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ART. V. Psalms and Hymns, selected for the Churches of Buckden and Holbeach, of Bluntisham cum Erith, and Hemingford Grey, in the Diocese of Lincoln. pp. 330. Cadell and Davies. 1815.
THE fifty-ninth Canon of the Council of Laodicea is to this effect ; ὅτι οὐ δεῖ ἰδιωτικοὺς ψαλμοὺς λέγεσθαι ἐν τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ. “That no psalms, composed by private individuals, should be used in the Church." From which we may infer, that some Christians had introduced into the public worship of the sanctuary, hymns and sacred songs of their own composition, and had adopted that method of giving circulation to their own heretical or incorrect notions. The Council of Laodicea therefore deemed it expedient to put this check upon a practice which was reprehensible only in the abuse of it; for we learn from Eusebius (xvii. p. 16. b.) "that the early Christians were wont to compose songs and hymns to God, in various metres, and adapted to grave music." In the present age, although religious licence has so long overborne the restraints of discipline, that we should only be deemed half a century behind hand in our ideas, were we to censure indiscriminately all compilations of Sacred Poetry, subsidiary to the Psalms, properly so called, for the devotional harmony of the Church, yet we assure ourselves of the hearty concurrence of all our readers in laying it down, that great caution should be exercised in admitting into the public service the pious effusions of individuals, which may in many instances be more remarkable for fervour of devotion than for solidity and correctness of doctrine. For want of due discretion in this respect, it has certainly happened even in our own Establishment, that "Congregations have been sometimes exposed to the effects of hasty and injudicious choice." Pref. p. vii. And so by degrees different parishes have attached themselves to different sets of devotional poems, some favouring one sect in religion and some another; whilst individual ministers, actuated by a regard for the spiritual comfort of their flock or their own poetical fame, have exclaimed, with Gregory Nazianzen, Καὶ ἡμεῖς ψαλμολογήσομεν, καὶ πολλὰ γράψομεν, καὶ μετρήσομεν. It certainly was not the intention of the founders of our ecclesiastical polity, that a single word should be introduced into the public worship of the Church, except what should be sanctioned by authority. And it is something like an anomaly in our Establishment, that both the doctrine and language of that part of the service, which perhaps makes a stronger impression than any other upon the minds of the lower orders, should be left to the discretion of particular ministers. But the fact is, that it is a licence which has crept in imperceptibly." We
do not think it too late to remedy the growing evil; and till this is done by the united authority of our spiritual governors, it is the part of each individual Bishop to exercise within his own diocese a vigilant inspection over this branch of divine service, that no principles, hostile to the purity and integrity of its doctrines, be insidiously foisted into its authorised formularies, and insinuated into the minds of the people by means of versions, and paraphrases and hymns, and that nothing should be allowed, which may tend to degrade the dignity of religion, or diminish the awe and respect due to the divine name, by clothing the most sublime and important doctrines in coarse or vulgar language, or by familiar and indecent addresses to the Son of God. To shew that we have good reason to be apprehensive on this score, we need only select a few passages from Hymn Books, which have been published by Clergymen, professing themselves members of our Establishment, and, we are willing to suppose, believing themselves to be so. The collections to which we allude, are in many parts of them equally conspicuous for the absence of poetical taste and of rational piety; and are calculated at once to deceive and perplex the ignorant, and to disgust the well informed; and yet we lament to say they are by no means uncommonly to be met with in congregations of the Establishment. Our first collection shall be one published by the Rev. Mr. Madau, in which he professes that "the grand subject of every Song is Jesus;" and assuredly an uninstructed person might sing nearly the whole of Mr. Madan's book without ever learning that such a Being as God the Father is to be worshipped. The metre in which many of these Hymns is written, is not less extraordinary than their phraseology, and the accuracy of the rhimes; for ustance,
Receive me, I'll cry,
For Jesus hath loved me, I cannot say why!"
The phrasesdear Saviour,' dear Jesus,' and others equally familiar and profane, occur in every page.
In p. 73 we are offended with the following incredible vulga rity.
*Teach me some melodious sonnet,
"Here I raise my Eben-Ezer,
And this forsooth is poetry, and divine poetry! The following invitation to take a heavenly excursion would be ludicrous, were it not heart-rending to see such a profanation of holy things.
« Come let us ascend,
Come up in the chariot of love!"
In the next extract, we have the very cream of the Calvinistic doctrine; a inan saved violently and against his will, and in spite of all his endeavours to be sinful.
"Conquer thy worst for in me,
But not a word is there in the whole book in favour of a holy life; no where is God implored to make us live uprightly. Our readers, we doubt not, will excuse our transcribing any more; in fact it is a painful task to us, both as Christians and critics; but we must in conclusion express our unqualified disapprobation of the taste and piety which could insert amongst "Hymns for the Communion," a religious parody (for it is no better) of "God save the King."
"Come thou Almighty King,
Father all glorious,
O'er all victorious,
Come and reign over us,
ANTIENT OF DAYS!'
"Jesus our Lord arise,
And make them fall!
The next collection upon which we lay our hands is one by the Rev. Mr. Biddulph, which contains less offensive matter than the preceding, but yet is by no means unexceptionable. Is it possi ble that any person who has just and adequate notions of the dignity of Christ's nature, and the relation in which we stand to him, can address him in such terms as these?
In the Olney Hymns, which were the joint production of Mr. Newton and his friend, Cowper the poet, there is much less of bad taste, though a great deal of what we do not think to be good doctrine. Many of the poems in that collection are truly edifying and affecting; there is an union of pastoral sim-plicity, with fervent piety, which renders them highly pleasing. But there is also a great deal of that miserable poetry and pernicious doctrine, which we have reprehended in the preceding collections. The following description of himself was drawn by Cowper, after the sunshine of his clear and vigorous mind had been obscured by the dark and dreary mists of enthusiasm, from which it never afterwards emerged.
"Friends and ministers said much
Scarce would shew my face abroad
"Thus afraid to trust his grace,
This comfortable assurance, however, it is well known, the unfortunate poet did not obtain. In the school of the Solifidians he was taught to despair, but he never learned to hope. But it is wonderful that even there, he should so far have forgotten his good sense and refiued taste, as to indulge in such metaphors as those which disfigure the following stanza.
"O fearful thought! be timely wise;
The best defence of this is to say that it is nonsense; but it is mischievous and profane nonsense: surely nobody can pretend that it is calculated to convey just or proper notions of God's nature, or of those heavenly rewards which are reserved for the souls of the just made perfect. We find no such expressions as these in the New Testament; and, assuredly, we are not to take as a model for Christian hymns, the Song of Solomon, a poem which was worked up to the highest tone of oriental allegory, and suited to the fervent imagination of an Asiatic people. And besides, those expressions and figures which may be consistent with the allegory itself, may become highly absurd and improper, when applied to the things signified. This cannot be more forcibly illustrated than by that far-famed distich which we meet with in the Hymn-book used at Trinity Church in Cambridge, and printed under Mr. Simeon's inspection, for the edification of his congregation.
"Come needy and guilty, come loathsome and bare!
Mr. Simeon may call this devotion-we deem it little short of blasphemy, and greatly lament that our church discipline is so relaxed, that such language is suffered to prophane our public worship. It is against this fault that the compilers of the selection before us, have been particularly cautious to guard.
"We have more particularly felt it our duty to guard against all coarse overstrained expressions of familiarity and endearment; and the more so, because they occur frequently in some compositions, very unaptly styled sacred or devout. Such expressions