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ing the three first centuries of the the utter failure of their proof, they Christian æra,
in opposition to the might as well have attempted to testimony of all the historians and show that the course of all the naturalists of the empire, conven- rivers in the Roman empire was ed by publick authority, on pur- reversed during the three first pose to inquire into the matter of centuries of the Christian æra, in fact.” Beecher’s Sermon, pp. 26, opposition to the testimony of all 27,
the historians and naturalists of the empire, convened by publick authority, on purpose to inquire into the matter of fact !
How is it possible that a man possessed of such powers of mind and such generally correct principles as Dr. Beecher, can fail of being convinced by the force of his own reasoning! But, alas ! he himself bas informed us that “ By argument, merely, we convince few and reclaim
TO THE EDITOR OF THE GOSPEL ADVOCATE.
It is un
In July, 1822, you inserted some remarks of mine on the collection of hyinns used in our Church. I am happy to learn, from the journal of the proceedings of the last general convention, held at Philadelphia, in May, 1823, that a large and highly respectable committee has been appointed by the two houses to take into considerations the subject of additions to, and alterations in, the book of psalms and hymns in metre now allowed to be used in this Church." derstood that the committee are to report on this interesting subject at the next general convention in November, 1826. I cannot but hope that the committee will agree to recommend the continued use of our present version of the psalms, that of Tate and Brady, with certain alterations of the hymns, and some additions to the present number. Should this be the case I think we shall have reason to congratulate the Church.
It will discover a laudable disposition to consult improvement, without encouraging unnecessary innovation. The rage for novelty has been carried to an alarming extent among many denominations of Christians, and is indeed too much the characteristick of the present age, with regard to almost every subject of interest. It seems to be the opinion of many, that whatever is new is on that account to be preferred to what has been long received, however excellent. But it is the glory of our Church, both in England and America, that she has generally sought " to keep the bappy mean between too much stiffness in refusing, and too much easiness in admitting variations in things once advisedly established.” She has made a proper distinction between innovation and improvement. She has thus avoided many inconveniences, which have been experienced by our dissent
ing brethren, who, though perpetually changing in their doctrinal views, and in their manuals of devotion, particularly in their collections of psalms and hymns, never seem to be satisfied. Scarcely do the members of a congregation become familiar with one collection of this kind, before they are called on to adopt another; as more expressive of the variations of their creed, or as containing better specimens of poetical composition. It might frequently be said to them, in the language of St. Paul to the Corinthians, "How is it, then, brethren ? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath an interpretation.” Against such a fondness for change, it is to be hoped that the members of our Church will ever sedulously guard, as the parent of discord and confusion.
The length of time which will elapse, three years, before the report of the committee on the subject of our psalms and hymns will be laid before the convention for their consideration, will afford an opportunity to those, who are chosen lo represent the interests of the Episcopal church at the next general meeting of delegates, to form a deliberate opinion on the claims of our present collection of psalms and hymns, and therefore the better enable them to judge of the alterations which may then be proposed. In the mean time, it may be useful to discuss the subject with moderation and candour, with a view to promoting a wise and prudent decision, on so important and interesting a topick. I call it important, because I conceive no part of publick worship has a greater or more decided influence on a congregation, than the psalms and hymns which are sung in their places of publick worsbip.
Indeed, were it not invidious to draw a comparison between the different parts of our Church service, I might say, that if any
branch of our publick devotions were more interesting and important than another, it is the singing. In some or other of the psalms and hymns, indeed, may be found every part both of praise and prayer, adoration, confession, supplication, intercession, and thanksgiving. Few are insensible to the charms of sacred musick. Nothing is better adapted to elevate the affections, which are of so much importance in religion. When chaste, and simple, and sublime musick is adapted to hymns of a similar character, what effect may not reasonably be expected on the hearts and minds of a worshipping assembly. How desirable is it, then, that the latter as well as the former should be of this description. Hence the selection of psalms and hymns for the use of churches becomes an affair of the greatest consequence.
I have already expressed a favourable opinion of the version of psalms of which we are now in possession, in the communication before referred to. Tate, one of the authors of that version, was the intimate acquaintance of Dryden, and lived in what has been termed the Augustan age of English literature. He wrote a poem of considerable merit on the death of Queen Apne. His associate, Brady, was a scholar and divine, the author of a translation of the Æneid. He died in 1726. Both of these writers were worthy of the age in which they flourished. That their version of the psalms in many instances is peculiarly happy, I believe is generally admitted, and I do not recollect that the language
in any part of their work is obsolete, or strikingly inelegant. As a whole, it may well bear comparison with any other which has been produced. Why, then, has it been discarded in most of those dissent. ing congregations in which it was formerly used ? One reason may be that it is a faithful translation of the psalms of David, without any attempt to accommodate them to the gospel dispensation, according to the plan of Dr Watts whose version purports to be " imitated in the language of the New Testament, and applied to the Christian state and worship.” But where the psalms, considered as having a prophetick character, relate to tbe times of Christianity, it will be easily perceived by the reader; and it is apprehended that the Doctor, and some other writers, have not unfrequently, in their imitations, suggested fanciful interpretations, which never entered into the mind of the monarch of Israel. I cannot, therefore, think it any recommendation of Watts, that, in order to give place to his evangelical views, he does not strictly follow the royal psalmist. As the psalms, in the original, are an inspired book, I should conceive the less liberty we take with their language and sentiment, farther than to express them with elegance and force, the better. Besides, the hymns are intended to be more particularly adapted to the distinguishing doctrines of the gospel, and it is proper, therefore, that they should appear conspicuously in that depariment of our sacred poetry.
But another reason for the rejection of Tate and Brady, by some denominations of Chris. tians, may perhaps be found in that passion for novelty which has been already mentioned, and which leads some persons to prefer what is new, though inferiour, to that which is more valuable, because of an earlier date. It is believed, however, that the principles and habits of our communion will keep us at a distance from such an absurd and vitiated mode of thinking. It is believed, too, that few sound members of our Church would not rather tolerate some trifling imperfections in our present collection, than to be frequently changing this part of their worship, even though a later version might exist, wbich I do not believe to be the case, better on the whole, than the present; as the advantages of becoming familiar with every part of our worship will be thought to overbalance any trifling benefit to be derived from the substitution of a version not very decidedly superiour to the one now in use. But there is no probability that any such will soon appear. We have little reason to expect, from the fashionable poets of the present day, any thing equally dignified, simple, and devotional with our present version, however their affected turns, and parade of language, than which nothing can be more disgusting in religious worship, may gratily a sickly and perverted taste. I cannot but believe, that readers of a correct judgment, and favoured with a delicate perception of the truly beautiful and sublime in sacred poetry, have ofien been struck with some passages in our version, as possessing that species of poetical merit, which is so desirable in performances of this nature.
It would extend the present communication to an unreasonable length to take notice of many of them. I will therefore quote a few passages only, and compare them with some other versions which have been substituted for them in many other places of publick worship, which will render their excellence more conspicuous. The first I would mention is the commencement of the fiftieth psalm, which is rendered with a sublimity worthy of the subject.
The Lord hath spoke, the mighty God
From dawning light, till day declines :
Where beauty in perfection shines.
Our God shall come, and keep no more
But wasting flames before kim send :
His just tribunal to attend.
The foregoing is thus rendered by Watts.
The Lord, the sov’reign, sends his summons forth,
vengeance sleeps no more: Behold ihe day !
The next I would speak of is in the 91st psalm, which thus com
He that hath God his guardian made,
Secure and undisturb'd abide.
My God in whom I will confide.
According to Watts,
He that hath made his refuge, God,
Shall walk all day beneath his shade,
Make thine almighty arm my trust The last passage which shall be quoted is the commencement of the 139th psalm.
Thou, Lord, by strictest search bast known
bed and path surveys,
It is thus rendered by Watts in the same metre.
Lord, thou hast search'd and seen me through,
My thoughts before they are my own
The above translations of Watts are not without their merit, but I believe there are few who will not consider them as surpassed by those of Tate and Brady. For further specimens of singular felicity of expression in the version of the latter writers, I will merely refer to the 18th, 46th, 51st, 65th, 89th, 103d, 137th, psalms, leaving it to the judgment of the reader to discover those passages, which are most distinguished for their tenderness, grandeur, or beauty.
But if we have reason to be gratified that our Church is likely to retain a version of such excellence, it is greatly to be desired that we may have it in its most perfect state. In
former communication I hinted that there were discrepancies between some of the psalms, as they stand in our American prayer books, and some esteemed Eng!ish editions. I mentioned one instance of such a variation, and having since read over most of the psalms in our prayer book, I have discovered several others. Some of the most remarkable follow.