More Sectarian Psalms (A Restoration of the Ancient Order of Things. No. 22)

[By Alexander Campbell, with emphasis added in bold by Scott Shifferd Jr.]

PSALMS, hymns, and spiritual songs, embrace the praises of christians. Psalms are historic compositions, or poetic narratives. Hymns are odes of praise directly addressing the object of worship, and declaring his excellencies and glorious works. Spiritual songs are such compositions as declare the sentiments derived from the revelations of God, and such as are adapted to communicate to others the views and feelings which God’s revelations suggest. Thus we define them. The reasons of this distribution are not obvious to all, nor is it needful to go into a labored criticism to establish them, as the end will be gained much better by an attention to the classification we have made in this new selection of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, than by any critique independent of such a specimen. Our hymn books are, in general, a collection of everything under the sun in the form of religious rhyme. Not one in ten, or, perhaps in twenty, of any selection, are usually sung by any individual from choice or approbation. And, indeed, the religious communities seem to be destitute of any fixed standards by which to judge of what is comely and suitable subject matter of social praise. As was said, the greater part conceive they ought to sing every notion, speculation, or opinion, which they can imagine to be orthodox; not apprehending that the object of sacred song is to raise and exalt our spirits by divine contemplations to the sublime in the worship of our adorable God and Father, by admiring and extolling facts extrinsic of our conjectures or notions about them. But this is not all: every heretical or schismatical dogma is sung, as well as preached; and instead of praising God, we are often scolding men who differ from us. For even prayer has been abused to this end. Often have I seen a prayer to be dictated by the presence of some one in the congregation; and thus all the congregation were doing homage to the zeal of the preacher, who was praying in relation to some influential errorist as he conceived. I knew a preacher who got into a violent controversy with another; because of an insult he gave him in prayer. And not long since a preacher has been called to order by the legislature of the first state in the union in point of population, for an insult to the nation while praying as chaplain for the legislature. This spirit, which on many other occasions manifests itself in prayer, is equally at work in the department of religious praise. So that all our contests about religion get into our prayers and songs.

Let us analyze a few more specimens. There has been a controversy of long, standing about faith. One hymn extols faith to the following words:–

“Faith–’tis a precious grace
Where’er it is bestow’d!
It boasts of a celestial birth,
And is the gift of God.

Jesus it owns a King,
An all-atoning Priest;
It claims no merit of its own,
But looks for all in Christ.

To him it leads the soul
When filled with deep distress,
Flies to the fountain of his blood,
And trusts his righteousness.

Since ’tis thy work alone,
And that divinely free,
Lord, send the spirit of thy Son
To work this faith in me.”

Waving any discussion upon the propriety of singing praises to faith instead of the Lord, I proceed to observe that in singing the above verses we are boasting against those who are supposed to maintain that faith is not of a celestial birth, and not the gift of God. In the conclusion the singer is made to act a singular part; first to declare that he believes that Jesus is a King, an all-atoning Priest; that faith leads the soul to him, flies to the fountain of his blood, and trusts his righteousness; and yet, after having sung all this, he represents himself as destitute of such a faith as he has been singing, and prays for the spirit of Jesus Christ to work this faith in him. How the same person can sing the three first verses and the last one in this hymn I know not, unless they sing as a parrot speaks, without regard to the meaning. To convert the above sentiments into plain prose, it reads thus: “I believe that faith is a precious grace, the gift of God, of celestial origin. I believe that Jesus is King and an all-atoning Priest; that his righteousness is worthy of my trust, and his blood purifies me from sin. No, I don’t believe this but, Lord, send the Spirit of thy Son, who I believe works this grace in men’s hearts; and as I don’t yet believe, work this faith in me!” [406]

“Come, Holy Spirit, heavenly dove,
With all thy quick’ning powers;
Kindle a flame of sacred love,
In these cold hearts of ours.

Look how we grovel here below,
Fond of these trifling toys;
Our souls can neither fly, nor go,
To reach eternal joys.”

These verses, as well as the general scope of this song, are not accordant with the spirit of the christian religion. The Holy Spirit is always represented as the author of all goodness in us, and is not to be addressed by men as though they, without it, could say that Jesus is Lord, or, without it, breathe forth a spiritual desire. But here dead “cold hearts” are represented as panting after the Holy Spirit. But not only does the nature of the Christian religion, which represents the Father as the terminating end of all Christian worship, the Son as the only mediator between the Father and us, and the Holy Spirit as the immediate agent or author of all goodness in us. Not only, I say, does the nature of the religion itself, to those who understand it, teach the impropriety of direct addresses to the Holy Spirit; but this species of address is absolutely unauthorized by any prophet or apostle, by any oracle of God, commandment or precedent in the sacred books–for from the beginning of Genesis to the end of Revelation, no man, patriarch, Jew, nor Christian; prophet, priest, nor apostle, ever did address the Holy Spirit directly in prayer or praise. They pray for the Holy Spirit, but never to it. Thus Paul desired that the love of the Father, the grace of the Lord Jesus, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, might be with the saints. This hymn, then, is not only contrary to the genius of the New Covenant: but uncommanded and unprecedented in the book of God. This I asserted to an association about ten years ago, which caused an old preacher to search the whole Bible through to disprove it. In something less than a year afterwards he wrote me he had found me in an error–for he had found an authority for this hymn. It was, he said, in the book of Canticles, where it says, “Awake, O North wind, and blow thou, South, upon my garden,” &c. But the old gentleman has not, to this day, decided whether the Holy Spirit was in the North or in the South wind, and therefore, as yet, nothing has been adduced to show the assertion unfounded.

EDITOR.

About Scott J Shifferd

Minister, church of Christ in Jacksonville, FL. Husband and father of four. Email: ScottJon82[at]yahoo.com
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