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Appendix A-2



Appendix A-2


A paper read to the University Congregational Society in Cambridge on Sunday, October 17, 1937.

DR. HENRY BETTS and Dr. Albert Peel have recently revived the respectable game of comparing the hymns of Watts and the hymns of Wesley. I shall have to take a turn or two at it myself before I finish this paper. Indeed, no one can read Watts without having Wesley in mind, and nothing will enable a man to see the greatness of Watts's hymns so well as a thorough knowledge of Wesley's. I make no apology, then, for beginning and continuing and ending with the comparison at the back of my mind. Watts himself began the game when he said with the generosity of a Congregationalist and the exaggeration of a preacher that Wesley's `Wrestling Jacob' was worth all that he himself had ever written.

This paper is about Dr. Watts's hymns, not about Dr. Watts. We must, for all that, take a look at Dr. Watts himself. He was born in 1674 and died at the age of seventy-four in 1748. His life, that is to say, covered the period in which Protestant Dissent won its permanent place in English society. When Watts was born, Protestant Dissent was proscribed and persecuted. When he was a boy, there occurred the decisive struggle with Popery and the Popish King, James II. The Glorious Revolution of 1688 brought security to the Church of England and Toleration to Protestant Dissenters. When Watts was in middle life the end of the Stuarts and the accession of the House of Hanover marked the failure of the Tory attack on the settlement of 1688, an attack aimed especially at the Dissenters, but promising a revival of Popery too. At the very end of his life, Dr. Watts had the satisfaction of witnessing in the failure of the `45 the collapse of the Young Pretender, and the final deliver- ance of Great Britain from the dangers that had menaced it since the death of Oliver Cromwell. The Constitution was saved from Divine Right. Protestantism was saved from France and the Pope. Dissent was saved from Toryism and persecution. Watts, then, was one of those fortunate persons whose life coincides with the increasing triumph of his own cause. The right people win. The wicked are cast down. All things - visibly - work together for good to them that love God. The note of cheerfulness - perhaps the most distinct note in Watts's poetry - comes appropriately from such a setting.

That is the setting. We glance now at the career. Watts's grandfather was a naval officer who served under Blake, the Cromwellian admiral, one of our greatest naval heroes. Watts's father, as became a Dissenter after the collapse of the Rule of the Saints, led a humbler life. He was in business in Southampton. But remember the grandfather and observe Watts's rather warlike patriotism, his pride in the `sceptred isle', `set in the silver sea', in the Navy which protects it, in the naval traditions of our race. All this, which comes leaking through Watts's pious prayers for Britain, reminds us of Blake's lieutenant. Watts himself was two things: a minister and a scholar, great in each work. His studies ruined his health. In 1712, just before he was forty, he went to live with Sir Thomas Abney, of Abney Park, and he spent the rest of his life there. He did not completely abandon the active ministry, however, and at the time of his death he was something like a national figure. He has a memorial in Westminster Abbey. About his scholarship we observe that, vast as it was, he amassed it under the difficulties which hampered all Dissenters till I 870. He was excluded from Oxford and Cambridge, and went to a Dissenting academy. The academies tried to do what the national universities refused to do for Dissenters. Compared with Oxford and Cambridge, the academies had many disadvantages, but they had one notable advantage. On them the dead hand of mathematics and classics lay less heavily. They developed a wider notion of education. Philosophy, natural science, history, modern languages found a place. Accordingly, Dr. Watts possessed an encyclopaedic sort of scholarship, less fine and nice, it might be, in the classics than the most polished Oxford man of his time might have, but vastly wider in scope and more liberal in tendency. I do not mean that Dr. Watts knew little Greek and Latin. He was accomplished in both; but he knew other things too.

So much, but no more, does it seem necessary to say by way of introducing the author. We now open the book: */The Psalms of David imitated in New Testament Language together with Hymns and Spiritual Songs./* It has two parts, as the title indicates, and they are of about equal length. In the first part Dr. Watts presents a metrical version of the Book of Psalms. It is not a mere reproduction of the 150 psalms. Some are omitted. Some are abbreviated. Some are represented by more than one version in different metres. Some are divided into several parts. All are baptized into the Christian faith. But Watts shall tell you in his own words what he has done:

'It is necessary to divest */David/* and */Asaph, &c./* of every other Character but that of a */Psalmist/* and a */Saint,/* and to */make them always speak the common Sense of a Christian..../* Where the Psalmist describes Religion by the */fear/* of God, I have often joined */faith and Love/* to it: ... Where he talks of sacrificing */Goats or Bullocks, I/* rather chuse to mention the Sacrifice of */Christ, the Lamb of God:/* Where he attends the */ark with Shouting/* in */Zion, I/* sing the */Ascension of my Saviour/* into Heaven, or his */Presence in his Church/* on Earth.'

The second part of the book contains hymns. First comes a book of hymns `collected from the Holy Scriptures' - that is to say, paraphrases of both Old and New Testament passages. Second is a book of hymns `composed on Divine Subjects' - that is to say, hymns as we should understand the word, freely composed without particular reference to Holy Scripture. Third, and last, are hymns `prepared for the holy ordinance of the Lord's Supper'. As Watts had ended his Psalter by six versions of */Gloria Patri/* in various metres, so he ends the hymnbook by others. Some are in the form of hymns. Some are single verses. To these he adds four hosannas to the Son of God. The result is a very substantial volume.

I shall not pretend to any bibliographical knowledge of Watts's works. If you want that knowledge, you will find it in Julian's */Dictionary of Hymnology. I/* mention only that the */Hymns/* were published in 1707 and enlarged in a second edition in 1709; and that ten years later the */Psalms/* were published. We will take the volume as it stands compacted of these two.

Nor shall I give you, what I am indeed unfit to give you, an historical sketch of hymn-singing in our churches. I note only that Watts is a pioneer. Hymns were being sung in our churches in the late seventeenth century; but there was a prejudice against them as both Popish and unscriptural. That prejudice died hard; and, what was worse, the supply of English hymns was meagre and poor. To Watts more than to any other man is due the triumph of the hymn in English worship. All later hymn-writers, even when they excel him, are his debtors; and it is possible to hold that his work for hymns is greater than Charles Wesley's, even if as a writer of hymns we place him a little lower than Wesley. Metrical psalms in great numbers there were before Watts, and they were much used. But here, as in his hymns, Watts was a pioneer. In his Christian interpretation of the Psalms, he had predecessors, but no one had so thoroughly carried out the plan before.

In examining what Dr. Watts wrote, we must then always remember that he is hewing his way through an almost unexplored territory, and that his successors, not having his rough work to do again, will be able to polish and improve. We must expect him to make many experiments that fail, and to try many arrangements before he finds the best. His book is a laboratory of experiments. Only in a few places can we expect him to bring one off. Another set of conditions hampered him. He was writing for congregations that were often ignorant. His hymns had to be suitable to be announced and sung line by line by illiterates. He had to write in only a few well-known metres, a limitation of which he often complained.

I claim at this point the historian's privilege: the privilege of mentioning dates. The hymns were published in 1707. Watts's mind, that is to say, was formed in the seventeenth century. He is a seventeenth- rather than an eighteenth-century writer. This appears in that quality of his verse which friends call quaint, and enemies grotesque. When Watts's taste was set the English language had not undergone that purging and purifying, that rationalizing and simplification, which we associate with the name of Addison. Here we find a contrast between Watts and Wesley. Watts's forebears wrote crabbed, allusive, tortuous prose and verse. Charles Wesley's forebears wrote the slick and polished stuff. To write great theology in common metre, long metre, or in 6.8s is not easy even if you have a perfect command of metre; but Watts found no metre ready tamed for his use. Read the metrical psalter of the Church of Scotland, and you will get a picture of the untamed, unbroken metres which Watts had to discipline. Wesley found that work done for him. The wonder is not that Watts is, when compared with Wesley, rough and grotesque, but that he has achieved even his moderate success in harnessing his verse to his theology. Here is an example at random from Psalm xx: `Some trust in chariots and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the Lord our God'. The Scottish version is:

In chariots some put confidence, Some horses trust upon; But we remember will the name Of our Lord God alone.

Watts writes:

Some trust in horses train'd for war, And some of chariots make their boasts; Our surest expectations are From Thee, the Lord of heav'nly hosts.

I have not chosen a grotesque, but an average, passage. But you can see Watts smoothing the verses down. In the eighteenth century they will be smoothed quite flat.

From the seventeenth century Watts derived another quality which makes him very unlike Wesley. This quality reminds us of Milton, even though the difference between Milton and Watts is very great. Let me put it this way. Charles Wesley in his hymns concerns himself mainly (I had almost written exclusively) with God and the soul of man: their manifold relations, their estrangement, their reconciliation, their union. Watts, too, concerns himself with this drama; but he gives it a cosmic background. Not less than Wesley, he finds the Cross the centre of his thought: all things look forward or backward to the Incarnation and the Passion. But Watts sees the Cross, as Milton had seen it, planted on a globe hung in space, surrounded by the vast distances of the universe. He sees the drama in Palestine prepared before the beginning of time and still decisive when time has ceased to be. There is a sense of the spaciousness of nature, of the vastness of time, of the dreadfulness of eternity, in Watts which is missing or less felt in Wesley. You have a touch of it in the last verse of Watts's greatest and best-known hymn, `When I survey'. `Were */the whole realm of nature/* mine': the whole realm of Nature - no thought, no expression is more characteristic of Watts than that. It is an echo of his encyclopaedic philosophic thought. You constantly find Watts `surveying' the whole realm of Nature and finding at the centre of it its crucified and dying Creator.

In the most hideous period of the last war, in a rather dingy, dreary chapel in the Potteries, I heard Dr. F. B. Meyer preach (as only he could) on the Passion. He took for his text Watts' hymn `When I survey'; and to this day I can give you the headings and gist of that moving sermon. I recall what Dr. Meyer said about the word `survey': a cold, rather formal word for the sinner's looking at the Saviour, he thought it, but it was (he admitted) very characteristic of Watts. It is the word of a man who, in seventeenth-century fashion, sees the world in a grain of sand and eternity in an hour. John Bailey says that in no poet are we so frequently made aware of the sky as in Milton. In this Watts is Milton's disciple. The spaciousness of the firmament is always appearing in his hymns, and he cannot glance or look at so vast an expanse of time and space as the scene of our redemption unfolds: he must */survey/* it.

Ere the blue heavens were stretched abroad From everlasting was the Word.

There is a magical quality in that verse. Watts knows that the `blue heavens' alone provide an adequate background for any thought of the Word. It is like Milton. It is like Dante. It has sublimity. That sublimity was partly lost in the intense examination of the human soul which marked the evangelical and pietist movements, but in Watts it leads straight to the Calvinist's awareness of the sovereignty of God.

God is a name my soul adores The almighty Three, the eternal One; Nature and grace, with all their powers, Confess the Infinite unknown.

Thy voice produced the sea and spheres, Bade the waves roar, the planets shine; But nothing like Thyself appears Through all these spacious works of Thine.

Still restless nature dies and grows, From change to change the creatures run; Thy being no succession knows, And all Thy vast designs are one.

A glance of Thine runs through the globe, Rules the bright worlds, and moves their frame; Of light Thou form'st Thy dazzling robe, Thy ministers are living flame.

How shall polluted mortals dare To sing Thy glory or Thy grace Beneath Thy feet we lie afar, And see but shadows of Thy face.

Who can behold the blazing light Who can approach consuming flame None but Thy wisdom knows Thy might, None but Thy word can speak Thy name.

These verses, though less august, show the same perception of the great realm of Nature:

Firm are the words His prophets give, Sweet words, on which his children live; Each of them is the voice of God Who spoke and spread the skies abroad.

Each of them powerful as the sound That bid the new-made world go round; And stronger than the solid poles On which the wheel of nature rolls.

O for a strong, a lasting faith To credit what my Maker saith, T' embrace the message of His Son And call the joys of heaven our own!

*/Then,/* should the earth's old pillars shake And all the wheels of nature break, Our steady souls should fear no more Than solid rocks when billows roar.

Our everlasting hopes arise Above the ruinable skies, Where the eternal Builder reigns, And His own courts His power sustains.

It is not, I think, an accident that the Methodists have drawn so freely on this type of hymn by Watts. Charles Wesley himself provided them with ample riches in the expression of evangelical faith; but the genius which presided over the evolution of the Methodist hymn-book consciously or unconsciously understood that Watts could supplement Wesley on this other side. In this way :t has come about that the Methodists have a splendid store of Watts's hymns on what we may pretentiously call the cosmic setting of the Faith. They have valued Watts in some ways more than we.

The verses that I last quoted contain two interesting words from which we may now jump to consider Watts's diction. Did you note the fine phrase `above the ruinable skies' Watts has a flair for the use of the memorable word. We shall find that as we proceed. The other word is `old': `should the earth's old pillars shake'. Unless you are very careful, that sounds ludicrous. We want Watts to say `ancient' or to use a more dignified word. `Old' is a word that has lost caste since 1709. Compare

The sons of good old Jacob seem'd Abandon'd to their foes.

Unhappily for Watts, many of his words have lost caste; and verse after verse of his psalms and hymns we find ruined by a turn of phrase that, once venerable, is become comic. The great divide, I surmise, is somewhere near Addison. Words have changed less since then. That is why Wesley seems less archaic or `dated' than Watts, though, of course, there are a few expressions in Wesley that strike us as odd. But there are many in Watts. Very much too often we descend from the sublime to the ridiculous with a shattering bump, or, when he wishes to move us he makes us squirm.

Here every bowel of our God With soft compassion rolls.

Not merely by his fondness for `bowels' and `worms' does Watts disturb us, but by scores and scores of expressions that died in the polite reformation of Augustan English.

So much then we must expect for the simple but adequate reason that Watts's taste was formed in the seventeenth and not in the eighteenth century. As an example, let me quote Watts's use of the exclamation `Well'. He is very fond of this, but it gives a grotesquely colloquial touch to some of his solemn passages. He is contrasting the eternal life of God with the transitoriness of His creatures.

The sea and sky must perish too, And vast destruction come; The creatures - look, how old they grow And wait their fiery doom.

Well, let the sea shrink all away And flame melt down the skies; My God shall live an endless day When th' old creation dies.

Or, in another sense, he opens a hymn:

Well, the Redeemer's gone T' appear before our God, To sprinkle o'er the flaming throne With his atoning blood.


Well, if our days must fly, We'll keep their end in sight.

Bible readers will remember that the translators of the Authorized Version in their address to the Reader use `Well' in a similar solemn manner. It is part of Watts's seventeenth-century inheritance.

I could fill pages with examples of this unhappy change in the meaning of Watts's words.

Thou has redeem'd our souls from hell With Thine invaluable blood,

Yet with my God I leave my cause, And trust His promised grace; He rules me by His */well-known/* laws Of love and righteousness.

[God] rides upon the stormy sky And */manages/* the seas.

Thee, mighty God, our souls */admire./*

Must heaven's eternal */darling/* die To save a trait'rous race

And Heaven without Thy presence there Would be a dark and */tiresome/* place.

and, perhaps oddest of all,

Through all His [God's] ancient works */Surprising/* wisdom shines.

Examples leap from every page. These will suffice to explain why so many of Watts's hymns cannot be sung to-day.

At times it is not the odd word, but the quaint or crude thought which puts the psalm or hymn out of court. Watts out-Wordsworths Wordsworth in his love of simple, everyday language; and as Wordsworth at times made the sublime ridiculous by his kindergarten expressions so also did Watts. At its best Watts's language is pure and transparent. It is as pure Anglo-Saxon as Bunyan's own:

Sweet fields beyond the swelling flood Stand dressed in living green.

But at its worst it is banal beyond belief. What modern versions of St. Paul's epistles have done for Romans and Ephesians Watts has done for the Psalms. The obscurity has gone: granted; but so has the awe, the majesty, the numinous, the divine. Here is a neutral example about manna:

But they in murmuring language said, `Manna is all our feast. We loathe this light, this airy bread, We must have flesh to taste'.

`Ye shall have flesh to please your lust' (The Lord in wrath replied) And sent them quails like sand or dust, Heap'd up from side to side.

He gave them all their own desire; And greedy as they fed, His vengeance burnt with secret fire, And smote the rebels dead.

And meritorious as Watts's use of Anglo-Saxon words is, free as he is of pompous rubbish, his exclusion of Latin words deprives him of those magical changes that Wesley knows so well how to use. By the introduction of a word like `essential' or `transient' among Anglo-Saxon words Wesley will strike a deep note in a way that holds you spell-bound. When he would be strong, Watts is often merely violent.

At times, however, his violence becomes grand:

They love the road that leads to hell; Then let the rebels die Whose malice is implacable Against the Lord on high.

But if thou hast a chosen few Amongst that impious race, Divide them from the bloody crew By Thy surprising grace.

On Judgment Day:

The angry nations fret and roar That they can slay the saints no more; On wings of vengeance flies our God To pay the long arrears of blood.

On Satan:

Now Satan comes with dreadful roar, And threatens to destroy; He worries whom he can't devour With a malicious joy.

On the other hand, we have this pleasing picture of supernatural natural history:

A thousand savage beasts of prey Around the forest roam, But Judah's Lion guards the way And guides the strangers home.

Here is the `Warning to Magistrates,' to the Tory invaders of the rights of conscience who attempted to undermine the Toleration Act. It is worth the attention of Hitler:

Yet you invade the rights of God, And send your bold decrees abroad To bind the conscience in your chains.

Break out their teeth, eternal God, Those teeth of lions dyed in blood, And crush the serpents in the dust. As empty chaff, when whirlwinds rise, Before the sweeping tempest flies, So let their hopes and names be lost.

But Watts was sometimes a master of understatement, as well as sometimes a slave of exaggeration. There is a neatness about this next verse which makes even */Esquire/* seem cumbrous. Watts is writing on the excellency of the Christian religion:

Not the feign'd fields of heathenish bliss Could raise such pleasures to the mind, Nor does the Turkish Paradise Pretend to joys so well-refined.

You notice that, even when he is most grotesque, he lets slip the great phrase. `The feign'd fields of heathenish bliss' might be Milton. `To pay the long arrears of blood' might be Shakespeare. Might it not be Aeschylus

One other quality that has not helped the hymns demands a word. Watts, it must be confessed, is not always very clever at rhymes. Something must be allowed for changes in pronunciation of vowels and diphthongs. Something may be due to a faulty ear. But much, I am persuaded, is due to haste and carelessness. Have you noticed how many poor rhymes, false rhymes, and mere assonances occur even in his great hymns Watts rarely tries to rhyme more than the second and fourth lines. That, to begin with, is letting himself off easily. Contrast Wesley, who usually rhymes first and third as well as second and fourth, and so gets a more compact verse. Take as an example `Jesus shall reign'. In six verses, with twelve alleged rhymes, we find no fewer than five of the twelve imperfect. Watts is in this matter distinctly inferior to Wesley, who had, of course, a gifted musical ear and a rare facility in Latin verse to help him. Wesley's book, as well as Watts's, contains, of course, a good many false rhymes and mere assonances, but Wesley's do not weaken his verse as much as one would at first expect. This is because, unlike Watts, Wesley leaves very few lines without some attempt at rhyming. If lines 2 and 4 rhyme badly, lines I and 3 partly save the situation for Wesley. Watts has too often neglected to provide himself with this safety valve, and one bad rhyme, being the only rhyme, puts the verse out of action. So marked is the difference that if you read a hundred pages of Watts at a sitting, and come (as you will come) on the hymn perfectly smoothed and perfectly rhymed, your inclination is to say, `Why, Wesley might have written that!' for at his best Watts is as accomplished as Wesley.

I take two of Watts's smoothest examples. You will note how much they gain because here, like Wesley, he sets out to rhyme lines I and 3 as well as 2 and 4. Even here, however, Watts does not give us perfect rhymes:

Not all the outward forms on earth, Nor rites that God has given, Nor will of man, nor blood, nor birth, Can raise a soul to Heaven.

The sovereign will of God alone Creates us heirs of grace, Born in the image of His Son, A new, peculiar race.

Or this:

Nor eye has seen, nor ear has heard, Nor sense, nor reason known, What joys the Father has prepared For those that love the Son.

Each verse has one false and one true rhyme. Spread this defective rhyming equally all over the psalms and hymns and you see the result is considerable and depressing.

You will perhaps assume from what I have said that the common opinion is true, that our hymn-books have selected the best of Watts, and that we are not missing much in missing all but the twenty-five hymns or so with which we are familiar. Let no word of mine lead you into that error. When every deduction for every reason has been made, Watts's psalms and hymns contain many, many pieces which would enrich our worship. Not a few, it is true, contain a phrase or word that is now comic or grotesque; but by no means all. And even those hymns which, for such reasons, we cannot sing in public, we neglect at our peril in private. I at least know of no devotional book richer than Watts's hymns and psalms. The whole piece may be unfit for use, but the great phrase, the great thought, the penetrating analysis, the blinding flash of genius lighting up Calvary afresh for us - these things would purge and wring and subdue and elevate and all but save our souls, did we give them the chance. Watts's was a great mind, a great soul, a great experience. Much that he writes is too intimate except for the holy of holies. But we ought to use it there.

Every one will make his own selection. I should have been sorry to miss this meditation:

Here at Thy cross, my dying God, I lay my soul beneath Thy love.

Not all that tyrants think, or say, With rage and lightning in their eyes, Nor hell shall fright my heart away, Should hell with all its legions rise,

Should worlds conspire to drive me thence, Moveless and firm this heart should lie, Resolv'd (for that's my last defence) If I must perish, there to die.

There I behold, with sweet delight, The blessed Three in One; And strong affections fill my sight On God's incarnate Son.

And if no evening visit's paid Between my Saviour and my soul, How dull the night, how sad the shade, How mournfully the minutes roll.

Deep in our hearts let us record The deeper sorrows of our Lord.

The mount of danger is the place Where we shall see surprising grace.

Turn, turn us, mighty God, And mould our souls afresh; Break, sovereign grace, these hearts of stone, And give us hearts of flesh.

It is time, after examining the limitations, to observe the strong features of Watts's verse. We have glanced at the simple Anglo-Saxon words which compose it. Page after page shows no Latin word. Whole verses are in monosyllables. The experiment is too difficult to succeed always, but if it comes off it is heavenly in its clarity and light. You can notice this in everything that I quote from Watts.

There are few tricks in Watts's verse, but he is fond of some simple devices. These interest us because first we can watch him practising them in scores of feeble or moderate verses, and then using them to bring off some distinguished performance in a classic hymn.

He is very fond, for instance, of a sort of repetition or parallelism. This descends perhaps from his putting into verse so many of the parallel sentences of Hebrew poetry. At times he repeats an idea, at times a phrase, at times only a word.

Down to the earth was Satan thrown, Down to the earth his legions fell, High on the cross the Saviour hung, High in the heavens He reigns.

To Jesus our atoning Priest, To Jesus our superior King.

I'll make your great commission known, And ye shall prove my gospel true By all the works that I have done, By all the wonders ye shall do.

A more interesting type is here:

He bids the sun forbear to rise, Th' obedient sun forbears.

In the creation:

`Let blood,' He said, `flow round the veins,' And round the veins it flows.

Note the chiasmus there too.

Our days alas! our mortal days Are short and wretched too; 'Evil and few,' the patriarch says, And well the patriarch knew.

Watts is particularly fond of pairing his lines in a way of his own. Most writers pair lines I and 2 or 3 and 4, and Watts often does that too. But he very often secures an interesting effect by pairing lines 2 and 3:

Nor shall Thy spreading Gospel rest Till through the world Thy truth has run, Till Christ has all the nations bless'd That see the light or feel the sun.

Down to this base, this sinful earth, He came to raise our nature high; He came t' atone almighty wrath; Jesus, the God, was born to die.

Not very remarkable, you may say. Wait a moment. Turn now to the greatest of Watts's hymns, and see this particular form of parallelism, combined with a chiasmus, in the second and third lines of the verse. See Watts bring off with apparently artless art the performance for which he has practised scores and scores of times:

See from His head, His hands, His feet, Sorrow and love flow mingled down. Did e'er such love and sorrow meet, Or thorns compose so rich a crown

Another device of which Watts is very fond is accumulation. He piles up words and ideas of the same order, and produces the effect memorably described in Burke's treatise, */On the Sublime and Beautiful:/*

His worship and his fear shall last Till hours and years and time be past.

(There Persia, glorious to behold, There India shines in eastern gold) And barb'rous nations at His word Submit and bow and own their Lord.

No bleeding bird, nor bleeding beast, Nor hyssop branch, nor sprinkling priest, Nor running brook, nor flood, nor sea, Can wash the dismal stain away.

Sometimes Watts accumulates phrases, as when Wisdom speaks:

Before the flying clouds, Before the solid land, Before the fields, before the floods, I dwelt at His right hand.

Not much in it Perhaps not; but, for all that, you will find it a feature of the greatest of his hymns:

See from His head, His hands, His feet.

While life and thought and being last, Or immortality endures

While such as trust their native strength Shall melt away and droop and die.

From Milton, I suspect, Watts learnt his mastery of proper names. They adorn his verse frequently and happily. Sometimes they strike us as odd.

He takes my soul ere I'm aware, And shows me where His glories are; No chariot of Amminadib The heavenly rapture can describe.


So Samson, when his hair was lost, Met the Philistines to his cost, Shook his vain limbs with sad surprise, Made feeble fight, and lost his eyes.

But this is impressive:

What mighty man, or mighty God, Comes travelling in State Along the Idum‘an road Away from Bozrah's gate

And have you noticed the triumph of long practice with proper names in `There is a land of pure delight' In one couplet Watts works off three of them. We do not notice them as heavy or precious; and yet they awaken that historic memory which only proper names can command:

So to the Jews old Canaan stood, While Jordan roll'd between.

Watts has achieved perfect mastery when he can use proper names to bewitch us without our noticing it.

You remember that other quality which we observed earlier: Watts's awareness of the whole universe as the setting for human life and for the drama of salvation. That quality gives deep tones to his greatest hymns. That, too, he controls after much experiment. I need only remind you of

Time, like an ever-rolling stream.

The busy tribes of flesh and blood, With all their lives and cares, Are carried downwards by the flood And lost in following years.

The Mighty God, whose matchless power Is ever new and ever young, And firm endures while endless years Their everlasting circles run.

And of course supremely:

Were the whole realm of nature mine.

Watts, then, achieves his supreme triumphs not by accident. They are compounded of many ingredients already well known to him, experimented with happily and unhappily, carelessly as well as carefully, but finally subdued by his art in a classic hymn. For some of the hymns as whole pieces, notably for `When I survey' and for `There is a land', we can find rough drafts in his book.

We have lingered perhaps too long on the lesser things. Let me ask a final question touching greater matters than diction and versification. What of Watts's choice of subjects What are the psalms and hymns about

They concern, as is natural, some things of passing or historic interest. In making David speak like a Christian, Watts most properly made him speak also like an Englishman, not to say like an eighteenth-century Whig. Watts equates, that is to say, Palestine, Israel, Judea, Jerusalem with Great Britain. The exquisitely sensitive commentators call this vulgar. Vulgar or not, Watts does it. The result is that he gives us some fascinating reflexions on English history. The deliverances of the chosen people had their parallels in Gunpowder Plot, the landing of William of Orange, the accession of George I, and generally in the defeat of the French, the discomfiture of the Tories, and the confusion of the Papists. `Popish idolatry reproved: a psalm for the 5th of November'; `The church saved and her enemies disappointed: composed for the 5th of November, 1694'; `Power and government from God alone: applied to the Glorious Revolution by King William or the happy accession of King George to the throne'. The hymns are full of sound political doctrine as well as thanksgiving.

Britain was doomed to be a slave, Her frame dissolved, her fears were great. When God a new supporter gave To bear the pillars of the State.

No vain pretence to royal birth Shall fix a tyrant on the throne.

The lesson is clear:

Oft has the Lord whole nations bless'd For His own church's sake; The pow'rs that give His people rest Shall of His care partake.

Let C‘sar's due be ever paid To C‘sar and his throne, But consciences and souls were made To be the Lord's alone.

Here is Guy Fawkes:

Their secret fires in caverns lay, And we the sacrifice; But gloomy caverns strove in vain To 'scape all searching eyes.

Their dark designs were all revealed, Their treason all betray'd.

But nevertheless:

In vain the busy sons of hell Still new rebellions try.

The grandson of Blake's lieutenant rejoices in the success of our arms, in the cause of liberty and Protestantism:

How have we chas'd them through the field, And trod them to the ground, While Thy salvation was our shield, But they no shelter found.

In vain to idol saints they cry, And perish in their blood.

The decline of the Dissenting interest in the early eighteenth century has left a pathetic reflexion in Watts. Empty churches are not new phenomena.

'Tis with a mournful pleasure now I think on ancient days; Then to Thy house did numbers go, And all our work was praise. In God they boasted all the day, And in a cheerful throng Did thousands meet to praise and pray, And grace was all their song.

But now our souls are seiz'd with shame, Confusion fills our face.

Yet have we not forgot our God, Nor falsely dealt with heav'n.

Most of the psalms and hymns contain no local or passing reference. They deal - ninety-nine out of a hundred of them - with the great elemental facts that always dominate the Christian's mind. There is indeed a certain sameness about Watts's book because he deals so constantly with the same three or four topics. There is nothing denominational about him. We find rather less reflexion of the intense fellowship of classic Congregationalism than we should have expected. Watts deals with the great common themes of catholic Christianity.

There is, to begin with, the most frank and most moving recital of the weakness, the unsatisfactoriness, the transience of human life. The hopes and fears of men Watts portrays with a tender but unflinching hand. No man has analysed more faithfully the doubts and hopes and fears that we all have.

The passions of my hope and fear Maintain'd a doubtful strife, While sorrow, pain, and sin conspir'd To take away my life.

And all is set over against the vast universe:

Like flowery fields the nations stand, Pleas'd with the morning light; The flow'rs beneath the mower's hand Lie with'ring ere `tis night.

Watts is almost Virgilian in this. Not less than Virgil, he deserves Tennyson's great word:

Thou majestic in thy sadness At the doubtful doom of human kind.

There is no easy sentimentality in Watts. He has one foot firmly on earth. His quite ghastly poems about death and the grave, about Hell and Satan, provide valuable evidence that he at least had allowed for the emergence of Mussolini and Hitler. Watts is a sound Calvinist. He knows that mankind has fallen. He takes full note of evil, and allows handsomely for it.

But if one of Watts's feet is firmly planted on earth, the other is no less firmly planted on catholic, evangelical, apostolic theology. A line which, for another purpose, I have already quoted gives us in strong epigrammatic form the other thing which Watts sees over against the tragedy of human life:

Jesus, the God, was born to die.

In its blazing antitheses: the Galilean carpenter who is God: the God who is born: the God who dies; it carries us back to the most ancient hymns of the Greek and the Latin Church.

Our souls adore th' Eternal God, Who condescended to be born.

The Incarnation, the Passion, the Resurrection - these things are for Watts no less certain than the frustration of human hopes. That is why (in his own word) he is, on the balance, `cheerful'.

Till God in human form I see My thoughts no comfort find.

But if Immanuel's face I see My hope, my joy begins.

I love th' incarnate mystery And there I place my trust.

Here is the final vision of a Love of God older than the universe and filling it:

So strange, so boundless was the love That pitied dying men, The Father sent His equal Son To give them life again.

`Christ be my first elect,' He said, Then chose our souls in Christ our head, Before He gave the mountains birth Or laid foundations for the earth.

Thus did eternal love begin To raise us up from death and sin; Our characters were then decreed `Blameless in love, a holy seed.'

So let our lips and lives express That holy gospel we profess.

Now by the bowels of my God, His sharp distress, His sore complaints By His last groans, His dying blood, I charge my soul to love the saints.

Tender and kind be all our thoughts, Through all our lives let mercy run; So God forgives our numerous faults For the dear sake of Christ His Son.

These are the august notes of true Catholic theology and true Christian living. I know of no better introduction to classical theology than Watts. Let me give you two examples. Recently I read through the Gloss Ordinary and the other main commentaries used by medieval theologians on the first few chapters of the Song of Solomon. I found it again almost word for word in Watts's paraphrases of that book. And in Watts's `Jesus shall reign' you have the great verse (omitted, of course, nowadays from our books because it is so great):

In Him [Christ] the sons of Adam boast More blessings than their father lost.

What is that but the glorious passage from the ancient Office for Easter Eve `O certainly necessary sin of Adam ... O happy fault which deserved to have such and so great a Redeemer.'

Watts's book moves to a splendid end in his sacramental hymns. The Lord's Supper has an essential place in Watts's religion.

I love the Lord, who stoops so low To give His word a seal. And thus our sense assists our faith And shows us what His gospel means.

{St. Thomas Aquinas has the complementary thought in his great eucharistic hymn, */Pange, lingua:/*

Praestet fides supplementum Sensuum defectui.}

He sets out the high sacramental doctrine of the Savoy Confession. The Lord's Supper is more than a memorial.

This holy bread and wine Maintains our fainting breath By union with our living Lord And interest in His death.

Here have we seen Thy face, O Lord, And view'd salvation with our eyes; Tasted and felt the Living Word, The bread descending from the skies.

He remembers with infinite tenderness those who once partook with us of the Supper here on earth.

While once upon this lower ground, Weary and faint ye stood, What dear refreshments here ye found From this immortal food.

Here God's whole name appears complete, Nor wit can guess, nor reason prove, Which of the letters best is writ, The power, the wisdom, or the love.

If I were asked to compare Watts with Wesley in a word, I should say, I think, though with great diffidence, that Watts seems to me to have the greater mind, the wider outlook, the more philosophic approach to human life and to the Christian revelation. He has also, I think, more original poetry in him. Now and then he hits out a greater and more elemental phrase than any that I remember in Wesley. But Wesley is the greater artist. He flies more surely. He crashes far less often. He reaches the heights far more often, though perhaps he does not go quite as high. His book, as a whole, far surpasses Watts. Watts, because he is dominated by the notion of paraphrasing, puts Scripture very often into his own words; it is not always to the advantage of Scripture. Wesley does little paraphrasing. He puts his own notions into Scripture language, and it is always to their advantage. Each is scriptural; they are equally scriptural, but in different ways, and the literary luck is with Wesley. Watts had it in him to do better than Wesley ever did, better than he himself ever did.

But in essentials they are one; and they provide us with one quite conclusive reason for being Christians as far as we can be. They form a heritage that only a madman will let slip. Let Watts have the last word in the last lines of his superb doxology to the Holy Trinity:

Where reason fails, With all her powers, There faith prevails And love adores.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With force of arms we nothing can, Full soon were we down-ridden. But for us fights the Proper Man, Whom God Himself hath bidden.

No one but Watts could write:

What though we go the world around And search from Britain to Japan, There shall be no religion found So just to God, so safe for man.

No one but Charles Wesley could write:

Adam, descended from above! Federal Head of all mankind, The covenant of redeeming love In Thee let ever,v sinner find. Me, me, who still in darkness sit, Shut up in sin and unbelief, Bring forth out of this hellish pit, This dungeon of despairing grief.

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

True God of true God, Light of Light Eternal, Lo He abhors not the Virgin's womb, Son of the Father, Begotten not created.

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

These things shall be! a loftier race Than e'er the world hath known shall rise With flame of freedom in their souls And light of knowledge in their eyes. They shall be gentle, brave and strong To spill no drop of blood, but dare All that may plant man's lordship firm On earth and fire and sea and air.

Or let us take refuge in Lord Houghton:

Our lives enriched with gentle thoughts And loving deeds may be, A stream that still the nobler grows The nearer to the sea.

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

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

Jesus, the Name high over all In hell, or earth, or sky, Angels and men before it fall, And devils fear and fly.

Jesus, the Name to sinners dear, The name to sinners given; It scatters all their guilty fear, It turns their hell to heaven.

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

Into a world of ruffians sent I walk on hostile ground; While human bears on slaughter bent And ravening wolves surround.

Watch'd by the world's malignant eye, Who load us with reproach and shame, As servants of the Lord Most high, As zealous for His glorious Name, We ought in all His paths to move With holy fear and humble love.

Only have faith in God; In faith your foes assail; Not wrestling against flesh and blood But all the powers of hell; From thrones of glory driven, By flaming vengeance hurl'd, They throng the air and darken heaven And rule the lower world.

On earth th' usurpers reign, Exert their baneful power; O'er the poor fallen souls of men They tyrannize their hour. But shall believers fear But shall believers fly Or see the bloody cross appear And all their powers defy

Jesu's tremendous name Puts all our foes to flight; Jesus, the meek, the angry Lamb, A Lion is in fight. By all hell's host withstood, We all hell's host o'erthrow, And conquering them, through Jesu's blood, We still to conquer go.

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

Christian! dost thou see them On the holy ground, How the troops of Midian Prowl and prowl around

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

How the powers of darkness Compass thee around.

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

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

Christian, dost thou feel them, How they work within, Striving, tempting, luring, Goading into sin Christian, never tremble; Never be down-cast; Smite them by the virtue Of the Lenten fast.

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

Gird thee for the conflict; Watch and pray and fast

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

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

Jesus calls us; o'er the tumult Of our life's wild, restless sea. Day by day His sweet voice soundeth, Saying, `Christian, follow me.'

As of old St. Andrew heard it, By the Galilean lake, Turned from home, and friends, and kindred, Leaving all for His dear sake.

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

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

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

Glory be to Jesus, Who, in bitter pains, Poured for me His Life-blood From His sacred veins.

Grace and life eternal In that Blood I find; Blest be His compassion Infinitely kind.

Blest through endless ages Be the precious stream, Which from endless torments Doth the world redeem.

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

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

His dying crimson like a robe Spreads o'er His body on the tree; Then am I dead to all the globe; And all the globe is dead to me.

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

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

My Jesus to know and to feel His Blood flow, `Tis life everlasting, `tis heaven below.

I speak of the fanatical prejudice against solemn words.

O Thou eternal Victim, slain A sacrifice for guilty man, By the eternal Spirit made An offering in the sinner's stead; Our everlasting Priest art Thou And plead'st Thy death for sinners now.

Thy offering still continues new; Thy vesture keeps its bloody hue; Thou stand'st the ever-slaughtered Lamb; Thy priesthood still remains the same; Thy years, O God, can never fail; Thy goodness is unchangeable.

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

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

Around the trembling mountain's base The prostrate people lay, A day of wrath and not of grace, A dim and dreadful day.

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

The fires, that rush'd on Sinai down In sudden torrents dread, Now gently light, a glorious crown, On every sainted head.

And as on Israel's awe-struck ear The voice exceeding loud, The trump, that angels quake to hear, Thrilled from the deep, dark cloud;

So, when the Spirit of our God Came down His flock to find, A voice from Heav'n was heard abroad, A rushing, mighty wind.

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

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

Sinful worms to Him are given, A colony to people heaven.

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

Angels and men, resign your claim To pity, mercy, love, and grace; These glories crown Jehovah's name With an incomparable blaze. Who is a pardoning God like Thee Or who has grace so rich and free

But he also wrote:

Crimes of such horror to forgive, Such guilty daring worms to spare.

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

Such dire offences to forgive, Such guilty daring */souls/* to spare.

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

In wonder lost, with trembling joy We take our pardon from our God, Pardon for crimes of deepest dye, A pardon bought with Jesu's blood.

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

Trembles when he sees The weakest saint upon his knees,

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

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

Hail sacred feast which Jesus makes, Rich banquet of His flesh and blood. Thrice happy he who here partakes That sacred stream, that heavenly food.

Barrett, since he printed Keble's communion hymn,

Fresh from the atoning sacrifice The world's Redeemer bleeding lies, That man His foe for whom He bled May take Him as his daily bread,

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

Rich banquet of His flesh and blood.

Even that is too much and it becomes:

Sweet emblems of His flesh and blood.

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

Why are these dainties still in vain Before unwilling hearts displayed

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

O bid the wretched sons of need On soul-reviving dainties feed.

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

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

Was not for you the victim slain Are you forbid the children's bread

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

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

Weary souls, that wander wide From the central point of bliss, Turn to Jesus crucified, Fly to those dear wounds of His.

Five bleeding wounds He bears, Received on Calvary; They pour effectual prayers, They strongly plead for me.

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

The Master's marred and wounded mien, His hands, His feet, His side

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

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

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

O worship the King All glorious above.

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

Come, Holy Ghost, for moved by Thee The Prophets wrote and spoke. Unlock the Truth, Thyself the key, Unseal the sacred Book.


Inspirer of the Ancient Seers Who wrote from Thee the sacred page, The same through all succeeding years To us in our degenerate age, The Spirit of Thy word impart And breathe the life into our heart.

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

And are we yet alive And see each other's face Glory and praise to Jesus give For His redeeming grace.

What troubles have we seen, What conflicts have we past, Fightings without and fears within Since we assembled last.

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

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

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

Let earth and heaven combine, Angels and men agree, To praise in songs Divine The Incarnate Deity, Our God contracted to a span, Incomprehensibly made man.

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

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

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

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

I lift my heart to Thee, Saviour Divine; For Thou art all to me, And I am Thine. Is there on earth a closer bond than this, That `My Beloved's mine and I am His'

To Thee, Thou bleeding Lamb, I all things owe; All that I have and am, And all I know. All that I have is now no longer mine, And I am not mine own; Lord, I am Thine.

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

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

And can it be, that I should gain An interest in the Saviour's blood Died He for me who caused His pain For me who Him to death pursued Amazing love! how can it be That Thou, my God, should'st die for me!

He left His Father's throne above, So free, so infinite His grace, Emptied Himself of all but love And bled for Adam's helpless race; `Tis mercy all, immense and free; For O my God it found out me.

Long my imprison'd spirit lay Fast bound in sin and nature's night; Thine eye diffused a quick'ning ray; I woke; the dungeon flam'd with light; My chains fell off; my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The people of the Hebrews With palms before Thee went; Our praise and prayer and anthems Before Thee we present. To Thee before Thy Passion They sang their hymns of praise; To Thee now high exalted Our melody we raise.

The Cross that Jesus carried He carried as your due; The Crown that Jesus weareth He weareth it for you.

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

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

My heart is full of Christ, and longs Its glorious matter to declare. Of Him I make my loftier songs ...

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

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

Thou art the King of Glory, O Christ; Thou art the everlasting Son of the Father. When Thou tookest upon Thee to deliver man Thou didst not abhor the Virgin's womb. When Thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death Thou didst open the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers.

So says the */Te Deum/* and Charles Wesley goes on:

Then let us sit beneath His cross And gladly catch the healing stream: All things for Him account but loss And give up all our hearts to Him. Of nothing think or speak beside, My Lord, my Love, is crucified.

HTML conversion by Paul Leclerc and George Lyons

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

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