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Not long ago, the newspapers chronicled the death of a man who had been an organist in one of our Presbyterian Churches in this city; and, in giving a short account of his life, it was said that he had at one time been an organist in an Episcopal Church, then in a Popish Church, and finally in a Presbyterian Church. As no mention was made of his conversion from Popery, I conclude that he was quite open for a re-engagement from that Church. I hold that the employment of such a man in the worship of God in any Presbyterian Church was an offence.
We are indebted to the treatise which I have just referred to for the following excellent description of the worship of God as it has been, and we think should still be, practised in the Scottish Churches :“We celebrate the goodness of God who carried our Reformation to such a high pitch of perfection with respect to our government and worship, and delivered them from all that vain pomp which darkened the glory of the gospel service. We have no magnificence or splendour of devotion to dazzle the eye, nor harmony of instrumental music to enliven our worship and soothe the ears of the assembly. Pomp and show and ceremony are entirely strangers in our Churches, and we have little in common with that apostate Church whose yoke we threw off at the Reformation.” A few years ago the late Dr. Lee of Greyfriars published a book entitled, The Reform of the Church of Scotland in Worship. He advocates a strange kind of Reformation-Deformation, I think, would better express his views. According to this leader of the Church, who was really a ringleader in all manner of innovations— organs which he first introduced, stained glass windows with pictures of our Saviour, and such like things are a great improvement. He would have read prayers. He would save labour by having a few wise men in the ministry (himself, no doubt, among the number) to compose sermons every week for the whole country, instead of each minister for himself. Our ordinary psalın tunes, he says, are as much human inventions as the organ. Every man can judge how transparently absurd this statement is. He asks for a correct definition of spirituality of worship, and avers that singing a psalm to a simple tune is not a more spiritual act of worship than an anthem with an organ.
Our solemn services at communion seasons, refreshing as these have been to the people of God, are in his estimation-and, I use his own words—"insufferably tedious, and an affliction to the Church; a grievous intolerable burden; irrational, unedifying, and preposterous." Fencing of tables, he says, has been long a scandal and offence to sincere and enlightened members of the Church. He would abolish fast and thanksgiving days, and observe Christmas and Good Friday. He plainly sees and condemns the defects and Popish leanings of
Prelacy, and yet seems bent on leading the Church in that very direction. In fine, all who presume to differ from such extraordinary views, are, to use again his own language, "distinguished by gross ignorance or wild enthusiasm--prejudiced-indulging in weak
scrupulosities, factious and intolerant, vulgar, fostering and flattering the narrow-minded bigotries, which have descended to us from rude, illiterate, and fanatical times."
Let us charitably hope that there are few men in the Church of Scotland who will endorse such statements. Anent read prayers, which some in our day think would improve our worship, I heartily agree with Samuel Rutherford, when he says—“I could never see precept, promise, or practice for them in God's word ; our Church never allowed them; but men took them up at their own choice. I had never faith to think well of them; in my weak judgment it were good they were out of the service of God.”
We are also told by the Westminster Divines, that they resolved to lay aside the former liturgy, having found it to be a great means “to make and increase an idle and unedifying ministry, which contented itself with set forms made to their own hands by others, without putting forth themselves to exercise the gift of prayer, with which our Lord Jesus Cbrist pleaseth to furnish all His servants whom He calls to that office.”
We must now glance at the question of psalms versus hymns. As in the case of organs, many suppose, that by introducing hymns into the service of God in our churches, they are making a great improvement which only weak-minded people would object to.
To prove, however, that the discussion of this question is nothing new in the Christian Church, I need only refer you to the instructive fact mentioned by Dr. M'Crie in his Reformation in Spain (page 11). He there says, “ The first Council of Braga, held in the year 561, forbade the use of uninspired hymns, which came afterwards to be tolerated, and were ultimately enjoined under the highest penalties." We are also informed, just in the previous sentence, that in the fourth century a national council forbade the worship of images and the use of pictures in churches. We thus see that in early times, the Church of Spain was more anxious than we are to preserve purity of worship. What now is the condition of that Church? A wise man will be able to draw a moral from the contrast, to which we would do well to take heed. The remarks on this subject in our Testimony, commencing at page 154, are most excellent, and well worthy of your careful perusal. Notwithstanding the rapid progress which the use of hymns in our churches has been making in our day, I am strongly of opinion that our wisest and most scriptural course is to adhere to the good old way of singing the Psalms
only. Iobject to hymns, 1st, because having an inspired psalter we have no need of them. The Lord's people in our land, for ages past, have felt that the Psalms were sufficient to express all their spiritual necessities in praise : Is our faith stronger—is our zeal more ardent that we require additional words? I trow not. I object to hymns, 2ndly, because they have been made the vehicles of false doctrine. In illustration of this, I need only refer you to the third hymn printed at the end of our own Psalm books. Further, the selection of hymns suitable for the service of the sanctuary, appears to be a work of very great difficulty. I had almost said an insurmountable barrier to their use—if not, why this perpetual altering and tinkering at their hymn books, which we see going on in all the Churches ? The following quotation is from Dr. Lee's book, to which I have already referred. To me it seems to reprove his own public conduct. He says—“To express my own opinion freely, I do not see any necessity or much advantage in going beyond the Scriptures themselves for our psalms and hymns. If we only know how to adopt and use them, the contents of the Old and New Testament are abundantly sufficient for expressing every feeling of faith, hope, love, patience, submission, and every holy aspiration which we should seek to express and cherish in our songs of praise. No words are so appropriate, so solemn, so beautiful, or so touching, as the words of Holy Writ. Even if other expressions, equally good and suitable in themselves, could be found, none other can ever possess the same power to move our hearts, for none other can ever come to us charged with the same associations. For the use of public worship, I doubt if the most diligent search could discover a score of really excellent modern hymns in the English language." I think all of us will be able to say amen to these opinions.
A few years ago, I chanced to be in the U.P. Synod, when a discussion was going on as to the necessity for a new hymn book. Dr. Taylor, now secretary to the Board of Education, in the course of a few remarks he made on the question, said, in effect, that in their hymn book, there were many very beautiful hymns, whilst others, as everybody knew, were the veriest rubbish. I inwardly said-My friend, have you and your Church, for the last quarter of a century or more, been praising (iod with the veriest rubbish, then I am deeply thankful that we in our humble way have been praising Him with something very different. After considerable labour, the U.P. Church has lately published a new hymn book. In my judgment it is no improvement on its predecessor, and without setting up for a prophet, I predict for it a shorter life. I have heard people argue that hymns in general were much more easily understood by children
than the Psalms, and that, therefore, they could sing the former more intelligently. To all such I say—compare this latest effort of hymn compilers with the Psalms of David, and for ever hold your peace. In one of the hymns you will find at the end of each verse, this line,
"Blessed Son of Mary, hear.” I know not whether this song will be often sung, to me it would have an awkward ring in a Presbyterian Church. Has not the Church of Rome grievously sinned against the Most High, by offering idol worship to the mother of our Lord. In view of this fact is it not the plain duty of the Church of God, in so far at least as their worship is concerned, to say of her, though highly favoured among women, as did Jesus himself, “Woman, what have we to do with thee?" A United Presbyterian friend informs me that this hymn was omitted in the proof copies, from which I infer that the compilers themselves did not altogether like it. In point of real poetic feeling and expression, there are no hymns in the book finer than two from the pen of Sir Walter Scott, which appear also in the former hymn book. One is the hymn of Rebecca, the Jewess, from the novel of Ivanhoe, beginning,
“ When Israel, of the Lord beloved,
Out of the land of bondage came,
An awful guide in smoke and flame.”
“ That day of wrath, that dreadful day,
How shall he meet that dreadful day." Of these, however, and most of the others, I think it may safely be said, that we have the same ideas better expressed in the book of Psalms. The writer of these two beautiful songs certainly never intended that they should be used in the worship of God. He bas left on record his intense admiration of our metrical translation of the Psalms, and his earnest wish that it should not be altered.
Again, I object to the use of hymns because they practically oust the Psalms from the service of praise. Dr. Lee, to whom I have already referred, published some years ago a book of praise, still used in the Greyfriars congregation. It is composed of hymns and some portions of the psalms. In a few introductory remarks in the book he takes credit for leaving out parts of the Psalms which he says are didactic (a reason we should have thought for retaining them) or Jewish in their tone; or are more strictly prayers. (Why should
they be left out?) He also wishes our worship more refined. It is curious to mark the Psalms which in his wisdom he would leave out, the 14th, for example, beginning,
" That there is not a God the fool." Now, on turning to the 53d Psalm, which he also omits, we find that the words of it are nearly the same as the 14th. The sacred penman, therefore, has thought it doubly worthy of insertion. Why should Dr. Lee wish to omit it? Is it not refined enough for him? or is it because the plain story there of the fallen state of man, will not square with the easy Arminian doctrines prevalent in the school which he represented? The same may be said of the 101st Psalm, which he also omits. Turning now to the 119th we find him putting in, as worthy to be sung, 48 single verses, leaving out 84. Now let any man calmly read that beautiful Psalm. I am persuaded he will find every line of it immeasurably superior for purposes of praise, to nine-tenths of the hymns which are now set up alongside of it. And do not the children of God see tender sacred memories clustering round these songs of Zion? Far up into the dim distant past, do we not hear them sung by God's ancient people—at times a plaintive cry for help and deliverance :-"O God, why hast thou cast us off for ever? why doth thine anger smoke against the sheep of thy pasture? Remember thy congregation which thou hast purchased of old : this Mount Zion wherein thou hast dwelt;" and anon a tumultuous song of confidence and praise, “ When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion we were like them that dream. Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing; then said they among the heathen, The Lord hath done great things for them.” Again, are not these songs interwoven with the whole history of the Church in our land? Calderwood tells us that three hundred years ago, our King, at the urgent entreaty of the inhabitants of this city, ordered the return from banishment of John Durie, one of their ministers. He was met at the gate by a multitude of the people, who escorted him to the great Kirk singing as they went,
May say, and that truly,
Had not our cause maintained;
Had not our right sustained,
With their proud swelling waves,
O'erwhelmed in the deep.
Who doth us safely keep."