And when they had sung an hymn.
Jesus sung an hymn, and when before was heard music so pleasing to God, so grand and beautiful to listening angels? We know not what harmonies from the power of sound the Creator produces for the ceaseless joy of His intelligent creatures who fill the vast amplitudes of the sky. We know not what sublime, and to us, inconceivable realities are expressed by those descriptions given by that apostle who leant on Jesus's bosom, and heard with prophetic ear the voice as of many waters, as of a great thunder, and the voices of harpers harping with their harps; but sure am I that there was a harmony and a glory in this hymn they never heard before. For the beauty of its harmony was moral; it was harmony from the inner spirit of man; it was harmony between man and Christ; it was the melody of meekness, of obedience, of peace and joy; it was like the music of law and order from those glittering stars of night beneath which they sung — such a harmony as the character of Christ forever sounds in the ears of God.
One of the commonest objections to the constant use of stated forms of common prayer is, that at times they must inevitably jar upon our feelings, compelling us, for example, to take words of joy and praise on our lips when our hearts are full of grief, or to utter penitent confessions of sin and imploring cries for mercy when our hearts are dancing with mirth and joy. But if we mark the conduct of our Lord and His disciples, we cannot say that even this objection is final or fatal. He and they were about to part. He was on His way to the agony of Gethsemane and the shame of the cross. Their hearts, despite His comforting words, were heavy with foreboding and grief. Yet they sang the Hallel, used the common form of praise, before they went out, — He to die for the sins of the world, and they to lose all hope in Him as the Saviour of Israel. No Divine command, nothing but the custom of the Feast, enjoined this form upon them; yet they do not cast it aside. And this "hymn" was no dirge, no slow and measured cadence, no plaintive lament, but a joyous song of exultation. Must not these tones of irrepressible hope, of joyous and exultant trust, have jarred on the hearts of men who were passing lute a great darkness in which all the lights of life and hope and joy were to be eclipsed? If our Lord could look through the darkness and see the joy set before Him, the disciples could not. Yet they too joined in this joyous hymn before they went out into the darkest night the world has ever known. With their example before us, we cannot fairly argue that settled forms of worship are to be condemned simply because they jar on the reigning emotion of the moment. We must rather infer that, in His wisdom, God will not leave us to be the prey of any unbalanced emotion; that, when our hearts are most fearful, He calls on us to put our trust in Him; that when they are saddest He reminds us that, if we have made Him our chief good, our chief good is still with us, whatever we may have lost, and that we may still rejoice in Him, though all other joy has departed from us. And when He bids us trust in Him in every night of loss and fear, and even to be glad in Him however sorrowful our souls may be, — O how comforting and welcome the command should be! for it is nothing less than an assurance that He sees the gain which is to spring from our loss; it is nothing short of a pledge that He will turn our sorrow into joy.
Religion is a thing of principles, not of forms; spirit, not letter. It is a life, a life which reveals itself in various ways under all the changes of time, a life which consecrates every faculty we possess to the service of God and man. It uses forms, but is not dependent on them. It may modify them in a thousand different ways, to suit them to the wants, emotions, aspirations of the soul. There was a most true and sincere religious life, for example, among the Hebrews, and under the laws of Moses. Worship then took the form of offerings and sacrifices, fasts and feasts. All these, in so far as they were Hebrew, and were specially adapted to Hebrew life, have passed away; but the religious life has not passed with them. It has clothed itself in simpler and more universal forms. Our worship expresses itself in prayers, hymns, sacraments, and above all in the purity and charity which bids us visit the poor and needy in their affliction, and keep ourselves unspotted from the world. In due time, these forms may be modified or pass away. But the life which works and speaks through them will not pass away. It will simply rise into higher and nobler forms of expression. No man, therefore, can live and grow simply by adhering to forms of worship and service, let him be as faithful and devoted to them as he will. They may feed and nourish life, but they cannot impart it. They will change and pass, but the life of the soul need not therefore suffer loss. If that life has once been quickened in us through faith and love, it will and must live on, for it is an eternal life, and continue to manifest itself in modes that will change and rise to meet its new necessities and conditions. Religion accepts us as we are, that it may raise us above what we are; it employs and consecrates all our faculties, that our faculties may be refined, invigorated, enlarged in scope. If we can speak, it bids us speak. If we can sing, it bids us sing. If we can labour and endure, it bids us labour and endure. If we can only stand and wait, it teaches us that they also serve who only stand and wait. Whatever we can do, it bids us do heartily, as unto the Lord, and not unto men, and yet do for men, that it may be unto the Lord. If we really have this life, it will reveal itself in us as it did in Him who is our life — in a love too profound and sincere to be repelled by any diversities of outward form; in a spirit of praise too pure and joyous to be quenched by any of the changes and sorrows of time; and in an earnest consecration of our every capacity and power to the service of Him who loved us, and gave Himself for us, and for all.
For one I would not rid myself of the hope that we shall sometimes — perhaps on great anniversaries commemorative of earthly histories — literally sing, in heaven, the very psalms and hymns which are so often the "gate of heaven" to us here. It would be sadder parting with this world than we hope it will be when our time comes, if we must forget these ancient lyrics, or find our tongues dumb when we would utter them. How can we live without them? Are they not a part of out very being? Take them away, with all the experiences of which they are the symbol, and what would there be left of us to carry into heaven?
The Jewish Psalms, in which is expressed the very spirit of the national life, have furnished the bridal hymns, the battle songs, the pilgrim marches, the penitential prayers, and the public praises of every nation in Christendom, since Christendom was born. It is a sentence from the Jewish Psalm book, which we have written over the portico of the chief temple of the world's industry and commerce, the London Exchange. These psalms have rolled through the din of every great European battlefield, they have pealed through the scream of the storm in every ocean highway of the earth. Drake's sailors sang them when they clove the virgin waves of the Pacific; Frobisher's, when they dashed against the barriers of the Arctic ice and night. They floated over the waters on that day of days, when England held her Protestant freedom against Pope and Spaniard, and won the naval supremacy of the world. They crossed the ocean with the Mayflower
pilgrims; they were sung around Cromwell's camp fires, and his Ironsides charged to their music; while they have filled the peaceful homes of England and of Christendom with the voice of supplication and the breath of praise. In palace halls, by happy hearths, in squalid rooms, in pauper wards, in prison cells, in crowded sanctuaries, in lovely wildernesses, everywhere these Jews have uttered our moan of contrition and our song of triumph, our tearful complaints and our wrestling, conquering prayer.
At a gathering of children one Christmas Day a gentleman present related the following very interesting incident: A little girl, only three years of age, was very curious to know why Christmas evergreens were so much used, and what they were intended to signify. So Mr. L — told her the story of the Babe of Bethlehem, the child whose name was Jesus. The little questioner was just beginning to give voice to the music that was in her heart; and after Mr. L — concluded the narrative, she looked up in his face and asked, "Did Jesus sing?" Who had ever thought of that? The text is almost conclusive proof that our Lord did sing; it is, at any rate, quite conclusive proof that He sanctioned the use of song on the part of His disciples.
, bound naked to the stake, continued to sing hymns with a deep untrembling voice.
I remember a remarkable instance which occurred in my father's lecture room during one of those sweet scenes which preceded the separation of the Presbyterian Church into the old and new schools. At that time controversy ran high, and there were fire and zeal and wrath mingled with discussion; and whoever sat in the chair, the devil presided. On the occasion to which I refer an old Scotchman, six feet high, much bent with age, with blue eyes, large features, very pale and white all over his face, and bald-headed, walked up and down the back part of the room, and as the dispute grew furious he (and only he could have done it) would stop and call out, "Mr. Moderator, let us sing 'Salvation';" and someone would strike up and sing the tune, and the men who were in angry debate were cut short; but one by one they joined in, and before they had sung the hymn through they were all calm and quiet. When they resumed the controversy, it was in a much lower key. So this good old man walked up and down, and threw a hymn into the quarrel every few minutes, and kept the religious antagonists from absolute explosion and fighting. It is the nature of hymns to quell irascible feeling. I do not think that a man who was mad could sing six verses through without regaining his temper before he got to the end.
On one of the days that President Garfield lay dying at the seaside, he was a little better, and was permitted to sit by the window, while Mrs. Garfield was in the adjoining room. Love, hope, and gratitude filled her heart, and she sang the beautiful hymn, commencing, "Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah!" As the soft and plaintive notes floated into the sick chamber, the President turned his eyes up to Dr. Bliss and asked, "Is that Crete?" "Yes." replied the Doctor; "it is Mrs. Garfield." "Quick, open the door a little," anxiously responded the sick man. Dr. Bliss opened the door, and after listening a few moments, Mr. Garfield exclaimed, as the large tears coursed down his sunken cheeks, "Glorious, Bliss, isn't it?"
A little boy came to one of our city missionaries, and holding out a dirty and well-worn bit of printed paper, said, "Please, sir, father sent me to get a clean paper like this." Taking it from his hand, the missionary unfolded it, and found it was a paper containing the beautiful hymn beginning, "Just as I am." The missionary looked down with interest into the face earnestly upturned to him, and asked the little boy where he got it, and why he wanted a clean one. "We found it, sir," said he, "in sister's pocket after she died; she used to sing it all the time when she was sick, and loved it so much that father wanted to get a clean one to put in a frame to hang it up. Won't you give us a clean one, sir?"
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