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1. For many years I have been importuned to publish such a hymn-book as might be generally used in all our congregations throughout Great Britain and Ireland. I have hitherto withstood the importunity, as I believed such a publication was needless, considering the various hymn-books which my brother and I have published within these forty years last past ; so that it may be doubted whether any religious community in the world has a greater variety of them.
2. But it has been answered, “Such a publication is highly needful upon this very account: for the greater part of the people, being poor, are not able to purchase so many books; and those that have purchased them are, as it were, bewildered in the immense variety. A proper Collection of Hymns for general use, carefully made out of all these books, is therefore still wanting ; and one comprised in so moderate a compass, as to be neither cumbersome nor expensive.”
3. It has been replied, “ You have such a Collection already, (entitled Hymns and Spiritual Songs,') which I extracted several years ago from a variety of hymn-books." But it is objected, - This is in the other extreme : it is far too small. It does not, it cannot, in so narrow a compass, contain variety enough; not so much as we want, among whom singing makes so considerable a part of the public service. What we want is, a Collection not too large, that it may
be cheap and portable ; nor too small, that it may contain a sufficient variety for all ordinary occasions."
4. Such a Hymn-Book you have now before you. It is not so large as to be either cumbersome or expensive ; and it is large enough to contain such a variety of hymns as will not soon be worn threadbare. It is large enough to contain all the important truths of our most holy religion, whether speculative or practical; yea, to illustrate them all, and to prove them both by Scripture and reason ; and this is done in a regular order. The hymns are not carelessly jumbled together, but carefully ranged under proper heads, according to the experience of real Christians. So that this book is, in effect, a little body of experimental and practical divinity.
5. As but a small part of these hymns is of my own composing, I do not think it inconsistent with modesty to declare, that I am persuaded no such hymn-book as this has yet been published in the English language. In what other publication of the kind have you so distinct and full an account of Scriptural Christianity ? such a declaration of the heights and depths of religion, speculative and practical ? so strong cautions against the most plausible errors; particularly those that are now most prevalent? and so clear directions for making your calling and election sure ; for perfecting holiness in the fear of God?
6. Vay I be permitted to add a few words with regard to the poetry? Then I will speak to those who are judges thereof, with all freedom and unreserve. To these I may say, without offence, 1. In these hymns there is no doggerel ; no botches ; nothing put in to patch up the rhyme ; no feeble expletives. 2. Here is nothing turgid or bombast, on the one hand, or low and creeping, on the other. 3. Here are no cant expressions; no words without meaning. Those who impute this to us know not what they say. We talk common sense, both in prose and verse, and use no word but in a fixed and determinate sense. 4. Here are, allow me to say, both the purity, the strength, and the elegance of the English language; and, at the same time, the utmost simplicity and plainness, suited to every capacity. Lastly, I desire men of taste to judge, (these are the only competent judges,) whether there be not in some of the following hymns the true spirit of poetry, such as cannot be acquired by art and labour, but must be the gift of nature. By labour a man may become a tolerable imitator of Spenser, Shakespeare, or Milton; and may heap together pretty compound epithets, as “ pale-eyed,” * meek-eyed,” and the like; but unless he be born a poet, he will never attain the genuine spirit of poetry.
7. And here I beg leave to mention a thought which has been long upon my mind, and which I should long ago have inserted in the public papers, had I not been unwilling to stir up a nest of hornets. Many gentlemen have done my brother and me (though without naming us) the honour to reprint many of our hymns. Now they are perfectly welcome so to do, provided they print them just as they are. But I desire they would not attempt to mend them; for they really are not able. None of them is able to mend either the sense or the verse. Therefore, I must beg of them one of these two favours ; either to let them stand just as they are, to take them for better for worse ; or to add the true reading in the margin, or at the bottom of the page; that we may no longer be accountable either for the nonsense or for the doggerel of other men.
8. But to return. That which is of infinitely more moment than the spirit of poetry, is the spirit of piety. And I trust, all persons of real judgment will find this breathing through the whole Collection. It is in this view chiefly, that I would recommend it to every truly pious reader, as a means of raising or quickening the spirit of devotion; of confirming his faith ; of enlivening his hope ; and of kindling and increasing his love to God and man. When Poetry thus keeps its place, as the handmaid of Piety, it shall attain, not a poor perishable wreath, but a crown that fadeth not away. London, Oct. 20, 1779.
The New Supplement to “ A Collection of Hymns for the use of the People called Methodists,” originally published by John Wesley in 1780, has been compiled under the direction of a Committee appointed by the Conference in 1874.
The “ Collection” of 1780 has been circulated by millions, and has been recognized as a priceless treasure, not only by Methodists, but by many other disciples of the One Master. As a testimony to Scripture doctrine and Christian experience, as a monument of piety, a manual of devotion, and a bond of fellowship, it can never cease to be precious to all who cherish the spirit of its authors, and wish well to that revival of religion of which they were the instruments ; while, in instances almost innumerable, personal associations have invested portions of its contents with tender, and even sacred interest.
The Conference therefore determined that it should be retained in use, and, while generally revised, should undergo no alteration which would affect its substance or impair its identity. But as altered circumstances, often resulting from the growth of the Connexion, and occasions repeatedly arising in public, social, and domestic life have rendered additional hymns necessary, an attempt has been made to meet the want which has been long felt, and which was by no means adequately provided for by the valuable Supplement published about forty-five years since.
In this compilation the necessities of public worship have been first considered ; and it is hoped that an ample supply of compositions suitable for mixed congregations is here furnished. In addition to hymns of adoration and thanksgiving, there will be found seventy versions of Psalms, or parts of Psalms, (besides those contained in the former Supplement,) by means of which that portion of Holy Scripture, which has supplied so large a share of the devotional exercises of Christians generally, will become more fully available for the use of Methodists than it has been for a long time past. Many poems of Charles Wesley, also, which up to a late period only existed in manuscript, are now for the first time presented for congregational use; and by the force and sublimity of thought, the depth and tenderness of feeling, and the spirit of fervent piety displayed in them, will fully vindicate the judgment of John Wesley respecting his brother's poetical remains. Well does it become all the lovers of Scriptural Christianity, but especially the Methodists, to be thankful to the Author of every good gift for the endowments and labours of Charles Wesley, which were so long and faithfully consecrated to the promotion of vital and experimental religion, and by which that “power of godliness” which it is the mission of Methodism to spread, has been alike exemplified and vindicated. The full extent to which these labours have been rendered serviceable to the cause of Christ can only be known in the day when all secret things shall be revealed.
The Spirit of its living Head having never departed from the Church, it follows that those in all ages who by the Holy Ghost have called Jesus Lord should have been occupied with attempts to set forth his praise. As in the old time