« PreviousContinue »
ACTION OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY.
Ar the meeting of the General Assembly of the Presljyterian Church in the United States of America, May, 1840, the subject of Church Psalmody was referred to a Committee, which Committee, in the year 1842, unanimously agreed to approve and recommend the CHURCH PSALMIST, as being, in their judgment, the best adapted to the worship of God in our age and country. As such, it was commended to the Christian public, and especially to all the churches under the care of the Assembly. This Report was approved by the General Assembly of 1843, and the CHURCH PSALMIST recommended to the churches.
At a meeting of the General Assembly held in New York, May, 1856, it was resolved:. “In order to preserve uniformity in Church Psalmody, that the Publication Committee be authorized to negotiate with the compilers and publishers of the CHURCH PSALMIST, and to. purchase that book, if this can be done on reasonable terms."
At the meeting of Assembly in Cleveland, 1857, the Assembly, recognising, with gratitude to God, the securing to the possession of the Assembly a Book of Psalmody which they can call their own, unanimously recommended to the pastors and churches that they use all reasonable diligence in promoting uniformity by the introduction of this book.
THE object of this volume is to furnish the Churches with a complete COLLECTION OF SACRED Songs for public worship; and in presenting such a work, when so many, aiming at the same end, are already in circulation, we seem to be called upon to state some reasons which have influenced us in this undertaking, and which may have some weight with others. The least offensive mode in which this can be done, will be to give a brief exposition of the principles which have been kept in view in its execution. “An outline is all that will be given
for more than this, however much it may be demanded, or however rich in thought or replete with practical wisdom, would be hardly ever read. A PREFACE is generally deemed a very dull and unattractive part of a Book, so much so, that if an author had some profound secrets which he wished to record, and yet preserve in deep obscurity, he might be advised, as it regards most readers, to commit them to the safe-keeping of these neglected pages. And yet some persons read a Preface, and for the benefit of such this one is written.
The subjects of LYRIC POETRY and PSALMODY are intimately and inseparably connected, and it is in vain to expect one to exist in a high state of perfection without the other; or for either to attain distinguished excellence without cultivation. It must be acknowledged, that ministers and churches have not studied this subject with that attention which it claims, nor even in relative proportion when compared with other grave matters pertaining to the worship of God. Singing often falls far below every other part of the services of the sanctuary, from the want of both sympathy and knowledge, on the part of the Church. Little is known on the subject, and little is felt in relation to it. But this is a state as unwise as it is criminal. It is a matter of vast and vital importance that all who desire that the public institutions of religion may make the best impression and secure their highest results, and especially that ministers of the gospel should understand what Sacred Songs are adapted to social worship, and what tunes will impart to them the greatest power and efficiency. Both of these subjects should form a part of christian instruction, and especially of theological training. A brief course of Lectures on Lyric Poetry, is hardly
less necessary than a course on Sermonizing and Pastoral Theology; and a preacher of the gospel should read and study the best Psalms and Hymns, as an every-day-business, as he does his Bible, till he is acquainted with their sentiments, familiar with their structure and imagery, and deeply imbued with their spirit. The advantages of such a course are obvious and numberless;---some of them so plain that they need not be specified, and when taken colIectively, and in all their intellectual and moral relations, too many to be embraced in this rapid sketch. It is not saying too muc'ı to affirm, that such a discipline would enlarge a minister's knowledge, improve his taste, increase his piety, refine his imagination, invigorate his eloquence, and
give him readiness, appropriateness and power, in the public exercises of his profession. His volume of sacred poetry should be a Text-Book by the side of the Bible, and he should be equally familiar with both. If this were the case, the sermon and singing would more generally harmonize in their object and impressions, than they now do; the minister would have to expend less time in consulting numerous indexes in order to know what to select; and in the very act of reading the Psalm or Hymn, he would make an impression which would instruct the hearers, and give the key-note of sentiment and expresion to the choir. How deficient the ministry may be in these respects, is matter of opinion of which every person will judge for himself.
The character of Psalmody must always be affected by a great variety of circumstances which need not be adverted to in this place; but nothing has a greater influence to elevate or depress, to advance or retard its progress, than the Lyric Poetry which is employed in the service of God. The following defects may easily be detected in many of the Psalms and Hymns now in use. Some are composed on subjects unsuited to song others are destitute of a lyrical spirit-another class lack simplicity of design and execution--and not a few are of an unreasonable length for a single exercise of singing. To remedy these and other defects, and to secure, if possible, certain excellencies which are attained as yet only in part, are among the objects of this publication.
That Lyric Poetry has a character of its own--that it moves in a sphere peculiar to itself and that its subjects are limited, there is no room for doubt. On these points all critics agree. This poetry is made to be sung; and, vhen combined with appropriate music, we have a vehicle, at once natural and refined, for the expression of strong emotion. A Psalm or Hymn should be devotional,
rather than didactic, because the warm inspirations of the heart, and not the cool deductions of the intellect, are its province. Ascriptions of thanksgiving and praise to God, the breathings of filial desire and confidence, the cheering influence of hope, the tremblings of self-distrust and religious féar, "peace and joy in the Holy Ghost," and all the strong feelings which are called forth in a world of conflict and expectation, belong to this department of poetry. Any thing and every thing which pertains to devotion and christian experience, may furnish a subject for spiritual song
And yet, notwithstanding these well-defined limits, which nature itself has fixed to Lyric Poetry, there are hundreds of Hymns, in our language, which can never be sung to any good effect, because their subject-matter is foreign to this kind of writing. They can, from their very nature, neither inspire religious emotion, nor become the channels of this emotion already inspired. They contribute to extinguish rather than to kindle up, the holy flame. They are good sermons, but poor songs.
This fault in the choice of subjects, is much more rarely to be met with in secular than spiritual odes; and the same may be said in relation to the music by which they are accompanied. The reasons of this may not, perhaps, be easily detected. It cannot be for a moment admitted, that revealed religion is unfruitful in themes. If nature may be sung, why not nature's God? If creation can inspire the lyric bard, why not redemption, with its brighter glories, and its more enduring interests? If earth has its raptures, why should heaven be poor, and powerless, and without a song? If great and good men who have lived and acted and died, have, by their virtues or heroism, called forth the finest and sweetest tones of the Lyre, why should the praises of the only Great and Good, who lives in his own immortality, and whose wondrous acts are recorded for the admiration of all worlds, sleep in silence and be forgotten? It may be worthy of remark in this place, that' few poets of the first order have ever tried their pinions in this upper sky; but when they have, and selected an appropriate theme, they have showed that the waters of Zion can impart a purer inspiration than the fabled Castalian spring.
If the province of Lyric Poetry is to inspire and express emotion, then no Psalm or Hymn can answer the true purpose of christian worship unless it breathes the appropriate spirit. Its execution, as well as its subject, must be lyric. It may be rhyme, and not poetry. It may be poetry, and yet not be adapted to singing. Heroics can