had seen the fire of wrath shoot forth to consume his unholy sons, and to him it was now like the shadow of death, the fearful symbol of his bitterest trial as a parent and as a priest. But God, by the mouth of Moses, encouraged him to approach, even to that cloud, with the blood of a sin-offering in his hand, giving him. the promise, "I will appear in the cloud upon the mercyseat." The believing Christian, like Aaron, has access to the mercy-seat of his reconciled God, but sometimes finds a cloud on it. His heavenly Father occasionally permits dark mysterious trials to overshadow his way to the propitiatory; trials which, though they appear inscrutable, are blessings in disguise, dispensations of mercy in the form of mysterious trial. He is assured, however, that while he comes by faith in the sacrifice of Christ, those very trials will afford some of the most satisfactory revelations of God's character and will, "I will appear as a cloud upon the mercy-seat." And when our clouds are'around the mercy-seat, in gracious association with the purposes of mercy, and the Divine wisdom and power, goodness, holiness, and love, are opened upon the soul from'the very clouds which overshadow it, our sorrows are turned into joy, rather than followed by it, and our hearts are comforted with hymns and "songs of deliverance." About forty years ago, Wilson, in his "Noctes Ambrosianse," says, '' Have you seen a little volume entitled 'Tales in Verse, by the Rev. H. F. Lyte,' which seems to have reached a second edition? Now that is the right kind of religious poetry. Mr. Lyte shows how the sins and sorrows of men flow from irreligion, in simple yet strong domestic narrations, told in a style and spirit reminding one sometimes of Goldsmith and sometimes of Crabbe. A volume so humble in its appearance and pretensions runs the risk of being jostled off the highway into by-paths; and, indeed, no harm if it should, for in such retired places it will be pleasant reading—pensive in the shade, and cheerful in the sunshine. Mr. Lyte has reaped
The harvest of a quiet eye
That broods and sleeps on its own heart,
and his Christian tales will be read with interest and instruction by many a fireside. 'The Brothers' is exceedingly beautiful. He ought to give us another volume." The gentle and unpretending man, whose volume was so beautiful a reflection of his own character, did "give us another volume," under the title of "Poems, Chiefly Religious." Some of his poems were, indeed, hymns from under the cloud. Though comparatively young, he had often found clouds "upon the mercy-seat." But .God had appeared to him, inspiring and hallowing his genius, and calling up songs from his heart, that have been peacefully and resignedly sung by many a tried, but happy Christian. Here is one springing from "thoughts in weakness," and entitled "Submission" —
Yet think not, O my soul, to keep
Thy progress on to God,
By any road less rough and steep
Than that thy fathers trod.
In tears and trials thou must sow
To reap in joy and love;
We cannot find our home below,
And hope for one above.
No; here we labour, watch, and pray,
Our rest and peace are there;
God will not take the thorn away,
But give us strength to bear.
The holiest, greatest, best, have thus
In wisdom learnt to grow;
Tea, He that gave Himself for us
Was perfected by woe.
Thou—Man of Sorrows—Thou didst not
The bitter cup decline,
Why should I claim a better lot,
A smoother path than Thine?
Thou sought'st no treasure here on earth,
No glory 'neath the skies; And what Thou dream'dst so little worth,
Shall I so highly prize?
Did not reproach and wrong rain down
Upon Thy hallowed head?
Didst Thou not strip off glory's crown
To wear the thorns instead?
When foes reviled, didst Thou reply,
Or render ill for ill? Didst Thou for man bleed, faint, and die,
And shall I falter still?
In early life to Thee I was
Consigned by solemn vow,
Enlisted 'neath Thy holy cross,
Shall I desert it now?
I then 'gainst ev'ry hostile power
Engaged to follow Thee;
And shall I, at the trying hour,
Be found the first to flee?
Thou didst not flee, 0 King of love,
When Thou wert sorely tried; When all men fled, and God above
Appeared His face to hide, Intent that guiltless blood to shed,
That should for guilt atone, The mighty winepress Thou didst tread,
Unshrinking, though alone.
And shall I murmur or repine
At aught Thy hand may send? To whom should I my cause resign,
If not to such a friend? Where love and wisdom deign to choose,
Shall I the choice condemn, Or dare the medicine to refuse
That is prescribed by them?
Oh, small the gain when men aspire
Their Maker to control;
He gives, perhaps, their hearts' desire,
And leanness to their soul.
Not His to quench the smoking flax,
Or break the bruised reed;
Or with one pang our patience tax,
But what He knows we need.
Yet must our steadfastness be tried—
Yet must our graces grow
By holy warfare. What beside
Did we expect below?
Is not the way to heavenly gain
Through earthly grief and loss?
Rest must be won by toil and pain—
The crown repays the cross.
As woods, when shaken by the breeze,
Take deeper, firmer root;
As winter's frosts but make the trees
Abound in summer fruit;
So every heaven-sent pang and throe
That Christian firmness tries,
But nerves us for our work below,
And forms us for the skies.
He who sang like this had all the qualifications of a sweet pensive hymnist; but his intellect and heart must have had long chastening. The cloudy shadows were often upon him. Though of somewhat gentle blood, coming into the world at Kelso, in June, 1793, and having all the early advantage of a much-beloved mother's gentle influence and holy lessons, he was soon made to feel the misery of narrow resources, and had to struggle hard for the benefit of a liberal education. His superior and versatile talent, in happy association with firm integrity and amiable temper, opened his way to academical honour, and at last to a "dreary" Irish curacy. While tenderly and faithfully watching a brother clergyman in his last moments, his own heart was made free by the truth which sustained the dying Christian. But watchings by the sick, and subsequent labours on behalf of the bereaved widow and her children, overtaxed his system, and he sank into that consumptive tendency which brought frequent clouds over him all through his remaining life. He travelled on the Continent; and on his return, after trying the climate of Bristol, and, "after being jostled about from one curacy to another," he settled for a time as lecturer, in the quiet little town of Marazion, on the shore of the beautiful bay of Mount St. Michael, in Cornwall. Here he married. Then, he is found at Lymington, writing poems and the tales that so charmed Professor Wilson. Then on the banks of the Dart, in South Devon. Those who have had the joy of gliding on the waters of that lovely river well remember its strange twists and turns—especially at one point, where it turns back on its course, and where, in following it, we seem now to be plunging into a depth of oaken woods, and now are suddenly amidst an open amphitheatre of leafy heights rising one above another, and opening here and there into bright green lawns and ferny slopes. Around a point, and there, under the shelter of hills crowned with billowy foliage, her line of rustic roofs just peeping above the many masses of copse and garden verdure, in dreamy stillness, and in simple and homely beauty, is the village of Dittisham. There the wandering curate nestled in a cottage; going out now and then to officiate at Lower Brixham. Brixham was at last his parish; and there, for twenty years, he toiled in his pastorate under many a cloud—clouds of personal suffering, clouds of pastoral difficulty and discouragement. To his tender, sensitive nature, the peculiar condition of his flock must frequently have been a source of trial. His charge was the busy, shrewd, somewhat rough, but warmhearted population of a fishing coast and sea-faring district, which had been subjected to all the corrupting influences peculiar to the neighbourhood of naval and military forces during the French war. The social character of his flock had been rendered still more difficult to deal with by the religious prejudices which had sprung up amidst the doctrinal strife between the disciples of such teachers as Dr. Hawker of Plymouth, and their Arminian opponents. The form and face of one old Arminian is still remembered at Brixham—one who was always apt at argument, but who was inexhaustible, too, in the use of sarcasm where argument seemed to be pointless. He was seen one Sunday morning, just outside the door of the Calvinist chapel, bending over the margin of a filthy pool. As the congregation came out, he was in the act of stirring up the stagnant water with a long stick. "What are you looking for ?" said his theological antagonists, as they gathered around him. "I am searching," said he, without looking up, but still stirring up the mud, "I am searching for the 'eternal decrees'!" Among a people capable of such modes of religious strife, and with characters so complicated, and under the sway of so many influences, Mr. Lyte would have many a cloud passing over his spirits during his course of pastoral labour. But he never shrank from work. His heart never quailed in suffering. But he solaced himself, and frequently softened and subdued the hard natures around him with hymns from under the cloud. He made hymns for his little ones, and hymns for his hardy fishermen, and hymns for sufferers like himself. How many a cloudy day was cheered by a song like this !—
My spirit on Thy care,
Blest Saviour, I recline;
Thou wilt not leave me to despair,
For Thou art love Divine.
In Thee I place my trust,
On Thee I calmly rest;
I know Thee goodvl know Thee just,
And count Thy choice the best.
"Whate'er events betide,
Thy will they all perform;
Safe in Thy breast my head I hide,
Nor fear the coming storm.
Let good or ill bef al,
It must be good for me;
Secure of having Thee in all,
Of having all in Thee.
The Brixham hymnist's days were numbered. His strength gradually failed. The climate of Italy was several times tried; and his life was spun out for a little while. But the end must come. The autumn of 1847 was approaching, and he must needs take his last journey to the genial south. It was always hard to leave his dear Berry Head. "They tell me," says he, "that the sea is injurious to me. I hope not; for I know of no divorce I should more deprecate than from the lordly ocean. From childhood it has been my friend and playmate, and never have I been weary of gazing on its glorious face. Besides, if I cannot live by the sea, adieu to poor Berry Head—adieu to the wild birds, and wild flowers, and all the objects that have made my old residence so attractive." But by-and-by he adds, "I am meditating flight again to the south. The little faithful robin is every morning at my window, sweetly warning me that autumnal hours are at hand. The swallows are preparing for flight, and inviting me to accompany them; and yet, alas! while I talk of flying, I am just able to crawl, and ask myself whether I shall be able to leave England at all." He did go, never to return. Before he went, he wished once more to preach to his people. His family was alarmed at the thought; but he gently replied, "It is better to wear out than to rust out." He felt equal to this last effort, and had no fear. He preached. It was on the "Holy Communion," and it was solemnly significant to hear him say, " Oh, brethren, I can speak feelingly, experimentally, on this point; and I stand here among you seasonably to-day, as alive from the dead, if I may hope to impress it upon you, and induce you to prepare for that solemn hour, which must come to all, by a timely acquaintance with, appreciation of, dependence on, the death of Christ." This was his last appeal. And for the last time he dispensed the sacred elements to his sorrowing flock; and then, exhausted with his effort, he retired with a soul in sweet repose on that Christ whom he had preached with his dying breath. And as the evening drew on he handed to a near and dear relative those undying verses, and his own adapted music for the hymn:—
Abide with me! Fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide!
When other helpers fail, and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me!
Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day;
Earth's joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou, who changest not, abide with me!
Not a brief glance I beg, a passing word,
But as Thou dwell'at with Thy disciples, Lord,
Familiar, condescending, patient, free,
Come, not to sojourn, but abide with me!
Come not in terrors, as the King of kings,
But kind and good, with healing in Thy wings:
Tears for all woes, a heart for every plea,
Come, Friend of sinners, and thus bide with me!
Thou on my head in early youth didst smile,
And, though rebellious and perverse meanwhile,
Thou hast not left me, oft as I left Thee,
On to the close, 0 Lord, abide with me!
I need Thy presence every passing hour,
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter's power?
Who like Thyself my guide and stay can be,
Through cloud and sunshine, oh, abide with me!
I fear no foe with Thee at hand to bless:
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death's sting? where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.
Hold, then, Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies;
Heaven's morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee,
In life and death, O Lord, abide with me!
This was his last hymn upon earth. He reached Nice, and there his spirit entered into rest. He pointed upwards in passing, and murmured softly, "peace," "joy! "•while his face brightened into smiles as the shadow of his last cloud melted before the " Light of Life."
Lyte was not the first pastor and preacher who was used to sing hymns under the cloud. The complex opinions and tempers of society around him in his parish, often perplexing his soul, and making it less easy to keep up his spirits under personal affliction, might remind us of the strange varieties of religious and social life which distinguished the times of Richard Baxter; and probably aggravated that good pastor's sufferings in his own person. No student of curiosities in human life and character could possibly desire a more rare and comprehensive collection of religious party freaks, fancies, and monstrous delusions, than clustered within the range of Richard Baxter's observation. With multiform battalions of Presbyterians, Independents, and Anabaptists, there were Familists begotten in the hotbeds of America, Seekers, Ranters, Quakers, and the stunned and astonished admirers of Jacob Behmen—all pressing their bewildering claims upon his notice. How many a trial of faith and patience must he have had amidst his opportunities of insight into party complications! If we may judge from the tone of his remarks on parties at court, some of his heaviest trials from without must have come upon him in his intercourse with Cromwell. He had several interviews with the Protector; and he speaks of being "wearied" with his speeches, and says, "I told him a little of my judgment; and when two of his company had spun out a great deal more of the time in such tedious but mere ignorant speeches, some four or five hours being spent, I told him that if he would be at the labour to read it, I could tell him more of my mind in writing on two sheets than in that way of speaking in many days. . . . He received my paper, but I scarce believe that he ever read it; for I saw that what he learned must be from himself, being more disposed to speak many hours than to hear one; and little heeding what another said when he had spoken himself." Who would not like to have had the privilege of a. quiet glance or two, first at one and then at the other of those two great antagonist faces, during the grave performance of this comical act? Who can pretend to a conception of the style in which the political chief kept up appearances? Baxter's visage would of course be true to its mission. A remakable visage was that of his; never to be forgotten if once seen. Long it was, but decided. Hard, some would say, but telling with fearful eloquence how bravely his righteous soul maintained a life struggle against the acrid humours of a diseased body; how superhuman labours for the world's health had been continued amidst losses of blood and daily sweats, brought upon him, he tells us, by "the acrimonious medicaments" of stupid doctors who thought to save him from the effects of a youthful taste for sour apples, by over-doses of "scurvy grass," wormwood-beer, horse-radish, and mustard! He looked, indeed, like one who, as a last remedy for a depressing affliction, had literally swallowed a " gold bullet of thirty shillings' weight," and, having taken it, "knew not how to be delivered of it again!" With all this, the marks of a confessor were traceable on the good man's countenance. He had been driven from place to place. Now, in prison for preaching at Acton; now, kept out of his pulpit by a military guard; now, seized again, and his goods and books sold to pay the fine for preaching five sermons—he being so ill that he could not be imprisoned without danger of death; and now again, in the King's Bench under a warrant from the villanous Jeffreys, for writing a paraphrase on the New Testament. His later life was often "in peril" for Christ's sake; and there must have been something deeply touching in that impress of dignified sorrow which brought tears into the eyes of Judge Hale when he saw the persecuted man standing before the Bench. His presence must have been felt wherever he appeared. Everybody who knew him acknowledged his mental and moral grandeur. And yet there was a maziness about the action of his versatile powers which seems to be for ever hindering us from completing our estimate of his character. Here, he is seen searching for some mode of effecting a comprehension of religious parties; there, he seems to be pushing and poking in every direction, just by way of keeping things around him alive; ever and anon, however, stopping to make distinctions, or stumbling upon some difficulties which keep him back from his object. Now, he is thundering in the pulpit; now, catechising children; now, lecturing " the powers that be"; now, acting the pastor in true plodding style; now, smelling out l^resies, or scenting disguised papists and infidels; and now, making reformed liturgies for all scrupulous souls. How wondrous is the action of his pen! To-day, we see it sketching scenes of "everlasting rest," as if it were an ethereal plume; to-morrow, it is waving to call up terrors from beneath upon the consciences of sinners. Then again, he wields it as a polemical lance, with all the sharpness and unsparing dexterity of a Saracen knight-errant; and then, as if instinct with hopeful submission, it gives birth to a hymn from beneath clouds of trial and suffering, thus:—
Now, it belongs not to my care
Whether I die or live;
To love and serve Thee is my share,
And this Thy grace must give.
If death shall bruise this springing seed
Before it comes to fruit,
The will with Thee goes for the deed,
Thy life was in the root.
Would I long bear my heavy load,
And keep my sorrows long?
Would I long sin against my God,
And Hia dear mercy wrong?
How much is sinful flesh my foe,
That doth my soul pervert
To linger here in sin and woe,
And steals from God my heart!
Christ leads me through no darker rooms
Than He went through before;
He that unto God's kingdom comes
Must enter by this door.
Come, Lord, when grace hath made me meet
Thy blessed face to see;
For if Thy work on earth be sweet,
What will Thy glory be?
Then I shall end my sad complaints,
And weary, sinful days,
And join with the triumphant saints
That sing Jehovah's praise.
My knowledge of that life is small;
The eye of faith is dim;
But it 's enough that Christ knows all,
And I shall be with
This is among the ever-living fruits of Richard Baxter's trials.' He lived to toil and sing amidst clouds of all variety in weight and shade. But one cloud of more mysterious depth and more awful darkness came at intervals, in a later period, upon a gentler spirit than Baxter, one who seemed far less prepared to rejoice in tribulation. What morbid horrors sometimes wrapped the soul of Oowper! and yet he sang. His hymns arose even from his depth of depression; nor was there ever a sweeter, more simple, and trustful hymn from beneath a cloud than this :—
O Lord, my best desire fulfil,
And help me to resign
Life, health, and comfort to Thy will,
And make Thy pleasure mine.
Why should I shrink from Thy command,
Whose love forbids my fears?
Or tremble at the gracious hand
That wipes away my tears?
No, rather let me freely yield
What most I prize to Thee,
Who never hast a good withheld,
Or wilt withhold from me.
Thy favour, all my journey through,
Thou art engaged to grant;
What else I want, or think I do,
'Tis better still to want.
But ah! my inward spirit cries,
Still bend me to Thy sway!
Else the next cloud that veils the skies
Drives all those thoughts away.
Like Cowper, "Theodosia," or Anne Steele, spent her life in quiet retirement, suffering the mysterious will of God alone, or in a retreat to which but few kindred spirits had access. Her rural home, under the shelter of the Hampshire Downs, was to her ceaselessly overshadowed by affliction. She was ever bending beneath infirmities which limited her sphere of physical activity; but she exemplified the inspired truth that, though "no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous, nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruits of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby." The fruit in her case, as in many others, was to be perpetually renewing itself. Many of her best hymns were the fruit of hallowed affliction, and they live to bring forth '' the peaceable fruits of righteousness" in the souls of chastened Christians from generation to generation. How many a heart "desiring resignation and thankfulness" she has taught to sing:—
When I survey life's varied scene,
Amid the darkest hours,
Sweet rays of comfort shine between,
And thorns are mix'd with flowers.
Lord, teach me to adore Thy hand,
From whence my comforts flow;
And let me in this desert land,
A glimpse of Canaan know.
Is health and ease my happy share?
Oh, may I bless my God;
Thy kindness let my songs declare,
And spread Thy praise abroad.
While such delightful gifts as these
Ale kindly dealt to me,
Be all my hours of health and ease
Devoted, Lord, to Thee.
In griefs and pains Thy sacred word
(Dear solace of my soul!)
Celestial comforts can afford,
And all their power control.
When present sufferings pain my heart,
Or future terrors rise,
And light and hope almost depart
From these dejected eyes:
Thy powerful word supports my hope,
Sweet cordial of the mind;
And bears my fainting spirit up,
And bids me wait resign'd.
And oh, whate'er of earthly bliss
Thy sovereign hand denies,
Accepted at Thy throne of grace,
Let this petition rise:
"Give me a calm, a thankful heart,
From every murmur free;
The blessings of Thy grace impart,
And let me live to Thee.
"Let the sweet hope that Thou art mine,
My path of life attend;
Thy presence through my journey shine,
And bless its happy end."
These childlike expressions of Anne Steele's calm resignation and heavenly desires will, perhaps, bring up in many a heart a feeling of gratitude for the songs of many other devout but suffering women. Who has not been melted into more perfect resignation, amidst the sorrows of daily life, while singing, in harmony with the family group of an evening, Charlotte Elliott's well-known verses, "Thy will be done!"
My God and Father, while I stray
Far from my home on life's rough way,
Oh teach me from my heart to say,
Thy will be done!
Though dark my path and sad my lot,
Let me be still, and murmur not,
Or breathe the prayer divinely taught,
Thy will be done!
What though in lonely grief I sigh
For friends beloved, no longer nigh,
Submissive still would I reply,
Thy will be done!
Though Thou hast called me to resign
What most I prized, it ne'er was mine,
I have but yielded what was Thine;
Thy will be done!
Should grief or sickness waste away
My life in premature decay,
My Father! still I strive to say,
Thy will be done!
Let but my fainting heart be blest
With Thy sweet Spirit for its guest,
My God, to Thee I leave the rent;
Thy will be done!
Renew my will from day to day;
Blend it with Thine; and take away
All that now makes it hard to say,
Thy will be done!
Then, when on earth I breathe no more,
The prayer, oft mix'd with tears before,
I'll sing upon a happier shore,
Thy will be done!
How this hushes the tremulous heart! and how gently the touches of its music persuade the soul into repose beneath the "cloud upon the mercy-seat"! Charles Wesley's hymns, entitled, "Believer's Suffering," are of another class. They lack, in most cases, that tender, soothing grace which has distinguished the songs of more retired and less observed sufferers; but of all hymns beneath clouds of trial, they approach nearest, it may be, to that triumphant faith, unquenchable joy, and boastful reliance on God, which St. Paul exemplifies and sets forth in his teaching. So in those fine verses of his:—
Peace! doubting heart; my God's I am!
Who fonn'd me man, forbids my fear:
The Lord hath call'd me by my name;
The Lord protects, for ever near;
His blood for me did once atone,
And still He loves and guards His own.
When passing through the watery deep,
I ask in faith His promised aid,
The waves in awful distance keep,
And shrink from my devoted head;
Fearless their violence I dare,
They cannot harm, for God is there.
To Him mine eye of faith I turn,
And through the fire pursue my way;
The fire forgets its power to burn,
The lambent flames around me play;
I own His power, accept the sign,
And shout to prove the Saviour mine.
Still nigh me, 0 my Saviour, stand!
And guard in fierce temptation's hour;
Hide in the hollow of Thy hand;
Show forth in me thy Saviour's power;
Still be Thy arms my sure defence:
Nor earth nor hell shall pluck me thence.
Since Thou hast bid me come to Thee,
(Good as Thou art, and strong to save;)
I'll walk o'er life's tempestuous sea,
Upborne by the unyielding wave,
Dauntless, though rocks of pride be near,
And yawning whirlpools of despair.
When darkness intercepts the skies,
And sorrow's waves around us roll,
When high the storms of passion rise,
And half o'erwhelm my sinking soul,
My soul a sudden calm shall feel,
And hear a whisper, " Peace, be still!"
Though in affliction's furnace tried,
Unhurt on snares and death I'll tread,
Though sin assail, and hell, thrown wide,
Pour all its horrors on my head;
Like Moses' bush, I'll mount the higher,
And flourish uncousumed in fire.
No Christian sufferer can sing this 'without having St. Paul's utterances amidst tribulation sounding in his ear and in his heart, "We rejoice in hope of the glory of God; and not only so, but we glory in tribulation also, knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope; and hope maketh not ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by
the Holy Ghost which is given unto us I am
exceeding joyful in all our tribulations Who shall
separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or peril, or sword? Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."