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As mankind’s most ancient and most beloved kind of poetry, the hymn is characterized by depth of thought, by patent serviceableness, and by lasting beauty. Any kind of art, any form of expression whatever, to be perenially fresh and dear to men must be at once profound, relevant, and comely. The constant returning of generation after generation to the hymnal as to Jacob’s well attests the depth and soundness and beauty of it. The hymn-book is a lasting popular Outline of Life, a lyric handbook of philosophy, ethics, and spiritual beauty.

The hymn-book contains a system of philosophy; short and simple as these lyrics are, they have given to innumerable minds a satisfying answer to the question of the source, the nature, and the end of all things. They assert that the origin and support of all life is eternal God, infinitely knowing, just, and kind. The hymn-book teaches a system of ethics; it asserts that man can know, and ought to do, the will of God. The hymn-book teaches a system of esthetics; it asserts that life finds its perfect bloom of beauty and its crown of happiness only in accord with the nature and will of God.

The wise and the prudent may make pause at the 320 hymn’s simple and audaciously confident assertions as to the great mysteries that baffle all the faculties of reason; yet the more wise and prudent hold that poets and prophets can, by the power of chastened imagination, faith, inspiration, go surely beyond the common faculties of reason, experiencing, as Wordsworth says,

a blessed mood

In which the burden of the mystery,

In which the heavy and the weary weight

Of all this unintelligible world,

Is lightened;

and they “see into the soul of things.”

The hymn-book bases its system upon manifold and powerful authority. The hymns, being the thought of strong and deeply experienced souls, kindled into song, claim (1) the regal authority of Poetry. Having a sweeping acceptance by all sorts and conditions of men of religion, they claim (2) the authority of democratic election. Being the choric voice of organized religion speaking out of its ages of experience and out of its present life, they claim the authority of (3) the church catholic. Being, much of it, paraphrase of the Psalms and all of it, in accord with the Bible, the hymnal claims (4) the authority of the Holy Scriptures.

Further, says Charles Wesley’s hymn,

A thousand oracles divine

Their common beams unite.


The hymns, then, speak of the origin of all things in terms of certain knowledge. A hymn by John Sterling published in 1840 begins with these lines:

O Source divine, and Life of all,

The fount of being’s wondrous sea,

Thy depth would every heart appall

That saw not love supreme in thee.

A hymn by Oliver Wendell Holmes speaks in simple words of the great mystery:

Lord of all being, throned afar,

Thy glory flames in sun and star;

Center and source of every sphere,

Yet to each loving heart how near!

The Hebrew psalm, turned into English numbers by Isaac Watts, thus asserts the eternity of all-ruling Deity:

Before the hills in order stood,

Or earth received her frame,

From everlasting thou art God,

To endless years the same.

Another hymn by Watts asserts the eternal supremacy of God—the primary hymnal theme:

Thy throne eternal ages stood,

Ere seas or stars were made.

Eternity with all its years

Stands present in thy view;


To thee there’s nothing old appears,

Great God, there’s nothing new.

Many of the hymns speak of this inward assurance of God being corroborated by the testimony of external nature, especially in the grander aspects such as sunrise, storms, mountains, and the sky at night. Again to quote Watts, who is speaking evidently from his own emotions as well as from the artistic and spiritual tradition of the Psalms:

Those mighty orbs proclaim thy power;

Their motions speak thy skill;

And on the wings of every hour

We read thy patience still.

Lines such as the following gleaned from the hymn-book carry on the same idea, creation declaring the Creator:

Thou who has sown the sky with stars, setting thy thoughts in gold—

The very dust inbreathed by thee, the clods all cold and dead,

Wake into beauty and to life, to give thy children bread.


When morning gilds the skies,

My heart awakening cries.

Caswall, from the German.

When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers—

The Eighth Psalm.


He plants his footsteps in the sea,

He rides upon the storm.


And bright is his path on the wings of the storm.


Addison’s familiar and ornate lines repeat the ancient inspired idea, “The heavens declare the glory of God”:

The spacious firmament on high,

With all the blue ethereal sky,

The spangled heavens, a shining frame,

Their great Original proclaim.

Lines from Sir Robert Grant’s hymn, “O, Worship the King,” spring evidently from a contemplation of the sky:

O tell of his might, O sing of his grace,

Whose robe is the light, whose canopy space.

Thy bountiful care what tongue can recite?

It breathes in the air, it shines in the light.

The hymns declare that human beings may have sure apprehension of the infinite spirit, and communion with it:

His very word of grace is strong

As that which built the skies;

The voice that rolls the stars along

Speaks all the promises.



An American hymn by Frederick L. Hosmer asserts the reality of human acquaintanceship with the personality of God:

O thou in all thy might so far,

In all thy love so near,

Beyond the range of sun and star,

And yet beside us here:

What heart can comprehend thy name;

Or searching find thee out,

Who art within a quickening flame,

A Presence round about?

Two lyrical statements of this basic idea in the Bible, one in the Old Testament, one in the New, are unsurpassed in grandeur of conception and splendor of expression; they are true hymns, though as yet there is no adequate metrical version in English. Perhaps there will never be. The passages state in ultimate words the idea of the immanence and permanence of Deity:

Whither shall I go from thy Spirit?

Or whither shall I flee from thy presence?

If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there:

If I make my bed in the grave, behold thou art there.

If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;

Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.

If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me.


Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee.

The passage from the New Testament, part of a letter of St. Paul to the Romans, is an outburst of song:

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.

It is no wonder that jail-doors would not hold in front of a man who could write songs like this in his letters and sing them in jail at night; even the

Gates of hell shall never,

as Baring-Gould’s hymn says, be able to hold before such songs and souls.

The philosophy, the deep and steadfast belief, of these two ancient hymns is that of the modern hymn-book. Its lyrical great argument is to

assert eternal Providence,

And justify the ways of God to men.

The God of Abraham praise,

Who reigns enthroned above;

Ancient of everlasting days,

And God of love.

Thomas Olivers.


For light and love, for rest and food,

For daily help and nightly care,

Sing to the Lord for he is good,

And praise his name, for it is fair.

Crown him the Lord of years,

The Potentate of time,

Creator of the rolling spheres,

Ineffably sublime.

Matthew Bridges.

Holy, holy, holy! all the saints adore thee,

Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;

Cherubim and seraphim falling down before thee,

Which wert and art and evermore shalt be.

Holy, holy, holy! though the darkness hide thee,

Though the eye of sinful man thy glory may not see,

Only thou art holy, there is none beside thee,

Perfect in power, in love, and purity.


Sun, moon and stars fulfill

Their time by thee;

Angels to do thy will

Fleet lightnings be;

Rain, hail, and frost and snow,

And all the winds that blow

Are at thy nod;

Oceans and tempests know

Their mighty God.

His wisdom ever waketh,

His sight is never dim,


He knows the way he taketh,

And I will walk with him.

Anna L. Waring.

Still, still with thee, when purple morning breaketh,

When the bird waketh, and the shadows flee;

Fairer than morning, lovelier than daylight,

Comes the sweet consciousness, I am with thee.

Harriet Beecher Stowe.

But the hymns, with all their brave certainty about the order and direction of the universe, make no claim to have sounded all its depths; they know for sure, but they do not know all. To quote again from Matthew Bridges’s hymn:

No angel in the sky

Can fully bear that sight,

But downward bends his burning eye

At mysteries so bright.

Another hymn thus expresses the idea of the smallness of man’s highest conception before the reality:

I cannot find thee, e’en when most adoring;

Before thy throne I bend in lowliest prayer;

Beyond these bounds of thought, my thought upsoaring,

From farthest quest comes back; thou art not there.

Yet high above the limits of my seeing,

And folded far within the inmost heart,

And deep below the depths of conscious being,

The splendor shineth; there, O God, thou art.



Whittier in his “Eternal Goodness” has this stanza about the smallness and yet the certainty of man’s knowledge:

I know not what the future hath

Of marvel or surprise;

I only know that life and death

His mercy underlies.

We know, says the hymn, that unlimited Good is above and beyond the visible world wherein we see His power. The hymn-book is not pantheistic, if pantheism is identifying the Absolute merely with creation.

Thy voice produced the seas and spheres,

Bade the waves roar, the planets shine;

But nothing like thyself appears

Through all these spacious works of thine.

Who can behold the blazing light?

Who can approach consuming flame?

None but thy Wisdom knows thy might;

None but thy Word can speak thy name.

The last two lines of this hymn by Watts touch on the mystery of the Trinity: Divinity can be apprehended only by means of Divinity—the eternal wisdom, proceeding from God into human mind, perceives the true incarnate Word. A hymn by Samuel Wesley, father of John and Charles Wesley, shows the same process of thought:


Hail, Father, whose creating call

Unnumbered worlds attend;

Who art in all, and over all,

Thyself both source and end,

Not quite displayed to worlds above,

Nor quite on earth concealed,

By wondrous unexhausted Love

To mortal man revealed.

The same humility but surety of faith is seen in Newman’s “Lead, Kindly Light,” and likewise in a hymn of Thomas Wentworth Higginson, which is not so well known as it may be:

No human eye thy face may see,

No human thought thy form may know;

But all creation dwells in thee,

And thy great life through all doth flow.

And yet, O strange and wondrous thought!

Thou art a God who hearest prayer;

And every heart with sorrow fraught,

To seek thy present aid may dare.

The modern hymnal statement of its philosophy, its thought about the order and direction of the universe, is briefly and simply stated, but unshakably certain:

In heavenly love abiding,

No change my heart shall fear;

And safe is such confiding,


For nothing changes here.

The storms may roar without me,

My heart may low be laid,

But God is round about me,

And can I be dismayed?

Anna L. Waring.

The King of love my shepherd is,

Whose goodness faileth never;

I nothing lack if I am his

And he is mine forever.


Majestic sweetness sits enthroned

Upon the Saviour’s brow;

His head with radiant glories crowned,

His lips with grace o’er flow.


Holy Spirit, faithful Guide,

Ever near the pilgrim’s side;

Gently lead us by the hand,

Pilgrims in a desert land.


Sometimes a light surprises

The Christian while he sings;

It is the Lord who rises

With healing in his wings.


How sweet the name of Jesus sounds

In a believer’s ear;

It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds,

And drives away his fear.



In simple trust like those who heard

Beside the Syrian sea

The gracious calling of the Lord,

Let us, like them, without a word,

Rise up and follow thee.


Love divine, all love excelling,

Joy of heaven to earth come down;

Fix in us thy humble dwelling,

All thy faithful mercies crown.


These passages are illustrative of the hymn-book’s affirmation concerning God and concerning man’s approach to Him. It teaches that God is infinite in being, wisdom, love, and power. The book teaches further that the Infinite has shown His nature and will to this world in the person of Jesus Christ; that the Logos, Idea, Spirit, Word, which was in the beginning and without which was not anything made that was made, became flesh and dwelt among us, the Infinite became finite and visible, drawing man out of darkness, revealing the way of life, and showing that the universe is ordered by wisdom and love. And the hymn-book teaches further that infinite God revealed historically in the Son is yet ever-present Spirit, and that God is one. This constitutes the basic proposition of the hymnal philosophy.

Then follows naturally a consideration of man—What is man that thou art mindful of him?—and of his duty and his destiny.


Concerning the nature of man, the hymn-book holds that he is dust of the earth, plus the breath of God:

His sovereign power without our aid,

Made us of clay and formed us men.

Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail.

All valiant dust that builds on dust.

His sovereign powers our bodies made,

Our souls are his immortal breath.

The soul of man, Jehovah’s breath.

Some of the old hymns call man worm in the dust; Darwin trailed him lower yet than the worm, to the germ—racially, that is, as elementary science traces him there individually; but the hymn-book, with Genesis, takes him, as we see, on down to inorganic dust itself.

Thus, then, is summarized the hymn-book’s philosophy concerning the origin and nature of man: Dust indeed he is, yet also breath of God; and it is the purpose of his life that the creature shall rise more and more out of the dust and become the child and friend of God. This is the duty and destiny of man.

Higher and yet higher,

Out of clouds and night;

Nearer and nearer,

Rising to the light.



A charge to keep I have,

A God to glorify;

A never dying soul to save,

And fit it for the sky.


What is my being but for thee,

Its sure support, its noblest end,

Thy ever smiling face to see

And serve the cause of such a friend?


The duty of man, declares the hymn-book, is to attain to God. This carries measureless implications of God-likeness in his being and behavior—the best use of all his faculties at their best; the exercise of perfect justice and mercy, for as man becomes more a son of God he becomes more a brother of man. The duty of man is then to climb upward to God. And the hymns say that there is one true Way.

But man is free to choose his way. He is made so much in the image of God that he has the power of shaping life according to his own will. The sun, says William Wordsworth’s hymn,

can not halt or go astray,

But our eternal spirits may.

Being thus free, man does not have to rise. He can choose to go away from, rather than toward, the ultimate Good. And this is sin; sin is more than man’s imperfection and his lowness in the scale. 334 It is willing and doing contrary to the perfect will of God. And with sin is darkness and sorrow, hell, discord with God, and the stony necessity of repentance and redemption.

Here, then, is the hymn-book’s system of ethics, its consideration of the duty of free man, his struggle with adversity, his defeat of hell, and his attainment of heaven. The hymns speak with searching wisdom and deep appeal about the long journey that man must travel, and the true way.

Of the future of man the hymn-book makes comprehensive and most steadfast affirmation. It affirms that the human race, under God, has shining days before it, and a prosperous journey. Before the hymns have done with this dust-creature man, they have advanced him to the state of a flaming seraph, crowned and, beyond all telling, free and glorious. But it is a strugglesome way.

We say that the hymnal is a lyric handbook of practical living, if it is a book of glorious dreams. Life is short, says one of Wesley’s hymns:

Lo, on a narrow neck of land,

’Twixt two unbounded seas, I stand.

And man must be on his long way. Doddridge, following St. Paul, finds great zest in life—“as a strong man, to run a race”:

Awake, my soul, stretch every nerve,

And press with vigor on;

A heavenly race demands thy zeal,

And an immortal crown.


A cloud of witnesses around

Hold thee in full survey;

Forget the steps already trod,

And onward urge thy way.

But life, sings Toplady, is not all haste and urgency; duty may lead through peace as well as turmoil:

If on a quiet sea

Toward heaven we calmly sail,

With faithful hearts, O God, to thee

We’ll own the favoring gale.

But should the surges rise,

And rest delay to come,

Blest be the tempest, kind the storm,

Which drives us nearer home.

Sorrow and toil are part of the uphill journey, but even that may have its element of joy:

Deem not that they are blest alone,

Whose days a peaceful tenor keep;

The anointed Son of God makes known

A blessing for the eyes that weep.

Nor let the good man’s trust depart

Though life its common gifts deny.

For God has marked each sorrowing day,

And numbered every secret tear;


And heaven’s long age of bliss shall pay

For all his children suffer here.


Oliver Wendell Holmes believes it:

Though long the weary way we tread,

And sorrow crown each lingering year,

No path we shun, no darkness dread,

Our hearts still whispering, Thou art near!

Isaac Watts sings out, as only Watts can express such ideas:

Must I be carried to the skies

On flowery beds of ease,

While others fought to win the prize,

Or sailed through bloody seas?

No, I must fight if I should win,

Increase my courage, Lord!

The sturdy hymn of faith, “How Firm a Foundation,” has this stanza:

When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,

My grace all sufficient shall be thy supply,

The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design

Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.

One of Bonar’s hymns begins:

Go, labor on, spend and be spent,

Thy joy to do the Father’s will.


The best lyrics of the hymn-book, and the favorite ones, are those expressive of human insufficiency and loneliness. They are much more than intellectual realization of the fact; they are cries of longing for fellowship with God.

Jesus, lover of my soul,

Let me to thy bosom fly,

While the nearer waters roll,

While the tempest still is high.

Sun of my soul, thou Saviour dear,

It is not night if thou be near;

O may no earth-born clouds arise

To hide thee from thy servant’s eyes.

“Abide with Me” expresses the same insufficiency and peril of life, and longing for completeness and solid standing:

Abide with me from morn till eve,

For without thee I cannot live;

Abide with me when night is nigh,

For without thee I cannot die.

So long thy power hath blest me, sure it still

Will lead me on,

O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till

The night is gone.

“Nearer, My God, to Thee” condenses in a stanza the gist of the hymn-book’s whole theory of life and its meaning and end:


There let the way appear,

Steps unto heaven:

All that thou sendest me

In mercy given:

Angels to beckon me

Nearer, my God, to thee,

Nearer to thee!

Now, when souls have found that fellowship, they desire to share it; this indeed is the final test of whether they have found it. A hymn by John Chadwick (1840-1904) is a good summary of this idea:

Eternal Ruler of the ceaseless round

Of circling planets singing on their way,

Guide of the nations from the night profound

Into the glory of the perfect day,

Rule in our hearts that we may ever be

Guided and strengthened and upheld by thee.

We are of thee, the children of thy love,

The brothers of thy well-beloved Son;

Descend, O holy Spirit, like a dove

Into our hearts that we may be as one,

As one with thee to whom we ever trend,

As one with him, our Brother and our Friend.

We would be one in hatred of all wrong,

One in our love of all things good and fair,

One with the joy that breaketh into song,

One with the grief that trembles into prayer,

One in the power that makes thy children free

To follow truth, and thus to follow thee.


O clothe us with thy heavenly armor, Lord—

Thy trusty shield, thy sword of love divine:

Our inspiration be thy constant word;

We ask no victories that are not thine:

Give or withhold, let pain or pleasure be,

Enough to know that we are serving thee.

The city of God, says a hymn by Palgrave—of “The Golden Treasury”—is

Where’er the gentle heart

Finds courage from above,

Where’er the heart forsook

Warms with the breath of love,

Where faith bids fear depart,

City of God, thou art.

Where in life’s common ways,

With cheerful feet we go,

Where in his steps we tread

Who trod the way of woe,

Where he is in the heart,

City of God, thou art.

One of the most familiar of modern hymns, Bishop Heber’s “From Greenland’s Icy Mountains,” this figures human duty and its fulfilment:

They call us to deliver

Their land from error’s chain.

Waft, waft, ye wings, his story,

And you, ye waters, roll,

Till like a sea of glory,

It spreads from pole to pole.


Favorite among the hymns are those of mutual encouragement and exhortation, such as “Onward, Christian Soldiers,” “Christian, Dost Thou See Them?” and “Blest Be the Tie That Binds.”

The passion of the hymn-book for world-wide enlightenment and justice and peace is vividly expressed in some of the best hymns. Especially have some of the more recent hymns stressed social responsibility as a direct method of forwarding the purpose of creation. They expect the world to be less and less a wilderness of woe; they expect crooked paths to be made straight for the children of men, and deserts to blossom as the rose. This will all come with growing Christian enlightenment and practice.

’Mid the homes of want and woe,

Strangers to the living word,

Let the Saviour’s heralds go,

Let the voice of hope be heard.

To the weary and the worn

Tell the realm where sorrows cease;

To the outcast and forlorn

Speak of mercy and of peace.

Guard the helpless, seek the strayed,

Comfort trouble, banish grief,

In the might of God arrayed,

Scatter sin and unbelief.

Bishop Howe.


One notices the ring of militant evangelism in these hymns:

O Zion, haste, thy mission high fulfilling.

Behold how many thousands still are lying

Bound in the darksome prison-house of sin.

Proclaim to every people, tongue and nation

That God in whom they live and move is Love.

Give thy sons to bear the message glorious;

Give of thy wealth to speed them on their way;

Pour out thy soul for them in prayer victorious.

When people sing such zealous ideas as these, they may bring surprising things to pass. This zeal brings to mind such traveling souls as Livingstone, John Wesley, Roger Williams, the French priests among our West and Northwest wilds, St. Augustine in England, and St. Paul himself smiling over the catalogue of his missionary hardships.

Isaac Watts, looking ahead from the end of the seventeenth century, is confident as to the influences of such evangels:


People and realms of every tongue

Dwell on his love with sweetest song,

And infant voices shall proclaim

Their early blessings on his name.

Blessings abound where’er he reigns;

The prisoner leaps to loose his chains,

The weary find eternal rest,

And all the sons of want are blest.

Alexander Pope, Roman Catholic contemporary of non-conforming Watts, writes with equal conviction and splendor:

Rise, crowned with light, imperial Salem, rise!

Exalt thy towering head and lift thine eyes.

See barbarous nations at thy gates attend,

Walk in thy light, and in thy temple bend.

William Cullen Bryant writes out of the spirit of Puritan New England:

Send forth thy heralds, Lord, to call

The thoughtless with the hardened old,

A wandering flock, to bring them all

To the Good Shepherd’s peaceful fold.

And Samuel Longfellow:

O still in accents strong and sweet

Sounds forth the ancient word,

More reapers for the harvest field,

More laborers for the Lord.


The hymnal Utopia, an ideal city, built to music, to deep harmonies of grace and truth, is much spoken of, and it is imaged forth in great light and splendor. There is a spiritual city, not built with hands, invisible in the heavens; and there is to be also on the earth a state built after the celestial likeness—the Kingdom of Heaven, the City of God.

To attain this city is the purpose of man’s journey that he calls life. Individuals may be citizens of the kingdom, enriched with its privileges and delights long before the human race in general shall come to it; at the same time the hymns see the whole world moving toward it. Hymns new and old announce the coming kingdom and the City of God.

All the world shall come to serve thee,

And bless thy glorious name;

And thy righteousness triumphant

The island shall proclaim.

Israel Zangwill, translated from the Hebrew. “Union Hymnal.”

Older sages saw it dimly,

And their joy to madness wrought;

Living men have gazed upon it,

Standing on the hills of thought.

Havelock Ellis.

O sometimes gleams upon my sight,

Through present wrong, the eternal Right;

And step by step since time began,

I see the steady gain of man.



And when the strife is fierce, and the warfare long,

Steals on the ear the distant triumph song.

And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.


Bishop Howe.

From step to step it wins its way

Against a world of sin:

Part of the battle-field is won,

And part is yet to win.

William G. Tarrant.

Thy kingdom come, O Lord,

Wide circling as the sun.

Fulfill of old thy word,

And make the nations one.

One in the bond of peace,

The service glad and free

Of truth and righteousness,

Of love and equity.

Till rise at last to span

Its firm foundations broad,

The commonwealth of man,

The city of our God.

Frederick L. Hosmer.

Mercy and truth that long are missed,

Now joyously are met;

Sweet peace and righteousness have kissed,

And hand in hand are set.


Truth from the earth, like to a flower,

Shall bud and blossom then,

And justice from her heavenly bower

Look down on mortal men.

John Milton.

When knowledge, hand in hand with peace,

Shall walk the earth abroad—

The day of perfect righteousness,

The promised day of God.

Frederick L. Hosmer.

Hail the glorious golden city

Pictured by the seers of old!

Everlasting light shines o’er it,

Wondrous tales of it are told:

Only righteous men and women

Dwell within its gleaming wall;

Wrong is banished from its borders,

Justice reigns supreme o’er all.

Felix Adler.

Hark, how from men whose lives are held

More cheap than merchandise,

From women straggling sore for bread,

From little children’s cries,

There swells the sobbing human plaint

That bids thy walls arise.

Give us, O God, the strength to build

The city that hath stood

Too long a dream, whose walls are love,

Whose ways are brotherhood,


And where the sun that shineth is

God’s grace for human good.

W. Russell Bowie.

Not throned above the skies,

Not golden walled afar,

But where Christ’s two or three

In his name gathered are,

Be in the midst of them

God’s own Jerusalem!

Francis Turner Palgrave.

O beautiful for patriot’s dream

That sees beyond the years,

Thine alabaster cities gleam

Undimmed by human tears!

Katherine Lee Bates.

Some of these hymns have a very modern ring; and yet their basic idea goes back very far in the world’s best recorded thought. All the better if it is spoken in the phrase of modern life.

Their visions of better times for the human race in the world, pictured with such reality of conviction, seem humanly plausible. There are all sorts of agencies busy. What we call science is a wonderfully good, if a sometimes pert, servant of God; its freeing man from the old fears that used to bedevil his life, from the terrible plagues and famines, from the grinding toil that blinds the mind and deadens the spirit—all this is something. Now, with the new 347 freedom and leisure and power that man is getting, the hymn-book thinks, he has most to fear and guard against himself; he must have purity of heart and humility of spirit and good will toward man. To quote from Kipling’s hymn:

The tumult and the shouting dies;

The captains and the kings depart;

Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,

An humble and a contrite heart.

Lord God of hosts, be with us yet,

Lest we forget,—lest we forget.

As to the life after death, the hymn-book is triumphantly certain. Strangely at the darkest point of human experience, the contemplation of death and decay, the hymns grow most sanguine.

It is not death to bear

The wrench that sets us free

From dungeon chain, to breathe the air

Of boundless liberty.

It is not death to fling

Aside this sinful dust,

And rise on strong exultant wing

To live among the just.

This life at best is very short.

Our years are like the shadows

On sunny hills that lie,


As grasses of the meadow

That blossom but to die;

A sleep, a dream, a story

By strangers quickly told,

An unremaining glory

Of things that soon are old.

And death for the just is but going to a happy and permanent home.

There is a land of pure delight

Where saints immortal reign;

Infinite day excludes the night,

And pleasures banish pain.

But the City of God which the hymns predict will rise in the earth as the climax of human welfare and felicity is, they say, only the earthly counterpart of the celestial City of God.

Jerusalem the golden,

With milk and honey blest!

Beneath thy contemplation

Sink heart and soul oppressed:

I know not, O I know not

What joys await us there,

What radiancy of glory,

What bliss beyond compare.

For thee, O dear, dear, country,

Mine eyes their vigils keep,


For very love beholding

Thy happy name, they weep.

O Mother dear, Jerusalem,

When shall I come to thee?

When shall my sorrows have an end?

Thy joys when shall I see?

O happy harbor of the saints!

O sweet and pleasant soil!

In thee no sorrow may be found,

No grief, no care, no toil.

Thy gardens and thy gallant walks

Continually are green;

There grow such sweet and pleasant flowers

As nowhere else are seen.

The most familiar figure portraying the ultimate destiny of the human soul is that of singing praises to God with the accompaniment of harps around the throne in the holy city. It is an attempt to picture the ultimate height of duty achieved and therefore the ultimate height of felicity.

Ten thousand times ten thousand

In sparkling raiment bright,

The armies of the ransomed saints

Throng up the steeps of light:

’Tis finished, all is finished,

Their fight with death and sin;


Fling open wide the gates of gold,

And let the victors in.

What rush of alleluias

Fills all the earth and sky!

What ringing of a thousand harps

Bespeaks the triumph nigh!

Henry Alford.

From every clime and kindred

And nations from afar,

As serried ranks returning home

In triumph from a war,

I heard the saints upraising,

The myriad hosts among,

In praise of him who dies and lives

Their one glad triumph song.

G. Thring.

To thee all angels cry aloud;

The heavens and all the powers therein;

To thee cherubim and seraphim continually do cry.

This trope of singing hymns has been since misty ancient times the most acceptable symbol that poets could find of the idea. But a symbol is no more than a symbol. The too literal mind is sure to find trouble with the figure; yet there is great call to thought in it. The harp means music, and that implies sweetness, harmony, order—diversity becoming higher unity. Human souls in concord with celestial harps will be as notes in divine music, each 351 itself, and all a perfect unity, a harmony of praise. Praise. It seems safe to say that from the time when one of mankind first looked up with a gleam of intelligence in his eyes, this matter of ascribing worthship has been an important concern of his life; according to the records, it has occupied much of the time and attention of various peoples—it is in most languages the first syllable of recorded thought. And it has doubtless been one of man’s most practically useful occupations.

For praise is looking up with admiration and love to an ideal. It is prizing superior might, intellect, or beauty. It is a contemplation of perfection, or of the best ascertained idea of perfection, with a firing of the emotion to delight and acclamation, and a stirring of the will to approach, to emulate, and to find union with that perfection. Contemplation calls the ideal Truth. The will names it Duty. The emotion calls it Beauty as the high object of its delight.

And the use of praise—the practical effect of this contemplation and acclamation of what is higher, this finding of something to raise the eyes unto, to wonder at, and to rise toward—has been to furnish a desirable end to otherwise confused and divergent trails of life, to raise a unifying standard, and to give to mankind a common view of what Plato calls “the road of their longing and the quality of their souls.”

Contemplation of higher perfection with love and 352 delight, that is praise, and that is what the hymnal images as the highest employment of the soul; and that is the heart of the hymn-book.

The symbol of praise in the form of song looks especially toward emotion which man puts into melody of tone and rhythm. Song is the blossoming of emotion. Here the whole is typified by its flower, joy in the contemplation of all-pervading Good raising the voice into lyric beauty. Significant, too, is the detail picturing the lyric acclaim as being also choric. This is a most social and catholic figure conceiving souls at the highest employment and in joyful concord.

The details of the figures, gold and precious stones, white garments, palms, and crowns, have been dimmed by custom; yet they have thrilled people for ages, and are still to sensitive imaginations full of richness and splendor of meaning. The hymn means by jewels, doubtless, freedom from all conceivable poverty; by white garments, the cleanness which humanity really has in mind for itself and longs for; by palms, the triumph of the soul’s faculties; by crowns, the hope of the earth toward which democracy is stretching its hands—the hope that every man shall be free, absolute rightful monarch of his own being, respecting his neighbor’s kingship as his own—a divine democracy where all are crowned royalty. This is not the citizenry of old begging friars and anemic clerks that the young cavalier feared to find in heaven; the lowest of this citizenry is grander than all medieval 353 knights and ladies and kings and queens whatsoever. And the holy city is no outpost, but the capital center of all might, holy benevolence, spotless grace, and immortal joy.

These dreams and visions of the hymn-book are so plausible and beautiful that unlettered folk take them as words of truth and hope, and hold them always in their memory; yet there is no mind so strong of wing that it is not challenged by these songs to soar to heights beyond its reach. The harmony of the hymnal voices, too, is symbolic of the harmony it would foster among men. In the hymn-book the parties, the Anglicans, Baptists, Unitarians, Methodists, Roman Catholics, Eastern Catholics, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and some members of no church, are together in deep accord. Its greatest contributor is a Jewish king. Augustine, Bernard of Cluny, Isaac Watts, and John Mason Neale were far apart in time and circumstance, but very near together in “Te Deum Laudamus,” “Urbs Beata Hierusalem,” “Jesus Shall Reign,” and “Jerusalem the Golden.” Wesley and Toplady did not agree in some dogmas; but they sing with wonderful harmony in “Rock of Ages” and “Jesus, Lover of My Soul.” Newman the Roman Catholic and Mrs. Adams the Unitarian were far apart in circumstance but near together in “Lead, Kindly Light” and “Nearer, My God, to Thee.” Thomas Aquinas and Martin Luther are side by side in sweet accord when they sing songs of prayer and praise to God. The hymn-book is a great book for faith, hope, and 354 charity—and especially for charity, the greatest of these.

Now to summarize the teachings of this elect book of lyric poetry—this popular lyric manual of philosophy, ethics, and esthetics—about the beginning and end of all things: The beginning and end is God, and God is infinitely good, and the universe is therefore ordered and safe. He images forth his nature and will in the spheres that move to music and in the harmonies of a wind-flower beside the road; but above all other images of Him is man himself. And man, says the hymn-book, has the duty of fulfilling the will of God concerning him. But he is so God-like as to be free. He may go right or wrong, toward death and destruction or toward life and endless freedom and felicity.

This is the body of the hymn-book. Its terse and apt injunctions to duty, its harmonious phrases speaking calmness of mind and steadiness of purpose, its gentle and graceful verses winning folk to peace and charity with their neighbors, its prayer for all sorts and conditions of men as brothers, its stern warnings, its ringing calls to uprightness and purity of life, its sweet rhythms of consolation and hope—all these things, sung by mothers to their children, learned, as our fine English idiom says, by heart, illuminated and colored by memorable airs and by recollections of scenes familiar and dear, hallowed often with memories of solemn and exalted experiences—make the hymn an invaluable force for good, and an ever-fresh inspiration to grace and comeliness of life.

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