Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

demical education, which were never afterwards wholly supplied, and could not be. His two volumes of Discourses, perhaps the most valuable of his publications, if we except the Memoirs of Lindsey, were like the man, and correspond in all respects with the accounts that are given of his appearance and manner in the pulpit. “In the pulpit,” to borrow Mr. Aspland's words, "there was in our friend the dignity that belongs to manly simplicity. He practised no arts in preaching. There was an interesting repose in his manner. A distinct enunciation and a clear and steady tone of voice allowed the hearer to receive calınly, and to meditate freely upon

the matter of discourse.As a controversialist, Mr. Belsham's regard for truth sometimes tempted him to carry to an extreme the doctrine, that the truth can do no harm. The truth can do no harm; but then it must be the truth understood, and not the truth misunderstood. Our objection to Mr. Belsham is that he sometimes persisted in using language which caused the truth to be misunderstood; and, thus misunderstood, it was as hurtful as error itself. It is remarkable that, prone as the subject of this memoir was to innovate in speculation, he was nevertheless inclined to be a conservatist in regard to forms, precedents, and establishments. His non-conforming brethren, more republican in their notions of things, could never entirely forgive him for affecting the aristocracy of Unitarianism, for the deference he paid to Whig Lords, nor, least of all, for his “Christianity pleading for the Patronage of the Civil Power. " When Mr. Belsham resigned his place at Daventry on account of the change in bis opinions, he evidently acted under an impression that his honesty and independence on this occasion would be fatal to his prospects of distinction and worldly advantage; but his constancy as a confessor was never put to the test of actual suffering and sacrifice. He gratefully acknowledges that all the great changes in his life were from good to better; and concludes with observing, “ I made a fine speculation when I forsook all for God and conscience." This circumstance lends the charm of poetical justice to his biography, and must make it so much the more effectual as an example to those, who would like to be honest and independent but are afraid of the consequences.

Mr. Belsham had his mission; he has fulfilled it, and passed to his reward. It is consistent with great respect for his

memory to say, that what he was fitted to begin, others have arisen who are better fitted to carry forward and accomplish. In the recent publications of the English Unitarians we are struck with the presence of more fervor, greater expansion of thought, a better philosophy, and a happier union and blending together of the rational and the spiritual. The writings of Priestley and Belsham are no longer a fair exponent of the state of philosophy and religion among them, any more than amongst us. Thus, according to the wise and beneficent arrangements of Providence, the exigency never fails to create the man it requires, and the religious teachers and guides of one age, instruct the ages that follow, as well by their errors and defects, as by their discoveries and excellences.

[ocr errors]

ART. VII. - The Christian Psalmist; being a Collection of

Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs, compiled from the
most approved Authors, and designed as a standard
Hymn-Book for Public and Social Worship. New
York. J. & J. Harper. 1833. 16mo.

pp. 576.

As James Montgomery gave to the Christian public, some few years ago, a collection of sacred songs, entitled “The Christian Psalmist,” which collection has furnished several pieces to the compilers of this, its American namesake, we presume that the latter comes to us from members of the Christian denomination, so called, because the title, though preoccupied, was the most appropriate which they could employ. We offer this as a conjecture only, and as the best explanation which occurs to us, of the circumstance of our having two “Christian Psalmists."

The American compilation has the advantage over Montgomery's in being of a more liberal, catholic, and truly Christian character. In the latter there are many hymns, which only Trinitarians, and believers in some particular doctrines of scholastic theology, could conscientiously sing. In the former there are but a very few Hymns, which, in respect to doctrine, could not be received by all Christians. On the

score of poetical taste, however, it must yield to its predecessor, as it contains much matter which could not be seriously said or sung by those whose taste is tolerably refined. We do not mean that the collection is deficient in good hymns. On the contrary, among the whole number of metrical pieces embraced in it, which the index of contents tells us is eleven hundred and thirteen, may be found a large portion of the best hymns we possess.' But contrasted with these, there are several which deserve immediate expulsion, not only from the book, but from the language. We speak not at all too strongly. We have no objection to the quality of warmth in sacred poetry, but admire it, and are poorly satisfied with a cold correctness in those compositions which above all others should abound in the expression of feeling. But extravagance, crudity, and absurdity are so totally at variance with sentiments of true devotion, in communion with the Source of intelligence, or in contempation of the sublime doctrines and principles of Christianity, that they can hardly be visited with a severer reprobation than they deserve.

In order to specify distincily what we mean, we will point out a few examples from this collection. No one can appreciate more highly than we do, for instance, the fine tone of Christian triumph in Hymn 146, taken from Pratt's Collection, and beginning,

“ The Saviour lives, no more to die;

He lives, the Lord enthroned on high;
He lives, triumphant o'er the grave;

He lives, eternally to save!" But what defence can be set up in favor of the next hymn but one, taken from the Vermont Collection, and entitled Apple-tree? The tree of life our souls hath

seen, Laden with fruit, and always green; The trees of nature fruitless be,

Compared with Christ, the apple-tree.
“ This beauty doth all things excel,

By faith we know, but ne'er can tell,
The glory which we now can see

In Jesus Christ, the apple-tree. And so on, through five vapid verses more, all ending with “Christ, the apple-tree”! The apple is undoubtedly a val

[ocr errors]

uable fruit, especially in New England ; and to this fact is perhaps owing the exalted place which it holds, as a type, in the Vermont Collection. Nevertheless in our opinion, it loses its dignity and usefulness, when thus unnaturally grafted into sacred poetry.

Again, we have no violent objection to the introduction of the well known Methodist Hymn, " The voice of free grace cries,' Escape to the mountain';” - indeed there is a picturesque beauty in the last verse which pleases us exceedingly.

“ With joy shall we stand, when escaped to the shore,

With harps in our hands we 'll praise him the more ;
We'll range the sweet plains on the bank of the river,

And sing of salvation for ever and ever!" But when such warlike hymns as those from which we shall presently quote, are brought into the field, in which hymns the Scripture comparisons of Jesus to a leader, and his followers to soldiers, are amplified and distorted into language which could only come decently from the mouth of a common recruiting-sergeant, our patience is put to flight How can we be patient with verses like the following ?

6 Hark! listen to the trumpeters,

They call for volunteers;
On Zion's bright and flow'ry mount,

Behold their officers ;
Their garments white, their armour bright,

With courage bold they stand,
Enlisting soldiers for their King,

To march to Canaan's land.
“ It sets our hearts all in a flame,

His soldiers for to be ;
We will enlist, gird on our arms,

And fight for liberty -
We want no cowards in our bands

Who will their colors fly ;
We call for valiant-hearted men,

Who 're not afraid to die.
" To see his armies on parade,

How martial they appear;
All arm’d and dress'd in uniform,

They look like men of war.

- pp. 534, 535.

They follow their great General,

The great all-conq'ring King,
His garments stain'd in his own blood,

King Jesus is his name. The hymn which follows this, is of the same character, and was no doubt composed by the same member of the church militant who indited the preceding. It is entitled Enlisting Orders, ” and begins,

O don't you hear the alarm !

Hark! how the trumpet sounds." And in the third verse the call to enlist is urged in the following moving manner.

“() who will list for Jesus,

A soldier now to make,
And like a faithful subject,

His armour on you take :
Here's food and raiment plenty,

Enough and some to spare,
And all things else provided,
Which

you

shall need to wear. Bad as this is, there are two or three verses in other hymns, which are worse, and so bad that we absolutely cannot print them. And perhaps we have printed too much already; but our design has been to show how a good book may be marred by some glaring defects, and how religion may be injured by its friends, and also to induce, if possible, the compilers of this Collection to omit in another edition, those hymns which are so decidedly objectionable. It is a pity they were ever printed, and the sooner they are out of print the better. We will not enter here upon a discussion of the principles of taste, or attempt to show why one thing is and another is not in harmony with them. They who cannot see that the lines which we have last quoted are as far as possible from being in good taste, would hardly be enlightened by any thing which we could find time to say on the subject. We do not question that there are many worthy Christians to whom extravagance in hymns and sermons too, is rather a recommendation, and who can sing such military effusions as the above with great seriousness and merely to their seeming edification. But it is to be considered on the

p. 535.

« ПредишнаНапред »