[By Alexander Campbell, with emphasis added in bold by Scott Shifferd Jr.]
Being an Extract from the Preface to a new selection of Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs, about to be issued from this press.
PSALM and hymn singing, like every other part of christian worship, has been corrupted by sectarianism. This demon, whose name is Legion, has possessed all our spirits, and given a wrong direction to almost all our religious actions. A consistent sectary not only contends for a few dry abstract opinions, nicknamed “articles of belief,” or “essential points,” but these he sings and prays with a zeal proportioned to the opposition made to them. How loud and how long does the Arminian sing his free grace, while he argues against the Calvinists’ sovereign grace. And in what animating strains does the Calvinist sing of his imputed righteousness in the presence of the Arminian, who he supposes is seeking to be justified by his works. Annihilate these sects, and these hymns either die with them, or undergo a new modification. He that sings them in the spirit of the sect, pays homage to the idol of a party, but worships not the God of the whole earth. Were I asked for a good criterion of a sectarian spirit, I would answer, When a person derives more pleasure from the contemplation of a tenet because of the opposition made to it, than he would, did no such opposition exist; or when he is more opposed to a tenet because of the system to which it belongs, or the people who hold it, than on account of its own innate meaning and tendency, he acts the sectary, and not the christian: and so of all predilections and antipathies, when they are created, guided, or controlled by any thing extrinsic of the subject in itself.
Our hymns are, for the most part, our creed in metre, while it appears in the prose form in our confessions. A Methodistic sermon must be succeeded by a Methodistic hymn, and a Methodistic mode of singing it. And so of the Presbyterian. There is little or no difference to any sect in this one particular. Even the Quaker is not singular here; for as he has no regular sermon he has no regular song, hymn, nor prayer. Those who have many frames and great vicissitudes of feeling, sing and pray much about them, and those who are more speculative than practical, prefer exercises of intellect to those of the heart or affections.
The hymn book is as good an index to the brains and to the hearts of a people as the creed book; and scarce a “sermon is preached,” which is not followed up by a corresponding hymn or song.
Does the preacher preach up Sinai instead of Calvary, Moses instead of Christ, to convince of convict his audience? Then he sings–
“Awak’d by Sinai’s awful sound,
My soul in bonds of guilt I found,
And knew not where to go;
O’erwhelm’d with sin, with anguish slain
The sinner must he born again,
Or sink to endless woe.”
“When to the law I trembling fled,
It pour’d its curses on my head;
I no relief could find.
This fearful truth increased my pain,
The sinner must be born again,
O’erwhelm’d my tortur’d mind.”
“Again did Sinai’s thunder roll,
And guilt lay heavy on my soul,
A vast unwieldy load!
Alas! I read and saw it plain.
The sinner must be born again,
Or drink the wrath of God.”
I know of nothing more anti-evangelical than the above verses; but they suit one of our law-convincing sermons, and the whole congregation must sing, suit or non-suit the one half of them. But to finish the climax, this exercise is called praising God.
But again–Does the preacher teach his congregation that the time and place when and where the sinner should be converted was decreed from all eternity? Then out of complaisance to the preacher, the congregation must praise the Lord by singing–
“‘Twas fix’d in God’s eternal mind
When his dear sons should mercy find:
From everlasting he decreed
When every good should be conveyed:’
“Determin’d was the manner how
We should be brought the Lord to know,
Yea, he decreed the very place
Where he would call us by his grace.”
Is the absolute and unconditional perseverance of all the converted taught? Then, after sermon, all must sing–
“Safe in the arms of Sovereign Love
We ever shall remain,
Nor shall the rage of earth or hell
Make thy dear counsels vain.”
“Not one of all the chosen race
But shall to heaven attain;
Partake on earth the purpos’d grace,
And then with Jesus reign.”
But does the system teach that there are and must necessarily be cold and dark seasons in the experience of all Christians, and that such only are true Christians, who have their doubts, fears, glooms, and winters? Then the audience sings–
“Dear Lord, if, indeed, I am thine,
If thou art my sun and my song,
Say why do I languish and pine,
And why are my winters so long?
O drive these dark clouds from my sky,
Thy soul cheering presence restore,
Or take me unto thee on high,
Where winter and clouds are no more.”
Without being prolix or irksome in filing objections to all these specimens of hymn singing, I shall mention but two or three:–
1. They are in toto contrary to the spirit and genius of the Christian religion.
2. They are unfit for any congregation, as but few in any one congregation can with regard to truth, apply them to themselves.
3. They are an essential part of the corrupt systems of this day, and a decisive characteristic the grand apostasy. But a further development of this subject we postpone to our next.