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Some Hymns and Hymn–Books

Bernard Manning

A paper read before the Cambridge University Congregational Society in the Easter term, 1924.

MISS ROSE MACAULAY has now attained that age, or that circulation, at which popular novelists become omniscient; and like others of her class in that condition she has tried her prentice hand on religion. Works on The Outline of History and How to Reconstruct Europe will follow, no doubt: but the attraction of a religious subject is such that only the very shrewd can resist attacking it first. In an article on ‘How to Choose a Religion', as I expect you know, Miss Macaulay lately displayed all that ignorance of essential detail which Mr. Wells has taught us to associate with omniscience. In the course of some not unpleasing observations on the several sects of Christendom, Miss Macaulay speaks of the Greek Church as if it had not revised its calendar; she flounders in a vain effort to distinguish Presbyterianism and Calvinism; she says that the ugliest building in a village is sure to be the chapel, obviously forgetting that, true as this may have been in her youth, village halls have been built since; she adds that Unitarianism is a suitable religion for people who cannot believe much; when, as everyone knows, the precise opposite is true: Unitarianism asking people to believe all the most improbable part of Christian doctrine after removing all the reasons that begin to make it credible.

But if you shy long enough, you are sure to hit something sooner or later, and Miss Macaulay has observed accurately one thing; she says that if ever you pass a Wesleyan or Baptist or Congregational chapel you will hear hymn–singing proceeding inside. She argues therefore that among us orthodox Dissenters, as distinct from the more fancy varieties, hymns take a great part in divine service. And here at least she is right; and that is why it is seemly that you should hear a paper on hymns, even if it be less certain that I can appropriately read it.

For let me confess at the beginning that I have no special qualification and several special disqualifications for speaking about hymns. I lay claim at once to every kind of musical ignorance, doubting sometimes if I can go even as far as Dr. Johnson in calling music the least unpleasant of noises. I do not study, nor even possess, that book without which no student of hymns can allow himself to be, Julian's Dictionary of Hymnology. I have drawn up no statistical tables of authors, centuries, denominations, and subjects. I know about hymns only what any one must know who for a quarter of a century has been so addicted to chapel–going as to attend service twice every Sunday. I think I never sing a hymn without discovering who wrote it, and after doing this some scores of times I usually end by remembering. No particular credit is due to any of us who does this, for most hymn–books now have a list of authors and their dates somewhere. These details may have been supposed to interfere with the devotion of singers in times when denominational feeling ran high. They were suppressed, therefore, or relegated to decent obscurity in out–of–the–way indexes. It was doubtless by the use of this holy cunning that Methodists were induced to sing ‘Rock of Ages' with a clear and happy conscience though its author, Toplady, had called John Wesley ‘a low and puny tadpole in divinity', ‘actuated by Satanic shamelessness and Satanic guilt'.

Today, when the orthodox will sing hymns by Unitarians and Theosophists without turning a hair, these precautions are, it may be supposed, unnecessary. The Methodist Hymn–book issued in 1904 goes farther than names and dates. It adds biographical notes, often useful, often irrelevant, always interesting, and sometimes wrong. On what principle the Wesleyan Conference selected its information I defy any one to pronounce. When all else fails, the birthplace appears — quite often alone: born at Brighton; born in London; born at Bath. Of Philip Bliss we learn only that he was an American killed on a railway; of Monsell that he was killed during the rebuilding of his church at Guildford; of Sears, the author of ‘It came upon the midnight clear', it is a relief to learn that, though a Unitarian minister, he ‘held always to the absolute divinity of Christ'; but when I am told of W. C. Dix, who wrote ‘As with gladness men of old', that ‘from thirty to forty of his hymns are in common use', I can only decline to believe it; for I never knew any one who has even heard of half a dozen.

I am, nevertheless, very grateful for that Methodist Biographical Index. I have spent many happy hours in research into it; and sometimes the researcher comes on a treasure. I always loved James Montgomery; but I felt as if I knew him when I read that he was the son of a Moravian minister, lived in Sheffield for sixty–two years, edited the Sheffield Iris, and recited ‘Hail to the Lord's Anointed, Great David's greater Son', at a Wesleyan Missionary Meeting in Liverpool in 1822. I can only be sorry for the people who do not know that; I can only be angry with the people who are not moved by the picture of the Editor of the Sheffield Iris reciting that splendid hymn. And yet, despite the riches of this sort that it brings us, we remember with a pang that this same Biographical Index in the new Methodist Hymn–book replaces that splendid single telling sentence in the old one: ‘Where no name is given it may be assumed that the hymn is the work of Mr. Charles Wesley.'

You will gather that the Methodist Hymn–book of 1904 is one of the hymn books I claim to know tolerably. The other is Dr. Barrett's Hymnal. These I know from constant use; others from casual use. Adventures at holiday times have made me almost too familiar with Worship Song; and a kinder fate, in remote Lincolnshire, often showed me the old Congregational Hymn–book. With Presbyterian and Baptist books I have but a conventional acquaintance; with Ancient and Modern and the English Hymnal a better but not exhaustive one.

That, then, is my stock in trade. My method is this: to avoid wandering aimlessly in generalizations, I shall take the book that I know best — Dr. Barrett's — and examine it in some detail. I shall notice the several elements of which it is composed. I shall notice how far Dr. Barrett modified these. I shall notice what changes have come over popular feeling for hymns since Dr. Barrett made his selection. By taking a firm stand on Dr. Barrett's book, we shall secure, at least, a point of vantage from which we can survey the wild scene that the title of my paper conjures up.

But before I speak of Dr. Barrett's book, I propose to lay down two canons which govern all my thought and treatment of the subject.

First, I think it improper to criticize hymns as if they were ordinary verses: to say of any hymn it is not poetry or it is ‘poor poetry' is to say nothing. A hymn — a good hymn — is not necessarily poetry of any sort, good or bad: just as poetry, good or bad, is not necessarily a hymn. A hymn like ‘Jesu, Lover of my soul', may be poor religious poetry: but, in face of its place in English religion, only imbecility will declare it a poor hymn. George Herbert wrote much excellent religious poetry, but it may be doubted if he wrote one tolerable hymn. Hymns do not form a subdivision of poetry. They are a distinct kind of composition, neither prose nor poetry: they are, in a word, hymns; and I refuse to be drawn any nearer than that to a definition. A hymn may be poetry as it may be theology. It is not, of necessity, either.

Second, reverence is due to hymns as to any sacred object. The hymn that revolts me, if it has been a means of grace to Christian men, I must respect as I should respect a communion cup, however scratched its surface, however vulgar its decoration. The bad jokes about hymns which newspapers publish in chatty columns by ‘Uncle Remus' or ‘Everyman in Town' are, apart from their intrinsic feebleness, an offence against my second canon.

Dr. Barrett's Hymnal, the Preface tells us, took its origin from a resolution of the Congregational Union, passed forty years ago. It was published in 1887. It held the field till 1916, when, as far as I can make out, the Congregational Hymnary appeared, though perhaps characteristically the Congregational Union Committee neglected to date their work. The epitaph which the Committee wrote for Dr. Barrett's book, was: ‘It is not possible to form any adequate estimate of the great influence of this book.' It is rash to go farther than a Committee, but I will suggest that Dr. Barrett's book is eminent as an exposition of what is best in Congregationalism. It reflects purely and clearly that mind which we should like to think is the Congregational mind: in taste, catholic; in feeling, evangelical; in expression, scholarly; in doctrine, orthodox. It is a book free from fads, fancies, prejudices, party slogans; taking the best from whatever source; most Congregational in lacking the denominationally Congregational note; a simply Christian book. Sweet reasonableness, sweetness and light — these are its characteristics: and, if we must criticize, these are its weaknesses. You feel at times, when you are hypercritical (but only then), that it is too sweetly reasonable and that all the corners have been too carefully removed. The atmosphere is so undisturbed that you crave for almost any impurity, any smell of human kind, any passion, any flaring, roaring enthusiasm. The crooked has been made too straight, the rough places too plain. It is just a little too well–behaved, but the fault is hardly there; for, if you look again, you see that this same book, for all its good behaviour, contains the most passionate pleading of the evangelical revival, ‘Stay, thou insulted Spirit, stay', and the agonized prayer of the Chartist, ‘When wilt Thou save the people? O God of mercy, when?'

Dr. Barrett achieved this result because he allowed no variety of religious experience known in 1887 to escape his notice. He laid under contribution every age, every nation, every communion.

It is worth while to disentangle the threads which Dr. Barrett wove together; or, if we change the figure, to trace back to their sources separated in time and space the several streams that met in 1887. There were, to begin with, those two great movements of English religion, the Oxford and the Evangelical. Both Dr. Barrett boldly claimed for us; and he was so happily placed that he could draw from each its maximum contribution.

For consider first the Oxford Movement. In 1887 the Oxford Movement had made almost all the valuable, original contributions it was to make to English religion. It was still a virile and scholarly movement; it had not yet sunk to sentimentality and fanaticism. How much of the Oxford Movement there is in the Hymnal, I doubt if most of you have noticed. The influence is twofold. There are, first, the hymns of the Oxford Movement men themselves. Keble gave us some of our best: ‘O timely happy, timely wise', ‘Sun of my soul', ‘When God of old came down from heaven' (of which more later) and ‘There is a book who runs may read'. Newman gave us two: ‘Lead, kindly Light, and ‘Praise to the Holiest'. Faber has more room than either Keble or Newman, and, of course, has too much: he passed from the sublime to the ridiculous too easily. ‘Sweet Saviour, bless us ere we go', and ‘O come and mourn with me awhile', and ‘Was there ever kindest Shepherd' show us Faber at his best. Even in these there is a strain of weakness that develops in other hymns until it can hardly be borne. The pruning knife could be used nowhere with better effect than among the Faber hymns. We may set beside these writers W. C. Dix, with his ‘As with gladness men of old' for Epiphany, ‘To Thee, O Lord, our hearts we raise' for Harvest, and ‘Come unto Me, ye weary', for all times. ‘As with gladness men of old' is a model of straight, clear, clean verse.

But beside these and other hymns written by the men of the Movement, we owe to it an even greater debt for its inspiration of translation. The translations in Barrett's book fall into two main classes: the pietist hymns of Germany and the Greek and Latin hymns recovered by the Oxford Movement. Greatest among translators is John Mason Neale, though his rugged verse gave much opportunity and some excuse for the art of the amender. The unimaginative editors of Ancient and Modern scattered his remains pitilessly over their pages. ‘O come, O come, Emmanuel', ‘All glory, laud, and honour', ‘O happy band of pilgrims', ‘Art thou weary', ‘The day is past and over', ‘The day of resurrection', and the magnificent poem of Bernard of Cluny on the heavenly Jerusalem which we know as ‘Brief life is here our portion' and ‘Jerusalem the golden'; these and many others Barrett used. Barrett gave us so many that we are left gasping at his omission of one of Neale's best, glorious with the fresh triumph of Easter morning, ‘The foe behind, the deep before'. We should have been only more surprised if the new Hymnary had repaired Barrett's mistake. Caswall, though a smaller man than Neale, did first–rate translations which Barrett used. ‘Jesus, the very thought of Thee', and that moving Christmas hymn, adorable in its austere and primitive piety, ‘Hark, an awful voice is sounding' — these stand as types.

Much as English hymn–singers owe to the Oxford Movement, they owe more to the Evangelical Revival. The Evangelical Revival was a religious movement not less deep than the Oxford Movement, and almost the whole of its artistic expression is to be found in hymns. Hymns, on the other hand, were but one of the interests of the Oxford Movement, and not its greatest. Liturgy, church furniture, and architecture drew off a part of its artistic energy; but hymns had no competitors among the Evangelicals. To take out of Barrett's book the hymns of the five men, John and Charles Wesley, Newton, Cowper, and Montgomery — though it would not fully represent the contribution of the Evangelical Revival — would at least show how huge and how valuable the contribution was.

No selection of Wesley's hymns can satisfy (to say nothing of pleasing) any one who knows Wesley's own book, that ‘little body of experimental and practical divinity', of which John Wesley might well inquire: ‘In what other publication of the kind have you so distinct and full an account of scriptural Christianity? such a declaration of the heights and depths of religion, speculative and practical? so strong cautions against the most plausible errors, particularly those that are now most prevalent?' [Preface to the Collection of Hymns for the People Called Methodists] To find a parallel, we must go to the Book of Common Prayer. Wesley's book, like the Prayer Book, is a unity.

Though extracts may be useful and must be made, they are only fragments, and we want the whole. For a selection, Barrett's is good, and we leave it at that.

Of Cowper and Newton, I have been told, and am willing to believe, that Barrett chose all that was valuable and most that was tolerable. He did not overdo either, as he overdid Faber. But it is when we come to Montgomery that we see our debt most plainly. The more Montgomery is read the more his solid merit appears. It is a merit that is easily missed, for it has no showiness to recommend it. Barrett has nowhere shown his genius more; he made no mistakes in selecting from Montgomery, and any one who compares his selection with that made by the Methodists in 1904 will see at once Barrett's superiority. They score only in one place: they add, what Barrett omitted, the exquisite Communion hymn, ‘Be known to us in breaking bread'.

The Evangelical Revival gave more than the hymns of the Wesleys, Cowper, Newton, and Montgomery, but we proceed to the third great stream that came out of the past. This is the school of the elder Dissent, drawing its origin from the metrical Psalms and versions of Scripture that arose in Reformation times. One of the best known is one of the earliest: ‘All people that on earth do dwell' is the 100th Psalm in an Elizabethan version. In the times when every gentleman wrote verses, most divines wrote scriptural paraphrases and the energetic versified the whole Psalter. Here was the foundation of Doddridge's and Watts's hymns — a metrical Psalter with other paraphrases first, and then hymns for several occasions. The peculiar genius of Watts and Doddridge displayed itself in allegorizing the Psalms and the Old Testament generally in a Christian fashion. Doddridge, for example, turned Malachi's account of the profaning of the Lord's Table into a Communion hymn, ‘My God, and is Thy table spread?' and Watts made David speak like a Christian. Barrett broke away from the old Dissenting tradition of prefacing hymns proper by a metrical Psalter, and in his reaction from the tradition he used perhaps less of the paraphrases than will satisfy posterity. It is easy to forget that the Scottish Metrical Version is only one among many. That version approved by the Church of Scotland had many parallels in English Dissent until the Evangelical Revival, by suddenly enriching and enlarging the small section of hymns, made hymns first overshadow and then eject the metrical Psalms.

Of the hymns written by Watts and Doddridge, Barrett preserved but a tiny number. But it is not possible to regret so acutely what is omitted from these two writers as we regret the Wesley omissions. Though Watts, at times, probably excels Charles Wesley's best, the general mass of verse falls well below Wesley's average; and Doddridge, in the mass, is rather worse than Watts. Doddridge and Watts present more flank for attack than Charles Wesley presents. They stick less closely to scriptural ideas and language, and more often deserve the censure of John Wesley's adjective, ‘turgid'. But, when all is said, they are the crowning glory of Independent hymnology, and the suppression of the hymn, ‘I'll praise my Maker while I've breath', by the Congregational Hymnary is not only a vice, but an unnatural vice. Congregationalists so disloyal to their spiritual progenitors deserve to be admitted at once to some reunion of Churches.

These, then, were the three main contributions which history made to Dr. Barrett's book — the Oxford Movement, the Evangelical Revival, and the elder Dissent. The fourth contribution came from the contemporary or almost contemporary mass of writers whose work was not specially or obviously stamped by any of these schools. By his contemporaries, Dr. Barrett, like the rest of us, was over–impressed. He took them too seriously and ranked them too highly, as we all do. And if the Congregational Union had to busy itself about hymns, the most useful revision of Barrett's book that it might have done was the elimination of the unfit of the nineteenth century, not the bowdlerization and decimation of the classics and the handing round of doles to doubtful contemporaries of our own.

But although there is decidedly too much of it, contemporary hymnology provided Dr. Barrett with some good things. First we notice the honourable place taken by three of our own communion — Josiah Conder, Thomas Hornblower Gill, and George Rawson. Conder was a true poet, himself an editor of hymn–books, who did in truth amend when he altered. One hymn of his, even if he had written nothing else, would place him in the first rank: I mean, of course, ‘Bread of heaven, on Thee I feed'. Another Communion hymn, ‘By Christ redeemed, in Christ restored', would do the same for Rawson. Gill wrote nothing quite so good; and both his fame and Rawson's would benefit by the suppression of not less than 50 per cent. of their Hymnal hymns.

Less good than these, as he is even more voluble, is Horatius Bonar, a useful, pedestrian sort of man who is never very good and not often very bad. He badly needs the pruning knife, but we may be grateful for ‘I heard the voice of Jesus say' and ‘O Love of God, how strong and true' and ‘Fill Thou my life, O Lord my God'. Of Lynch and Lyte (except for ‘Abide with me') not much good is to be said. Bickersteth, Monsell, Ellerton are a sort of Anglican Horatius Bonars. Heber provides better things; Grant and Thring worse. Mrs. Alexander is to be spoken of with affection as one of the simplest and purest of writers, but most of all because she wrote ‘There is a green hill' and ‘Once in royal David's city'. Much of Charlotte Elliott's verse has had its day, but some of us owe her eternal gratitude for ‘Just as I am'. One great and typical Anglican hymnwriter in the last century was Bishop Walsham How. It might be respectably if not successfully maintained that he was, ‘taking quantity and quality into consideration' (as the Methodist Index says of Charles Wesley), the greatest hymn–writer of the nineteenth century. Barrett used him much, but hardly too much. In Barrett's hands he is never bad, yet the Methodists contrived to find and print much rubbish by him. In ‘O Word of God Incarnate', ‘We give Thee but Thine own', ‘O Jesus, Thou art standing', ‘It is a thing most wonderful', he is almost great. That other voluminous episcopal composer, Bishop Wordsworth, Barrett sifted and winnowed many times, we may be sure, before he was able to present such good grain and so little chaff as his book contains.

Barrett, I said, had no fads. He did not, therefore, in the manner of modern compilers, scour the ends of the earth for heretical and pagan productions, but when a Quaker like Whittier, Unitarians like Oliver Wendell Holmes and Bowring, and heroes like Carlyle offered hymns, he took them.

Though I am sure it has been tedious, I am not sure that this part of my paper has been irrelevant, because it at least reminds you of the vastness and variety of the corpus of hymns with which modern Christendom has endowed itself; and it brings before us the material on which we may exercise our critical, appreciative, and discriminating faculties. Having made this outline survey of the result of Dr. Barrett's work, I want next to notice the principles on which the hymns were selected, rejected, and altered in 1887, and then to consider the change in principles which forty years have brought. Dr. Barrett gave out as some of his principles that his book ‘should include some hymns which, though defective when tried by modern standards of taste and literary form, are yet closely connected with the history of the Evangelical faith in England, and with the spiritual experience of a large number of the members of Congregational churches; that it should give, wherever practicable, the original text of the hymns introduced. ‘Some alterations have been admitted on the ground that they have been sanctioned by long and general use, and form part of the compositions in which they occur as generally known; and others (very few in number) in correction of minor irregularities of metre, offences against taste, or suggestions of questionable doctrine in the original text.'

As a general statement, that seems to me to contain correct doctrine. You must be preserved from the antiquarian peril. Hymns are for Christians, not for poets nor for antiquarians. One persistent trouble is that, having shut the door against the poet, you find the antiquarian flying in at the window — the antiquarian who demands the original text whatever the cost in taste or style (which are small matters) or in power to express real religious faith (which is a great matter). A hymn's business is to strengthen the faith of today, not to present an historical record of the faith of the day before yesterday. That is not to say that hymns should express only the sentiment and aspirations of the moment; they should educate and purify faith, as well as record it; they should be better than the singer. It is not, therefore, a sufficient reason for scrapping a hymn that it is not written in the language which the butcher, the baker, the candlestick–maker, or the undergraduate would use today; its object is to make these people speak and think differently. But to do this, though removed from their vocabulary, it must be not too far removed. It must not be out of reach, and mere antiquarianism must not preserve what puts a hymn out of reach. Charles Wesley's amazing verse may he criticized, for instance, as near the boundary of pedantry and usefulness:

Those amaranthine bowers

(Unalienably ours)

Bloom, our infinite reward,

Rise, our permanent abode;

From the founded world prepared;

Purchased by the blood of God.

‘The founded world' is indeed a pleasing Latinism, and congregations bred on such stuff should not suffer from flabbiness of thought.

We now approach the problem of alterations. Let it be said at once that Barrett was of all alterers the most honest: usually, but not (I fear) always, he tells us the very line in which an alteration occurs. His example did not suffice to maintain this high standard in his successors. The editors of the Hymnary say ‘Altered' at the foot of the hymn, and try to hide their footprints.

High doctrine about the text of hymns has been set out by John Wesley in a paragraph of his immortal Preface. I shall not deny myself the pleasure of quoting it:

‘Many gentlemen have done my brother and me (though without naming us) the honour to reprint many of our hymns. Now they are perfectly welcome so to do, provided they print them just as they are. But I desire they would not attempt to mend them; for they really are not able. None of them is able to mend either the sense or the verse. Therefore, I must beg of them one of these two favours: either to let them stand just as they are, to take them for better for worse; or to add the true reading in the margin, or at the bottom of the page; that we may no longer be accountable either for the nonsense or for the doggerel of other men.'

Wesley's is high doctrine, and it is a pity that we cannot all attain to it; but we cannot. Barrett, you will notice, does almost all that Wesley asks. The advantage of some modification appears in one classical place: ‘Rock of ages'. Toplady, I think, wrote ‘While I draw this fleeting breath, When my eyestrings crack in death', and although we should not have complained, I imagine, if we had been brought up on that, it is difficult to believe that the now familiar ‘When my eyes shall close in death' is not an improvement. Between this and Wesley's Preface the great mass of alterations falls. Besides this change in ‘Rock of ages', Barrett could justify his version of ‘When I survey the wondrous Cross' by his doctrine that the hymn is the composition ‘as generally known'. ‘On which the Prince of glory died' has so long displaced ‘Where the young Prince of glory died' that the change cannot be called Barrett's. Yet we may doubt if it was a change originally worth making.

It is when we come to alterations — or, what is almost as bad, omissions because of ‘offences against taste' — that we begin to breathe an electric atmosphere. The real objection to alterations in the interest of taste — taste of the 1880's or any time else — is this: alterations of that sort are all on the principle of the lowest common denominator; they resemble the process of attrition; corners are rubbed off; peculiarities disappear; piquancy fails; one dead level is more and more approached. The good hymn as originally written could have been written by no one but its author. No one but Carlyle could write:

With force of arms we nothing can,

Full soon were we down–ridden.

But for us fights the Proper Man,

Whom God Himself hath bidden.

No one but Watts could write:

What though we go the world around

And search from Britain to Japan,

There shall be no religion found

So just to God, so safe for man.

No one but Charles Wesley could write:

Adam, descended from above!

Federal Head of all mankind,

The covenant of redeeming love

In Thee let every sinner find.

Me, me, who still in darkness sit,

Shut up in sin and unbelief,

Bring forth out of this hellish pit,

This dungeon of despairing grief.

No one but a scholastic Doctor or a most able imitator of a scholastic Doctor could write:

True God of true God,

Light of Light Eternal,

Lo He abhors not the Virgin's womb,

Son of the Father, Begotten not created.

These are the words that contain and convey character; they make the hymn itself. They are peculiar, piquant, characteristic. They are the enemies of taste. Taste omits, if it cannot prune them. Carlyle, says the man of taste, is too German, Watts too grotesque, Wesley too violent; the scholastic Doctor (or his imitator) too dogmatic. Let us have Mr. Symonds rather; not German nor grotesque nor violent nor dogmatic, not anything in fact.

These things shall be! a loftier race

Than e'er the world hath known shall rise

With flame of freedom in their souls

And light of knowledge in their eyes.

They shall be gentle, brave and strong

To spill no drop of blood, but dare

All that may plant man's lordship firm

On earth and fire and sea and air.

Or let us take refuge in Lord Houghton:

Our lives enriched with gentle thoughts

And loving deeds may be,

A stream that still the nobler grows

The nearer to the sea.

Nothing to offend taste there, because there is nothing that can be tasted. It is salt almost without savour; the L.C.D. of all good men; the religion of all sensible men; the very gospel of the men of goodwill.

This, then, being the pitfall of all who consider taste, let us see how well Dr. Barrett escaped it; and let us compare his performance with that of his successors. Barrett said no more than the truth when he said that he had been moderate in altering hymns in the cause of taste. Like Warren Hastings, he had cause to be astonished at his own moderation. He omitted a great many hymns, no doubt because he thought them in bad taste (many of Wesley's), but if he thought a hymn good, as a rule he let it stand unaltered. Taste, I am sure, made him omit that noble hymn on the Name of Jesus which should stand everywhere beside Newton's ‘How sweet the name of Jesus sounds'. I mean

Jesus, the Name high over all

In hell, or earth, or sky,

Angels and men before it fall,

And devils fear and fly.

Jesus, the Name to sinners dear,

The name to sinners given;

It scatters all their guilty fear,

It turns their hell to heaven.

‘Devils fearing and flying', I make no doubt, struck Dr. Barrett as bad taste. Even the mention of devils he seems generally to have disliked, and the state of taste in the 1880's certainly would not have allowed him to put baldly over a section of his book, as the Methodists had done, ‘Describing Hell'. Before you smile, ponder this: Dr. Barrett's successors have carried his prejudices farther and, unless extremely pressed, consider the mention of angels and heaven in almost as bad taste as the mention of devils and hell. I must pause here to deplore our subservience to a fashion that has banished those splendidly truculent hymns which heartened our predecessors in hard times. As a change from our constant wail about the failure of the Church, I turn at times with satisfaction to the brave words of the men of old.

Into a world of ruffians sent

I walk on hostile ground;

While human bears on slaughter bent

And ravening wolves surround.

Watched by the world's malignant eye,

Who load us with reproach and shame,

As servants of the Lord Most high,

As zealous for His glorious Name,

We ought in all His paths to move

With holy fear and humble love.

Only have faith in God;

In faith your foes assail;

Not wrestling against flesh and blood

But all the powers of hell;

From thrones of glory driven,

By flaming vengeance hurled,

They throng the air and darken heaven

And rule the lower world.

On earth th' usurpers reign,

Exert their baneful power;

O'er the poor fallen souls of men

They tyrannize their hour.

But shall believers fear?

But shall believers fly?

Or see the bloody cross appear

And all their powers defy?

Jesu's tremendous name

Puts all our foes to flight;

Jesus, the meek, the angry Lamb,

A Lion is in fight.

By all hell's host withstood,

We all hell's host o'erthrow,

And conquering them, through Jesu's blood,

We still to conquer go.

One good example of the working of taste Dr. Barrett provided. He confesses that he altered Neale's version of Andrew of Crete's hymn ‘Christian, dost thou see them'.

Christian! dost thou see them

On the holy ground,

How the troops of Midian

Prowl and prowl around?

So wrote Neale. Barrett found the reference to Midian, and (we may suspect) the word ‘prowl', rather grotesque. ‘The troops of Midian' become the less unfamiliar ‘powers of darkness', who ‘compass thee around' instead of prowling.

How the powers of darkness

Compass thee around.

A respectable couplet of which no one need be ashamed; but it lacks the grip, I think, of the ruder original.

The alteration of the second verse illustrates a change due to the doctrine, not taste. Neale wrote:

Christian, dost thou feel them,

How they work within,

Striving, tempting, luring,

Goading into sin?

Christian, never tremble;

Never be down–cast;

Smite them by the virtue

Of the Lenten fast.

Clearly this would never do; ‘the virtue of the Lenten fast' must be generalized for Dr. Barrett's constituency.

Gird thee for the conflict;

Watch and pray and fast

does the trick So used, the word ‘fast' gives the rhyme and is doctrinally innocuous.

With this compare the treatment by Dr. Barrett and by the Methodists of Mrs. Alexander's hymn which was written for St. Andrew's Day and is inspired by the narrative of his call:

Jesus calls us; o'er the tumult

Of our life's wild, restless sea.

Day by day His sweet voice soundeth,

Saying, ‘Christian, follow me.'

As of old St. Andrew heard it,

By the Galilean lake,

Turned from home, and friends, and kindred,

Leaving all for His dear sake.

Whether Dr. Barrett thought that the mention of St Andrew might lead to invocation of saints among modern Congregationalists, or that a hymn naming him could not be conveniently sung on any day but St. Andrew's Day, I do not know. For some reason he cut the verse out. He left the hymn perhaps better balanced without it, with its four verses now all built on one pattern, yet poorer (I think) by the loss of a personal allusion. The Methodists, ever diplomatic, have found a formula to appease all parties:

As, of old, apostles heard it by the Galilean lake.

Dr. Barrett had warned people in advance that they would find in his book some hymns which were defective when tried by modern standards of taste, because they were closely connected with the experience of evangelical religion. He was as good as his word. He gave them unaltered what his successors have been too feeble to give, Cowper's noble and historic hymn, ‘There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Immanuel's veins'. He did more. It might have been hard in 1883, though it was too easy in 1916, to suppress that well–loved hymn, but Barrett was under no definite obligation to add another hymn open to most of the objections that assail Cowper's, even to the use of the word ‘veins'. Yet Barrett added Caswall's version of an Italian hymn:

Glory be to Jesus,

Who, in bitter pains,

Poured for me His Life–blood

From His sacred veins.

Grace and life eternal

In that Blood I find;

Blest be His compassion

Infinitely kind.

Blest through endless ages

Be the precious stream,

Which from endless torments

Doth the world redeem.

This proves Barrett's courage. He went against the taste of his time and added to the rock of offence because he knew that this hymn, charged with a simple childlike piety, was too good to be unknown among Congregationalists.

Why, then, if we grant his courage — as we must — why did he suppress that verse of ‘When I survey the wondrous Cross' which has now almost passed from memory?

His dying crimson like a robe

Spreads o'er His body on the tree;

Then am I dead to all the globe;

And all the globe is dead to me.

It is strange and inexcusable, the worst blot on Barrett's fame.

In Barrett, then, in 1883 we can see the beginnings of that painful bowdlerization of hymns that still continues. Barrett is struggling with the tendency new in his times, now giving way unexpectedly, now carrying reprisals into the enemy's camp. His successors have not usually altered this sort of expression: they simply drop the hymn. Even the Methodists, we note in passing, are guilty. They had enriched hymnology beyond all others by hymns on the death of Christ, but their glory is become their shame. I do not speak of hymns which were perhaps needlessly and unscripturally trying to modern taste:

My Jesus to know and to feel His Blood flow,

'Tis life everlasting, 'tis heaven below.

I speak of the fanatical prejudice against solemn words.

O Thou eternal Victim, slain

A sacrifice for guilty man,

By the eternal Spirit made

An offering in the sinner's stead;

Our everlasting Priest art Thou

And plead'st Thy death for sinners now.

Thy offering still continues new;

Thy vesture keeps its bloody hue;

Thou stand'st the ever–slaughtered Lamb;

Thy priesthood still remains the same;

Thy years, O God, can never fail;

Thy goodness is unchangeable.

That, one of the greatest Communion hymns written by Wesley, cannot be made other than it is: a hymn about life by death and healing by blood. If the idea is repugnant to modern taste, there is a case for allowing modern taste to starve itself still further by banishing the hymn entirely. There is no case for doing what the modern Methodists do: they rewrite one line. ‘Thy vesture keeps its bloody hue' becomes ‘Thy vesture keeps its crimson hue'. You cannot tinker with the stupendous things: you must take them or leave them. If the catholic and Evangelical doctrine of atonement by the blood of Christ be true, no expression of it can be too strong; all, on the contrary, must be too weak. And if it is not true, you want not dilution of it, but abandonment. This is what our modern editors will not see.

Their blindness does not depart when they pass from the Atonement. An example, peculiarly flagrant, occurs in the Congregational Hymnary among the Pentecost hymns. For this festival, Keble wrote his classical ‘When God of old came down from heaven'. Not even our modernists could ignore this; they had, anyhow, a feeling for Pentecost as one of the vaguer feasts. Nor could they claim that the hymn was too long to be printed — at least as Barrett had printed it; they had themselves printed far worse hymns at infinitely greater length. And yet — and yet, they could not keep their bungling hands off Keble. That second verse:

Around the trembling mountain's base

The prostrate people lay,

A day of wrath and not of grace,

A dim and dreadful day.

It gave a horrid notion of God; that was indeed very unpleasant. To be sure, it is exactly what the Bible says happened at Sinai, and, after all, it is about Sinai that Keble writes. But it is not the modernist's notion of God; and since by his nature he cannot be honest and say, ‘Scrap Sinai; scrap Moses; scrap this O.T. revelation; it is not true', he says, ‘I will keep just enough of Keble to flatter myself that there is no break with the tradition (that is bad form — like the old Dissenters), but not enough to convey any particular meaning. Keble's aim, it is true, was to contrast Sinai and Pentecost and yet to connect them. I will keep both, cutting out both contrast and connexion. I will so make the best (or worst) of both worlds'. Encouraged, he proceeds and reads next:

The fires, that rushed on Sinai down

In sudden torrents dread,

Now gently light, a glorious crown,

On every sainted head.

And as on Israel's awe–struck ear

The voice exceeding loud,

The trump, that angels quake to hear,

Thrilled from the deep, dark cloud;

So, when the Spirit of our God

Came down His flock to find,

A voice from Heav'n was heard abroad,

A rushing, mighty wind.

Here we have two signs of Pentecost, the fire and wind, with their types at Sinai. The editors of the Hymnary leave us the wind, but cut out the flames of fire. To the plain man they stand or fall together. Either something unusual happened at Pentecost or nothing unusual happened. If nothing — well, why waste a breezy Whitsunday morning by singing about it at all? You had better be at golf. If something worth singing about happened, why strain out the flame and swallow the wind, as the editors of the Hymnary do? Well, for this reason. If you are ingenious you can believe that that first Whitsunday was a very windy day and that the early Christians, not being ingenious, but simple, thought the wind had some connexion with a spiritual experience which they agreed to call the Holy Ghost. You can retain the verse about the wind and so preserve the tradition of Keble's verses and your self–respecting intellect. But the verse about the flame is more difficult. To retain it commits one (if pressed) to more than a windy day at Pentecost. A thunderstorm with lightning seems the obvious way out, but to ask for a combination of both wind and fire on the same day as the Christians had their experience of the Holy Ghost is asking perhaps a little too much of historical coincidence, generous though that goddess of the critic may be. It reduces the risks to cut out the flame; and, anyhow, tradition and our face are saved without it. I do not suggest that this form of argument was openly followed on the editorial board which produced the Hymnary: but, though unexpressed, that state of mind underlay the choice of certain verses and the omission of others. And it is of all states of mind in which hymns can be selected and altered the most dangerous, dishonest, and damnable. It is ludicrous, too; but that is nothing.

This same unwillingness to face certain simple facts and make up one's mind one way or the other about them has in the last. Forty years wrought another set of weakening changes in what were sturdy hymns. Barrett sometimes shrank from calling a spade a spade; but his successors shrink more often. If you open a book like Worship Song, you detect the faint odour of a literary Keating's Powder: a sort of spiritual insect killer — fatal to worms. The elder hymn–writers delighted in worms. Doddridge even wrote of our Lord that

Sinful worms to Him are given,

A colony to people heaven.

The elder hymn–writers overdid it. We weary of the metaphor, exact and scriptural as it is. But our delicate–souled editors pursue the worm with a cruelty and diligence altogether beyond its deserts. You would suppose, would you not? that among decent men the writer of such princely stuff as this might be allowed one metaphor of his own choosing:

Angels and men, resign your claim

To pity, mercy, love, and grace;

These glories crown Jehovah's name

With an incomparable blaze.

Who is a pardoning God like Thee

Or who has grace so rich and free?

But he also wrote:

Crimes of such horror to forgive,

Such guilty daring worms to spare.

Where is the Keating's Powder? The Congregational Union's Committee did not fail to extirpate the worms.

Such dire offences to forgive,

Such guilty daring souls to spare.

That is less offensive in several ways. ‘Dire offences', if you come to think of it, is quite a non–committal phrase. ‘Dire' — no one in ordinary life uses that word, so no one minds it being attached to his ‘offences'. Yet the people to whom much is forgiven love much. It was the forgiveness of ‘crimes of such horror' (not of these ‘dire offences') that provoked the ecstatic cry :

In wonder lost, with trembling joy

We take our pardon from our God,

Pardon for crimes of deepest dye,

A pardon bought with Jesu's blood.

No one is going to be lost in wonder about ‘dire offences': make no mistake about that. It is the same pettifogging spirit that is at work in Prayer Book revision. The modern Anglican does not wish to call himself a miserable sinner, a miserable offender, to say that the burden of his sins is intolerable. He is not a miserable sinner, but an honest seeker after truth: the burden of his sins is not intolerable, imperceptible rather. Very well, but don't expect to be able to pass on to what the Methodists used to call ‘The Pleasantness and Excellence of Religion' unless you have known the section ‘For Mourners convinced of Sin'. Our editors are in the same state of mind as Mr. Chesterton's mob which shouted not ‘No Popery', but ‘Not quite so much Popery'. Well, the Pope cares little for such mobs; and Satan, who

Trembles when he sees

The weakest saint upon his knees,

trembles little before congregations that are too discreet to call themselves saints and too genteel to call themselves sinners.

One example of a change for doctrinal reasons, and I end this part of my paper. Doddridge, as good a Dissenter as most of us need wish to be, wrote a Communion hymn. He wrote it in the eighteenth century. He wrote it, that is to say, before people had begun to suppose that the only proper doctrine for Dissenters is the so–called Zwinglian doctrine, the doctrine that the Lord's Supper is a memorial feast and nothing more. He wrote, therefore:

Hail sacred feast which Jesus makes,

Rich banquet of His flesh and blood.

Thrice happy he who here partakes

That sacred stream, that heavenly food.

Barrett, since he printed Keble's communion hymn,

Fresh from the atoning sacrifice

The world's Redeemer bleeding lies,

That man His foe for whom He bled

May take Him as his daily bread,

could hardly complain of Doddridge's; and he let it stand. But it offends some; and you will find elsewhere the meaning weakened and watered down:

Rich banquet of His flesh and blood.

Even that is too much and it becomes:

Sweet emblems of His flesh and blood.

Poor Doddridge is suspected of Popery by our lovers of the feeble. One change in this hymn Barrett did make lower down.

Why are these dainties still in vain

Before unwilling hearts displayed?

wrote the unblushing Doddridge. But ‘dainties', we must agree, is too much; especially if your memory of the Methodist hymn reinforces the objection:

O bid the wretched sons of need

On soul–reviving dainties feed.

For ‘dainties' read ‘emblems', says Barrett. Since ‘emblems' is distinctly out of harmony with the thought of the hymn it would probably be better simply to respect Doddridge's own word, ‘banquet' — ‘Why is the banquet still in vain?'

This same hymn introduces what I want to say about the place we Dissenters give to hymns in divine service. You remember that the hymn contains an interesting, startling word:

Was not for you the victim slain?

Are you forbid the children's bread?

‘Victim': that is hardly the expression that conventional notions lead us to expect a Protestant Dissenter, writing in the basest of Latitudinarian times, to use at the Lord's Table? ‘Victim': it is the word of the Roman Mass, too strong for the Book of Common Prayer. It is the highest of high sacrificial doctrine. Yes, but it is there. Doddridge said it.

Now hear Wesley. There is between the Wolds and the sea in Wesley's county (and mine) within tolerable distance of Lincoln Cathedral, the pitiful ruin of Bardney Abbey, left as Henry VIII and his followers left it, when they had no more use for it. They had melted down the bells and the lead on the roof and had stolen the sacred vessels. You may see the place in the centre of the nave of the abbey church where they lit their fire and melted the lead; and you may see more. You may see close by, unharmed because it was only of use to pious men, the altar of the five wounds of Christ, with its five signs of the Cross; one in each corner and one in the centre. Who thought of this or the five wounds in eighteenth–century England? Who preserved the continuity of Christian devotion in Bardney? Not those Anglican farmers of Bardney who carted away the abbey stones to build their cowsheds. But Wesley was teaching their Methodist labourers that same catholic and evangelical faith, that ‘Enthusiasm', hateful to bishops and scorned by modernists, in almost the same accents as the Bardney monks had known. Within a stone's–throw of the altar of the five wounds, the Methodists were singing:

Weary souls, that wander wide

From the central point of bliss,

Turn to Jesus crucified,

Fly to those dear wounds of His.

Five bleeding wounds He bears,

Received on Calvary;

They pour effectual prayers,

They strongly plead for me.

It is odd, is it not? to find the language of medieval devotion coming back on the lips, not of archbishops and deans in apostolic succession, but of Doddridge and Wesley. This language, these images of

The Master's marred and wounded mien,

His hands, His feet, His side

(to use Montgomery's words), I am aware, have come once again to be familiar in the thoughts and speech of all English Christians, Anglican and Nonconformist. They could not indeed be lost permanently unless Christian emotion was itself to perish. They had been wrongfully suppressed by the Arianism and Latitudinarianism of the eighteenth century. But the way of their return: that it is that interests me, first by hymns and afterwards by catholic ornaments. It reminds us of the possibility (or is it a probability?) that the modern Romish worship of the Sacred Heart of Jesus owes something to a devotional book by Oliver Cromwell's Congregational chaplain, Thomas Goodwin, The Heart of Christ in Heaven towards Sinners on Earth.

So, in piety, do extremes agree: Catholic and Evangelical meet, and kiss one another at the Cross.

Hymns are for us Dissenters what the liturgy is for the Anglican. They are the framework, the setting, the conventional, the traditional part of divine service as we use it. They are, to adopt the language of the liturgiologists, the Dissenting Use. That is why we understand and love them as no one else does. You have only to attend Anglican services to discover that the Anglican, though he can write a hymn, cannot use it. It does not fit the Prayer Book service. The Anglican, because he has what Borrow justly called ‘England's sublime liturgy', has been careless of other liturgies, like the liturgy of hymns. He has about as much feeling for the correct liturgical use of hymns as Dr. Orchard has for the correct liturgical use of collects; I cannot put it stronger or fairer. It is with hymns and collects as (they say) it is with ‘hands' in riding — you must be born with them. An Anglican clergyman to whom in other respects no one could deny the adjective ‘educated' will choose as a hymn before a sermon:

O worship the King

All glorious above.

This is a tolerable rhyme, useful to usher in late–comers, but a most inadequate preparation for the Preaching of the Word. What that august occasion demands a Methodist local preacher knows by instinct:

Come, Holy Ghost, for moved by Thee

The Prophets wrote and spoke.

Unlock the Truth, Thyself the key,

Unseal the sacred Book.

Or:

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.

And what is true of Anglicans is almost as true of Presbyterians. They have their metrical psalms. They can use them; we cannot. Nor do we understand the use of paraphrases as the Presbyterians do. How terrible a loss this is a very little experience of Presbyterian worship will soon teach us. On the other hand, we English Free Churchmen have little to learn from Anglicans or from Scotland about the use of hymns. We mark times and seasons, celebrate festivals, express experiences, and expound doctrines by hymns. {The two village services which I attended on Easter Day perfectly illustrate this — contrast between the Anglicans and ourselves. In the Parish Church there was Appropriate liturgical celebration of the Resurrection: the Proper Preface in the Communion, the Easter Collect, and in place of the Venite commonly sung at Matins the special Anthem, ‘Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us, therefore let us keep the feast'. Those things any person familiar with the Prayer Book could prophesy would come; but the hymns were a gamble. One could not be sure what the Vicar would choose. I feared the worst and I was right. But in the evening at the chapel, though I was uncertain about the prayers, there was no gamble about the hymns. I knew we should have Charles Wesley's Easter hymn, ‘Christ the Lord is risen today', with its twenty–four ‘Alleluias'; and we did have it. Among any Dissenters worth the name that hymn is as certain to come on Easter Day as the Easter Collect in the Established Church. And mark this further — those twenty–four ‘Alleluias' are not there for nothing: the special use of ‘Alleluia' at Easter comes down to us from the most venerable liturgies. Our hymns are our liturgy, an excellent liturgy. Let us study it respect it, use it, develop it, and boast of it}. There is, I believe, but one hymn with which the Wesleyan Conference can open its annual session, ‘For the Society on meeting':

And are we yet alive

And see each other's face?

Glory and praise to Jesus give

For His redeeming grace.

What troubles have we seen,

What conflicts have we past,

Fightings without and fears within

Since we assembled last.

There is one hymn without which no Watch–Night service is complete:

Come, let us anew

Our journey pursue,

Roll round with the year,

And never stand still till the Master appear.

We recite no Creed, because our hymns are full of the form of sound words:

Let earth and heaven combine,

Angels and men agree,

To praise in songs Divine

The Incarnate Deity,

Our God contracted to a span,

Incomprehensibly made man.

‘The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, the Holy Ghost incomprehensible': it is the word of the Athanasian Creed. Every clause in the Nicene and in the Athanasian Creed has its parallel in our hymn–books; and if we use no crucifix, no stations of the Cross, no processions, no banners, no incense, you must attribute it not to the fancy that we have neither need nor understanding of what these things represent. We do not use these things because our hymns revive the sacred scenes and stir the holy emotions with a power and a purity denied to all but the greatest craftsmen. There are pictures of the Crucifixion that rival, and perhaps excel, the passion hymns of Watts and Wesley; but those pictures are to be sought in distant lands by the few and the wealthy for a few moments only. The hymn–book offers masterpieces for all who have an ear to hear, every day and in every place, to every worshipper. When I am informed that Dissenting worship is bare and cold, making no appeal to the emotions because it does not employ the tawdry and flashy productions of fifth–rate ecclesiastical art–mongers, I am at no loss for an answer. I am only at a loss when I am asked to explain why, holding these treasures, we turn so often from them — the great passionate, doctrinal, emotional hymns — to the pedestrian rhymers of ethical commonplaces.

Out of all this come two sets of general observations. If you grant that this is, at least among us Dissenters, the true place of the hymn in worship, it follows, first, that the selection of the hymns, the setting of the framework upon which the whole service is to hang, the choice of the liturgy for the day, this goes, of right and of duty, to the minister. The selection of hymns by organists and choirmasters, or the gambling of them between the organist and the minister in the vestry ten minutes before the service begins — these are abuses that explain the confusion of thought that marks the progress of our services. You cannot tell where you will be next, what has been done, what is still to come. The separate parts of the service are not distinct, not articulated. There are two prayers. But what is the difference except the difference of length? It is often hard to tell. The same ground is traversed in each; too hurriedly first and afterwards at too leisurely a pace. And the hymns, if chosen at random, traverse the same ground. I take an extreme example: if a minister chooses (as he never should) that general jail–delivery hymn of Bonar, ‘When the weary, seeking rest, to Thy goodness flee', he has clearly provided for general intercessions at that service with more than ample adequacy. He ought not to do it all over again in his prayer, and (if he thinks of what he is doing) he will not. But if Bonar's hymn is let off at him at the last minute by an organist who likes the tune (and such there be) and if the minister has provided for intercession on the same lines in his prayer, then either he must improvise a fresh plan of service and prayer or he must repeat the same feature of service — two very bad things. Don't tell me that I have forgotten the tune problem. I have not. I allow the organist all his rights there; and I will not bar him from the absolute choice of some few hymns, if he selects them well in advance, and informs the minister before the minister plans his service. But as I protected the text of the hymns from the antiquarian, so I would protect their tunes from the mere musician. The glory of God, not of composers or even of organ–builders, is the end of divine service.

My second observation turns on this question, which, having suffered so much, you have a right to put to me: What do you think makes a good hymn? And, as some would go on, Why cannot we write good hymns today? In answer to the second part of that question I should reply that we both can and do write good hymns today. They are, no doubt, difficult to discover; but at all times people have found it difficult to discover good things in their contemporaries. Good things have always been easily smothered by rubbish, as they are today; and you must give the rubbish time to die down. The nineteenth century, as I have tried to show, produced some great hymns, some of the greatest; but it is not until the Havergals and the Fabers begin to droop and wither that we can see what is truly good. I make no question but that it is the same today. ‘Wait and see' is the only wise, as it is the only liberal, policy.

We return to the other part of the inquiry: What makes a good hymn? Two groups of hymns — the evangelical hymns of the eighteenth century and the medieval hymns of the Latin Church — may supply the answer. These seem to me to be our best hymns. No competent critic, I think, will deny that they are very good. Now, if you look at the evangelical group, you notice two things. First, these hymns combine personal experience with a presentation of historic events and doctrines. Full of the intensest and most individual passion as they are, they contain more than that: the writers look back from their own experience to those experiences of the Incarnate Son of God on which their faith was built. This gives them a steadiness, a firmness, a security against mere emotionalism and sentimentality which more recent writers, trying to lay bare their souls, have found it difficult to avoid. Look first, for instance, at this nineteenth–century hymn:

I lift my heart to Thee,

Saviour Divine;

For Thou art all to me,

And I am Thine.

Is there on earth a closer bond than this,

That ‘My Beloved's mine and I am His'?

To Thee, Thou bleeding Lamb,

I all things owe;

All that I have and am,

And all I know.

All that I have is now no longer mine,

And I am not mine own; Lord, I am Thine.

I choose purposely a hymn of unquestionable sincerity and of doctrine as like as may be to that of the eighteenth–century evangelical so that no extraneous differences may confuse the issue. But, though the hymn is not without merit, you notice the almost morbid self–consciousness of the writer. Throughout five verses he ploughs through his own hopes and experiences and emotions and has hardly time to make even an indirect reference to anything outside his own feelings. {The same is almost true of ‘O Love, that will not let me go'.}

A great hymn of the eighteenth century describing a similar frame of mind and heart is familiar enough to us all. Notice how rapidly it glances from the writer's experience to the divine experience and passion that is the very foundation of the writer's hope:

And can it be, that I should gain

An interest in the Saviour's blood?

Died He for me who caused His pain?

For me who Him to death pursued?

Amazing love! how can it be

That Thou, my God, should'st die for me!

He left His Father's throne above,

So free, so infinite His grace,

Emptied Himself of all but love

And bled for Adam's helpless race;

'Tis mercy all, immense and free;

For O my God it found out me.

Long my imprisoned spirit lay

Fast bound in sin and nature's night;

Thine eye diffused a quick'ning ray;

I woke; the dungeon flamed with light;

My chains fell off; my heart was free,

I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

It is not less personal than the other hymn but it is less introspective and has more of a godward quality. And notice how carefully the writer expresses his experience of liberation in the words of St. Peter's deliverance from prison. It is as if, knowing how difficult it is to express religious emotion without nauseating sentimentality, he were timid about going outside the language already well tested for the expression of religious emotion, individual as his emotion may be. {Contrast in the same way consecutive hymns in the Hymnal, the nineteenth–century Bubier's ‘I would commune with Thee, my God' with Wesley's ‘Talk with us, Lord, Thyself reveal'.}

You have the supreme example of this transmuting our own experience into a classical, scriptural, authorized form, purging out all unworthy self–centredness and yet keeping expression all the more alive for the change, in the greatest of Charles Wesley's hymns, ‘Come, O Thou Traveller unknown'. Here, under the form of Jacob wrestling with the angel, Wesley tells of his own spiritual conversion.

It is this quality, I am persuaded, that John Wesley had in mind when he commended his brother's hymns as Scriptural. [Preface to the Collection of Hymns for the People Called Methodists] It was a merit in Wesley's eyes, not because of any rigidly bibliolatrous notions, but partly because, as a scholar and a gentleman, he liked to see great things clothed in great language.

And this brings us to the other quality of these eighteenth–century hymn–writers. They were trained in the school of the Greek and Latin classics. This gave them, not only a knowledge of metre and a facility in verse–making that no other training can give, but also a mastery of the art of allusion — deft, relevant, and appropriate. What he had done at Westminster and Oxford to the mythology, the poets, and the orators of Greece and Rome Charles Wesley in later life continued to do to the Scriptures. That is one of the reasons why almost every verse of his 2,000 hymns contains a scriptural allusion.

You see what this meant, not only for Charles Wesley, but for all that antiquity–ridden century. It had, because of the form of its secular education, a training in expressing its own experience in conventional images which few recent writers have had. The age of the romantic poets that followed produced greater poetry, but lesser hymns. Hymn–writers follow, at a distance, the fashions of writing prevalent in the highest circles; and as long as poetic thought of all sorts found a strictly metrical expression, the hymn–writers (who must use rather rigid metres) could work easily because they were swimming with the current of their day. After the romantic poets had burst the bonds of metre and no self–respecting person wrote ‘verses' any more, the hymn–writer found himself fighting against the current of poetic fashion or left in a backwater. The best people no longer wrote L.M. or S.M. or C.M. or 6 8s, but only P.M. (peculiar metre). The classical art of allusion to well–known events and the use of conventional metaphors were now taken to be the sign of an inferior mind; and if there be anything in my contention about the value of a union of personal experience with references to the historic events on which the Faith is built, it is clear that the nineteenth–century hymn–writers were at a disadvantage. They tried to express themselves in language mostly their own. They borrowed less from the rich treasury of the Christian classics — the Scriptures.

The other class of the greatest hymns that I mentioned — the medieval Latin and Greek hymns — illustrates a similar thesis. What is the almost magical charm of hymns like ‘All glory, laud, and honour' and ‘O happy band of pilgrims'? No one can say with certainty, but simplicity — simplicity of thought and of expression, the simplicity of children and the Kingdom of Heaven — is an element in it. And the simplicity, if you look closely at it, consists in this: the writer takes an event in the life of our Lord and after the plainest mention of it joins with it some petition or reflexion which concerns his own life.

The people of the Hebrews

With palms before Thee went;

Our praise and prayer and anthems

Before Thee we present.

To Thee before Thy Passion

They sang their hymns of praise;

To Thee now high exalted

Our melody we raise.

The Cross that Jesus carried

He carried as your due;

The Crown that Jesus weareth

He weareth it for you.

It is the art that conceals art; but I believe the elements are the same as in the great eighteenth–century hymns.

And, lastly, the greatest hymns are Christian, thoroughly and irrevocably Christian; and when I say Christian I mean that they concern Christ, not that they are what is called Christian in spirit, or indirectly or unconsciously Christian:

My heart is full of Christ, and longs

Its glorious matter to declare.

Of Him I make my loftier songs ...

That is the confession of the greatest hymn–writers. They go back to the New Testament, and especially to the Gospels. They are not merely theistic, like the psalm paraphrases: great as some of those are, they miss the highest note. Even ‘O God of Bethel' or ‘Through all the changing scenes of life' strikes with a faint chill of Old Testament theology the disciple who has sat at the feet of Jesus. Still less are the greatest hymn–songs of human aspiration or of human fellowship. Dare I say it? Bunyan's pilgrim song is not among the greatest hymns for precisely this reason. I know its excellencies; I yield to no one in love of Bunyan; but there, at any rate, he does not go deep enough. Not good fellowship, but Christ, is the subject of the greatest hymns.

That is why all the greatest hymns are orthodox, and why we Dissenters have preserved intact (even better than Churches with more elaborate safeguards) the full catholic and evangelical faith. Hymns are the safest protection and the surest vehicle of orthodoxy. The language of the sublimest hymns in all ages and in all communions is the same:

Thou art the King of Glory, O Christ;

Thou art the everlasting Son of the Father.

When Thou tookest upon Thee to deliver man

Thou didst not abhor the Virgin's womb.

When Thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death

Thou didst open the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers.

So says the Te Deum and Charles Wesley goes on:

Then let us sit beneath His cross

And gladly catch the healing stream:

All things for Him account but loss

And give up all our hearts to Him.

Of nothing think or speak beside,

My Lord, my love, is crucified.

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