Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

INTRODUCTORY ESSAY.

As in political affairs the enlightened Scottish patriot and statesman, in order to work upon the people, asked for the songs of a nation, rather than its profound and laborious literature; and, in ecclesiastical affairs, the politic churchmen of Rome apprehended more danger to their craft and mystery, from Luther's spiritual songs, than from all his writings of controversial and popular theology; so, in spiritual affairs, it is to be believed that no book of the sacred canon seizeth such a hold upon the spiritual man, and engendereth in the church so much fruitfulness of goodness and truth, of comfort and joy, as doth the Book of Psalms. We say not that the Psalms are so well fitted as the pure light of the Gospel by John, and Paul's Epistles, which are the refraction of that pure light over the fields of human well-being, to break the iron bone, and bruise the millstone heart of the natural man; but that they are the kindliest medicine for healing his wounds, and the most proper food for nourishing the new life which comes from the death and destruction of the old. For, as the songs and lyrical poems of a nation, which have survived the changes of time by being enshrined in the hearts of a people, contain the true form, and finer essence of its character, and convey the most genial moods of its spirit, whether in seasons of grief or joy, down to the children, and the children's children, perpetuating the strongest vitality of choice spirits, awakened by soul-moving events, and holding, as in a vessel, to the lips of posterity, the collected spirit of venerable antiquity: so the Psalms, which are the songs and odes, and lyrical poems of the people of God, inspired not of wine, or festal mirth, of war, or love, but spoken by holy men as they were moved by the HOLY GHOST, contain the words of GOD'S SPIRIT taught to the souls of his servants, when they were exercised with the most intense experiences, whether of conviction, penitence, and sorrow: or faith, love, and joy; and are fit not only to express the same most vital moods of every renewed soul, but also powerful to produce those broad awakenings of spirit, to create those overpowering emotions, and propagate that energy of spiritual life in which they had their birth.

Be it observed, moreover, that these Songs of Zion express not only the most remarkable passages which have occurred in the spiritual experience of the most gifted saints, but are the record of the most wonderful dispensations of God's providence unto his church :-containing pathetic dirges sung over her deepest calamities, jubilees over her mighty deliverances, songs of sadness for her captivity, and songs of mirth for her prosperity, prophetic announcement of her increase to the end of time, and splendid anticipations of her ultimate glory. Not indeed the exact narrative of the events as they happened, or are to happen, nor the pro-saic improvement of the same to the minds of men; but the poetical form and monument of the event, where it is laid up and embalmed in honourable-wise, after it had been incensed and perfumed with the spiritual odours of the souls of inspired men. And if they contain not the code of the divine law, as it is written in the Books of Moses, and more briefly, yet better written in our Lord's Sermon on the mount, they celebrate the excellency and glory of the Law, its light, lise, wisdom, contentment, and blessedness, with the joys of the soul which keepeth it, and the miseries of the soul which keepeth it not. And if they contain not the argument of the simple doctrines, and the detail of the issues of the gospel, to reveal which the word of God became flesh, and dwelt among us: yet now that the key is given, and the door of spiritual life is opened, where do we find such spiritual treasures as in the Book of Psalms, wherein are revealed the depths of the soul's sinfulness, the stoutness of her rebellion against God, the horrors of spiritual desertion, the agonies of contrition, the blessedness of pardon, the joys of restoration, the constancy of faith, and every other variety of Christian experience? And if they contain not the narrative of Messiah's birth, and life, and death; or the labours of his apostolic servants, and the strugglings of his infant church, as these are written in the books of the New Testament; where, in the whole Scriptures, can we find such declarations of the work of Christ, in its humiliation and its glory, the spiritual agonies of his death, and glorious issues of his resurrection, the wrestling of his kingdom with the powers of darkness, its triumph over the heathen, and the overthrow of all its enemies, until the heads of many lands shall have been wounded, and the people made willing in the day of his power?

And where are there such outbursting representations of all the attributes of Jehovah, before whom, when he rideth through the heavens, the very heavens seem to rend in twain to give the vision of his going forth, and we seem to see the haste of the universe to do her homage, and to hear the quaking of nature's pillars, the shaking of her foundations, and the horrible outcry of her terror ? And oh! it is sweet in the midst of these soarings into the third heavens of vision, to feel that you are borne upon the words of a man, not upon the wings of an archangel; to hear ever and anon the frail but faithful voice of humanity, making her trust under the shadow of His wings, and her hiding place in the secret of His tent; and singing to Him in faithful strains, “ For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy to them that fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him.” So that, as well by reason of the matter which it contains, as of the form in which it is expressed, the Book of Psalms, take it all in all, may be safely pronounced one of the divinest books in all the Scriptures; which hath exercised the hearts and lips of all saints, and become dear in the sight of the church; avhich is replenished with the types of all possible spiritual feelings, and suggests the forms of all God-ward emotions, and furnishing the choice expressions of all true worship, the utterances of all divine praise, the confession of all spiritual humility, with the raptures of all spiritual joy.

'If now we turn ourselves to consider the manner or style of the Book, and to draw it into comparison with the lyrical productions of cultivated and classical nations, it may well be said, that as the heavens are high above the earth, so are the songs of Zion high above the noblest strains • which have been sung in any land. For, take out of the lyrical poetry of

Greece and Rome, the praises of women, and of wine, the flatteries of men, · and idle invocations of the muse and lyre, and what have we left? What

dedication of song and music is there to the noble and exalted powers of the human spirit—what to the chaste and honourable relations of human society-what to the excitement of tender emotions towards the widow and the fatherless, the stranger and the oppressed-what to the awful sanctity of law and government, and the practical forms of justice and +quity! We know, that in the more ancient time, when men dwelt nearer to God, the lyre of Orpheus was employed to exalt and pacify the soul; that the Pythagorean verse contains the intimations of a deep theology, a divine philosophy and a virtuous life; that the lyre of Tyrtoeus was used by the wisdom of Lycurgus, for accomplishing his great work of forining a peculiar people, a nation of brave and virtuous men ; but in the times which we call classical, and with the compositions of which we embue our youth, we find little purity of sentiment, little elevation of soul, no spiritual representations of God, nothing pertaining to heavenly knowledge or holy feeling: but, on the other hand, impurity of life, low sensual ideas of God, and the pollution of religion, so often as they touch it. But the Songs of Zion are comprehensive as the human soul, and varied as human life; where no possible state of natural feeling shall not find itself tenderly expressed and divinely treated with appropriate remedies; where no condition of human life shall not find its rebuke or consolation : be· cause they treat not life after the fashion of an age or people, but life in • its rudiments, the life of the soul, with the joys and sorrows to which it is amenable, from concourse with the outward necessity of the fallen world. Which breadth of application they compass not by the sacrifice of lyrical propriety, or poetical method : for if there be poems strictly lyrical, that is, whose spirit and sentiment move congenial with the movements of music, and which, by their very nature, call for the accompaniment of music, these Odes of a people despised as illiterate, are such. For pure pathos and tenderness of heart, for sublime imaginations, for touching piciures of natural scenery, and genial sympathy with nature's various moods ; for patriotism, whether in national weal or national wo, for beautiful imagery, whether derived from the relationship of human life, or the forms of the created universe, and for the illustration, by their help, of : spiritual conditions: moreover, for those rapid transitions in which the lyrical muse delighteth, her lightsome graces at one time, her deep and full inspiration at another, her exuberance of joy and her lowest falls of gries, and for every other form of the natural soul, which is wont to be shadowed forth by this kind of composition, we challenge anything to be produced from the literature of all ages and countries, worthy to be compared with what we find even in the English version of the Book of Psalms.

Were the distinction of spiritual from natural life, the dream of mystical enthusiasts, and the theology of the Jews, a cunningly devised fable, like the mythologies of Greece and Rome, these few Odes should be dearer to the man of true feeling and natural taste, than all which have been derived to us from classical times, though they could be sifted of their abominations, and cleansed from the incrustation of impurity which defiles their most exquisite parts. But into these questions of style we enter no further, our present aim being higher. Paulo majora canamus.

Let us employ the few pages which we have devoted to this Essay, on something

[ocr errors]

more noble than questions of taste, and more enduring than the gratifications of the natural man.

These Songs of Zion have always been very dear unto Zion's children, and the various churches of the Christian faith, as by one harmonious and universal consent, have adopted the Psalms as the outward form by which they shall express the inward feelings of the Christian life. However much the infinitely varying expositors of Christian doctrine may differ in the opinions and views which they deduce from the Scripture at large, in this they are agreed, that the effusions of the inspired Psalmist must always be the true and expressive language of the believing soul. Au organ of utterance well and rightly attuned to every aspiration, and to every emotion of that soul which hath been quickened from spiritual death, and made alive in Christ Jesus the Lord.

The pious ARMINIAN, who resteth content with the infant state of Christ, and seeth no more in the rich treasures of God's word than a free gift to all men, shrinking back with a feeling of dismay from such parts of the sacred volume as favour a system of doctrine suited to the manly state of Christian life, can yet trust himself without dismay or doubt to give back, from•his inmost spirit, the sentiments and thoughts which he finds embodied in the Book of Psalms, veiled with no obscurity of speech, and perplexed with no form of controversy. He delighteth to read that “ the Lord is loving unto every one, and that his tender mercy governs all his works." His spirit hath its liberty amidst those unlimited declarations of the divine beneficence, sung by Zion's King, when he calleth upon all nature's children to take part with him in his song of praise, and in his liberality includeth the lower creatures, and the very forms of inanimate nature ; gathering the voice of all the earth into one, and joining it in symphony with the hosannas of the unfallen and redeemed spirits which are around the throne of God. And the more enlightened and not less pious CALVINIST, who is not content evermore to dwell in the outer court of the holy temple, but resolveth for his soul's better peace and higher joy, to enter into the holy and most holy place, which is no longer veiled and forbidden, finds in this Book of Psalms, a full declaration of the deepest secrets of his faith, expression for his inmost knowledge of the truth, and forins for his most profound feelings upon the peculiar, and appropriate, and never-failing love of a covenant God towards his own peculiar people; and in concert with David, the father of a spiritual seed, he doth celebrate the praises of that God, who freely and for his own sake hath loved his people with an everlasting love; "visiting their transgressions with a rod, and their iniquities with stripes, but not suffering his loving-kindness to fail

, or his goodness to depart for evermore.” And from whatever point between these two extremes of spiritual life (the former the infancy, the latter the mature and perfect manhood) any church hath contemplated the scheme of its doctrine—by whatever name they have thought good to designate themselves, and however bitterly opposed to one another in church government, observance of rites, or administration of sacraments, you still find them with one voice consenting to employ those inspired songs, as well fitted to express the emotions of their spirits, when stirred up to devout and holy aspirations of prayer and praise. The reason why the Psalms have found such constant favour in the sight of the Christian church, and come to constitute a chief portion of every missal and liturgy, and form of worship, public or private, while forms of doctrine and discourse have undergone such manifold changes, in

a

order to represent the changing spirit of the age, and the diverse conditions of the human mind, is to be found in this that they address themselves to the simple instinctive feelings of the renewed soul, which are its most constant and permanent part, whereas, the forms of doctrine and discourse address themselves to the spiritual understanding, which differs in ages and countries according to the degree of spiritual illumination, and the energy of spiritual life. For as those instincts of our nature, which put themselves forth in infancy and early life, towards our parents, and our kindred, and our friends, and derive thence the nourishment upon which they live, are far more constant, than those opinions which we afterwards form concerning society, civil polity, and the world in general; and, as those impressions of place, and scene, and incident, which come in upon us in our early years, are not only more constant in their endurance, but more uniform in their effect upon the various minds which are submitted to them, than any which are afterwards made by objects better fitted to affect us both permanently and powerfully-so we reckon that there is an infancy of the spiritual man, which, with all its instincts, wanders abroad over the word of God, to receive the impressions thereof, and grow upon their wholesome variety, into a maturity of spiritual reason, when it becomes desirous to combine and arrange into conceptions, and systems of conceptions, the manifoldness and variety of those simple impressions which it hath obtained. During those days of its spiritual infancy, the soul rejoiceth as a little child at the breast of its mother; feeds upon the word of God with a constant relish ; delights in the views and prospects which open upon every side, and glories in its heavenly birth-right and royal kindred; and considereth with wonder the kingdom of which it is become a denizen, its origin, its miraculous progress and everlasting glory: and as the infant life opens itself to the sun of righteousness, it delights in its activity, and exhales on all around the odour of its breathing joy.

To this season of the spiritual mind, the Psalms come most opportunely as its natural food. We say not that they quicken the life, to which nothing is so appropriate as the words of our Lord recorded in the Gospels, but being quickened, they nourish up the life to manhood, and when its manly age is come, prepare it for the strong meat which is to be found in the writings of the prophets and the apostles. But ever afterwards the souls of believers recur to these Psalms as the home of their childhood, where they came to know the loving-kindness of their heavenly Father, the fatness of his house, and the full river of his goodness, his pastoral carefulness, his sure defence, and his eye slumbereth not, nor sleepeth, with every other simple representation of divine things, to the simple affections of the renewed soul. Therefore are these Psalms to the Chris tian, what the love of parents and the sweet affections of home, and the clinging memory of infant scenes, and the generous love of country, are to men of every rank and order, and employment; of every kindred, and tongue, and nation. This principle, which binds these Psalms with cords of love to the renewed soul, and the right use and application of them to the bringing up of spiritual children, will be more clearly manifested, if, from the varieties of Christian experience, we select those great leading features, which are common to all, and show how fitly they are expressed in the Book of Psalms, with how much beauty and tenderness of feeling, with how much richness of allusion to the ancient history of the church, and with whatever other accompaniments which can make them sweet to

B

« AnteriorContinuar »