Wesley Center Online

Appendix A-1



Appendix A-1


BY BERNARD L. MANNING, M.A. (Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge)


All rights reserved First published July 1942 Second impression October 1942 Third impression July 1943 Fourth impression October 1944

[n.b. this text is now public domain; J.H.]



1. Hymns for the use of the people called Methodists

2. The recall to religion in the hymns of Charles Wesley

3. Wesley's hymns reconsidered

4. The hymns of Dr. Isaac Watts -- [Placed in Appendix A-2]

5. Some hymns and hymn-books -- [Placed in Appendix A-2]


The Executors of the late Bernard L. Manning are indebted to the Editor, Dr. Albert Peel, M.A., and the proprietors of the */Congregational Quarterly/* for permission to use `The Hymns of Dr. Isaac Watts'; and to the proprietors of the */Transactions of the Congregational Historical Society/* for permission to use `Some Hymns and Hymn-books'.


*/By the/* REV. HENRY BETT, M.A., LITT.D.

It must be more than a dozen years ago that I met with a small pamphlet entitled */Christian Experience throughout the Centuries./* It was the report of an address delivered before the Assembly of the Congregational Union, I believe, and the title-page bore the name of Bernard L. Manning, M.A., Fellow and Bursar of Jesus College, Cambridge. I had never heard of Mr. Manning before, but the booklet was of such an extraordinary excellence that I began to look out for anything else that he had written. The next discovery came in 1933 when the */London Quarterly and Holborn Review/* published an article under the title `Hymns for the Use of the People called Methodists'. This was a paper which had been read to the University Methodist Society at Cambridge a few months before. (It is the first essay in this volume.) Now the early part of it was specially interesting to me, not only as a native of Lincolnshire, but because it gave some details of Mr. Manning's early life. I remembered that when I lived in Lincoln between 1911 and 1914, one of the Congregational ministers of the city was the Rev. George Manning. Evidently the writer was his son. I continued to read everything that Mr. Manning wrote, and in */The Spirit of Methodism/* I paid him a sincere tribute of admiration. I am very glad now that I did, and I am also glad that I saw him once, when I was on a visit to Cambridge, and my friend the Rev. W. F. Flemington was good enough to invite Mr. Manning to lunch, so that we could meet. As one would expect, he was the most modest of men. Any one might have thought on that occasion that it was he, and not I, who was having the privilege of meeting a man of genius. I went on reading, and recommending to my friends, everything that bore Mr. Manning's name - his two books, */Why not abandon the Church/* and */Essays in Orthodox Dissent,/* and his various articles and addresses. Then a few months ago came the sad news of his untimely death - in my deliberate judgement, the most serious loss that religion in this country has suffered for years past.

Bernard Manning was a religious genius, and one of a very uncommon type. He was a unique combination - a scholar, a wit, a writer with a remarkably effective English style, and an Evangelical believer. It is not often that you find any one who is all these things at once. His scholarship was never obtruded, but it was always behind all that he wrote. His pleasantly acid wit was a perpetual joy: no one ever poked fun more delightfully at the follies and pretensions of unbelief and at the timidities of conventional religion. But, deeper than all this, there was beneath all that he ever wrote the soul-stirring passion of the Evangelical faith and the Evangelical experience.

Methodism owes a special debt of gratitude to Bernard Manning. I have tried, for forty years past, to recall Methodists to a sense of the greatness of their spiritual heritage in the hymns of the Wesleys. In these hymns we possess a unique treasury of devotional poetry, but we have been neglecting this, and singing instead the flabby and sentimental verses of modern poetasters. It was Bernard Manning, a devoted member of another communion, who told us again of the supreme excellence of our Methodist hymns, and said that the */Collection/* of 1780 `ranks with the Psalms, the Book of Common Prayer, the Canon of the Mass. In its own way it is perfect, unapproachable, elemental in its perfection ... a work of supreme art by a religious genius'.

It is pathetic to remember that the last printed words from Bernard Manning's pen are a sermon preached in Cheshunt College Chapel not very long before he died - a sermon on */The Burial of the Dead,/* afterward printed in the */Congregational Quarterly./* At the end of it he quotes some triumphant lines of Charles Wesley's, and nothing could be more appropriate as our farewell to this very gifted man, who was a humble and penitent believer:

No, dear companion, no: We gladly let thee go, From a suffering church beneath, To a reigning church above: Thou hast more than conquer'd death; Thou art crown'd with life and love!


A paper read to the University Methodist Society at Wesley Church, Cambridge, on Sunday, November 20, 1932.

Come with me to John Wesley's own country: Lincolnshire. Come to the North Wolds, where from the Earl of Yarborough's woods at Pelham's Pillar you can see the line of the Humber and the North Sea, and the Dock Tower of Grimsby by day; and by night the lantern of Spurn lighthouse, the dull glow of Hull on the north, the duller glow of Gainsborough on the west, and between them the flaring furnaces of Scunthorpe. Come to the place where the hill-country of the Wolds ends suddenly with a sharp escarpment. Away to the west stretches the chess-board of variegated woodland, meadows, and ploughed fields till it rises suddenly on a far horizon to that sharp ridge on which, thirty miles away, stands the cathedral church of Lincoln. Half-way down this steep western escarpment of the Wolds in the hungry forties of last century, in the ancient Roman town of Caistor, the Methodists built a new chapel, square and high and red, in a county of red bricks and curly red tiles. Inside, the chapel had a deep gallery, and a lofty rostrum. Under the rostrum was the vestry, and through a trap door in the rostrum floor the preacher climbed from the vestry to his place. You saw him enter the vestry below by an ordinary door, and then in due time appeared his head and beard, and you hoped he would forget to shut the trap door, but he never did.

In that chapel it was my fortune to hear many sermons and to be bored by not a few. I am not less grateful for those that bored me than for those which held me interested; for in the effort to escape from boredom I made the most of the resources of my grandfather's pew. Attempts to read the one plain tablet at the side of the rostrum always failed. I grew weary of wondering why the bright yellow blinds were fitted only on the south side of the chapel, not on the north (I was very young, you see). I knew by heart the beauties of the thin iron pillars painted by some very ingenious person to deceive us into thinking they were marble. I had to wait for the hymns before the boy who blew the organ would begin his attractive diving and jumping. I had tried to imagine what would really happen if I suddenly put both my hands on the bald head of our friend there in the pew in front until the fascination of the experiment became so great that I was compelled for safety's sake to put away the thought. What, then, was left Only the pile of Bibles and hymn-books in the left-hand corner. The Bibles, I regret to confess, did not attract me; but */Wesley's Hymns, Wesley's Hymns with a Supplement,/* and */Wesley's Hymns with New Supplement,/* upon these I fell week after week. And there in that pew began an unregulated, passionate, random reading which has gone on ever since.

I could inflict upon you, but I will not, a description of the other chapel that I knew well in those days: the 1662 meeting house of my father's Congregational Church. There I found sermons less dull, for my father preached them; but the casual ministrations of strangers drove me to Part II of Dr. Barrett's */Hymnal,/* where among `Ancient Hymns of the Church' I found Irons's noble translation of the most moving of all medieval hymns - */Dies Irae;/* and from */Dies Irae,/* not knowing what I did, I caught the infection of a love of Medieval Christianity. To boring sermons, then, I owe two of the best things that I know.

Now, few of you have Methodist grandfathers at Caistor; few of you hear boring Methodist sermons; and, even if you did, few of you would still find your old hymn-books left in the pew. I may be wrong, but I suspect that many of you hardly know even the outward and visible signs of the hymn-book about which I am to talk; and I propose, therefore, before we try to approach its inward and spiritual grace to discuss its external make-up. The power of the late Wesleyan Conference was so great that when in 1904 it said `Let there be a new hymn-book', behold, it was so. Old hymn-books passed away; all hymnbooks became new. Henceforth you were to know only your new hymn-book of 1904, which came in when I was only a boy, but which still left the old on the pew shelves for my research.

I do not speak of it, */The Methodist Hymn-Book/*, with its commonplace title, like every one else's hymn-book, I speak of your glory: `A Collection of Hymns for the Use of the People called Methodists. By the Rev. John Wesley, M.A., sometime Fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford. With a supplement. London: Wesleyan Conference Office, 2 Castle Street, City Road; sold at 66 Paternoster Row.' That */was/* a title page. {The edition of the hymn-book which I describe in this paper is not the classical one of 1780, but an undated mid-nineteenth-century edition (used by my grandfather), with the 1830 supplement.} It had English history and English life in it, enough at least to set one bored little boy wondering. `Fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford': so even at Caistor we had some touch with Oxford; but what Oxford was, I had no notion. I suppose I respect and love Oxford more than I should otherwise because I first heard of it in a Methodist hymn-book. `Sometime Fellow of Lincoln College.' What was a Fellow and a sometime Fellow And why */Lincoln/* College - a pertinent question in Lincolnshire. And then, opposite the title page - surely in almost every one of the old books - there was what ought never to have been removed from any of them, the page of thicker paper with the clean-cut, chaste engraving of the venerable man himself, and his clear, beautiful signature, */John Wesley./* It was in itself an introduction to the engraver's art, for it was a good engraving; and early familiarity with that dignified figure - the long curling hair, the Geneva gown and cassock and bands - gave me, I imagine, my ineradicable prejudice in favour of a properly dressed minister and my revulsion from the parson in mufti. Did it do no more It did, and you made one of the profoundest mistakes you ever made when in 1904 you removed that engraving from your hymn-books. That engraving alone stamped on the mind and heart of your people the figure of the founder of Methodism. Your devotion to him has been a by-word with the rest of us, you know, since Crabbe wrote of you as folk whose `John the Elder was the John Divine'.

Well, let Crabbe have his joke: I think Methodism will lose a most valuable and most characteristic bit of itself when the lineaments of its founder are less clear in the mind of all its people. Every Methodist ought to know at least what Wesley looked like: and you began to erase his image when you removed him from the book. Why you did so wanton and so silly a thing, I cannot imagine. Yes, I can; but I will not go into that.

So much we learnt from the first opening of the book. Now turn over. A single page of close print contained the Preface, signed like the portrait, */John Wesley,/* and dated (how many of you know the date) London, October 20, 1779; a great but unobserved Methodist feast. I am inclined to read the whole of the Preface to you; for, unwilling as I am to think ill of you, I believe that many of you have never read it. Never read it! Why, you have never seen it. The rascals who compiled your hymn-book in 1904 saw to that. They had the effrontery to refer to it as `a celebrated preface' ('a preface' forsooth); and the wickedness to banish it from the book which you were to use for thirty years. They robbed you in 1904 of what, as the children of John Wesley, you should regard as one of your priceless heirlooms. I use strong language, but that Preface is, to begin with, one of the noblest pieces of eighteenth century prose extant: from its quaint opening words, `For many years I have been importuned', to its moving conclusion, `When Poetry thus keeps its place, as the handmaid of Piety, it shall attain, not a poor perishable wreath, but a crown that fadeth not away'. I used to read it often; I do not say I understood it then; but because I read it first in Caistor chapel I have kept on reading it till I begin to understand it. Apart altogether from Methodist interest, it is a first-rate introduction to the mind of the eighteenth century, a stimulating bit of literary criticism, and a model of plain, forceful, and at times sarcastic prose. I shall return to the Preface, but let us now pass on.

The Table of Contents follows. It is, of course, unique. Wesley said, `The hymns are not carelessly jumbled together, but carefully ranged under proper heads, according to the experience of real Christians'. The arrangement is quite unlike that with which we are now all familiar: hymns, I mean, arranged as they are in almost all our books under the three main heads: God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; Man, his needs and moods; the Church, its privileges and services. Wesley arranged his hymn-book as a spiritual biography of the sort of person whom he called in the Preface a real Christian. There is the introductory section, `Exhorting sinners to return to God'; followed by a contemplation of the great facts which should induce them to do so: the Pleasantness of Religion, the Goodness of God, and the last four things, Death, Judgement, Heaven, and Hell. Next, the outlines of religion being sketched for the contemplation of the Exhorted Sinner, Formal Religion is described and distinguished (in Part II) from Inward Religion. With this precaution taken, the real work begins in Part III. Here we have the sinner trying to find the light. He prays for repentance in Section I. In Section II he is already a mourner convinced of sin. He is on the sure way to become a believer. But stay; before we deal with the sinner turned believer, we must glance at another class. Not all those who pray for repentance and wish to begin the true life do it now for the first time. Some have been here before, have started well, then have failed, and by this time need to get their second wind, or, it may be, their third or fourth. These are the people delightfully called Backsliders. And so we have the two sections: `For Persons convinced of Backsliding' and `For Backsliders recovered'. Wesley now sees his way clear. He has put the saving facts before sinners; warned them against mistaking false religion for true; and brought them to genuine repentance, whether for the first or a later time. He can now pass on to consider their experience as believers. He contemplates them first rejoicing, then fighting, praying, watching,working, suffering,seeking full redemption - a long and most distinctive section - and then saved; finally interceding for the world. In the last section Wesley considers his Society (the Methodist Church, as we should now call it); and we have the hymns of corporate life: For the Society Meeting, Giving Thanks, Praying, and Parting.

With the history of the various supplements I do not propose to deal. In them we find the beginning of the more usual present-day grouping of hymns. They contain, of course, some of the greatest of Charles Wesley's hymns at first published separately; we find here in particular some of the sacramental hymns and the hymns for the great festivals. Into the very canon approved by John Wesley his followers did not hesitate, however, to insert a few not inserted in his life; but they marked these evidences of their rash piety by branding these pirate hymns with an asterisk. Most famous of these is `Jesu, Lover of My Soul'.{Included in */Hymns and Spiritual Songs,/* 1753, but not in the hymn-book of 1780.} In 1830 the compilers confess that some of the hymns which they now admit `sink below the rank of the Wesley poetry', but they defend their inclusion of these because of `some excellence which will be found in the sentiment', because they afford a greater choice of subjects, and because `Mr. Wesley' himself gave most of them his sanction by putting them in smaller supplemental books of his own.

Before we look into the hymns themselves, we must glance at the end of the book. Here is a mass of indexes: {The index of subjects and the index of texts were added in 1808.} indexes which by their thoroughness and minuteness link the book with Medieval and Renaissance scholarship. Scholars had not yet forgotten the way to index a book when Wesley published his hymns, and so we have a variety of indexes, which show that the book was used, as he intended it to be used, as `a little body of experimental and practical divinity'. There is an excellent index of subjects - not an apology for one, but the genuine article, of great use to any user of the book. There is an index of texts of Holy Scripture illustrated in the volume. This is not complete, it goes without saying, for there is a reminiscence of Holy Scripture in every verse, almost in every line, that Charles Wesley ever wrote. But, necessarily incomplete as it is, this index proves how fully justified was John Wesley's suggestion that in no other publication of the kind could men discover `so distinct and full an account of Scriptural Christianity'. Of the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament, only four are not recorded as illustrated: Ezra, Obadiah, Nahum, and Zephaniah. Of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament, only one: the Third Epistle of St. John. Some books, e.g. Romans and Isaiah, are illustrated chapter by chapter, almost verse by verse. There are, for instance, over thirty references to Romans viii. Last among indexes there is the Index to every verse: giving evidence, if there were no other, that the book was used for reference and study. The book is indeed a treasury for the expression of every state of mind and every condition of the soul. It is a modern Book of Psalms. Exactly as the devout of all times have found in the Psalms a better expression of their fears and hopes, their defeats and victories, than in any words they could put together for themselves, so the lover of Wesley's hymns finds inevitably and unconsciously that he drops into quoting them whatever point he has to make, whatever confession he has to utter. Before we look at the hymns themselves, then, I want to emphasize to you the unique possession of your Church in this book which you hardly know to-day. You talk much, and you talk rightly, of the work Methodism does for the world and for the universal Church; but your greatest - incomparably your greatest - contribution to the common heritage of Christendom is in Wesley's hymns. All the other things which you do, others have done and can do as well, better, or less well. But in Wesley's hymns you have something unique, no one else could have done it, and unless you preserve it for the use of all the faithful, till that day when we are all one, we shall all lose some of the best gifts of God. I implore you then, in these days when you are tempted to look at other parts of the Church and to dwell on your likeness to them and on the great things that we all have in common, keep that good thing committed peculiarly to your charge. This is your vineyard: do not come one day saying, `Whatever I have done elsewhere, mine own vineyard have I not kept'. In Wesley's hymns, not divorced from the great tunes of the Handel tradition, you have what only you understand and what (I sometimes fear) you no longer think it worth while to understand.

You may think my language about the hymns extravagant: therefore I repeat it in stronger terms. This little book - some 750 hymns {Wesley's Collection of 1780 has only 525 hymns.} - ranks in Christian literature with the Psalms, the Book of Common Prayer, the Canon of the Mass. In its own way, it is perfect, unapproachable, elemental in its perfection. You cannot alter it except to mar it;- it is a work of supreme devotional art by a religious genius. You may compare it with Leonardo's `Last Supper' or King's Chapel; and, as Blackstone said of the English Constitution, the proper attitude to take to it is this: we must venerate where we are not able presently to comprehend.

If you are now in a fit state of mind, we will look at the hymns. Let me admit at once that, in spite of all I have said, Charles Wesley did not always write well. The book contains many stilted, feeble, dull verses, and not a few that may strike us as ludicrous. These weaknesses are especially to be noticed when Wesley writes of occasional or less exalted subjects. Among the hymns included under the heading `For Believers Interceding' are, for instance, some `For Masters'. These are interesting inasmuch as they give us the point of view of an eighteenth-century householder with his apprentices, his servants, and his family around him:

Inferiors, as a sacred trust, I from the Sovereign Lord receive, That what is suitable and just, Impartial I to all may give:

O'erlook them with a guardian eye; From vice and wickedness restrain; Mistakes and lesser faults pass by, And govern with a looser rein.

The servant faithfully discreet, Gentle to him, and good, and mild, Him would I tenderly entreat, And scarce distinguish from a child.

Yet let me not my place forsake, The occasion of his stumbling prove, The servant to my bosom take, Or mar him by familiar love.

As far from abjectness as pride, With condescending dignity, Jesus, I make Thy word my guide, And keep the post assign'd by Thee.

That you may think merely quaint, but it is much to be wished that all modern employers read on to the last two verses:

O could I emulate the zeal Thou dost to Thy poor servants bear! The troubles, griefs, and burdens feel Of souls entrusted to my care:

In daily prayer to God commend The souls whom God expired to save: And think how soon my sway may end And all be equal in the grave!

The hymns `For Parents' show some concern lest the rod be too much spared, and the child spoilt.

We tremble at the danger near, And crowds of wretched parents see Who, blindly fond, their children rear In tempers far as hell from Thee:

Themselves the slaves of sense and praise, Their babes who pamper and admire, And make the helpless infants pass To murderer Moloch through the fire.

Parents are to be concerned rather -

To time our every smile or frown, To mark the bounds of good and ill, And beat the pride of nature down, And bend or break his rising will.

And again, in another hymn:

We plunge ourselves in endless woes, Our helpless infant sell; Resist the light, and side with those Who send their babes to hell.

We mark the idolizing throng, Their cruel fondness blame; Their children's souls we know they wrong; - And we shall do the same.

Yet parents may hope to avoid extreme measures:

We would persuade their heart t' obey; With mildest zeal proceed; And never take the harsher way, When love will do the deed.

The hymn `For the Mahometans' has great interest for students of Church history. Wesley has given a vivid and a true picture of the devastation wrought in the Christian East by Islam. He displays a sympathetic appreciation of the facts remarkable for his time when English Christians were perhaps even less understanding about the tragedy of the Eastern Church than we are to-day. This hymn alone would mark the extra- ordinarily wide and understanding survey which the Wesleys made of the Christian world; it was not an idle boast, that of John's: `I look upon the whole world as my parish.' The two brothers had the most truly Catholic mind in eighteenth-century England - nay, in eighteenth-century Christendom:

The smoke of the infernal cave, Which half the Christian world o'erspread, Disperse, Thou heavenly Light, and save The souls by that Impostor led, That Arab-chief, as Satan bold, Who quite destroy'd Thy Asian fold.

O might the blood of sprinkling cry For those who spurn the sprinkled blood! Assert Thy glorious Deity, Stretch out Thine arm, Thou Triune God The Unitarian fiend expel, And chase his doctrine back to hell.

The couplet about the Unitarian fiend has perhaps a wider application than to Mahometans; as I have sometimes wondered in old days if Wesley did not write with a prophet's pen that couplet about a widely circulated religious weekly:

The world, */The Christian World,/* convince Of damning unbelief.

I know not how it is among you, but many well-meaning Congregationalists, I am sorry to say, are now too well-bred, or too squeamish, to sing that great missionary hymn of Heber's, in which we can breathe again the fervent faith of the heroic days of modern missions. I mean, of course, `From Greenland's icy mountains'. How then would they get on with Wesley: `For the Heathen'

The servile progeny of Ham Seize, as the purchase of Thy blood; Let all the Heathens know Thy name; From idols to the living God The dark Americans convert; And shine in every Pagan heart.

There are, of course, quaint passages in the main body of hymns:

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.

Suffice that for the season past Hell's horrid language fill'd our tongues; We all Thy words behind us cast, And loudly sang the drunkard's songs.

There are references to the contemporary controversy with the Calvinists. Were the benefits of the Atonement intended for the whole race or only for those who did in fact receive them Here is a hymn which sounds to-day as if any one might sing it; but in Wesley's time it was a battle-song of militant Arminianism. Notice the stab at debased Calvinism in every line:

Father, whose everlasting love Thy only Son for sinners gave; Whose grace to all did freely move, And sent Him down the world to save:

Help us Thy mercy to extol, Immense, unfathom'd, unconfined; To praise the Lamb who died for all, The general Saviour of mankind.

Thy undistinguishing regard Was cast on Adam's fallen race; For all Thou hast in Christ prepared Sufficient, sovereign, saving grace.

The world He suffer'd to redeem: For all He hath th' atonement made: For those that will not come to Him, The ransom of His life was paid.

Arise, O God, maintain Thy cause! The fulness of the Gentiles call: Lift up the standard of Thy cross, And all shall own Thou diedst for all.

It is time to leave these curiosities and turn to the central part of the book. Why do I confidently make such great claims for it Well, first a word about the language and literary form. It was Charles Wesley's good fortune, or (if you like) it was in the providence of God, that he was set to express the Catholic faith as it was being newly received in the Evangelical movement at a moment when prevailing taste and prevailing literary habits combined to give him a perfect literary instrument for hymn-writing. Dryden, Pope, and the rest of the much derided `Classical' school had just shown what could be done with the English language inside the limits of what Milton called `the troublesome and modern bondage of riming'.

Charles Wesley's generation was bred to the use of rhymed couplets and formal metres as you to-day are bred to the control of cars and wireless sets. In trying to say what he had to say in common metre, long metre, short metre, 6.8s, 7s and 6s, 8s and 6s, and the like, he was not kicking against the pricks as the genius of Francis Thompson or Christina Rossetti would have been. He was moving naturally in what was to him a natural medium, and so you simply are not aware of the trammels of the literary form, because he is not. He moves with complete mastery, with an ease that conceals mastery. His art is so cunning that it is difficult indeed to illustrate it.

We are, however, all aware of odd jolts that we get in some hymns where the sense quarrels with the metre or oversteps it. That very literary person, F. S. Pierpoint, in his exquisite (I use the adjective in its good */and/* its bad sense) hymn, `For the Beauty of the Earth', though he is rather oppressively `cultured' most of the time, is not master of his metre and crashes awkwardly in verse two:

For the beauty of each hour Of the day and of the night.

You don't want to emphasize the absurd word `of', but Pierpoint has contrived his couplet so ill that you must.

Or we may look at Tennyson (though this is not quite fair, because Tennyson was not writing a hymn). The opening stanzas of */In Memoriam/* make a noble hymn; but there is that metrical difficulty (apart from discovering exactly what Tennyson means) in the last stanzas:

Let knowledge grow from more to more, But more of reverence in us dwell, That heart and mind, according well, May make one music as before,

But vaster. We are fools and slight.

*/But vaster/* is an awkward `carry over' to a new verse and a new start of the tune. It is a great merit in a hymn if each line, to say nothing of each verse, contains a more or less rounded thought. I dare say that you have often felt that in singing the great hymn of Dr. Watts on which John Wesley died, `I'll praise my Maker'. It goes smoothly enough till you come to -

Happy the man whose hopes rely On Israel's God! He made the sky, And earth and seas, with all their train.

I know that it is partly the Psalmist's fault. Watts was following him, and the Psalmist has this sudden transition: `He made the sky'; but it would have been neater, nevertheless, if Watts had made the transition in meaning at the end of the line where you get the natural transition of metre. And what I am driving at is that Charles Wesley never, or almost never, is caught out by his metre as Pierpoint and Watts and Tennyson (considered as a hymn-writer) are; and as almost every one is. There may be examples in Wesley: I can only say that I have noticed none. His strong accent always seems to fall in the right place; and most lines contain one thought and not more than one.

You do not notice his perfect mastery of his medium, I said; but you can trace it. To do that helps to explain the smoothness of his verse and his success in bringing it off every time with a facility which, at its worst, is almost a sort of slickness. I will give you one example. You know the literary artifice called by the grammarians `chiasmus'. You have four ideas which hang together in two pairs, which we can call A and B. Instead of dealing first with the first pair, the A's and then with the B's, you mention one of the first pair, then both the second pair, and then finish with the second member of the first pair: A B B A. There sounds to be little in it, but it is most effective, especially in four lines of verse. Let us look at a hymn in detail. Take the great baptismal hymn, `Come Father, Son, and Holy Ghost'. You remember verse two:

We now Thy promised presence claim, Sent to disciple all mankind, Sent to baptize into Thy Name, We now Thy promised presence find.

You have there the lines 1 and 4 similar and the lines 2 and 3 similar. You see how Wesley rings the changes. Beginning with */promised presence,/* he goes off to the idea of */Sent to do/* this; then he presses that home again, */Sent to do/* that; and finally gives the knock-out blow by a return to the place from which he started, */promised presence./*

Now take a hymn like `Jesu, Lover', about which I dare say you think you know everything. Here Wesley's feeling is very high. You know this hymn is often criticized as poor in literary form, though moving in its piety. Many jests have been made about the confused navigation pictured in the metaphors of verse one: a bosom in a storm becomes a ship; and our Saviour, from being the pilot ('safely to the haven guide') is turned into some one on the shore who welcomes the vessel. That sort of comment is all very small and silly; I mention it only to show that, even in a hymn where Wesley's control of his metaphors is not the tightest, he still is very active with his quiet skill of weaving a pattern in his words. Consider the famous verse that brings divine consolation to millions who never think of its literary form. Have you noticed the fingerprints of the accomplished classical scholar still on that

Just and holy is Thy Name, I am all unrighteousness; False and full of sin I am, Thou art full of truth and grace.

Here you have two people in contrast: the holy Saviour and the sinful speaker. Wesley begins with the Saviour. `Just and holy is Thy Name'; then he has two lines on the sinful speaker:

I am all unrighteousness; False and full of sin I am.

And, finally, he mentions the Saviour again: `Thou art full of truth and grace.'

The contrast, that is to say, is made two ways in the first two lines: Saviour - sinner; then in the next two, sinner - Saviour: A B B A. But look at the pattern of the verse a little more closely. Inside this main design you see two variants of it worked, so to say, on a smaller scale. Take the lines about the sinner:

I am all unrighteousness: False and full of sin I am.

Here you have the pronoun `I' and a description of the speaker, `I am all unrighteousness': `I am false and full of sin'. But you see how Wesley arranges it: `I' first, then epithet: `I am all unrighteousness'; then comes another epithet, and lastly `I': `False and full of sin I am'. A B B A.

Now look at the two lines about the Saviour. They exactly balance; and the same literary device is used in precisely the same way.

Just and holy is Thy Name; A B Thou art full of truth and grace. B A

So in four very simple lines, on the most simple theme, we have the same effective pattern twice woven small, and then the whole enclosed in a larger setting of exactly the same pattern.

This, I know, has been tedious, and perhaps not very convincing. I must mention it, however, because it gives you a hint of the literary power and skill and instinct for form that lie behind Wesley's success as a verse maker. I must not analyse more. If he does that in four comparatively simple lines, you may judge what he does elsewhere. */Ex pede Herculem./* I do not suggest that Methodist congregations know why the verse is good; but if it is good and clear, and not tedious and flat, it is so, I submit, because your congregations unconsciously benefit by Wesley's literary power. And it was, as I said, Wesley's good fortune that the sort of literary skill most appreciated in his day, and therefore that in which he was most trained, was a skill which helped him in writing the concise verse that is necessary in hymns. After the Romantic Revival, another kind of verse - of a more continuous, straggling kind - came into fashion; and when it was chopped into verses, it often seemed, and indeed it was, unnatural and unhappy.

But it was not only in the form of his metre that Wesley was happy. He lived in an age of robust common sense, common sense that was often pedestrian and uninspiring and commonplace, but common sense for all that. This gave his language a clarity and reality and vigour that are most precious. For in religion, if it is to save souls (or whatever the modern phrase may be) those qualities - clarity, reality, vigour - are essential. In religious talk you must understand what the fellow means; you must be sure he is talking about facts and talking sincerely; you must be knocked down, or at least effectually persuaded, by what he says. Now, of all people who talk about religion, Charles Wesley is the least sentimental and soulful. There is no sort of self-conscious tension or priggishness or humbug about him. He says what he has to say in the simplest, plainest way he can. He does not take refuge in abstract nouns and over-subtle adjectives. Concrete nouns, active verbs, and plain metaphors: these are his material. He can use a Latin word on occasion with great effect. At times he can be so scholarly as to be hardly understood by the crowd. But these are quite exceptional moods; and he is */never/* foggy. His allusions sometimes may be too erudite for most to grasp; but, once grasped, they are quite simple. Take these examples - space permits only sample verse quotations:

Arm of the Lord, awake, awake! Thine own immortal strength put on! With terror clothed, hell's kingdom shake, And cast Thy foes with fury down.

As in the ancient days appear! The sacred annals speak Thy fame: Be now omnipotently near, To endless ages still the same.

Thy arm, Lord, is not shorten'd now; It wants not now the power to save; Still present with Thy people, thou Bear'st them through life's disparted wave.

Where pure, essential joy is found, The Lord's redeem'd their heads shall raise, With everlasting gladness crown'd, And fill'd with love, and lost in praise.

You will notice how full this is of scriptural allusion: in places it is almost a transcript from scripture. You will notice its vigour, its simple metaphors, its occasional Latin, */`omnipotently/* near', `pure */essential/* joy'.

When Israel out of Egypt came, And left the proud oppressor's land, Supported by the great */I Am/*, Safe in the hollow of His hand, The Lord in Israel reign'd alone, And Judah was His favourite throne.

Creation, varied by His hand, Th' omnipotent Jehovah knows; The sea is turn'd to solid land, The rock into a fountain flows; And all things, as they change, proclaim The Lord eternally the same.

Here is an extreme example of Wesley's more erudite verse (he is speaking of Heaven):

Those amaranthine bowers (Unalienably ours) Bloom, our infinite reward, Rise, our permanent abode; From the founded world prepared; Purchased by the blood of God.

'Amaranthine bowers' and `the founded world' need footnotes; but little of Wesley is like that. On the other hand, it is pleasant to find with how sure a touch he deals with a technical subject like heraldry, as he does in the verse:

What though a thousand hosts engage, A thousand worlds, my soul to shake I have a shield shall quell their rage, And drive the alien armies back; Portray'd it bears a bleeding Lamb: I dare believe in Jesu's name.

*/Portray'd/* is a word that betrays the man who knows how to describe a shield.

This use of simple, direct words is illustrated by the Table of Contents. Where modern editors talk in long Latin abstract nouns, regeneration, temptation, discipline, resignation, aspiration, consecration, Wesley hits out simply: `For Believers fighting, suffering, praying.'

This gift of elemental simplicity and stinging direct speech comes out in such a hymn as that for the Watch Night Service, `Come, let us anew'. I know not how it is with you, but familiarity has never made me proof against the sheer magic of the words:

Our life is a dream; Our time, as a stream, Glides swiftly away And the fugitive moment refuses to stay.

The arrow is flown; The moment is gone; The millennial year Rushes on to our view, and eternity's here.

Notice the supreme cunning which introduces into the simple Anglo-Saxon the two Latin adjectives, the */fugitive/* moment, the */millennial/* year.

But all this, you will say (and you will say very truly), does not suffice to make the book great, religiously great. I agree. So far I have spoken only of the external things because I want you to see those, as I saw them, first. That was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural. Wesley might have done all that I have mentioned so far, and yet have been no more than one of those competent versifiers with whom the eighteenth century abounded. His precise verse and his simple, unaffected language, had there been nothing behind them, would have produced a book edifying indeed, but dull and unmoving. We have to inquire, therefore, what */was/* behind. What made Wesley different from the pious poetasters of his generation - different as the Canon of the Mass is different from modern Romanist handbooks of devotion, different (that is to say) by the whole difference of religious genius I will name three things among the many which might be named.

First, there is the full-orbed and conscious orthodoxy of a scholar trained and humbled as he contemplates the holy, catholic, and evangelical faith in its historic glory and strength. The hymns are charged with dogma. They set forth, not the amiable generalizations of natural religion in which Wesley's contemporaries delighted, but the peculiar and pungent doctrines of uncompromising Christianity. References to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, of the Incarnation, of Redemption by the Passion, of the Resurrection - we never move far from these. Simply to state the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is for Wesley a pleasure and a means of grace. Often he wants nothing more than that: it is enough for him to name the Name of God:

Round us when we speak Thy Name There spreads a heaven of light.

This quality in his work puts Wesley in line with the greatest hymn-writers of the Greek Church. A most prominent feature in their hymns, as in his, is the spiritual exaltation which they discover as they glory in a statement of the orthodox faith and as they triumphantly assert the Christian doctrine of God. Hear Wesley on the Incarnation:

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.

He laid His glory by, He wrapp'd Him in our clay, Unmark'd by human eyes, The latent Godhead lay; Infant of days He here became, And bore the mild Immanuel's name.

Hear him on the Passion:

With glorious clouds encompas't round, Whom angels dimly see, Will the Unsearchable be found, Or God appear to me

Jehovah in Thy person show, Jehovah crucified! And then the pardoning God I know, And feel the blood applied.

Wesley's orthodoxy, it is true, some of your modern theologians have been rash enough to question. With puny daring, they suggest that he denies the true humanity of the Son and flirts with patripassianism. This is a feeble and unconvincing display by men who wince before the strength of his doctrine. Let them master the doctrine of the communication of attributes, as Wesley mastered it, and fears for his orthodoxy will give place to fears for their own. It is, then, because Wesley has such great things to say - stupendous assertions about God made Man - that in his hands the slick mechanical metres of the eighteenth century are not only smooth and easy, but moving and even harrowing.

But Wesley, as probably he does not quite reach the excellence of the Greek writers in dogmatic hymns, goes beyond them in another way. For Wesley has not only the full faith to set out; he goes on to tell of a present experience, of its effects in his own life:

What we have felt and seen With confidence we tell.

Most men and women merely disgust us when they talk about their souls and their secret experiences; they did this quite effectually even before psychology became the rage; but Wesley's common sense and scholarly taste kept him from mawkish excesses without crushing his spirit. The result is that few people have been as successful as he was in speaking at once with passion and with decency about God's work in their own lives. For him the important things are the great, external, objective truths about God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and the definite impact of faith in these on his own life and other men's. Through all the book there rings an absolutely overmastering note of confidence, certainty, and happiness. `The best of all is, God is with us', with us especially in Emmanuel, the incarnate Son: nothing can make Wesley forget that. Historic Christianity applied to the individual soul and the sharing of this experience with other men who know it too - so Wesley reaches that sense of a common life which all `real' Christians - Wesley's word - live. So, too, he comes to yearn over the great troubled world that is missing this heavenly treasure.

Lastly, there is something else. There is the solid structure of historic dogma; there is the passionate thrill of present experience; but there is, too, the glory of a mystic sunlight coming directly from-another world. This transfigures history and experience. This puts past and present into the timeless eternal NOW. This brings together God and man until Wesley talks with God as a man talks with his friend. This gives to the hymnbook its divine audacity, those passages only to be understood by such as have sat in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, and being caught up into paradise have heard unspeakable words which it is not lawful for a man to utter.

Let me illustrate this mystical quality by two of the most famous hymns. In them Wesley is at the height of his inspiration: nothing short of inspiration keeps the daring emotion sane and reverent and orthodox. The first is:

Ah! show me that happiest place, The place of Thy people's abode, Where saints in an ecstasy gaze, And hang on a crucified God; Thy love for a sinner declare, Thy passion and death on the tree; My spirit to Calvary bear, To suffer and triumph with Thee.

The second example is, of course, `Wrestling Jacob', that hymn described with such power by Percy Lubbock in his account of Dr. Warre's sermons in Eton Chapel. Wesley saw in this story of Jacob prevailing over the mysterious Wrestler even under the old dispensation a mystical revelation of the humiliation of the Word; and he argues, commands, and hectors as if the Word of God were already wearing our Flesh. I should like to quote it all; I will remind you only of it:

Come, O Thou Traveller unknown, Whom still I hold, but cannot see!

Incidentally, we notice those doctrines that Barth is teaching us anew in the lines:

When I am weak, then I am strong; And when my all of strength shall fail, I shall with the God-Man prevail.

There have been other writers of dogmatic hymns (we think of the Greek Church); there have been other writers of hymns revealing a personal experience of religion (we think of the nineteenth century); there have been other writers of mystical religious poetry (we think of the seventeenth century). It is Wesley's glory that he united these three strains - dogma, experience, mysticism - in verse so simple that it could be understood, and so smooth that it could be used, by plain men. You can find a union of these qualities in the greatest Latin hymns of the Medieval Church, but hardly (I believe) anywhere else.

These three qualities, among others, give such a life to the hymns that they can never grow old while Christians experience God's grace. There is indeed a strange timelessness about them: their essential confidence does not rest on the position won by the gospel at the time of Wesley's writing, on the progress or lack of progress of the work of God. Some few of the expressions are such as we should not use to-day, but the main things that Wesley has to say we want still to say. He is greatest when he is on the greatest things; greatest of all, possibly, in his sacramental hymns. In reading fully one which your modern book truncates, I end. Notice its simple language, its profound and vigorous orthodoxy, its firm personal faith and experience, its mystical air:

Victim Divine, Thy grace we claim, While thus Thy precious death we show: Once offer'd up a spotless Lamb. In Thy great temple here below, Thou didst for all mankind atone, And standest now before the throne.

Thou standest in the holy place, As now for guilty sinners slain; The blood of sprinkling speaks, and prays, All prevalent for helpless man; Thy blood is still our ransom found, And speaks salvation all around.

The smoke of Thy atonement here Darken'd the sun, and rent the veil, Made the new way to heaven appear, And show'd the great Invisible; Well pleased in Thee, our God look'd down, And calls His rebels to a crown.

He still respects Thy sacrifice; Its savour sweet doth always please: The Offering smokes through earth and skies, Diffusing life, and joy, and peace; To these, Thy lower courts, it comes, And fills them with divine perfumes.

We need not now go up to heaven, To bring the long-sought Saviour down; Thou art to all already given, Thou dost even now Thy banquet crown: To every faithful soul appear, And show Thy real presence here!


In the last years of the War and the first years of the peace, Arthur Christopher Benson was Master of Magdalene. He lived, not in the new Lodge, but in the old Lodge in Magdalene Street, a house turned now into sets of rooms. It was my good fortune to be one of the many on whom he showered kindnesses, and often in those years I used to call on him and go out with him walking or bicycling. You rang a bell at the street door, and after a rather long delay you were admitted: not, as you at first expected, to the house, but to a short cloister open on one side and leading to a french window. Before you passed through the french window, you often heard the comfortable notes of organ music proceeding in a smothered sort of fashion from an inner room. The french window admitted you to an outer hall, dark with tapestry and crowded with pictures; from it you entered an inner waiting-room, sandwiched (as you learnt later) between the Master's study and his bedroom. This room looked out on the Master's garden. It was lighted by windows partly filled with quaint Dutch painted glass of the seventeenth century. In this inner waiting-room you found the Master playing, with apparent carelessness and with infinite satisfaction, a small organ.

What was he playing Well, as often as not, Charles Wesley's hymns to such tunes as */Stella;/* and, if you glanced round the room you saw at least half a score of busts and images of the great John himself. Benson was the son of an archbishop, but he had been a boy in Lincoln Chancery and a young man in Methodist Cornwall; and in those congenial atmospheres he had acquired, as he often told me, a devotion to the Wesleys. To be sure, he treated them as disrespectfully as he treated every one else of whom he was fond. He dissected, criticized, mocked at, and misunderstood them with conscious but entertaining perversity. Nevertheless, he returned to them with affection and veneration, and he liked nothing better than to play these hymns and to quote them.

As I used to go into that dark and slightly mysterious house and hear the familiar tunes, I got many and many a time the feeling that something had assured me of the unshaken truth of essential Christianity. Those years of war were years of much argument, much questioning, much doubt, much despair; but to hear the tunes which cried out the words of Wesley's faith was, at least for me, to feel myself confirmed mysteriously in the faith itself. Why this happened no doubt any fifth-rate psychologist could explain. Those tunes and (to use one of Wesley's favourite expressions) the latent words I had first known and had unforgettably learnt in the remote Lincolnshire wolds. The tunes and the faith still enjoyed the security, the certainty, that then were features of all my schoolboy life.- Wesley's hymns to */Stella, Euphony, Sovereignty, Irish,/* Justification by Faith, the Plan of Salvation, the Gift of God, the Wages of Sin, it was all as certain to recur on Sunday as the football match on Saturday, an illicit drive over the Wolds about every other week, the sheep fair in March, and the roundabouts in the Market Place in May. The plan of salvation and justification by faith were as much in the nature of things, as self-evident, and as much to be taken for granted as the benevolence of the Liberal party, the malevolence of the Conservatives, the wisdom of the minority on the Board of Guardians, and the iniquity of the local solicitors.

Yes, it all may be so. I think, nevertheless, that there was more in it than that; and to that I shall in due course return. Meanwhile I ask you to remember that sense of security as we take a look at the hymns themselves.

It will be difficult not to spend too much time over the form and structure: difficult especially for me who most Sunday nights in term endure */Hymns Ancient and Modern/* with the wretched versification, doubtful grammar, and questionable theology thereof, much of it nowadays most appropriately set out in what I may call the jazz music of Vaughan Williams. Or, if we seek relief from */Ancient and Modern,/* there is the */English Hymnal,/* better it is true, but stuffed out with second-rate creaking translations of Greek and Latin hymns, fusty as a second-hand Lewis and Short, more like the meritorious exercises of the classical sixth than Poetry, the handmaid of Piety. Worst of all there is the self-conscious preciosity of */Songs of Praise,/* mistaking quaintness for strength and antiquarianism for orthodoxy. From all such let us turn to Charles Wesley, and as we linger in the outer court let us notice, first, a simple but useful virtue which Wesley practises in almost every hymn. I mean that he binds his verses, not merely by rhyme, not merely by consecutive thought, but by verbal references which, without our noticing them, lead us from line to line. Wesley gives us no jumps in language to distract our attention from what he and we are saying. I choose a verse at random:

Thou waitest to be gracious still; Thou dost with sinners bear,

the second */Thou/* carries us on from the first:

That, saved, we may Thy goodness feel,

*/we/* of this third line is */sinners/* of line 2,

And all Thy grace declare.

*/Thy grace,/* a repetition of the idea in */Thy goodness/* of line 3.

It is the technique that the careful reader notes in Macaulay: every sentence is linked with the preceding sentence by a word or an allusion. This word or allusion throws the reader back to something which he has not had time to forget and so knits Macaulay's paragraph, like Wesley's verse, into one.

You value this fully if you have suffered from what I may call the ill-regulated verse of the next century: say, George Macdonald's morning prayer:

Lord, let me live and act this day, Still rising from the dead; [Why, still] Lord, make my spirit good and gay - Give me my daily bread.

Admirable sentiments, but a thought disconnected. The connexion between goodness and gaiety and rising from the dead needs looking for and exposing, if indeed it exists; whilst the connexion in thought between */daily bread/* and what precedes seems to consist only in this: that */bread/* rhymes undeniably with */dead./* It is the verse of a tyro: the verse that you and I write. I slide over the (to me) horrible posing childishness of praying to be gay. Wesley, I think, I hope, never descends to the triviality which pretends to be simplicity.

But let us compare Wesley with hymn-writers who were no tyros. In two writers at least in the nineteenth century we may perceive a mastery of the art of versification which excludes the grosser faults: Bishop Walsham How and Bishop Wordsworth at least knew that */of/* is not a very good word on which to allow an accent to fall. Neither of them, we may think, would have written the shocking lines in that popular hymn of the Rabbi Felix Adler, `Sing we of the golden city':

It will pass into the splendours Of the city of the light.

Let us see then what they can do.

Wordsworth can do well. `Hark! the sound of holy voices' is honest verse and wholesome doctrine, even if its language is not so classically scriptural as Wesley's. But this is exceptionally good for Wordsworth. More often Wordsworth takes a scriptural metaphor and beats it out too thin in line after line, or, worse still, takes a metaphor of his own composing and does the same to it. He has a fatal facility for verse. He does not, like George Macdonald, have to think as far as */bread/* to get a rhyme with */dead;/* he gently expands every notion till it is sure sooner or later to rhyme with anything that may be about. Gospel light for Wordsworth does not merely glow: it glows with pure and radiant beams. Living water does not merely flow: it flows with soul-refreshing streams. The Bishop leaves nothing to the imagination. He drags out, shakes out, and ticks off every commonplace extension of every commonplace thought.

Until it was set to a feeble dance tune by Vaughan Williams, Bishop How's `For all the saints' was a hymn with merit. It is perhaps a trifle too luscious and romantic to ring quite true for those of us whose human treasure is in fact in heaven. There is more than a touch of King Arthur and the Round Table about the distant triumph song, the golden evening brightening in the West, and Paradise the blest. But that is nothing. When we reach the last two verses, they ring dreadfully false and thin. The exactness of the geography of earth's bounds and ocean's coast does not fit the apocalyptic gates of pearl, and then with this unreal picture of the saints rising from land and sea and entering the gates of pearl we come suddenly on what should be no Arthurian romantic stuff: the doxology to the Holy Trinity. Compare this combination of Malory's tinsel and a young lady's water colour of a sunset with Wesley's virile presentation of the same communion of saints under the same metaphor of an army. I can scarcely bear not to quote it all, but you know it:

One army of the living God, To His command we bow; Part of His host have cross'd the flood, And part are crossing now.

His militant embodied host, With wishful looks we stand; And long to see that happy coast, And reach the heavenly land.

Not a word wasted. It is as spare and taut as the warriors it describes. Yet if more spare it is far more daring than How. Listen:

Even now by faith we join our hands With those that went before, And greet the blood-besprinkled bands On the eternal shore.

There is a communion of saints indeed.

Our spirits too shall quickly join, Like theirs with glory crowned, And shout to see our Captain's sign, To hear His trumpet sound.

If you want a military metaphor, that is it. No distant triumph song stealing in the ear or countless host streaming through gates of pearl, but -

Shout to see our Captain's sign, To hear His trumpet sound.

Not in vain for Wesley had Balaam prophesied: `The Lord his God is with him; and the shout of a king is among them.'

If we study Wesley's use of metaphors and similes, we shall note that a very large proportion of them come directly from Holy Scripture or are reminiscences of Holy Scripture. John Wesley (you remember the Preface) praised his brother's hymns for their exposition of `Scriptural Christianity'. The praise, of course, was merited, but might have been extended; in metaphor and simile, not less than in doctrine, Charles Wesley deserves that high and unfashionable commendation: */scriptural./* This constant reference to the classical language of the faith - the written Word of God - gives Charles Wesley's hymns them- selves a classical poise and accent which marks them off, I believe, from all other modern hymns. It saves Wesley from the deplorable bathos and feeble amateurishness into which almost all other hymn-writers fall at times and from which some never escape. Great poetic genius is needed to use metaphor and simile in verse. Homer, Virgil, Milton can do it:

Thick as autumnal leaves that strew the brooks In Vallombrosa,

and so on. But we ordinary folk, flying to metaphor and simile in our own strength, merely make ourselves ridiculous. Let me illustrate. The perfectly well-intentioned J. D. Burns attempts a metaphor of his own invention and at first fares pretty well:

Thy ways are love - though they transcend Our feeble range of sight, They wind through darkness to their end In everlasting light.

But, encouraged, alas! by this success, he proceeds:

Thy thoughts are love, and Jesus is The loving voice they find;

Christ is indeed the Word, but what follows

His love lights up the vast abyss Of the Eternal Mind.

We plunge from the sensible (I cannot say the sublime) to the ridiculous, perhaps indeed to the blasphemous. `The vast abyss of the Eternal Mind' is not a reverent or a complimentary expression - even if you spell `Eternal Mind' with capital letters and light it with a voice. That is what happens when a man of ordinary ability leaves the classical metaphors of Holy Scripture. Charles Wesley, who could do it with less risk than most hymnwriters, takes the risk less often than most. And when he does seem to me to have no scriptural authority, I believe that it is almost always because my knowledge of Holy Scripture is too exiguous to detect the reference.

I do not say that the non-scriptural metaphor always fails. Even the wishy-washy Faber succeeded with it once, in his one good hymn, because he kept it simple and short:

Through life's long day and death's dark night, O gentle Jesus, be our light.

But for one success there are a thousand failures.

Baring Gould is a writer for whom, despite my better judgement, I have a sneaking affection, and `Onward! Christian soldiers' is not to be written off hastily; but compare his treatment of a scriptural phrase with Wesley's treatment of the same phrase:

Crowns and thrones may perish, Kingdoms rise and wane, But the Church of Jesus Constant will remain.

Gates of hell can never 'Gainst that Church prevail; We have Christ's own promise And that cannot fail.

How does Wesley say it Before we read him, we may be sure he will avoid a bad stress like that in the last line `And that cannot fail'. He will avoid the ugly ` `gainst' and the needlessly emphatic */`that/* Church', as if there were a multitude of churches. Notice the climbing effect of his verse. He saves his scripture till the last line; and boldly exaggerates the Gospel word from a negative resistance to a positive attack. Notice, too, the subtle use of alliteration: */w/* in the first half of the verse, */m/* in lines 5 and 6, s in lines 7 and 8.

When He first the work begun, Small and feeble was His day: Now the word doth swiftly run, Now it wins its widening way; More and more it spreads and grows Ever mighty to prevail; Sin's strongholds it now o'erthrows, Shakes the trembling gates of hell.

The Gospel word */prevail/* is wrested from the use of the gates of hell - the gates of hell shall not */prevail/* - and the Church does not merely resist the gates, the prevailing word shakes them. It is the strong finish, all saved for a knock-out blow. Every verse of that superb hymn ends in such a line. All the preceding lines lead by steps to an emphatic concluding phrase.

Verse 1 ends:

All partake the glorious bliss!

Verse 3 ends:

Him Who spake a world from nought.

Verse 4 ends:

All the Spirit of His love!

These other fellows appear at once as mere children and bunglers when we can, as here, compare their treatment of a theme with Wesley's treatment of the same theme.

I do not except Newman. `Praise to the Holiest' is almost a great hymn. It has some very great verses; but you must have lamented over the feebleness of its ending. After presenting in awful language the theology of the sacrifice of Calvary, Newman ends as a Unitarian might have ended, as indeed a Unitarian did end, his Passion hymn. The second Adam, the higher gift than grace, God's Presence and His very Self - to what does it lead Newman To this: the sacrifice of God Himself on the Cross is to teach us to bear suffering and death. True, no doubt; but what a perfect anti-climax! The Unitarian Martineau has it more passionately, for he can go as far as that:

O Lord of sorrow, meekly die: Thou'lt heal or hallow all our woe,


Great chief of faithful souls, arise, None-else can lead the martyr-band.

It is not to the Roman Cardinal that we must look to supply the deficiencies of the Unitarian's faith. It is to one of ourselves, blessed be God. Hear Wesley:

Come, then, and to my soul reveal The heights and depths of grace, The wounds which all my sorrows heal, That dear disfigured face.

Before my eyes of faith confest, Stand forth a slaughtered Lamb; And wrap me in Thy crimson vest And tell me all Thy name.

Jehovah in Thy Person show, Jehovah crucified! And then the pardoning God I know, And feel the blood applied.

I view the Lamb in His own light, Whom angels dimly see, And gaze, transported at the sight, To all eternity.

Or this:

Endless scenes of wonder rise From that mysterious tree, Crucified before our eyes, Where we our Maker see; Jesus, Lord, what hast Thou done Publish we the death divine, Stop, and gaze, and fall, and own Was never love like Thine!

Never love nor sorrow was [Note that verbal link.] Like that my Saviour show'd: See Him stretched on yonder Cross, And crushed beneath our load! Now discern the Deity, Now His heavenly birth declare! Faith cries out, `Tis He, `Tis He, My God, that suffers there!

Contrast Newman's mean conclusion:

To teach His brethren, and inspire To suffer and to die.

Newman's is a humanitarian tinkling. Wesley's is the catholic, evangelical, orthodox, holy faith.

Here I must turn aside for a moment to triumph in Wesley's scholarship. To that we owe a feature of our eucharistic worship which neither the confused and truncated canon of the Roman Mass nor the Anglican rite has preserved. The epiclesis takes us back to the earliest and purest celebrations of the Supper of the Lord. This link with primitive catholicism which Rome and Canterbury threw away, Wesley restored.

Come, Holy Ghost, Thine influence shed, And realize the sign. Thy life infuse into the bread, Thy power into the wine.

I need not quote more. Wesley gave us what Canterbury now struggles illegally to recover and what Rome stupidly lost in the Dark Ages and still rejects in these days of her wanton and self-conscious schism from ancient orthodoxy. We have almost nothing to learn even liturgically that we cannot learn from Wesley.

It is tempting, and you see that I cannot resist the temptation, to linger over the flawless forms of Wesley's hymns. Let us now move to consider two or three of the more obvious features of the content of the hymns. If you will suffer the paradox, we will begin by noting one feature that is not prominent. Last summer I read and re-read the whole of Isaac Watts's hymns. I seal my lips lest I begin to praise them, but I mention one quality which distinguishes them sharply from Wesley's. Watts, time and again, sets the faith of the Incarnation, the Passion, and the Resurrection against its cosmic background. He surveys the solar system, the planets, the fixed stars, the animal creation, from the beginning to the end of time.

He surveys the whole realm of Nature, as in an immortal phrase he has described it, and at the centre he always sees the dying and crucified Creator. Methodist editors have drawn freely on Watts to supply hymns of this type: I name only one, `God is a Name my soul adores'. You remember it:

A glance of Thine runs through the globe, Rules the bright worlds, and moves their frame;

and so on. Methodists have borrowed these hymns to supplement Wesley, because Wesley had comparatively little to say on that subject. Wesley is obsessed with one theme: God and the Soul; for the stage in space and time on which that drama is set he has little concern. He is always at Calvary; no other place in the universe matters, and for him the course of historic time is lost in the eternal NOW. This is partly because of the urgent poignancy of his own evangelical experience. It is partly because his education, if more polished in classical form than Watts's, was less wide, less philosophical, less sweeping.

You find, therefore, that in the age of Deism Wesley is, of all writers, the least Deistic, the most uncompromisingly, the most exclusively Christian. There is little touch of `Natural Religion' in Wesley. Do not misunderstand me. I do not charge Watts with Deism and Natural Religion. Watts, in that earlier generation, was near enough to the profound evangelicalism of seventeenth-century Calvinism to survey the whole realm of Nature and still to remain invincibly Christian; but fifty years later the experiment would have been more dangerous. It was perhaps well for Wesley that, in his more Deistic generation, he wore so constantly the blinkers that restricted his view to the essentials of the Christian faith. A cosmic view in his time was more difficult than in Watts's to combine with passionate orthodoxy.

We note then the exclusively Christian and New Testament quality of Wesley's hymns. Truly he says of himself (accurate in every word):

My heart is full of Christ, and longs Its glorious matter to declare! Of Him I make my loftier songs, I cannot from His praise forbear.

Take one rough, and not exhaustive, test. Of the 769 hymns in one edition not fewer than 84 have as their first word the Name: Jesus, Christ, or Saviour. One hymn in every nine */opens/* so. In */Songs of praise/* the proportion is more like one in twenty-four. I have not gone a step lower, but I suspect that Wesley is one of the hymn-writers least well represented in Unitarian hymn-books.

You find in Wesley, therefore, comparatively few occasional hymns, for social, national, or human occasions. The index of your old hymn-book teaches you that. God and the Soul: `clear directions for making your calling and election sure, for perfecting holiness in the fear of God' - this is Wesley's concern. We find Sinners exhorted, Mourners convinced of sin, Persons convinced of backsliding, Backsliders recovered. We find believers in many postures, and the society in several. We find formal and inward religion distinguished. We find the goodness of God, the pleasantness of religion, and the four last things, Death, Judgement, Heaven, and Hell, described. Wesley means business all the time. He is in deadly earnest. He has no leisure for frills and furbelows. He makes no concessions to human interests and the sentimental associations of religion. He condescends to write a morning hymn, it is true, and enriches the world by the glorious line, reminiscent of Dante, `Christ, whose glory fills the skies', but Wesley forgets the time of day before he has written far.

Take a look at the work of Percy Dearmer, Vaughan Williams, and Martin Shaw as it is revealed in the Index to */Songs of Praise./* Here we find sixty hymns on the Christian Year and nearly as many on the Church and its ordinances; but by far the greatest number of the titles are such as New Year, Spring, May, Morning, Noon, Evening, Hospitals, Social Service, Absent Friends. My account is unfair, because the bulk of the book is under the heading `General', yet the contrast with Wesley remains valid and impressive. Dr. Dearmer and his friends do not arrange their hymns in the exclusively Christian and New Testament categories used by Wesley.

Do not suppose that I am merely praising Wesley and condemning Dearmer. As I distinguished Wesley from Watts, I now distinguish him from his successors. Watts sounded some notes which have been used to supplement Wesley; and more recent writers have supplemented him usefully too. But, when all is said, Wesley's obsession with the greatest things saved him, and us, from much that it is well to be saved from. Wesley's scheme did not tempt him to the vaguely religious poetizing which asks us to sing

Day is dying in the west,

and chokes us with metaphorical confectionery. Nor does he indulge in those bird's-eye tours round the world which read like a versified */Holiday Haunts:/*

Sun and moon bright, night and moonlight, Starry temples azure-floored; Cloud and rain, and wild wind's madness, Breeze that floats with genial gladness, Praise ye, praise ye, God the Lord.

Bond and freeman, land and sea man, Earth with peoples widely stored, Wanderer lone o'er prairies ample, Full-voiced choir in costly temple, Praise ye, praise ye, God the Lord!

Still farther is Wesley from the impieties of modern Roman and Anglo-Catholic hymns These, like the degenerate late medieval and modern papal architecture, push aside the central acts of God in Christ in favour of the imaginary adventures of sinful mortals. When I glance at these hymnbooks, they remind me of the beautiful blasphemy of the west front of Rheims Cathedral: there the Passion of the Son of God and His final Judgement of mankind serve as minor side ornaments to the central panel. And what is the central panel The so-called Coronation of the Virgin, a matter with no place in history or theology or reputable legend. Precisely this blasphemy you will find in the hymn-books of certain schools, but you find it without the beauty of the Rheims blasphemy. God, as the Psalmist noted, has punished their own inventions. Not only orthodoxy, but the power of writing tolerable verse has deserted them.

Wesley's obsession was with the greatest things: I do not abandon my phrase, but I want to add to it. Despite my profound veneration of his verse, there are two or three things about Wesley's literary form that I regret - his use of compound adjectives like */soul-reviving/*, and the unhappy use of */mine/* and */every/* in phrases like `this heart of mine' and `our every so and so'. It is the same with the content of the hymns. There is one feature which, to a Calvinist especially, seems unworthy of Wesley, though it is, to be sure, the defect of his qualities. Sometimes he speaks as if our feelings were of greater importance than I believe them to be. Occasionally a verse might give a hasty reader the impression that salvation almost depended on our feelings. It is perhaps the Pelagian shadow which has sometimes accompanied Arminianism, but it is an accidental and detachable shadow. For Wesley himself, the substance of revealed religion was too overwhelming to leave him at the mercy of his feelings, and it is but fair to Arminianism to remember that there were eighteenth-century Calvinists who suffered like Arminians from an over-emphasis on feelings about salvation. It was difficult for a man with Wesley's vivid experience not so to speak of experience as to make it take too prominent a place in the life of men who lacked the massive foundation of his instructed faith. Yet we may wish that by writing some hymns differently he had protected his ignorant and sensitive followers from the tortures of their ignorant sensitiveness.

I end by returning to my first inquiry. Why do Wesley's hymns confirm and restore our confidence, and build us up securely in our most holy faith It is no doubt partly because they show us something of the life of one of the pure in heart who saw God. We may not see God. We cannot fail to see that Wesley saw Him. Purity of heart: we are near Wesley's secret there; scriptural holiness, purity of heart, inevitably reflected in his clear mind and limpid verse.

But I think I see another thing. Those very limitations which we have noticed in his hymn-book: his exclusion of all but God and Soul; his indifference to historical setting, cosmic backgrounds, times of day, seasons of the year; his frank neglect of any serious attempt to insert the gospel into natural religion, to tinge and colour normal human activities and occasions with a Christian hue; his ruthless inattention to everything that St. Thomas Aquinas wished to do to the natural order and the divine order - in all of this limitation we see one source of Wesley's power. Concern with all these things is no doubt needed in each generation; but the more appropriately and fully the work is done for a particular generation the more dated and transient it is. Wesley leaves all that aside. He is obsessed with the greatest things, and he confirms our faith because he shows us these above all the immediate, local, fashionable problems and objections to the faith. We move to the serener air. We sit in heavenly places with Christ Jesus; and simply to be taken there - that is, after all, the supreme confirmation of faith.

What we have felt and seen With confidence we tell.

This same obsession with the greatest things lifts Wesley and us, his readers and singers, above all ecclesiastical divisions and discussions into the realm of religion. `The Pleasantness of Religion', formal religion, inward religion, it is on these lines Wesley's thought moves, not on lines of valid and invalid, regular and irregular, historic and personal, priestly and prophetic ministrations. Wesley had his ecclesiastical opinions and could express them with his customary vigour and clarity; but, as he tells us himself, he escapes with joy from all such things to religion. The Bicentenary is indeed a recall to religion, to religion not merely when opposed to irreligion, but when opposed to religiousness, to theological gymnastics and ecclesiastical politics. I end with words which, for some reason, none of our editors will permit us to sing. You know them, but you shall hear them all again. In them Wesley tells you plainly what I have fumbled in my saying about that ampler air of pure religion: our security and our fellowship and our duty there:


Weary of all this wordy strife, These notions, forms, and modes and names, To Thee, the Way, the Truth, the Life, Whose love my simple heart inflames, Divinely taught at last I fly With Thee and Thine to live and die.

Forth from the midst of Babel brought, Parties and sects I cast behind; Enlarged my heart, and free my thought Where'er the latent truth I find; The latent truth with joy to own And bow to Jesus' name alone.

One with the little flock I rest, The members sound who hold the Head, The chosen few, with pardon blest, And by the anointing spirit led. Into the mind that was in Thee, Into the depths of Deity.

My brethren, friends and kinsmen these Who do my heavenly Father's will; Who aim at perfect holiness, And all Thy counsels to fulfil, Athirst to be whate'er Thou art And love their God with all their heart.

For these, howe'er in flesh disjoin'd, Where'er dispersed o'er earth abroad, Unfeigned unbounded love I find And constant as the life of God; Fountain of life, from thence it sprung, As pure, as even, and as strong.

Joined to the hidden church unknown In this sure bond of perfectness, Obscurely safe, I dwell alone, And glory in the uniting grace, To me, to each believer given, To all Thy saints in earth and heaven.


A paper read before the Cambridge University Methodist Society on February 9, 1939.

SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE, sometime Scholar of Jesus College in the University of Cambridge, once wrote some ingenious verses {*/Metrical Feet: Lesson for a Boy./*} to help his sons to remember the chief sorts of metre. If Coleridge had been a Methodist instead of a pilgrim from Anglicanism to Unitarianism and back again, he would have needed to do no such thing: he would have needed only to advise his boys to learn a selection of Wesley's hymns. From this point I begin. Leaving on one side for the moment any discussion of the meaning and content of the hymns, let us notice the metre, the rhyming, and the accentuation of them. These things deserve more attention than they usually get, and by this side road we shall approach the more important parts of the subject. By observing the mere form of the hymns, we shall learn more than we might expect.

Take the old hymn-book, */A Collection of Hymns for the Use of the People called Methodists. By the Rev. John Wesley, M.A., Sometime Fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford./* Get an edition with tunes, and turn to the index of metres. You will gasp with astonishment at the variety. You will be tempted to believe that Charles Wesley alone used as many metres in writing hymns as all other hymn-writers taken together. There are common metre, long metre, short metre, double short metre, 6.8s, 7s, 8s and 6s, 6s and 8s, 7s and 6s, 10S and 11S, 4.6s and 2.8s, 8s, 5s and I IS, 2.6s and 4.7s (to take a few examples) and the large number lumped together, very properly, as */peculiar metre./*

Wesley's variety is not fully represented by a mere enumeration of the syllables in each line, as that list might suggest. There is variety too in his arrangement of the stressed syllables. It is difficult to say much about this without coming under the condemnation passed by the Translators of the Authorized Version on a part of their own Preface to the Reader: `We weary the unlearned, who need not know so much, and trouble the learned, who know it already.' Despite this, it is worth while to glance at a few technical matters in order to drive home what has been said about Wesley's infinite variety.

In English verse, the books tell us, the stressed and unstressed syllables take the place of the long and short syllables in classical Latin verse, and it is convenient to use some of the classical names for the metres. The metre most familiar to most of us is, I suppose, iambic: in this metre the line is divided into pairs of syllables with the stress falling on the second syllable.

The way was long, the wind was cold.

This metre is familiar in the common metre of hymns:

He breaks the power of cancelled sin, He sets the pris'ner free;

in long metre:

Our Lord is risen from the dead; Our Jesus is gone up on high;

in short metre:

To serve the present age, My calling to fulfil;

in 6.8s:

O Thou eternal Victim, slain A sacrifice for guilty man;

in 8s and 6s:

O Love divine, how sweet Thou art When shall I find my willing heart All taken up by Thee

The exact opposite of the iambic metre is, of course, the trochaic. In this the stress falls on the first of the two syllables. Wesley is hardly less fond of this than of the iambic metre:

Jesu, Lover of my soul, Let me to Thy bosom fly Depth of mercy, can there be Mercy still reserved for me

Wesley sometimes combines the two, and so produces a very effective verse in 7s and 6s. A seven-syllable trochaic line is followed by a six-syllable iambic line:

Who is this gigantic foe That proudly stalks along, Overlooks the crowd below, In brazen armour strong

Notice the jumpy effect caused by the change in the alternate lines. It can be very moving; and it is a device peculiarly characteristic of Wesley. Here is another example:

Christ, whose glory fills the skies, That famous Plant Thou art; Tree of Life eternal, rise In ev'ry longing heart! Bid us find the food in Thee For which our deathless spirits pine, Fed with immortality, And fill'd with love divine.

The quick succession of strong stresses in the last syllable of line 2 and in the first syllable of line 3 has the effect of knitting the verse very tight. The same device makes us rush almost breathlessly from line 4 to line 5. So it comes about that the four lines in the first half of the verse are not separated from the four lines iri the second half, as would happen if either iambic or trochaic measures were used alone. The same structure is to be found in the famous hymn:

Son of God, if Thy free grace Again hath raised me up, Call'd me still to seek Thy face, And giv'n me back my hope; Still Thy timely help afford, And all Thy loving kindness show: Keep me, keep me, gracious Lord, And never let me go!

So far all is simple, but have you considered what complications may lurk under that innocent-looking heading `8s' It does not always mean a simple accumulation of iambic lines of eight syllables, as in 6.8s.

Lo! God is here! let us adore,

or, as in long metre,

Thy arm, Lord, is not shorten'd now.

Often it means something quite different. It covers a subtle system of accentuation, anapaestic, which Wesley uses for some of his most moving and most inspired hymns. No other hymn-writer, it is fairly safe to say, has approached him in mastery of this particular metre. In it we have no longer a simple alternation of stressed and unstressed syllables, but in the later part of each line we have two unstressed syllables followed by one stressed syllable. The line is not divided in the way that we have already observed, */2: 2: 2: 2/*, but */2:/* 3: 3. The supreme example of this is to be seen in what is perhaps the most passionate and exalted of all Wesley's hymns:

Thou Shepherd of Israel, and mine, The joy and desire of my heart, For closer communion I pine, I long to reside where Thou art. The pasture I languish to find, Where all who their Shepherd obey Are fed, on Thy bosom reclined, And screen'd from the heat of the day

We have a yet more complicated arrangement of anapaestic measures in hymns like:

Come, let us anew Our journey pursue, Roll round with the year, And never stand still till the Master appear.

This is an amazing, magical metre which Wesley used with the surest touch. Hardly any one else, I think, has succeeded in it, or even tried to master it. The accumulation of anapaests in the last line is most subtle.

Nothing shows Wesley's superb mastery of metre more than his use of the perverse, unnatural, and almost ludicrous metre */2.6s/* and 4.7s. On this tight rope, to all appearance fit only for acrobatics, Wesley moves with ease and confidence and grace. In this metre, indeed, he writes some of his most characteristic hymns. The metre */2.6s/* and 4.7s is so artificial as to be at first, even in Wesley's hands, slightly irritating and precious; but once you have made yourself familiar with it (especially if you have taken the trouble to see precisely what Wesley is doing) it holds you.

How weak the thoughts, and vain, Of self-deluding men; Men, who, fix'd to earth alone, Think their houses shall endure, Fondly call their lands their own, To their distant heirs secure.

Fairly flat that seems: an uninspired, almost solicitor-like version of a not very attractive psalm. Yes, but wait till Wesley has left the solicitor's office. By the time he has reached verse 4 he is finding his wings:

High on Immanuel's land We see the fabric stand; From a tott'ring world remove To our steadfast mansion there: Our inheritance above Cannot pass from heir to heir.

Those amaranthine bowers (Unalienably ours) Bloom, our infinite reward, Rise, our permanent abode; From the founded world prepared; Purchased by the blood of God.

Unless you have in mind the precise wording of Psalm xlix; unless you catch the reference to the fourteenth chapter of St. John in */mansion;/* unless you lick your lips over the contrast between the Saxon language of the earlier verses and the gathering Latinisms as the hymn proceeds: */mansion, inheritance, amaranthine, unalienably, infinite, permanent;/* unless you relish the pure Latin construction */from the founded world;/* unless you catch the deftly sudden change in the position of one stress in

High on Immanuel's land;

you do not begin to learn the art of Wesley or to understand why he dominates the lesser fry as he does.

Examine another hymn, also about heaven, in the same perverse metre. It is clear that, like every other man who knows that he has the power of doing something difficult, Wesley enjoys exercising his skill. He bends the intractable material to his purpose with a certain zest.

Again we lift our voice, And shout our solemn joys; Cause of highest raptures this, Raptures that shall never fail; See a soul escaped to bliss, Keep the Christian Festival.

Our friend is gone before To that celestial shore; He hath left his mates behind, He hath all the storms outrode, Found the rest we toil to find Landed in the arms of God.

Regard for space prevents the transcription of the rest of this hymn, notable for its dignity and its superb faith. We observe in passing the reminiscence of the familiar lines of Spenser about rest after toil and the natural way in which it is combined with the reminiscence of the text in Deuteronomy xxxiii. 27.

The verse known as 10s and 11s presents another very subtle combination. For some reason the insertion of an insignificant, odd, extra syllable in the last two lines gives the verse a lilt that four symmetrical lines of ten syllables each has not got. The verse is anapaestic. The first half of all four lines is the same. In the first couplet the second half line merely repeats the first half line; but in the second couplet we come on the extra syllables which give the leaping effect.

O what shall we do Our Saviour to love To make us anew, Come, Lord, from above! The fruit of Thy passion, Thy holiness give: Give us the salvation Of all that believe.

It is not until we have explored a few of his metrical mazes that we begin to understand why in his thousands of lines Wesley so rarely lets the accent fall on the wrong syllable. Only a master of versification could trip so seldom, but, of course, unless he had been a master of versification Wesley could never have written anything whatsoever in many of these metres. When you take into consideration the large flank which Wesley presents for attack, it is astonishing how few successful attacks can be made on him. Most hymn-writers with only a tenth of the number of hymns in our books give us a larger number of unhappily placed stresses. Wesley rarely offends by writing such a line as that which is a sad blemish in Crossman's one well-known hymn, `My song is love unknown'. Crossman lets the stress fall intolerably in one solemn line:

They rise and needs will have My */dear/* Lord made away.

The careless reader may think that he has caught Wesley napping sometimes, and at times, of course, Wesley does nod disastrously; but before the amateur critic like myself boasts too rashly about catching Wesley out, he should study Dr. Bett's invaluable book on the Wesley poetry. {*/The Hymns of Methodism in their Literary Relations,/* Epworth Press.} There, with the modesty of high scholarship, Dr. Bett traces the changes-in the pronunciation of certain words such as */confessor/* and */acceptable/* which have made some of Wesley's verses seem (to the ignorant) incorrectly stressed.

More than most writers, Wesley makes the end of his lines correspond with natural pauses in his thought. The sound and the sense coincide. This is it which makes his verse specially suitable for singing. This is it which makes it possible to sing his hymns so easily to the so-called `old-fashioned' tunes, the florid, repetitious tunes, in which any line may be repeated almost at random in almost accidental combinations. But even Wesley's arrangement of lines does not always win applause. At times the meaning `runs over' the end of one line into the middle of the next:

Ah, soften, melt this rock, and may Thy blood wash all these stains away!


Relieve the thirsty soul, the faint Revive, illuminate the blind.

This seems ugly when it is contrasted with the next couplet, written in the more usual happy style:

The mournful cheer, the drooping lead, And heal the sick, and raise the dead.

But before we say, or even think, too much about these `irregular' lines, we should ponder what Dr. Bett has to say about them and the light that they may throw on the tangled problem of separating the compositions of John from those of Charles.

One part of the attractiveness of the older hymn-writers is their frequent use of proper names. They inherited this habit from their predecessors, who had simply paraphrased Holy Scripture. Paraphrasers, it is clear, had no choice. They had to take the rough with the smooth. They had to boil down the weirdest geographical and personal names into rigid metre. Dexterity in the art, once acquired, persisted; and it was bequeathed to hymn-writers.

It is by no means only in his paraphrases that Wesley uses proper names. He knew what our psychologists are now giving one another Ph.D.s for discovering by research in dark rooms with coloured slips of paper. He knew that the use of a proper name with associations may start or clinch a train of thought more effectively than a flood of colourless words will start or clinch it. To you and to me, with our beggarly knowledge of Holy Scripture, this magic is less potent than it was to Wesley. What was once moving may seem to us only quaint. Even you and I, it is true, can pick up a reference to the Church as Sion or Jerusalem, a reference to death as Jordan, a reference to heaven as Canaan. But how much farther can we go What does a modern congregation make of

None is like Jeshurun's God

We may not have got to the pass of the undergraduate who politely enquired, `Yes, but who */was/* Jehovah' but, if we are honest, many of us might ask, `Who was Jeshurun' In the hymn beginning

O Great Mountain, who art thou, Immense, immovable

how many will catch the reference in the line

My Zerubbabel is near

More easy are the allusions in the following:

In soft Laodicean ease We sleep our useless lives away


Less grievous will the judgment-day To Sodom and Gomorrah prove.

and (as we used to be allowed to sing in `O for a thousand tongues')

Cast all your sins into the deep, And wash the Aethiop white.

But this is more difficult:

Take when Thou wilt into Thy hands, And as Thou wilt require; Resume by the Chaldean bands, Or the devouring fire.

The first and the second Adam are never far from Wesley's thought, and no hymn-writer has more happily used the Pauline antithesis. One mention of the name must be made, for it gives a classic summary of St. Paul's teaching concerning the solidarity of lost and of saved mankind:

Adam, descended from above! Federal Head of all mankind.

From such a use of Holy Scripture it is but a short step to the paraphrase proper. Wesley's paraphrases- have a distinctive quality of their own. Most men's paraphrases tend to be wooden in their exactness. They often say in feebler language what has been said superbly in Holy Scripture; and the better we remember the scriptural words the worse we think of the paraphrase. Wesley avoids this peril by the freedom with which he paraphrases. He is very bold. His verses are a commentary on the passage as well as a restatement of it. Nowhere has he more profited from the example of his master, Dr. Watts. Dr. Watts provided evangelical interpretations for psalms and for Old Testament passages and Wesley uses the same method, but with even greater boldness.

Wesley's paraphrases form but a small part of the book, but among them are some of his masterpieces. They deserve more exact study than they have received. How are we to select There is the sublime treatment of the Song of Moses in Deuteronomy xxxiii: `None is like Jeshurun's God.' There is the promise of the Corner Stone in Zechariah iv: `O Great Mountain, who art thou' There is the survey of the Promised Land from Pisgah - ravishing stuff indeed:

O that I might at once go up! No more on this side Jordan stop, But now the land possess; This moment end my legal years; Sorrows, and sins, and doubts, and fears, A howling wilderness.

There is the thirty-fifth chapter of Isaiah: `The wilderness and the solitary place.' Here we note the use of proper names:

Lo! abundantly they bloom; Lebanon is hither come; Carmel's stores the heavens dispense, Sharon's fertile excellence.

The Revised Version (in the interest of zoological truth, no doubt) degrades the dragons of this chapter into mere jackals: `in the habitation of */jackals/* where they lay.' Wesley, with more inspired imagination, increases the vigour of the Authorized Version not by merely retaining the dragons, but by bestowing old age upon them, and so making them the type of Satan, the old Dragon.

Where the ancient Dragon lay, Open for Thyself a way! There let holy tempers rise, All the fruits of Paradise.

A last example of Wesley's paraphrases is provided by the confused and magical mystery of the Christmas lesson in Isaiah ix. Of the Authorized Version of that chapter, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch has said: `the old translators made nonsense, and, in two passages at least, stark nonsense.' The Revised Version straightens out the meaning into somewhat prosaic common sense. Wesley solved the problem in a third way. */`For every/* */battle of the warrior is with confused noise, and garments rolled in blood; but this shall be with burning and fuel of fire.'/* `Granted the rhythmical antithesis,' writes Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, `where is the real antithesis, the difference, the improvement If a battle there must be, how is burning better than garments rolled in blood and, in fine, what is it all about' The inquiry is answered in the Revised Version, as Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch points out, and every wise lover of the English Bible will have Sir Arthur's words by heart. {*/On the Art of Writing,/* lectures VI and VII; */On the Art of Reading,/* lectures VIII, IX, and X.} Yet it is still worth while seeing what Wesley makes of the matter. Here is his paraphrase and his notion of the reality of the antithesis:

Thou hast our bonds in sunder broke, Took all our load of guilt away; From sin, the world, and Satan's yoke, (Like Israel saved in Midian's day,) Redeem'd us by our conquering Lord, Our Gideon, and His Spirit's sword.

Not like the warring sons of men, With shout, and garments roll'd in blood, Our Captain doth the fight maintain; But lo! the burning Spirit of God Kindles in each a secret fire, And all our sins as smoke expire!

Wesley's hymns provide, as we have seen, an education in the use of proper names; but he deals not only with proper names. To sing or to read his hymns is to expand one's vocabulary and to learn the power of pregnant words. In general, Wesley prefers the Saxon word, but no one can more effectively use Latin words either alone or in combination. Here are a few typical lines:

Here we in the spirit breathe The quintessence of praise.

Joyful consentaneous sound, Sweetest symphony of praise.

That couplet, Latin and Greek, ends one verse; the next ends with pure Saxon:

Only sing and praise and love.

Here is another fine set of strong words:

Implunged in the crystal abyss, And lost in the ocean of God.

And here is a full mixture of Latin and Saxon, with powerful repetitions:

Thee let me drink, and thirst no more For drops of finite happiness; Spring up, O Well, in heavenly power In streams of pure, perennial peace, In joy, that none can take away, In life, which shall for ever stay.

Wesley does not stop at words derived from Latin and Greek. In one famous passion hymn, which Dr. Bett has fully discussed, he goes farther and refers to a classical legend in severely classical language: `Great Pan is dead.'

Lo! the powers of heaven He shakes; Nature in convulsions lies; Earth's profoundest centre quakes; The great Jehovah dies! Dies the glorious cause of all, The true eternal */Pan/* Falls to raise us from our fall, To ransom sinful man! Well may */Sol/* withdraw his light....

We may compare the reference to Thor and Woden:

Less guilty if with those of old We worshipped */Thor/* and */Woden/* still.

As we should expect in the hymns of an eighteenth-century writer, there are in Wesley's some words and phrases that sound oddly to-day. His rhymes betray a few changes in pronunciation. He rhymes words like */join/* and */mine/*, as every one must have noticed. When a word has changed in meaning, it has usually changed for the worse. Words like */bloody/* and */blasted/* are to-day less solemn and impressive than they once were; but in the main the changes are fewer than we might have expected. The impression made by Wesley's language is very different from that made by Watts's. Watts was born only one generation before Wesley. He was thirty-four years older, but he speaks what is almost a different language. You cannot read many lines of Watts without coming on some grotesque or quaint expression. Watts used many words in a fashion quite unlike our own. That is why it is so difficult to use most of Watts's hymns to-day. His book, crammed as it is with magnificent things, has a decidedly antiquarian aroma. Wesley's usage is separated from ours by a less gulf. Only occasionally does he write an odd line like this on death:

And when the storms of life shall cease, Jesus, in that important hour, In death as life be Thou my guide;

or this:

But, O almighty God of love, Into Thy hands the matter take.

No one understood better than Wesley what may be called the conventional literary devices. Elsewhere I have written at some length about his use of the chiasmus, of which he was an accomplished master.

We now Thy promised presence claim, Sent to disciple all mankind, Sent to baptize into Thy name, We now Thy promised presence find.

On the simple device of repetition he rings endless changes. A whole essay would be needed even to begin to do them justice. One hymn alone will provide several examples.

There is, first, the simple repetition of the invocation:

Come, Holy Ghost, all-quick'ning fire, Come, and in me delight to rest;

then with an echo of it, we continue:

Drawn by the lure of strong desire, O */come/* and consecrate my breast!

In the next verse we begin again with the simple repetition:

If now Thy influence I feel, If now in Thee begin to live,

and we continue with a variant of the same device:

Still to my heart Thyself reveal; */Give/* me Thyself, for ever */give/*.

Next comes, not repetition, but a pair of parallel phrases:

A point my good, a drop my store,

and now the last line of this verse and the first line of the next verse are tied together by a treble repetition: a repetition of these three words: */eager, ask, pant./*

A point my good, a drop my store, Eager I ask, I pant for more.

Eager for Thee I ask and pant; So strong the principle divine,

and so on.

Contrast the effect of verses so knit and so coloured with (let us say) the verses of that casual Papist rhymer Faber. Faber adds line to line, careful of nothing, if the second line comes near to rhyming with the fourth. He not only does not achieve anything more: he does not even attempt anything more. Here is the wretched stuff; but we ought not to call it careless or casual, for we must observe the care with which he has packed it with false stresses:

O it is hard to work for God, To rise and take His part Upon this battle-field of earth, And not sometimes lose heart.

It would make first-rate prose.

He hides Himself so wondrously As if there were no God, He is least seen when all the powers Of ill are most abroad.

Yet our hardest words must not be for Faber, but for the Methodist editors alike in 1904 and in 1933. Wesley had built his hymn on the principle of repetition, the climax being in the two adjacent verses (as we have seen). One ended

Eager I ask, I pant for more.

The other began

Eager for Thee I ask and pant.

Now, unless the thing had happened, we could not have believed it. The 1904 editors printed the earlier verse without the later; the 1933 editors printed the later verse without the earlier. They agreed only in this: that what Wesley had joined together his followers should put asunder. One is tempted to inquire if any one in 1904 or in 1933 had taken the trouble to read through the whole hymn.

A more cumulative effect of repetition we get in `Holy Lamb, who Thee confess'; but note, first, the perfect balance of the first four lines.

Early in the temple met, Let us still our Saviour greet; Nightly to the mount repair, Join our praying Pattern there. There...

Notice this repetition linking the two halves of the verse and preparing us for the crashing repetitions to follow:

There by wrestling faith obtain Power to work for God again; Power His image to retrieve, Power, like Thee, our Lord, to live.

By a similar device in

Come, Thou long-expected Jesus, Born to set Thy people free,

we have the word */born/* appearing early in the verse to prepare us for the triple use that is to follow:

Born Thy people to deliver, Born a child and yet a king, Born to reign in us for ever; Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.

Still more daring, but completely triumphant, is the sixfold repetition of */one/* in this hymn on the Communion of Saints:

Build us in one body up, Call'd in one high calling's hope; One the Spirit Whom we claim; One the pure baptismal flame; One the faith, and common Lord, One the Father lives adored, Over, through, and in us all God incomprehensible.

And yet (is it possible) when we want a hymn about our unity, we have the effrontery to forget Wesley and to sing Baring Gould's ditty:

Through the night of doubt and sorrow.

Wesley's art does not exhaust itself in the choice and use of single words. His hymns have a quality which is perhaps fairly described as dramatic and architectural. In a few lines Wesley sketches a background. At once you are made aware of a vista, a setting, and an atmosphere. You see and feel and hear and even smell the action as it proceeds. Often it is liturgical action. It is shown, perhaps, supremely in `Victim Divine, Thy grace we claim' (but not in the fragment printed in the new */Methodist Hymn-book)/* and in `Entered the holy place above'. This art Wesley learnt, we cannot doubt, from the Apocalypse. Take this exalted passage on the Beatific Vision from `Come on, my partners in distress':

That great mysterious Deity We soon with open face shall see; The beatific sight Shall fill heaven's sounding courts with praise, And wide diffuse the golden blaze Of everlasting light.

The Father shining on His throne, The glorious co-eternal Son, The Spirit, one and seven, Conspire our rapture to complete; And lo! we fall before His feet, And silence heightens heaven.

Wesley has added */heightens/* to what he found in the Apocalypse about silence in Heaven. It is one of the sharp strokes which illustrates the soundness and the brilliance of his intuition.

If we are to measure the merit of Wesley here we must set his picture beside that of, say, Kelly. Kelly shared much of Wesley's faith and experience. He is always trying to say the same things. He is sincere and he is likeable. But his achievement is not equal to his good intention. In trying to be sublime, he is so vigorous as to be almost irreverent; and yet, for all his loud emphasis, we feel that when he comes to great things he is sadly guilty of under-statement. He is like the schoolgirl who wrote of the Apostle, `St. Luke was a good man'. It was true, but it was so inadequate as to be patronizing.

Contrast Kelly's picture of the final glory of Heaven with Wesley's. Kelly wrote:

Hark! those bursts of acclamation! Hark! those loud triumphant chords! Jesus takes the highest station; O what joy the sight affords!

The last line is exquisite bathos, and the last couplet suggests a certain relief in finding that the issue has not, after all, been different.

Contrast again Bridges' lines:

All hail! Redeemer, hail! (For Thou hast died for me) Thy praise shall never, never fail Throughout eternity.

In an attempt to be personal, the author pushes himself forward in the wrong way. It is an unfortunate version of the song of the redeemed in the Apocalypse. Moreover, */never, never fail/* is an example of precisely the wrong way to repeat a word. It is like Watts's unhappy line

There shall we see His face, And never, never sin.

We more than half fear that the word is repeated, not for emphasis, but only to fill up the required number of syllables. Set beside such lines the moving repetitions which we have studied in Wesley. Nothing is weaker than repetition weakly done. Nothing is stronger than repetition strongly done. In Wesley's jubilation we discern the dignity and the reverence due to the Son of God. The personal note is not missing, but it is subordinate; and there is no half-suggestion that the event might have been otherwise.

Jesus the Saviour reigns, The God of truth and love; When He had purged our stains, He took His seat above: Lift up your heart, lift up your voice; Rejoice; again I say, rejoice.

That exhortation is more vigorous and more scriptural than Kelly's exclamation:

O what joy the sight affords!

To conclude this matter, there is Wesley's less familiar verse in which all the notes are struck:

Extol His kingly power; Kiss the exalted Son, Who died, and lives, to die no more, High on His Father's throne. Our Advocate with God, He undertakes our cause, And spreads through all the earth abroad The victory of His cross.

It is time to leave these smaller matters of language and to say something of the more general character of Wesley's hymns. The first quality which must strike us is their faithful, moving, but utterly unsentimental record of every phase of religious feeling. There is no mood of the Christian soul that is not reflected in Wesley's hymns. If you are depressed, elated, energetic, enervated, full of doubt, secure in faith, you can find in Wesley's hymns, as you can find nowhere else but in the Psalms, the appropriate words in which to pour out your soul to God. You can indeed often find in Wesley's hymns words more appropriate than you will find in the Psalms, because Wesley's are Christian words. They are written for you against the background of the Cross. They do not need the interpretation and the allegorizing which the Psalmist's words sometimes need and which we are sometimes too badly broken to give. Here is one example. Can we hope to express repentance better than this

Stay, Thou insulted Spirit, stay, Though I have done Thee such despite, Nor cast the sinner quite away, Nor take Thine everlasting flight.

Though I have steel'd my stubborn heart, And still shook off my guilty fears; And vex'd, and urged Thee to depart, For many long rebellious years:

Though I have most unfaithful been, Of all who e'er Thy grace received; Ten thousand times Thy goodness seen, Ten thousand times Thy goodness grieved:

Yet O! the chief of sinners spare, In honour of my great High-Priest; Nor in Thy righteous anger swear To exclude me from Thy people's rest.

This only woe I deprecate; This only plague I pray remove; Nor leave me in my lost estate; Nor curse me with this want of love.

But, though Wesley portrays all feelings potently, there is */one/* note in his hymns which rings out clear above all the rest. It is the note of confidence, heavenly and inviolable confidence: */The best of all is, God is with us./*

As far from danger as from fear, While love, almighty love, is near. What mighty troubles hast Thou shewn Thy feeble, tempted followers here! We have through fire and water gone, But saw Thee on the floods appear, But felt Thee present in the flame, And shouted our Deliverer's name.

(In passing, we note the characteristic interpretation of the Psalmist's words, `we went through fire and through water,' by references to our Lord walking on the Sea of Galilee and to the appearance of One like the Son of God in the Babylonian furnace.)

Lord, we Thy will obey, And in Thy pleasure rest; We, only we, can say, 'Whatever is, is best'. Faith, mighty faith, the promise sees, And looks to that alone; Laughs at impossibilities, And cries, `It shall be done!'

(In passing, we note another favourite device of Wesley's: he likes to use a word which refers us to a passage of Holy Scripture, but to change and often to strengthen its meaning. Faith `laughs' at impossibilities. Wesley has taken the notion of laughing from the story of Sarah's incredulity about Isaac's birth. Originally it was Sarah who laughed in scornful unbelief. Wesley baptizes Sarah's laughter, and in his scheme of things it is faith, not unfaith, which laughs. The point is small, but very characteristic. We catch, too, in line four a reference to Pope's dictum, */Whatever is, is right./* Stated by Pope as a general truth, it is open to question. Wesley rewrites it in the light of Romans viii. 28. He makes it less general, and so, though more emphatic, less questionable.)

Why this confidence What is its basis We need look no farther than the hymns themselves. Wesley's confidence is rooted in the orthodox, catholic, evangelical faith. Nowhere have you a better body of sound doctrine. If you know Wesley's hymns, you receive (whether you wish it or not) a magnificent course of instruction in high dogmatic theology. Here is a prayer to the Holy Ghost:

Thy witness with my spirit bear, That God, my God, inhabits there, Thou, with the Father and the Son, Eternal light's co-eval beam: - Be Christ in me, and I in Him, Till perfect we are made in one.

Here is an address to the Son:

Effulgence of the Light Divine, Ere rolling planets knew to shine, Ere time its ceaseless course began; Thou, when the appointed hour was come, Didst not abhor the virgin's womb, But, God with God, wast man with man.

Here is a sacramental prayer to the Father (copied, I suspect, by Dr. Bright in his better-known, but less excellent, hymn, `And now, O Father, mindful of the love');

With solemn faith we offer up, And spread before Thy glorious eyes, That only ground of all our hope, That precious, bleeding Sacrifice, Which brings Thy grace on sinners down, And perfects all our souls in one.

Nothing is more untrue than to represent the heart of Wesley's religion as personal experience or even personal feeling. The heart of Wesley's religion is sound doctrine. The common misrepresentation of him can be cherished only by those who never read, for instance, the eucharistic hymn which begins:

And shall I let Him go If now I do not feel The streams of Living Water flow, Shall I forsake the Well

Because He saith, Do this, This I will always do.

We find in Wesley, then, not merely the comfort and the drive of personal religion, not merely a heart strangely warmed and hands vigorous for the fight: we find displayed in the hymns the secret power that warms the heart and teaches the fingers to fight. To-day many of us envy Wesley's enthusiasm and Wesley's assault upon the world. We do well to envy; and we can perceive in the hymns that what we envy is the product of something else. The hymns present to us, time and again, glorious confessions of faith in the Incarnate Word of God, confessions in which Wesley has rarely been equalled and never surpassed. Very God and Very Man: it is that vision which inspires and drives Wesley, as it inspired and drove the writers of the New Testament.

Fairer than all the earth-born race, Perfect in comeliness Thou art; Replenish'd are Thy lips with grace, And full of love Thy tender heart: God ever blest! we bow the knee, And own all fulness dwells in Thee.

The greatness of Wesley's hymns lies in the exactness with which they recapture and represent the life of the New Testament. In them, as in it, we move high above all ecclesiastical divisions and out of hearing of almost all theological controversies. Wesley speaks the language of the Gospels and the Epistles. The dramatic action of his hymns is drawn from the Apocalypse. His picture of a Christian society is copied from the Acts of the Apostles. We see all this in the great Easter hymn as savagely and as criminally truncated in the new */Methodist Hymn-book/* as it was even in the */English Hymnal./* Here are the verses which no one now permits us to sing: verses in which Wesley's theology, literary art, use of Old Testament allegory, and dominant confidence all find illustration:

What though once we perish'd all, Partners in our parents' fall Second life we all receive; In our heavenly Adam live.

Risen with Him we upward move, Still we seek the things above; Still pursue and kiss the Son, Seated on His Father's throne.

Scarce a thought on earth bestow, Dead to all we leave below; Heav'n our aim and loved abode, Hid our life with Christ in God.

Hid, till Christ our life appear, Glorious in His members here, Join'd to Him we then shall shine, All immortal, all divine.

That is the faith; but is it without works and dead

That bloody banner see, And, in your Captain's sight, Fight the good fight of faith with me, My fellow-soldiers, fight! In mighty phalanx join'd, To battle all proceed; Arm'd with the unconquerable mind Which was in Christ your Head.

The world cannot withstand Its ancient Conqueror; The world must sink beneath the hand Which arms us for the war This is our victory! Before our faith they fall; Jesus hath died for you and me; Believe, and conquer all.

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Copyright 1998, 2001 by the Wesley Center for Applied Theology of Northwest Nazarene University, Nampa, Idaho 83686.

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