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The Hymn-Book of the Modern Church Brief studies of hymns and hymn-writers

The Hymn-Book of the Modern Church
Brief studies of hymns and hymn-writers
Title: The Hymn-Book of the Modern Church Brief studies of hymns and hymn-writers
Release Date: 2019-01-05
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Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
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The Hymn-Book of the Modern Church







My Children

‘Better than all the ballads

That ever were sung or said.’



This lecture consists of a series of essays introductoryto the study of English hymns, inwhich I have tried to give some account ofthe sources from which the Church gathers its sacredsongs, and to sketch briefly the growth of the modernhymn-book. It has been necessary to omit severalsections which I had intended to include, and thisvolume covers a portion only of the ground indicatedby the title. I may, perhaps, some day be able tocarry the work a stage nearer completeness.

It may be thought that I have given disproportionatespace to certain periods and to certain hymn-writers.If so, I can only say that they seemed to me speciallyinteresting or important. In quotations, especiallyfrom less-known writers, I have taken as much libertyas possible, and I think this is the redeeming featureof the lecture. In extended quotations I have usuallygiven the preference to hymns not readily accessibleto the general reader, and have only occasionally quotedhymns to be found in the Methodist Hymn-book.


To the hymns of the Wesleys I have given considerablespace. The subject was chosen for me in viewof the publication of the new Methodist Hymn-book,and the occasion seemed to require a somewhat detailedsurvey of the early Methodist hymns. Nor do I thinkthat many will consider the attention given to themmore than their intrinsic value justifies. ‘After theScriptures,’ wrote Dr. James Martineau, ‘the WesleyHymn-book appears to me the grandest instrument ofpopular religious culture that Christendom has everproduced.’[1]

Delightful as this work has been to me, the bookhas been written under great pressure and amidcountless interruptions. I have had to redeem oddminutes and the evening hours when a long day’swork had already been done.

I have to acknowledge constant obligation—muchmore extensive than is indicated by frequent reference—toDr. Julian’s monumental Dictionary of Hymnology,which has lightened the labour of research for allstudents of hymns.

To my friend, Dr. J. T. L. Maggs, I am undermanifold obligations which I most gratefully record.Dr. Maggs read a great part of the book in MS, andthe whole in proof; and I am also indebted to him forcalling my attention to, or procuring for me, someimportant books of reference. Mr. W. Garrett Horderhas also given me the benefit of his advice andixcriticism—all the more valuable because his judgementhas often differed from my own.

It is a pleasure to mention the valuable help renderedme by some of my friends connected with The Children’sHome, and especially by Miss F. L. Moon (now Mrs.Carey), who most kindly relieved me of the greater partof the burden of the actual preparation of the MS.for the press. My son, Benjamin A. Gregory, hasprepared the Index, verified quotations, and helped mein many other ways.

No Fernley Lecturer has had a more attractivetheme. I wish its treatment had been more worthy.But with all its imperfections I trust that He whoinhabiteth the praises of Israel may deign to blessmy little book to the edification and comfort of somewho read it.



Introduction 1
I. A True Hymn 6
II. Hymns of the Bible and the Early Church 29
III. Early Modern Hymns 62
I.—Sixteenth Century 62
II.—Seventeenth Century 80
IV. Eighteenth-century Hymns 122
I.—The School of Watts 122
II.—Hymns of the Methodist Revival 155
III.—The Olney Hymns 224
IV.—Addison, Toplady, and Others 243
V. Nineteenth-century Hymns 254
I.—Anglican Hymns 254
II.—Free Church Hymns 285
III.—Roman Catholic Hymns 315
 Conclusion 323
 Appendix 333
 General Index 339
 Index of Hymns and Verses 343



The source and inspiration of Christian song isthe word of Christ. ‘Let the word of Christdwell in you richly in all wisdom.’ Thecommon phrases of common life cannot satisfy the soulfilled with the Spirit and rich with the wealth ofChrist’s indwelling word. Religious emotion findstruer and more fitting expression in poetry than inprose. If God had not given to His Church poets, aswell as apostles, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, thebest that is in us could never have been uttered.Words and phrases that are large enough for intercoursewith our fellows become cramped and inexpressivewhen we speak to God. Praise and penitencealike would often be silent in the congregation of thesaints if they could not at once veil and reveal theirprofoundest feelings in psalms and hymns. Poetrygives to devotion those robes of glory and beautywithout which it would, at times, be almost unseemly2to join in the public worship of God or to disclose theheart’s secrets in the presence of fellow-worshippers.

Our theme, then, is peculiarly sacred, since it dealswith the spiritual songs in which earnest and sinceremen have uttered, in the very presence of God, theirmost secret thoughts, confessions, and aspirations.Every true hymn was first spoken by one man to Godalone, was prayed before it was sung, though now itmay be heard daily from ten thousand voices. Harshor flippant criticism is out of place here, an irreverentimpertinence, like the interruption of private prayer.In the study of hymns

Put off thy shoes from off thy feet;

The place where man his God shall meet

Be sure is holy ground.[2]

Yet St. Paul himself reminds us that the word ofChrist is to dwell wisely as well as richly in our hearts.‘Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in allwisdom.’ ‘Next to a sound rule of faith, there isnothing of so much consequence as a sober standardof feeling in matters of religion.’[3] Morbid, insincere,fanatical, or exaggerated emotion is as much to bedeprecated as doctrinal error, and its evils are at leastas disastrous. The diffusion of false or superficialsentiment in the household of the faith is like thespreading of a subtle disease which saps the strengthand mars the beauty of devotion, while error bears acharmed life if it comes in the words of a familiar3and attractive hymn. Moreover, it is in the hymnsof the Church rather than in its formal declarationsof faith and doctrine that we find the truestand generally the most favourable revelation of itscharacter. Hymnology is a more important element inthe history of religion than most Church historians andtheological writers have recognized.[4]

The present time is in many respects peculiarlyappropriate for a consideration of the growth anddevelopment of the hymns of the modern Church. Weare in a state of rest or pause after tumult. The greatreligious ‘movements’ of the eighteenth and nineteenthcenturies are matters of history, and we can regard eventhe most recent of them calmly and without the prejudicewhich while conflict rages may, not altogetherunfairly, be regarded as patriotism. The MethodistRevival, the Evangelical Awakening, the Oxford Movement,the Salvation Army Campaign, the UndenominationalEvangelism of Messrs. Moody and Sankey, mayall be taken into account in considering the materialand character of the hymn-book of the modern Church.

Again, it is interesting to remember that of thehymn-writers of the nineteenth century few survive.For the moment there is neither evangelist nor poet togive us new songs. Our fathers made hymn-books; we4re-edit them. Within the last few years the standardPresbyterian, Baptist, Anglican,[5] and Methodist hymn-bookshave appeared in new and revised editions,whilst in the Arundel Hymns we have the most recentRoman Catholic hymnal. Dr. Barrett’s CongregationalChurch Hymnal, issued in 1887, is of the moderntype, though it preserves many of the features of theolder Nonconformist books. Mr. Garrett Horder’sWorship-Song represents the taste of an individual, notof a committee or community; but it is in manyrespects the best and most complete collection of thehymns of the modern Church. These books enableus to discover current opinion and taste in regard tohymns which are worthy to take their place in theservice of the Christian sanctuary, and both in theirunity and diversity are of great value as indicating thelife and thought of the Churches they represent.

In this lecture I shall attempt—

1. A brief preliminary inquiry into what constitutesa true hymn, suited for use in Christian worship.

2. A very brief review of the relation of the HebrewPsalter to the Christian Hymnal, and a passing glanceat the hymns of the New Testament and of the earlyChurch.

3. A more detailed survey of the rise and developmentof modern English hymns and their use in theChurch since the Reformation.


Such a study, however unskilfully guided, cannot,I hope, be altogether without interest or edification, sinceit brings the student into fellowship with the sweetestand the saintliest souls, and bids him join in spirit thechoir invisible who praise God day and night in Histemple.

I regret that the limits assigned to my lecturemake it impossible to refer to translations from theGreek, Latin, German, and other languages. Theseform a most valuable and an increasing portion of allmodern hymnals. They furnish abundant material fora separate volume.


A True Hymn

When my revered father, more than thirtyyears ago, delivered the fourth FernleyLecture, he laid this down as the firstscriptural Church principle—‘The Church is not athing of rigid definition.’ I may adapt that phrase tomy own subject, and say, A hymn is not a thing ofrigid definition.

Commenting on the note which closes the secondbook of Psalms, ‘The prayers [LXX. hymns] of Davidthe son of Jesse are ended,’ St. Augustine gives thisdefinition:

Hymns are praises of God with singing, hymns aresongs containing praises of God. If there be praise, and notpraise of God, it is not a hymn. If there be praise, and praiseof God, and it is not sung, it is not a hymn. It is necessary,therefore, if it be a hymn, that it have these three things:both praise, and praise of God, and that it be sung.

In commenting on Ps. cxlviii. he repeats this rulein almost the same words. The definition commendsitself at once as excellent, and in regard to a large7number of hymns adequate; but even when the widestsense is given to the words it is much too narrow andwould exclude many of the truest hymns. Indeed, it isimpossible to deny the title to innumerable compositionswhich do not fulfil these conditions. Many averse of which it may be said, This is not a hymn,demonstrates its right by the fact that it is hymned bythe Church from age to age.

St. Augustine’s third canon may be accepted withouthesitation. A poem that cannot be sung mayspeak in the sublimest accents of devotion, yet it is ofnecessity unsuited to the service of the Christian choir.Spenser’s ‘Hymn of Heavenly Love’ is a glorious exampleof this form of praise. Indeed, there are somestanzas which a skilful hand might make available foruse in the congregation.

O blessèd Well of Love, O Flower of Grace,

O glorious Morning Star, O Lamp of Light!

Most lively image of Thy Father’s face,

Eternal King of Glory, Lord of Might,

Meek Lamb of God, before all worlds behight,[6]

How can we Thee requite for all this good?

Or what can prize that Thy most precious blood?

Yet nought Thou ask’st in lieu of all this love,

But love of us for guerdon of Thy pain:

Ay me! What can us less than that behove?

Had He requirèd life of us again,

Had it been wrong to ask His own with gain?

He gave us life, He it restorèd lost;

Then life were least, that us so little cost.


But He our life hath left unto us free,

Free that was thrall, and blessèd that was banned;

Nor ought demands but that we loving be,

As He Himself hath loved us afore-hand;

And bound

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