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Happy the man who, with prayer and meditation, makes them the subjects of habitual and earnest study; happy for the Church, could she possess a version, which, not destroying their character, yet marking their application, might assist her christian worshippers to appreciate and use these heavenly treasures !
If the power of music is thus great and universal ; if sacred music especially appeals to our holiest and deepest feelings; if a general feeling is strengthened tenfold in every individual, when multitudes unite to express it; if, finally, we possess inspired treasures of heavenly wisdom and beauty, to employ and guide our devotion ; whence can arise the present most unsatisfactory condition of our Church Psalmody? Why is it that congregational singing is almost unknown, and that the Clergyman is generally dependent on the caprices of an incompetent and self-willed choir ? For this most unnatural state of things, a very serious cause must exist; and we shall find no difficulty in tracing it.
Without entering at present into a critical examination of the two authorised versions of the Psalms, we may safely declare them to be utterly unworthy of the originals. By far the greater part is doggrel, which never can be read or sung; and to obtain three or four tolerable stanzas for use, it is commonly necessary to bring them together from distant parts of a psalm. These broken verses, inferior in style, loose in connexion, and vague in meaning, --what definite idea can they offer to the understanding ; what personal application to the feelings ? and if they have nothing to interest either the head or the heart, how should they be sung with spirit ?
Nor should we overlook a most important and influential consideration--the inadequacy of the Psalms fully to express christian truths and christian feelings. There is indeed no essential difference between the principles of the former and the latter dispensations. Christ came not to destroy, but to fulfil the law. The corruption of man, his inability to make satisfaction to God, and the consequent necessity for a vicarious atonement, are fully set forth, and the great practical duties of love to God and man are strongly enforced, in both; but the gospel displays the substance of good things of which the law was only the shadow. It makes known the strength by which we may perform the duties enjoined by the law, and the satisfaction through which we escape its penalties. It exalts the standard of morality, while it delivers us from legal bondage, and alone reveals those glorious truths from which our hope and consolation are derived. Christians will not, and they ought not, to be satisfied with any form of worship which does not exalt the Saviour, and fully set forth the great and glorious truths connected with redemption. They must approve the doctrine, to sing with the understanding; they must feel the personal application, to sing with the spirit. Can they do either, if, in this part of their devotions, they are confined to words, inestimable, indeed, when properly used and understood, but which belong to a former and imperfect dispensation ?
These considerations have forced themselves upon the attention of the Clergy, and led to the extensive introduction of selections from the authorized versions, with the addition of approved hymns. The principle of selection has been acted upon by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, and many of our Bishops have publicly sanctioned the use of hymns.* Encouraged by this semi-official approbation, such selections have multiplied exceedingly. Probably not fewer than three hundred exist at the present moment. These present every variety of character—from the mere selection of almost unaltered portions of the psalms, to the hymn book, which scarce admits a stanza from our authorized versions; and from the coldest strains of rationality, to the warmest nonsense of sensual devotion. Most of them have been designed for the use of particular churches, but a few have aimed at a wider circulation. Not one has yet obtained general approval; and a very small proportion indeed bear any marks of the patient labour by which alone excellence can be obtained. Their editors appear to have greatly underrated the difficulties of their task.
It is not to be denied that very great evils arise out of the present unsettled state of our psalmody.
The principle of uniformity in the public worship of the Church, of which " the setting forth of God's most worthy praise” by singing, is unquestionably one department, is thus annulled; whilst some of her ininisters introduce or continue furms of worship, wbich the Church knows not, and which others refuse to adopt.
Together with the annulling of uniformity in our services, an avenue is thus laid open for introducing into them a variety and discrepancy of style and manner, of sentiment, perhaps, and doctrine, if it be true, as I presume it is unquestionable, that hymns, as well as the more direct methods of instruction, may be the vehicles of particular opinions; and thus, as one or the other of the usages before us is observed, occasion is given for impressing different religious views upon the mind, and for engaging the heart in different religious feelings.
The unedifying spectacle is meanwhile exhibited, of ministers of the same Church at variance with each other in an important department of the public offices of the Church : the one class apparently, by implication at least, reflecting on the more contracted sphere occupied by the other; the other condemning what by them is esteemed the foriner's unwarranted deviation from rule : both classes certainly proceeding in different lines of action, and thus appearing as ministers of detached and independent congregations, rather than of the same united and comprehensive Church.
Hence the character of one or the other is liable to suffer depreciation, on a comparison, to the prejudice of ministerial usefulness; the community naturally forming opinions of each, according to their own judgment or prepossessions. Thus, in the general discussion of ecclesiastical matters, each will find some to disapprove him; more particularly, in the course of those changes which take place in a parochial charge, he who, in the face of the congregation accustomed to a greater latitude in singing God's praises, shall limit himself and his people
We have before us a list of fourteen Archbishops and Bishops, ten of whom are still living, who have given their public sanction to volumes of this nature.
to the more confined method of celebrating them, will probably be censured for needless and unreasonable strictness and preciseness, even if he escape charges of a graver nature; whilst he who shall introduce into a congregation, accustomed exclusively to the provisions of the Church, supererogatory effusions, will be liable to incur the charge of irregularity and ecclesiastical licentiousness.
This observation, which applies immediately to the inferior Clergy in their parochial ministrations, is applicable also to the superior order of the ministry. Together with general reflections on their difference of sentiment, such invidious comparisons as are made between successive incumbents of a parish, are likely to be instituted between successive prelates of a diocese, if they happen, as may have been exemplified in fact, to differ from each other concerning the sanction, which they may allow or deny to the singing of unauthorized compositions within their charge.
These discrepancies in the ministers of the Church are calculated to be a stumbling-block and an offence to her members in general; to diminish their satisfaction with her institutions; and to weaken their attachment to her ministrations. More especially, it is easy to imagine, that they, who have been indulged in what they may perhaps have been encouraged to esteem as the more spiritual devotion of hymns, will, in the event of a change of their minister, be less satisfied with more sober psalmody, and perceive in the withdrawal of the indulgence a motive to alienation perhaps, at least to restlessness and discontent: they whose devotions bave been liinited in the praises of God to psalmody, which they have been taught to respect as the only authorized provision of the Church, will, in the event of such a change, be embarrassed by the newly introduced hymns, and object to partake in what they deem to be an unlawful service.
Similar consequences occur with respect to those whom the accident of a journey, or a temporary residence in a strange place, may introduce to a course of unaccustoined singing, in which previous ignorance may find them unprepared, or a sense of the absence of due authority may indispose thein for joiding; and who are thus tempted to join in a form of worship, the lawfulness of which they doubt of or deny, or are precluded by conscientious scruples, the result of the irregularity of others, from taking any part in the delightful office of singing praises to God.
Meanwhile the character of the Church herself suffers wrong from these diversities, in the estimation of those who ought to regard her with unmixed affection and veneration ; being subject, on the one hand, to the imputation of a want of zeal and diligence in adapting ber provisions to the requisitions of her people, and in supplying needful materials for their devotions; and on the other, to the charge of want of energy to maintain her discipline, to preserve uniformity in her services, to regulate the conduct of her ministers, and to control and correct eccentricities.
Difficulties perhaps may exist in the way of discovering and applying an effectual remedy, and some inconveniences may attend the attempt to arrive at it. . But positive evils, as we have seen, do actually exist, and do call for correction, is capable of being administered. They affect the uniformity and the cousistency of the public worship of the Church; the agreement of her ministers in their public ministrations; the character of her prelates, as well as of her inferior pastors; the worship and spiritual welfare of her members in general; the character of the Church herself. They are positive, palpable, great, and growing evils. They cannot be concealed or denied : they are not likely to sink into non-existence or insignificance : connivance and quietude will do as they have done, that is, they will establish and aggravate them : they will increase, if they are not correcied: so that some possible difficulty or incouvenience, even if exceeding the probable reality, might well be encountered in attempting to minister their cure.
• Thoughts ou the Singing of Unauthorized Hymns in Public Worship; respectfully submitted to the Consideration of the Archbishops and Bishops of the United Church of England and Ireland. By One of their Brethren, pp. 11-18.–Rivingtons, 1835.
Whether ecclesiastical authority could at this time be prudently exercised on the subject is very doubtful. That Bishop would be more bold than discreet, who should oppose himself to the general feeling of the community, as well as to the opinions of so many of his brethren, by attempting to restrict his diocese to the Old and New Versions of the Psalms. Nor would he act wisely to forbid the introduction of any selection which he had not first examined and approved ; a step, which might place him in the invidious position of opposing his own taste to that of others, and deciding the dispute by authority; or else implicate his credit, as approving the book, which in fact he had only permitted.
The great difficulty with which all editors have had to contend, has been the want of materials. The literary standard of the Church ought not to be low; and of the thousands of hymns which exist, very few indeed rise even to endurable mediocrity. “It has been my plan," says Bp. Heber, when preparing his own hymn-book, “ to collect, and, in some instances, to adopt, the best published hymns, and whatever applicable passages of religious poetry admitted of it. That these are not more numerous in my collection, and that there is so much of my own, I trust you will impute, not to any conceit in my own workmánship, but to the real scarcity of foreign materials, and the miserable feebleness and want of taste which the generality of such collections display.” (Heber's Life, vol. ii. p. 50.) In another letter, he remarks, " If you saw the heaps of manure which I have been obliged to turn over to gain a few barley-corns, you would not think so ill of my diligence.” (Vol. ii. p. 40.) and in a still earlier letter, p. 32,-" I really think, if the undertaking prospers, it may be the means of rendering good service to the Church, and to the cause of rational piety, by taking place of the vile trash, vile in sentiment and theology, as well as style, which prevails more or less in all the collections I have
1." The testimony of Montgomery in the preface to his Christian Psalmist is equally decisive. Though we have hymns without number," he says, “ few of them lay claim to great literary merit.” “The faults in ordinary hymns are vulgar phrases, low words, hard words, technical terms, inverted construction, broken syntax, barbarous abbreviations, that make our beautiful English horrid even to the eye, bad rhymes, no rhymes where rhymes are expected, but above all, numbers without cadence."
Very many hymns which are free from these grosser faults of style, have nevertheless not the smallest claim to be received. The hymn reads off smoothly, and offers nothing at which the ear revolts, yet fails to fix the attention. On closer examination, it is found to be made up of common-place, vague expressions, strung loosely together, and defying all definite explanation.
More serious faults remain to be noticed. Many hymns are very unsound in doctrine. Take one example of multitudes that might be quoted—the popular hymn which begins, “Not all the blood of beasts.”
My soul looks back to see
The burdens thou didst bear,
And hopes her guilt was there. If this have any meaning, it is, that every sin has its measure of punishment, and that our Saviour suffered the actual amount of punishment due to every individual sin that should afterwards be committed by his people---a principle which may equally apply, since extremes of error meet, to the Genevese tenets of absolute election and certain perseverance, and to the Romish fables of purgatory and indulgences.
Impudent familiarity is a common fault ; and not a few hymns, and those by popular authors, are grossly indecent. These pages must not be polluted with illustrations; but the indignant expressions of Bishop Heber on the subject may properly be quoted. “It is not enough to object to such expressions, that they are fanatical—they are positively profane. When our Saviour was on earth, and in great humility conversant with mankind; when he sat at the table, and washed the feet, and healed the diseases of his creatures; yet did not his disciples give him any more familiar name than Master or Lord. And now, at the right hand of his Father's majesty, shall we address him with ditties of embraces and passion, or in language which it would be disgraceful in an earthly sovereign to endure ? Such expressions, it is said, are taken from Scripture ; but even if the original application, which is often doubtful, were clearly and unequivocally ascertained, yet, though the collective Christian Church may be very properly personified as the spouse of Christ, an application of such language to christian believers is as dangerous as it is absurd and unauthorized. Nor is it going too far to assert, that the brutalities of a common swearer can scarcely bring religion into more sure contempt, or more scandalously profane the Name which is above every name in heaven and earth, than certain epithets applied to Christ in some of our popular collections of religious poetry." (Life of Heber, vol. i. p. 371.)
When the editor shall have rejected all the hymns which must thus be condemned, and arranged perhaps more than a sufficient number for his purpose, his serious labour is only commencing. He will find that a very large proportion of the comparatively excellent require much alteration. False rhymes will remain to be corrected ; prosaic lines to be elevated; unmeaning repetitions to be pruned away ; obscure passages to be made clear ; loose expressions to be more strictly applied; faulty stanzas to be replaced with others ; hymns too long for use to be reduced within proper limits; and all to be so done, that the corrected hymn shall present a perfect connexion and completeness in itself, with unity