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SCORN not the Sonnet,' says Wordsworth : and with equal justice it may be said, “Scorn not the Hymn:' for the hymn has its scorners. They are chiefly those who, misapplying the old adage about mediocre poetry, refuse to acknowledge any poetic merit falling short of the highest standard. Yet what is this but to give judgement against the primrose for wanting the fragrance and splendour of the rose ? Though dealing with subjects the highest and the deepest, the Christian hymn is obliged to move within the limits of scriptural truth, and to adapt itself to the comprehension of mankind at large, as well as to the requirements of sacred music. By these rules the flight of imagination is curbed, and the play of fancy controlled. The hymn, in short, poetically considered, is a minor poem, having laws of its own, and not entering into competition with the larger and freer works of inventive genius. But to the meek and loving Christian it must always be peculiarly dear; for it finds its type in the inspired Book of Psalms and other canticles of the Sacred Volume, and it has the highest precept and example to recommend its use. After singing a hymn our Saviour went forth to His Agony and Passion. The Ephesians are advised by St. Paul to utter their common emotions in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs.' And they of whom the world was not worthy, the persecuted children of the primitive Church, lifted their hearts to the Lord in hymnal melody from the moor, the mountain, or the catacomb. And if, laying authority aside for the moment, we look only to the influence of hymns in promoting religious feeling, we shall find it, in permanent vitality at least, to surpass the power of sermons. An able sermon, when preached, may powerfully awaken or instruct, convince or edify: when published, it may affect its readers in like manner : but all experience shows, that even the best sermons, be they ever so popular for a while, gradually lose their readers, and sink to slamber on the shelf, to be disturbed onlv by a few students of rare diligence. A good hymn, on the other hr
lives in the household books and memories of the people : it
from mouth to mouth, it echoes from soul to soul, it leaves its sting, as was said of the ancient orator, in the public heart and conscience. Take, for example, three illustrious men of different times and countries : Ambrose of Milan, Martin Luther, and Reginald Heber. All three were eloquent preachers and powerful writers : yet we venture to say that, for one student of their sermons in the present time, there are thousands who know their hymns by heart: and, whilst the Church of the Future can afford to dispense with all their homiletic works, it will never cease to store in its treasury of sacred song such gems as “Te Deum laudamus,' Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott,' and 'O Saviour, is Thy promise fled ?' And while we are speaking of the future Church militant, may we not ask whether any religious work of these later times bids so fair to live in the warm affections and daily exercises of its members as “The Christian Year?'*
If hymns have this power and influence, it surely follows that their use cannot be too zealously promoted, nor too much care taken to guard against their abuse. A good hymn should be cordially recognised, approved, and received; a bad one faithfully censured, reproved, and rejected. This, it may be said, is a barren truism. For who shall
every case what is a good hymn, and what a bad one ? A hymn may be good in doctrine and bad in poetry, or good in poetry and bad in doctrine. And doctrinal opinion and poetic feeling differ in different minds. To what tribunal does the appeal lie to decide between conflicting judgements ?
It would seem that the matter can only be trusted to time and the common sense of most.' An authorised Hymn-book would be accepted by Churchmen only, and by them not universally; and it would be open to grave objection, if no provision were made for its improvement from time to time, as new hymns of higher excellence appear.t It is clear that, on doctrinal grounds, a hymn may be
very differently estimated by persons of equal poetic taste. And every collection runs
* The Christian Year' is not, strictly speaking, itself a Hymn-book, but its materials have enriched many Hymn-books, and this among the rest. I believe, however, that, with one exception, every hymn belonging to it in this volume was extracted from other books, and not from The Christian Year' itself.
† There can hardly be a graver warning against the abuse of authority in such matters than the retention in our services of Tate and Brady's Version of the Psalms. We must, indeed, always look for champions of the Quieta against the Meliora. But in this case it might seem that one question answered sincerely by any person of ordinary taste and judgement should settle the controversy. What would be said to this Version if it had been written last year, and were proposed now for use in our churches ?