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A GENERAL idea of the plan of this work will be derived from a mere perusal of the title-page. Watts's version is of course made the basis of the compilation; and, in revising his Psalms and Hymns, the various readings have been carefully compared with an original English copy, containing his own notes and observations. The book, however, embraces copious selections from other sources, as appears by the authors' names in the body of the work. Watts's alone stand without a name; so that they can be easily distinguished from the rest.
Much attention has been bestowed on the arrangement of the Hymns in reference to subjects and occasions ; and in this part of their labor, the Compilers have had constantly in view, the convenience of selection, and the preservation of a pleasing succession of topics to the devotional reader. This two-fold object was not to be gained without study and effort. Its advantages, we trust, will be obvious on the slightest examination.
The great importance of lyrical character has not been overlooked; but the Compilers have not dared to sacrifice sense to sound, devotional sentiment to the beauties of diction, or unity of design to the special convenience of adaptation. The great interests of devotional edification can be secured, only in proportion as the claims of music and poetry, pious sentiment, and discriminating taste, are properly united.
The musical references are the initials of the technical terms in common use, and the tunes named in connexion with the poetic pieces, are, for the most part, such plain and familiar ones, that their character will not be easily misunderstood. The advantages of this plan will appear on a perusal of the following article. See also the order of subjects, at the close of the volume.
This work has not been undertaken without mature deliberation; nor has its completion been the offspring of a series of desultory efforts. The work has been several years in a course of preparation; and the Compilers, providentially located within a few doors of each other, have had every advantage of mutual consultation which the subject required. How they have succeeded in their undertaking must be left to the public decision.
It is an obvious principle in Christian psalmody, that the devotional sentiments contained in the poetry, form the only proper basis of musical expression. Music, such as the Bible contemplates, is, in this respect, like an impassioned species of elocution. It is the chaste and simple language of emotion. The words of a Psalm or Hymn being given, the problem is, to enforce them upon the mind of the hearer, through the medium of impassioned enunciation. To this end, there must be good articulation, accent, and emphasis. The language must flow from the lips of the singer, as it does from those of the speaker, in a distinct and impressive manner. A congregation (if an apostle reasoned correctly) should never be addressed in an unknown tongue. That language which, under the divine blessing, is to make an impression upon us, must be distinctly heard. If there are instruments employed in the service, they should be so managed as not to mar the language. This is a matter of vital consequence. The principle, though much disregarded, lies at the foundation of all rational improvement. A few feeble, untutored voices, drowned by an instrument of overwhelming power, never sing to edification.
But mere distinctness of enunciation is not all that is required. There must be genuine feeling. Emotions not of a fortuitous nature, such as arise from a mere heated imagination, are here to be encouraged; but those which arise from definite influences of spirituality. The man who would make others feel, must feel himself. He must, himself, exercise legitimate emotions, if he would produce them in others. If he would edify others, he must himself be edified.
This principle, though extensively disregarded even by pious musicians, is just as obvious in its application to this subject, as it is in reference to pulpit oratory, or social prayer. It is all a mistake to suppose that music is a species of mental mechanism, which will secure its own ends on the mere principle of laborious accuracy or tasteful execution. Singers are moral agents, accountable to the Searcher of hearts for the feelings, and motives, and habits, which they cultivate and call into exercise, within the house of God. It is a solemn business to be engaged in the work of angels and seraphs; delightful, indeed, to the heart of intelligent, pious susceptibility, but awfully hazardous to the soul of the thoughtless, the irreverent, and the profane. There are worthy men in the Christian connexion who think little of this whole matter. Even among professors of religion, there are choristers and teachers who seem to have almost their whole attention directed away from the spiritual claims of edification. But they are fundamentally wrong.
Nor should children be made chief performers in the bouse of God. "Old men and maidens," as well as young men and children, are exhorted to take part in the service. If Christian influences are to be exerted by the public performances, they must be carried there by those who are truly pious. The Kenaniahs, the Asaphs, the Hemans, and the Jeduthuns, the evangelists, the elders, and the teachers of religion, must, as far as possible, be found in the ranks of cultivation. Children should not withhold their hosannas; they should be universally and thoroughly instructed in the office of sacred song: but the ministers and professed followers of the Lord Jesus Christ must not be guilty of practical indifference to his praises, if they would find them a real source of devout edification. Multitudes, who are now mute in the house of God, might be enlisted in the delightful service, if they only realized the full measure of their accountability. Feeble lungs would become strong, decayed voices would renew their vigor;