The Hymn Society Bulletin
Hymns of Universal Praise review by Basil E. Bridge
Charles Wesley: Life, Literature and Legacy review by Christopher Idle
Some New Hymns
Five Anthems for all-age worship review by Ian Sharp
Exploring Praise! Volume 2: the authors and composers review by Michael Saward
Hymns of Love, Hope and Joy review by John Barnard
Conference 2007 by David Blanchflower
‘As friendly a conference as any I remember’, was the verdict of the Society's Executive President, Alan Gaunt on the final morning. Few of the nearly one hundred who gathered at Moulton College just north of Northampton would disagree. Everything about the conference seemed to work together for good, apart from the showers and the sinks in our en-suite rooms! That last comment aside it was good to meet in a college that offered good facilities and one in which we were not too spread out, as well as one in which the meals were first class.
A new venture this year was the ten minute slot that preceded most of the lectures, in which a new hymn was introduced by the writer, and in some cases, the writer and composer, before being sung. In this way we were introduced to words or music by Michael Heighton, Ruth Buckley, Michael Lehr, John Hartley, Christopher Idle, Jenny Canham and Stanley Chandler.
Those who planned the programme guaranteed an excellent beginning as Dick Watson was the first of our lecturers taking us on a ‘Charles Wesley Pilgrimage’, to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the birth of one of the greatest of all hymn writers. Only a scholar of the highest calibre could have made such learning so accessible to all heard who heard him. Next came John Barnard who took us on a journey through the world of recent hymn tunes under the title ‘Since Abbot’s Leigh: hymns tunes of our time’, a journey in which we were able to join in singing many fine examples. The only criticism offered of this lecture was that none of John’s tunes were included.
With her usual evangelical enthusiasm and scholarship Sally Drage introduced us to ‘Primitive Methodism: ranting revivalism to respectability’ as we celebrated two hundred years since the first camp meetings on Mow Cop. Sally gave us the opportunity to sing many nineteenth century offerings not usually included in the Hymn Society’s offerings. Later the same morning Michael Jones read a lecture written by Sybil Phillips, ‘When Jesus claims the sinner’s heart - John Newton (1725-1807) from infidel to Olney hymn writer’. This absorbing voyage through the life of the one time slave ship captain added extra interest to that afternoon’s trip to Olney. Olney is a lovely market town and once there we were fascinated to see the parish church in which John Newton served, as well as the museum dedicated both to Newton and his friend, the poet and hymn writer, William Cowper.
In the late afternoon coaches took us to Northampton to visit Philip Doddridge’s church at Castle Hill before moving on, via a splendid buffet supper at the Northampton and County Club, to All Saints for the Festival of Hymns. The present writer is not alone in the view that in recent years the quality of these Festivals has improved and this year’s was no exception. The commentary by Michael Garland together with the singing of the congregation conducted by Lee Dunleavy and accompanied so splendidly by Nicholas Page on the organ, again all worked for good. For me the pick of the hymns was Christopher Idle’s ‘When you prayed beneath the trees,’ set to John Barnard’s tune WIDFORD.
The final lecture of the conference was Janet Wootton’s ‘Redemption Song: Hymns and their relation to social change from slavery to the sex trade’. Janet gave a clear and exciting summary of the campaign to abolish the trans Atlantic slave trade: ‘the first campaign for the rights of others’, before leading us on to anticipate the time when ‘God will delight when we are creators of justice and joy’.
All conferences contain an amount of necessary business but comments were made this year about the AGM containing more laughter than is usually associated with business meetings thanks to the splendid way it was led by the Executive President, and regulars are now used to the round of notices being more entertaining than most television comedies, thanks to the delivery and style of our Secretary, Robert Canham.
Throughout the conference Andrew Pratt and Marjorie Dobson, creators of moving, challenging and appropriate words, led our worship in a style somewhat different from the norm of our conferences. Both are Methodists and appropriately in view of this year's anniversaries they gave to our worship the depths we associate with Charles Wesley and the simplicity and lightness of Primitive Methodism.
Northampton 2007 will be remembered with fondness, and thanks to the work of Philip Carter and his recording equipment, we can enjoy our favourite moments all over again.
(some papers from this year’s Conference will be published in this and later editions of the Bulletin)
IAH Conference, Trondheim, Sunday 29th July to Friday 3rd August 2007 by Elizabeth Cosnett
This will not be a complete or formal account of the conference. I have felt free to select, arrange and reflect upon a huge range of material in a personal way. Much fuller detail is available to IAH members in the Mitteilungen but I hope that what follows will interest our readers.
The conference was planned to coincide with the week-long festival of St Olave, patron saint of Norway, held annually in Trondheim, and was centred in the very attractive cathedral and its immediate neighbourhood. On Sunday evening we were officially welcomed by the Mayor and the Bishop, who expressed their pleasure that our presence would contribute to the religious aspect of the festival. The reception, held in the lovely old Archbishop’s Palace, was enhanced by some beautiful singing and dancing from local groups. Scandinavian countries are expensive for foreign visitors so conference attendees greatly appreciated being given free admission to all festival concerts in the cathedral. These included a performance by an obviously keen and capable youth choir, an evening of Norwegian religious folk songs, a recital on the cathedral’s renowned baroque organ and a stunningly beautiful performance of Rachmaninov’s Vespers sung, entirely unaccompanied, by the cathedral choir together with the visiting Moscow Patriarchate choir. The festival catered for all tastes and also included events such as a craft fair outside the cathedral and rock concerts in the main square.
Worship was provided for in two ways. Each morning we worshipped in the cathedral and were grateful to the regular congregation for accepting readings in English as well as Norwegian. The style was ‘high church’ Lutheran, which I found very attractive. Evening worship included a mass at the very small and plain Catholic cathedral (small because Catholics are a tiny minority in Norway) a communion service at a Methodist church and an evening of hymn singing with commentary in the Lutheran Hen Kirke. Here we learned that the best known Wesley hymn in Norway is ‘Depth of mercy can there be’, which now features in relatively few English books. We enjoyed an evening of Charles Wesley, Peter Dass and Paul Gerhardt, all of whom featured prominently in the more academic lectures. Each conference participant was given a copy of Colours of Grace, which was used in worship all week. This new international and multi-lingual hymn book is designed to replace Unisono, which many of our members will already know.
A dignified eighteenth-century lecture room in the Katedralskole was the setting for most of the conference. I valued the opportunity to see British hymns in a wider European context, particularly the reminder that our ‘golden age’ of hymnody in the eighteenth century was preceded by an equally fine ‘flowering’ a century earlier in Germany and that our mid-twentieth-century hymn renaissance was part of a broader movement involving many languages. The presence among us of people like Svein Ellingsen, Jürgen Henkys and Per Lønning reminded us of the huge importance of translation to modern, ecumenical hymnody and, of course, both Paul Gerhardt and the Wesleys translated hymns as well as writing them. The title of Karl- Johan Hansson’s lecture, ‘Martin Luther’s Hymns in the Lives of the Nordic People’ and the very large research project which it described also bore clear witness to the fact that a healthy disregard of national boundaries is part and parcel of hymnody. Per Lønning’s reflections on the two-way relationship between the Church and hymns are, of course, applicable to hymnody in any country. He was particularly concerned by the increasing separation between traditional biblical and theological language and the increasingly secular language of modern culture, a problem which he felt to be closely related to the question of how far hymn-singing simply expresses what we believe and how far it conditions our belief.
We learned about twentieth-century developments in the Nordic countries, Britain, the Netherlands and Australia. Some themes recurred time and again, for instance the relationship of hymnody to liturgy, to ecumenism, to the needs of young people, to popular music, to the developing self-awareness of women and to social change. Common factors were dissatisfaction with currently available material and some kind of event or organization such as the Dunblane consultations or the founding in Sweden of the Hymnologica Instituted which brought together a wide range of specialists.
Åge Haarvik’s substantial opening lecture stressed the importance of the year 1960 and the fact that the Nordic hymn renaissance began in Sweden with the publication of a hymn book intended for children but soon adopted by adults as well. Anders Frostensen was a major contributor, a key figure in Swedish hymnody and the Nordic writer best known outside Scandinavia. His main aim and special gift was to combine freshness of expression with sound biblical teaching. Norway faced problems in the early stages because the aim of creating a bi-lingual book to bring together Norwegian and Danish speakers (Norway had a long history of rule by Denmark) did not always sit easily with the aim of providing new hymns to accompany current developments in liturgy. Pastor Olaf Hillestad was interested in both aspects and was influenced by the work of The Twentieth Century Church Light Music Group, translating and importing the words and music of Patrick Appleford and Geoffrey Beaumont. As in England, these proved to be simultaneously popular and controversial. In 1965 an initially small collection called Salmer for ungdom (Hymns for Youth) was successful and later editions included work from other countries, particularly the Netherlands. Svein Ellingsen became a leading and internationally known figure involved in writing, translating and editing. Åge Haarvik particularly praised Ellingsen’s ‘courage to wait’. Denmark’s hymn renaissance came later, partly because in 1953 the Church of Denmark had produced a large new hymn book, which needed time for reception and implementation. As regards new hymnody the most creative period was the 1980s and one very influential figure was Holger Lissner. In contrast to other Nordic countries new work was frequently published in supplements rather than in official collections and it is noticeable that the most recent official collection, published in 2003, is less influenced by developments in the last forty years than other Nordic books. During this period Finnish writers and composers have been working along similar lines to those in Sweden. In Iceland the renewal of hymnody has been closely associated with that of liturgy and particularly with the rediscovery of liturgical music from the Reformation period.
Inger Selander's lecture on the hymn renaissance in Sweden from a literary perspective referred to the influence of the ‘social gospel’ songs of Sydney Carter and Fred Kaan and to the close contact between the Hymnal Committee of the Church of Sweden and Erik Routley. It also stressed that the Swedish hymn renaissance was less spontaneous and more consciously planned than ours. There were problems, as elsewhere, with language. Diction drawn from modern urban life could seem unpoetic and more traditional poetic and mystical language could seem vague and unbiblical. It may be presumptuous of me to comment on a text in a language I do not know (even with a literal translation available) but I warmed greatly to Ylva Eggehorn’s millennium hymn on the coming of Christ, which seems to strike a balance. The line ‘Du stiger ut ur alia tomma gravar’ (you step out from all empty tombs) sticks in my memory.
Speaking about the creative power of recent Dutch hymnody, Maria Pfirmann started from the Liedboek voor kerken of 1973. Some young poets, oustanding among them being Willem Barnard, were commissioned by the Dutch Reformed Church to make a new translation of the psalms from the Hebrew using the traditional verse forms and melodies of the Genevan Psalter. They were overseen by a team of experts in Hebrew and in biblical theology. However, they also moved beyond the psalms to create new songs based on other biblical passages. A somewhat younger and very popular writer is Huub Osterhuis, a Jesuit priest and driving force behind the Werkgroup voor volkstaal liturgie (Working Group on Liturgy in the Vernacular). He has since gone on to develop freer forms.
I was honoured in being asked to speak about the English hymn renaissance from a literary perspective but most of what I said will be already well known to Bulletin readers so I shall not summarize it here. In various informal contexts afterwards it was quite humbling to realize how much better informed many of our continental friends are on developments in Great Britain than I am about those in their countries. Professor Watson was assigned the less straightforward task of talking about Charles Wesley but also referring to twentieth-century developments. He entitled his lecture ‘The Listening Ear’ and treated us to a wide ranging consideration of the relationship between Wesley’s hymns and those of Fred Pratt Green and Timothy Dudley-Smith, creating an engaging impression of a dialogue between writers who had much in common, both personally and, despite great changes, culturally as well. He made the important point that so-called ‘originality’ can easily be over-valued and that great writers are sometimes most themselves when drawing upon and re-interpreting earlier works they know and love. Dianne Gome gave a presentation based partly on her entry, ‘Australian Hymnody’ in the forthcoming Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology. She stressed increasing ecumenical involvement and the growing desire for hymns reflecting a distinctively Australian as distinct from British or other European national identity. She introduced us to several hymns including ‘Not unto us, O Lord, to tell’, written in 1915 by Charles Bran when leaving the war graves in Gallipoli and ‘The north wind is tossing the leaves’ by John Wheeler with a lively (I am tempted to write ‘gusty’) tune, NORTH WIND by William Garnett James. What those of us from the northern hemisphere have to remember when singing this is that in Australia the north wind has strong associations with heat, dust and dangerous bush fires. Charismatic worship songs have also been influential and on Thursday afternoon we had a presentation and discussion of this type of music with input from a representative of the famous Hillsong Church in Sydney.
Christian Bunners’s important contribution on Paul Gerhardt had to be read by someone else because of illness. Unfortunately it was available only in German but I will try to give you some idea of the approach. Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676) contributed to a hymn renaissance in Germany at a time of deep insecurity in Europe. His work has reached far beyond his own country and even, in conjunction with the music of J. S. Bach, beyond the confines of the Church to become a part of world culture. His approach was deeply biblical and also deeply personal. Through the poetic beauty of his verse he helps worshippers to internalise what they have learned as doctrine. By the standards of his time his style is relatively simple but has great depth of feeling and humanity and a basically practical orientation. The association of his texts with the music first of Johann Crüger (1598- 662) and then of Johann Georg Ebeling (1637-1676) enabled them to be widely used not only as hymns but also as choir or solo pieces and in homes as well as churches.
Inge Lønning introduced us to the life and work of Peter Dass (1647-1707), a very special and interesting Norwegian writer who had no connection with congregational song during his lifetime but whose hymns are loved today both by Catholics and Protestants within and beyond Norway. He spent most of his career as a pastor in Altstahaug, north of Trondheim and also wrote poetry, some based on the Bible and some describing the land, people and culture of northern Norway. Relatively little of it was published in his lifetime but it survived orally among the peasants, partly because of its melodious quality, and was frequently linked with folk music and dance. Towards the end of the nineteenth century it was re-discovered and Dass became known as the great ‘dikterpresten’ (poet-priest) of the north. This rather romanticised view has been challenged recently and needs modification, but a changed perspective on his life does not necessarily reduce the appeal of his poetry. Inge Lønning sees him as ‘the first eco-theologian of the Norwegian Church’, an orthodox Lutheran writing in a baroque style, who treated human life as part of God’s wider creation. His hymns are, of course, centos drawn from much longer works and this further complicates their effect, leaving room for continuing change and for discussion among hymnologists, since selection always brings with it an element of interpretation.
It is not possible to summarize or even to have attended every single presentation, but I cannot conclude without mentioning that on Wednesday morning Georg Lorentz Bjerkli from the Norwegian Church of the Deaf came with his translator to give us a presentation in Norwegian sign language. Through demonstration he gave us the beginnings of an insight into the nature of sign language. It appeared to be largely symbolic but there were some mimetic elements which we could recognize immediately. He explained the part played by the direction of the speaker’s gaze and the phenomenon we all know as ‘body language’. He has developed a kind of poetic form, distinct from everyday sign language, and has used it to create liturgical poems regularly used in Norway’s five deaf congregations. Unlike our hymns they are designed for solo rather than for congregational performance and we could see clearly how expressive and how beautiful this form could be. His presentation concluded with a performance of three of these poems accompanied by background music composed for it but intended for presentation to hearing people. He explained that in a deaf congregation a different kind of music would be used, very percussive and with much emphasis on low tones and vibration, which deaf people can perceive and enjoy. The last of the three poems was a farewell for use at funerals and I am absolutely certain that I was not the only person holding back tears as he finished.
We are all deeply grateful to those who organized the conference, including the festive dinner on Wednesday evening and the day trips for those who chose to stay over the final weekend. David Hamnes and his team of helpers did a great job in looking after our every need. In 2009 the IAH will host an international conference in Opolne, Poland. Both our society and the North American one will be involved in creating it and it would be good to have a sizeable British presence there. I think we can expect it to be both enjoyable and enlightening.
‘When Jesus Claims The Sinner’s Heart’:John Newton (1725 -1807), From Infidel To Olney Hymn Writer by Sibyl Phillips
(as presented by Michael Jones at the Hymn Society Conference 2007)
Part 1 (Part 2 will be published subsequently)
This presentation will begin with an ending, so to speak. That is, with the epitaph written for himself by one of the most remarkable hymn writers to be found among eighteenth-century Evangelical clergymen. It reads:
Once An Infidel And Libertine,
A Servant Of Slaves In Africa,
By The Rich Mercy Of Our Lord And Saviour,
Preserved, Restored, Pardoned,
And Appointed To Preach The Faith
He Had Long Laboured To Destroy
It is a precise declaration signifying an extraordinary life, a life that began on 25th July 1725 and ended on 21st December 1807, so at this Conference we are marking the bicentenary of Newton’s death. As G. R. Balleine put it almost a century ago, ‘John Newton had crowded into his early years enough adventures to supply materials for a dozen penny dreadfuls’. But the story of Newton’s early days, his conversion, his ministry at Olney and his hymns must be told very briefly on this occasion. Much of the evidence given here concerning his life before he was ordained is taken from An Authentic Narrative, a collection of autobiographical letters. It is timely to dwell somewhat on this period as it covers his involvement with the transatlantic slave trade, which was abolished on 25th March 1807, giving us the other bicentenary we are recognising this year. Details of Newton’s later life have been extracted mostly from his Diary started in December 1751 and quoted extensively in a long biography written by Josiah Bull, son of his close friend, the Rev. William Bull of Newport Pagnell.
John Newton was born in Wapping, London. At that time, his father was captain of a merchant ship engaged in the Mediterranean trade for the East India Company. He was a stern parent who struck awe into the boy, but always showed concern for his welfare in later years. Newton’s mother died when he was just under seven years old. He was her only child and the bond between them was very close. He describes her as an experienced Christian, a Dissenter, who spent much of her time educating him. They attended Dr Jennings’ Independent chapel and, by the age of four, Newton could read well from the Bible, and was familiar with Watts’s Children’s Hymns and Smaller Catechisms. His mother’s aim had been for him to enter the ministry. At the time of her death, his father was away at sea and did not return until a year later, but he soon remarried and the young Newton went to live in Essex with his stepmother’s parents. They treated him well, but his religious education lapsed. He says that he was allowed to mix with careless and profane children and soon began to learn their ways. At the age of eight he was sent to boarding school, where he learned Latin, but after he had been there for about two years, his father decided to take him to sea. This was to be the first of Newton’s several voyages before he was fifteen. During the long intervals between sailings he usually spent his time at a loose end in the countryside. Then, employment with good prospects was found for him in the Spanish port of Alicante, but he was unhappy there and through unrestrained bad behaviour his opportunity was lost. In Newton’s own words, he had ‘learned to curse and blaspheme, and was exceedingly wicked’. Yet, from time to time his thoughts returned to his mother’s teaching and he says that, by the age of sixteen, he ‘had taken up and laid down a religious profession three or four different times’.
In 1742, when he was seventeen, Newton was given a second chance by his father’s friend, Mr Manesty, a Liverpool merchant. Manesty was prepared to send him to Jamaica to work as a slave overseer on a plantation and to look after his future welfare. It was a generous offer and Newton accepted it but, a few days before he was due to sail, a visit to his mother’s cousin and close friend, Elizabeth Catlett, living with her husband and children at Chatham in Kent caused him to change his mind. Mary, the elder of the family’s two daughters, was about fourteen, yet Newton was immediately attracted to her and he says that from that time his affection for her never abated. He knew that, if he went to Jamaica, it would mean a separation from Mary for four or five years, which he could not face, so he stayed in Kent for three weeks knowing that the ship would sail without him. By way of punishment, his father found him work as a common sailor on a vessel sailing for Venice, but on board he was exposed to rough company and ill example.
In December 1743, the ship returned to England, and again through his father's influence, Newton was given another opportunity of employment at sea, this time as an officer. Once more he visited Chatham in the hope of seeing Mary before he sailed and stayed longer than he should have done. The ship left without him but he paid a high price for his foolhardiness. Press-gangs were then active in Kent and, as Newton was still dressed as a sailor, he was seized and taken aboard the Harwich, a man-of-war preparing for possible conflict with the French. Despite all, his father intervened and the captain promoted him to midshipman on the quarterdeck. A year later, when the Harwich was in harbour off the Kentish coast before setting out for the East Indies, Newton was allowed to go ashore for a day. Characteristically, he made his way to Chatham and overstayed his leave. Though highly displeased, the captain accepted him back on board still as midshipman. Within a few days the ship sailed from Spithead, but returned to Plymouth because of violent storms. Newton was determined to seize any chance of seeing his father, who was now shore-based but still involved in the African trade. He happened to be at Torbay and Newton hoped for an introduction into the same line of business to avoid the long and hazardous journey to the East Indies. A surprising opportunity came when he was ordered by his captain to keep watch from a small boat to ensure that none of the crew deserted but, impetuous as ever, he went ashore himself, only to be caught after two days. He was marched back to his ship, put in irons, flogged in front of his shipmates and reduced to the ranks. The Harwich set out for the East Indies once more and at times Newton considered killing either the captain or himself. ‘But’, he writes, ‘the Lord whom I little thought of knew my danger and was providing for my deliverance.’ His rescue came when they reached Madeira and on the spur of the moment the captain agreed to exchange Newton for one of the crew of the Pegasus, a ship bound for Sierra Leone to barter British goods for slaves. The commander of the Pegasus was another who knew his father but Newton soon lost favour with him through disobedience and outrageous behaviour. On board was a Mr Clow, a wealthy slave-trader and part owner of the vessel. Knowing that Newton wished to leave the ship, Clow offered him employment and arranged his discharge, but the lad never received the wages he had earned during the voyage.
The story continues to read rather like an eighteenth- century picaresque novel. And now we find this unhappy youth landed on a ‘pestilential shore, to reap a terrible harvest of misery and wrong’. He was utterly destitute and, although he had no contract with his new employer, was determined to work hard. They settled on the Plantain Islands, and built a new slave warehouse. Clow began working from there and Newton sailed with him along the Sierra Leone coast collecting slaves, but almost immediately succumbed to a severe fever and was left on land at the mercy of the woman put in charge of him. She was a native African named Princess Pi, a woman of some status in her own country, who lived with Clow as his wife. Through a disagreement with her, Newton was moved into an empty slave shelter during Clow’s absence. He suffered humiliation and was given little to eat. He survived only through help from ‘strangers’ and even ‘slaves in the chain’, who secretly brought him food. His existence became even worse when, during a second trip along the coast, he was wrongly accused of cheating his employer. Newton wrote more than once to his father asking to be rescued. However, his fortunes improved greatly during the following year when Clow gave him permission to live and work with another slave-trader based on the Plantain Islands who owned several depots in Sierra Leone. The business flourished and Newton lived in comfort. He had second thoughts about returning to England, but when Mr. Manesty’s ship, the Greyhound, eventually arrived in February 1747 to bring him home, he went aboard as a passenger.
Now we come to the best known and most dramatic episode in Newton’s life at sea. The Greyhound was on a trading voyage for gold, ivory, beeswax and dyer’s wood. It took much longer to collect a load of this sort than a cargo of slaves and the ship sailed down the coast as far as Cape Lopez, just below the Equator. The voyage lasted about a year and Newton had little to occupy his time. Occasionally he studied mathematics and, ‘excepting this’, he writes, his ‘whole life, when awake, was a course of most horrid impiety and profaneness’. The ship left Cape Lopez for England in early January 1748. It was to be a journey of over seven thousand miles, first westward to the coast of Brazil, then northward to the Newfoundland Banks and finally across the Atlantic to Ireland. They reached Newfoundland without any real problems and left the Banks on the 1st March. Newton makes a point of saying that, among the few books on board, he had found a copy of Stanhope’s The Christian Pattern, which was based on The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis. In a spare moment one particular day, he looked at it and what he read posed serious questions for him about his own religious attitudes. Nevertheless, he went to bed that night, the 10th March, in his usual sense of security and indifference. ‘But’, he says, ‘the Lord’s time was come, and the conviction I was so unwilling to receive, was deeply impressed upon me by an awful dispensation. He was woken from a sound sleep by a violent storm, which flooded the ship and filled his cabin with water. According to shouts from the deck, the vessel was sinking. Newton managed to climb up from his cabin and saw that the ship had become a wreck within minutes. For about an hour, the crew worked at the pumps and with buckets to bale out water. They were on the point of complete exhaustion when the wind began to abate. By now it was daybreak and, somehow, they managed to stop the leaks with clothes and bedding. Newton writes:
About nine o’clock, being almost spent with cold and labour, I went to speak with the captain, who was busied elsewhere, and just as I was returning from him, I said, almost without any meaning, ‘If this will not do, the Lord have mercy on us’. This (though spoken with little reflection) was the first desire I had breathed for mercy for the space of many years. I was instantly struck with my own words.
The lightness of their unusual cargo had been in their favour. With a normal load of slaves, the vessel would have sunk. By six in the evening, the ship had been emptied of water and there was a gleam of hope. To his own surprise, Newton found himself thanking God for their survival, but says that he ‘could not utter the prayer of faith. The comfortless principles of infidelity were deeply riveted’.
Just four weeks after the violent storm, with little food and water left, they landed at Lough Swilly in Ireland. ‘At about this time’, Newton says, ‘I began to know that there is a God who hears and answers prayers…I was no longer an infidel. I heartily renounced my former profaneness’. He saw this episode as ‘the beginning of his return to God, or rather of God’s return to him’; ‘but’ he admits, ‘I cannot consider myself to have been a believer in the full sense of the word till a considerable time afterwards’. Newton remained in Ireland whilst the ship was refitted. Meanwhile, his father left for a new post as Governor of York Fort, Hudson’s Bay, thinking that John had been lost at sea. He, himself, was drowned three years later in a swimming accident so father and son never met again.
At this point, it seems appropriate to mention the stained glass windows in Olney Parish Church, depicting the wreck of the Greyhound. There are two adjoining windows; the first shows the vessel being tossed about by the violent storm, the second contrasts effectively with its view of the ship sailing in calm waters once more. An inscription below reads, ‘Amazing grace! how sweet the sound’, which you will recognise as the first line of Newton’s best known contribution to Olney Hymns. The hymn was written for New Year's Day, 1773. Newton heads it ‘Faith’s review and expectation’, and notes ‘1 Chronicles, Chap. xvii, 16-17’. ‘Amazing Grace’ is now sung worldwide and on many great occasions, and has been recorded in so many different forms that it is embedded in our popular consciousness. This year it is being sung more than ever. The hymn became established in America where it was set to the tune we all know so well. The easy words fit beautifully with the simple plantation melody.
When he arrived back in Liverpool at the end of May 1748, Newton was received with genuine friendship by Mr Manesty, and was happy to accept his offer of employment as mate on the Brownlow, a new vessel heading for the Guinea coast to collect slaves. Newton writes in his Narrative:
Who would not expect to hear that, after such a wonderful, unhoped-for deliverance as I had received, and, after my eyes were in some measure enlightened to see things aright, I should immediately cleave to the Lord and his ways with full purpose of heart? But, alas! it was far otherwise with me; I had learned to pray; I set some value upon the word of God, and was no longer a libertine; but my soul still cleaved to the dust.
By the time the Brownlow reached the West Indies on its return journey, 62 slaves had been lost out of its total cargo of 218. The ship arrived back at Liverpool in December 1749 and Newton immediately made his way to Kent where, seven years after their first meeting, he and Mary Catlett were married at St Margaret’s Church, in Chatham, on the first of February 1750.
Newton then accepted Mr Manestry’s offer of full command of his vessel, the Duke of Argyle, and set out from Liverpool for the African coast in August 1750. As captain, he now had sufficient leisure time to study Latin in greater depth. He read Virgil, Cicero and others with ‘classical enthusiasm’, but, he says, ‘by this time the Lord was pleased to draw me nearer to himself, and to give me a fuller view of the “pearl of great price”, the inestimable treasure hid in the field of the holy scriptures’. So, for a while, Newton abandoned his classics for the Bible. He began to hold services on board twice every Sunday for his thirty crewmen, officiating at these himself using the liturgy. The ship arrived home in November 1751, having experienced some difficulties and dangers.
Newton sailed from Liverpool twice more, each time as captain of Manesty’s new ship, suitably called The African. On the first voyage there were plans by his crew to mutiny and frequent plots of insurrection by slaves on board, but they were all discovered in time. Newton’s second voyage with The African proved less lucrative than usual. This time trading was poor and he carried only 87 slaves to the West Indies instead of the usual 220. The ship arrived home in October 1754 without any deaths having occurred among slaves or crewmen, and he received many congratulations for this. It proved to be Newton’s final voyage. He had intended to put to sea again in November, but ‘the Lord saw fit to over-rule’ his plan. Shortly before he was due to sail, he suffered some sort of apoplectic fit and was persuaded not to undertake the journey. Soon afterwards he decided to abandon his seafaring career altogether. It is interesting to read what Newton later tells us about his attitudes when working in the slave trade:
I never had the least scruple as to its lawfulness. I was, upon the whole satisfied with it, as the appointment Providence had marked out for me; yet it was, in many respects, far from eligible. It is,indeed, counted a genteel employment, and is usually very profitable, though to me it did not prove so…However, I considered myself as a sort of gaoler or turnkey; and I was sometimes shocked with an employment that was perpetually conversant with chains, bolts, and shackles.
After the abrupt end to his career at sea, Newton spent the next year in either London or Kent. He was now unemployed but at last he had time to cultivate a serious religious life. In London he was introduced to George Whitefield. On one occasion he attended a three-hour service led by Whitefield. About a thousand people of different persuasions were there and Newton estimates that they were given something like twenty short intervals for singing hymns. He also heard William Romaine preach, attended the Independent Chapel at Fetter Lane and joined Methodists at some of their large gatherings. He claims that in London he ‘lived at the fountain-head, as it were, for spiritual advantages’ and writes: ‘I brought down with me a considerable stock of notional truth; but have since found, that there is no effectual teacher but God; that we can receive no farther than he is pleased to communicate; and that no knowledge is truly useful to me, but what is made my own by experience’.
However, the time had come for Newton to think about earning a living, and in June 1755 he accepted the post of Surveyor of Tides at Liverpool. This meant that he was now a customs official appointed to search for contraband on incoming ships. He thanked God for his release from the slave trade. During the next eight years Newton and Mary made their home in Liverpool. Here he gained a good deal of useful experience in religious matters, but he was undecided about which denomination suited his ideals and beliefs the best. He would have entered into closer communion with a Baptist church he attended, but decided that he could not agree with baptism by immersion. John Wesley’s first appearance in Liverpool was in April 1757. Newton heard him preach out of doors several times and later came to know him well. Whitefield’s first visit to the city was in September 1763 and he and Newton became close friends. Locally Newton was sometimes laughingly called ‘Young Whitefield’, but eventually he decided against the open-air preaching methods of both men. Furthermore, he particularly disagreed with Wesley’s Arminian views and his doctrine of perfectionism.
Part two of this article appears in the next Bulletin
1. G. R. Balleine, A History of the Evangelical Party in The Church of England, Longmans, Green & Co. (London, 1908), 103.
2. John Newton, An Authentic Narrative (1764) in The life and spirituality of John Newton, with ‘Introduction’ by B. Hindmarsh, Regent College Publishing (Vancouver, 2003), 19.
3. ibid. 20.
4. ibid. 34.
5. Josiah Bull, But Now I See: The Life of John Newton (1868), The Banner of Truth Trust (Edinburgh, 1998 edn), 20. (Bull’s quotations are taken from Newton’s Diary or his collection of correspondence.)
6. Newton, op.cit. 41.
7. Ibid. 50.
8. Ibid. 53.
9. Ibid. 54.
10. Ibid. 57.
11. Ibid. 61-63.
12. Ibid. 64.
13. Ibid. 69.
14. Ibid. 78.
15. Ibid. 88.
17. Ibid. 92.
A Charles Wesley Pilgrimage by J.R. Watson
(as at the Hymn Society Conference 2007)
I have called this lecture ‘A Charles Wesley pilgrimage’ for a specific reason. When I was first asked to give it, I remember thinking ‘this will have to be something special’, for it will have to be directed to an audience which knows and loves its hymns: I do not have to make out a case for Charles Wesley as a great and loveable writer, or instruct you about his life and work, or consider his place in the Methodist heritage. I need to try to probe more deeply into the qualities that have made him, after three hundred years, part of our heritage as a great poet and hymn writer. I thought that the best way to do this would be to describe what has happened to my own thinking about Charles Wesley, especially during the last year or so, when I have been lecturing on him to various audiences in various places. The journeys themselves have been a pilgrimage: they have involved travelling around, meeting new people, seeing new places; but as every pilgrim knows, the process of making a pilgrimage engages the mind as well as the body. It involves a commitment, a perseverance, a journey towards a goal that leaves the pilgrim changed and renewed.
All of these things apply to my journeys of the past year: I have found that I have had to pursue the goal, as it were, of trying to find Charles Wesley, and in that process I have had to make a commitment to try to understand what it is that he is doing. I have come out of the process changed, in that my views on his work have developed from the views that I held when I wrote a chapter and a half on him in The English Hymn. Those chapters were probably written about fifteen years ago, and I would stand by them; but what I want to share with you is what I hope is the increased love and understanding that has come during the last year or so of my pilgrimage through Charles Wesley, those things which have emerged for me as fresh and new. This is what I meant when I said earlier that I felt that today’s occasion needed something special. I begin with Wesley and his great older contemporary.
Wesley and Watts
My first point comes directly from singing ‘O for a thousand tongues to sing’ (Hymns and Psalms 744), to LYDIA or LYNGHAM. Both are fine tunes, but the exuberance and excitement of LYNGHAM, HP 120ii, make it particularly suitable for the present purpose. It is that I have come to believe that we should separate Wesley and Watts much more clearly in our minds than we do now. The link between them is artly the result of that remarkable book by Bernard Manning, The Hymns of Wesley and Watts, published in 1942. That book was so powerful in its advocacy of hymns, and so original in drawing attention to them, that it has continued to exercise an influence on the way we think and feel about eighteenth-century hymns; and although I think that it is in places excessive in its commentary, I admire it greatly for its commitment and energy. But ever since Manning wrote that book, Wesley and Watts have been paired in our minds, like Marks and Spencer, or cheese and biscuits. I want to suggest to you that they are very different. Watts was a dissenter, whose hymns rest firmly on the Puritan tradition that he inherited from his forbears. They have an assurance about them, a steadiness, that comes from a reliance on Holy Scripture interpreted through the Calvinism that was inherited from the Reformation, in which God is a sure foundation, and human beings are frail, and in which his justice distinguishes between good and bad, and between belief and unbelief. Watts’s chief method is paraphrase, metrical versions of Holy Scripture (especially the psalms) often preceded or concluded by praise.
‘O for a thousand tongues to sing’ is (like many of Wesley’s hymns) a development from Watts; and the comparison is instructive. Watts wrote
Begin, my tongue, some heavenly theme,
Awake my voice, and sing
The mighty works, or mightier name
Of our eternal king.
Wesley turns this, typically, into ‘a thousand tongues’. He may have taken that from his discussions with Peter Böhler, in which Böhler is credited with saying ‘Had I a thousand tongues I would praise him with them all’, or from the German hymn of Johann Mentzner, ‘O dass ich tausend zungen hätte’; but there is no doubt that the hymn as a whole indicates a quite different poetic process from that of Watts. The tune LYNGHAM emphasises this in its energy and vitality.
Watts was a serious dissenter. Wesley was an enthusiastic Anglican. He found his belief in the personal need of the sinner (himself especially) to rejoice in his or her wonderful and almost incomprehensible forgiveness; a concept that seemed to have been largely forgotten in the Church of England of his own day. This made his hymns all the more excited at the prospect:
See all your sins on Jesus laid:
The Lamb of God was slain,
His soul was once an offering made
For every soul of man.
In the business of explaining this, Wesley leaps around the Bible in joyous discovery, jumping from the Redemption back to Isaiah 35, through Mark 10, Luke 4 and John 9:
Hear him, ye deaf; his praise, ye dumb
Your loosened tongues employ,
Ye blind, behold your Saviour come,
And leap, ye lame, for joy!
The excitement is there in the words and the rhythms, and also in the use of the imperative mood and the exclamation marks. It is an excitement that is found in the very beginning of Charles Wesley’s hymnody, the conversion hymns of 1738; and that excitement continues, remarkably, throughout his career. Not all of his hymns are peppered with exclamation marks, of course; but the chief mode, if I may so express it, is one of an intensity and urgency that comes from an emotional engagement that is quite different from that of Watts. I am not suggesting that Wesley is better than Watts, for a moment: Watts is capable of writing some of the most magnificent hymns in the language. What I am suggesting is that the two are different, and that this should be recognised.
Wesley’s emotional range
What I have just called Wesley’s ‘emotional engagement’ brings me to my second point, which is that of Wesley’s emotional range. It has been well described by James Montgomery in the introductory essay to The Christian Psalmist of 1825, which I have used before, and make no apology for using again, if only because I think that it is one of the finest essays on hymnody ever written. Montgomery wrote of Charles Wesley:
Christian experience, from the deeps of afflictions, through ail the gradations of doubt, fear, desire, faith, hope, expectation, to the transports of perfect love, in the very beams of the beatific vision, - Christian experience furnishes him with everlasting and inexhaustible themes; and it must be confessed, that he has celebrated them with an affluence of diction, and a splendour of colouring, rarely surpassed.
Perhaps because he wrote so much, Wesley can be found exploring every part of the range of Christian faith, from penitence and self-loathing, through prayer and anxiety, to serene contemplation and the vision of divine love. At one end of the spectrum there is the pre-Communion hymn, ‘Saviour, and can it be’, with its recognition of his unworthiness:
I am not worthy, Lord,
So foul, so self-abhorred,
Thee, my God, to entertain
In this poor polluted heart:
I so frail and full of sin,
All my nature cries: ‘Depart!’ (Hymns and Psalms, 541)
At the other end of the spectrum is the joyful recognition that the divine love is ‘all loves excelling’, and that through it we can be transformed:
Changed from glory into glory,
Till in heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before thee,
Lost in wonder, love, and praise! (Hymns and Psalms, 267)
And just as his range of feeling and experience is astonishing, as James Montgomery saw, so his range in the use of poetic form is also remarkable. He can be found using all kinds of poetic forms, in many different ways: different stanza forms, different rhythms, different kinds of word-music.
That range, that variety of tone and form, is found in his hymns on the life and teaching of our Lord, and on the Christian year. There is a striking intensity at the high points, such as the Nativity and the Passion, and a striking reflective and meditative mood at others. When he is considering the life and ministry of our Lord, Wesley can use a reflective Long Metre, as in ‘Jesu, thy far-extended fame’, or ‘O Thou, whom once they flocked to hear’, both of which provide a narrative and consider the lessons that can be drawn from it. But at the Nativity there is a distinct heightening of the excitement:
Hark! how all the welkin rings,
Glory to the King of kings!
The Nativity is of crucial importance for Wesley, as it should be for us, because it signals the extraordinary moment in which the world is transformed. Human beings are no longer the prisoners of their own heredity and culture, no longer just creatures shaped by the inexorable patterns of their own histories. The birth of Jesus Christ is the moment at which the miraculous actually happens, and God himself is born:
Emptied of his majesty,
Of his dazzling glories shorn,
Being’s source begins to be
And God himself is born! (Hymns and Psalms, 101)
The wit of the penultimate line is obvious: ‘Beings’ is an anagram of ‘begins’, and the three ‘Be’s call to each other, clash with each other, across the line: ‘Being’s - begins - be’. And in addition to the spectacular sounds, there is the riddle of the sense: if something is the source of being, how can it ‘begin to be? The answer, of course, is that God ‘begins to be’ one of us, becomes a human being, is subjected as we are to the vicissitudes of life, is tempted, suffers, and dies. The fun of the words lies not just in their sound, but in the way in which they compress the truth down into such a tiny compass, a linguistic miniature of the Bible, focussing the eye and the mind, charming us by its very smallness.
As an Anglican, the structure of the church year was important to Charles Wesley. As early as the 1739 Hymns and Sacred Poems, there is a series of hymns in the same metre, 77.77., written for the great festivals, Christmas Day, the Epiphany, Easter Day, Ascension Day and Whitsunday, including ‘Hark, how all the welkin rings’, ‘“Christ the Lord is risen today”’, and ‘Hail the day that sees him rise’. The Nativity brings out the best of his poetic skill. So does the Passion of Christ, for which he devises a style that is full of wonder and awe. I compared it in one of the lectures in this pilgrimage, to the paintings of Caravaggio and the sculptures of Bernini, to the bewilderment of the audience. The point that I was trying to make was that Caravaggio and Bernini were two of the first artists to depict the human face open-mouthed in astonishment, sometimes in horror and sometimes in rapture, as in the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa (of which more later). In Charles Wesley’s hymns on the Passion we can find the same kind of amazement:
Would Jesus have the sinner die?
Why hangs he then on yonder tree?
What means that strange expiring cry?
Sinners, he prays for you and me:
Forgive them, Father, O forgive!
They know not that by me they live. (Hymns and Psalms, 185)
What is evident here is the dramatic participation. This is found also, of course, in ‘When I survey the wondrous cross’, in the verse that begins ‘See from his head, his hands, his feet’, but that great hymn is more reflective, more designed to present the crucifixion and invite a measured but demanding response. In Wesley’s hymn we begin with three questions: they are the questions of one who is an observer - ‘why hangs he then on yonder tree?’ - yet also a preacher - ‘Sinners, he prays for you and me’. Christ’s own prayer, ‘Forgive them, Father’ comes across as if spoken into the scene itself, as indeed it was: here it rings out over the head of the anxious, questioning bystander, yet a bystander who can turn to his fellow sinners in explanation. The hymn, being a poem, is not answerable to logic, and it contains multitudes. We are blown about by contrary impulses here: questioning, that implies the answer ‘no’ in the first line (but to whom is the question addressed? to us, the singers, or to the observers of the scene? - to both, of course, since we are both not present and present at the crucifixion), so that we are reminded that Jesus does not wish the death of a sinner, but rather that he may turn from his wickedness and live; then enquiry: what is he doing on the cross, and what is the meaning of the cry? then explanation, ‘Sinners, he prays for you and me’; then the words of Jesus himself, given an addition in the final line.
In verse 2 the bystander then addresses the ‘loving, all-atoning Lamb’ in the language of the litany:
Thou loving, all-atoning Lamb,
Thee - by thy painful agony,
Thy sweat of blood, thy grief and shame,
Thy cross and passion on the tree,
Thy precious death and life - I pray:
Take all, take all my sins away!
As with the first verse, this serves a double purpose. Here it affirms the crucifixion as the all-atoning act, but it also reminds us of the cost of that atonement - agony, and bloody sweat, grief and shame; and then it turns into the prayer for forgiveness and the taking away of sin. The main verb is ‘I pray’, but it is held back to emphasise just how much that prayer is asking: it is aimed at the dying figure on the cross, who is suffering agony, even as the prayer is being prayed. The contrast is heightened, dramatically, as if by strong light and dark, between the sinner, who prays, with a very dramatic repetition, ‘Take all, take all my sins away’, and the all-atoning Lamb, in painful agony, in grief and shame.
Then in verse 3 the drama changes to show the figure of the penitent woman, bathing Christ’s feet and washing them with her tears (Luke 7), one of the most tender moments in the New Testament, in which the woman, who is a sinner, is forgiven ‘for she loved much’ (Luke 7: 47):
O let me kiss thy bleeding feet,
And bathe and wash them with my tears;
The story of thy love repeat
In every drooping sinner’s ears;
That all may hear the quickening sound,
Since I, even I, have mercy found.
Here the implication is that the sinner of verse 2 is one who loves much, and wants to repeat the story of that love to others (line 3); but we notice that the feet are now bleeding: this has now become the body of Christ on the cross that the penitent wishes to kiss and bathe with tears. So the verse returns us to the moment on Calvary, and its meaning for sinful humanity. But the penitent, like the woman in Luke 7, turns at the end of the hymn to the future, to the resolution that he will repeat the story of love so that ‘every fallen human soul/ May taste the grace that found out me’.
The hymn is a passionate reconstruction of the sinner’s relationship with the Christ of Calvary, the Christ of the Passion, the Christ of a thousand pictures. Charles Wesley contemplates the saving love of the crucified cross with an intensity that comes from his own self-awareness. Methodists are fond of quoting the thrice repeated ‘for me’ in the first verse of ‘And can it be’, but that point needs to be developed into a realisation of Charles Wesley’s ability throughout his work to convey to the reader or singer the fluctuating moods of his own spiritual life; and the justification for this is that it is like ours. Again I point to Watts as a contrast: I think of Watts as a learned man, a minister while his health allowed and then a resident with the Abney family, who were devoted to him. I think of Wesley as a man much more buffeted by life: dragged off to Georgia by John, a passionate evangelist and preacher, married to his beloved Sally but father to children who died in infancy (the gravestone commemorating his children is still there in Bristol as a pathetic memorial) as well as to those who survived; capable of experiencing, and writing about the heights and depths of human feeling. The word that comes to mind is the word ‘heart’, a word used everywhere by Charles Wesley to indicate the centre of his - and our - emotional life. Sometimes his heart is so full that he wants to burst out:
My heart is full of Christ, and longs
Its glorious matter to declare!
Of him I make my loftier songs,
I cannot from his praise forbear; (Hymns and Psalms, 799)
My heart is full; I cannot stop myself. The images are those of a man who reaches down to the centre of his emotional being and finds himself, in all his human failure, confronted by the wonder of unconditional love.
Wesley and love
The heart, what Wordsworth called ‘the human heart by which we live’, is something that we all share with Wesley. It is what links him to us, in spite of all the changes and developments that have occurred since his time: and one of the results of this pilgrimage has been an overwhelming sense, that I have found pressing upon me with an insistence that could not be ignored, that Wesley is our contemporary. In many ways, both physically and intellectually, the twenty-first century would be unrecognisable to an eighteenth-century person. But beneath those changes is the humanity which responds to them, the humanity for which the shorthand is ‘the heart’. Wesley’s longing for a heart that is pure and good is found everywhere in his hymns:
O for a heart to praise my God,
A heart from sin set free… (Hymns and Psalms, 536)
What that heart needs, what everyone needs, is love; and it is with Wesley and love that I want to conclude. It is found throughout his poetry: one of the reasons why ‘Wrestling Jacob’ is such a powerful poem is that it portrays the speaker of the poem as coming to know God by struggling with him, and emerging from the encounter battered and bruised but also knowing that ‘thy nature and thy name is love’. I have not time to expound that great poem, but it perfectly sums up a certain kind of religious experience, which finds the argument and struggle worth-while for the closeness to God that it entails (it is found very movingly and acutely in the poetry and the anguished retreat notes of the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins). The discovery that ‘thy nature and thy name is love’ is echoed throughout Wesley’s poetry: ‘Love divine, all loves excelling’; ‘Love’s redeeming work is done’; ‘Only love to us be given’; ‘And own that love is heaven’; ‘The arms of love that compass me/ Would all mankind embrace’; ‘Thy ceaseless, unexhausted love/ Unmerited and free’.
Love is not only the central attribute of the Godhead; it is the emotional drive for Wesley’s own hymns. It turns them into more than doctrine or versified scripture: it makes them expressions of a heart that is overflowing with love and longing for love, the two things being found simultaneously in his poetry. It is found very clearly in the section on ‘The Song of Solomon’ from Short Hymns on Select Passages of the Holy Scriptures (1762). It is natural, perhaps, that the word ‘beloved’, the Hebrew ‘Dod’, should be found in these hymns; but one hymn in particular from that section of the 1762 book exemplifies what I think of as a strong emotional energy of Charles Wesley’s verse, an energy that can, if we will allow it to do so, enthuse us:
Thou shepherd of Israel and mine,
The joy and desire of my heart,
For closer communion I pine,
I long to reside where thou art;… (Hymns and Psalms, 750)
This hymn is inspired by The Song of Solomon 1: 7: ‘Tell me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest, where thou makest thy flock to rest at noon’. That beautiful verse carries with it ideas that are both powerful and tender: the one who is loved is the one who has a flock, who cares for the sheep, seeing that they are fed and that they have rest from the heat in the middle of the day. Charles Wesley teases out the New Testament significance of this, and its human consequences, in a hymn that is remarkable for its ecstatic fervour. Like the Song of Solomon from which it comes, it is a love poem, expressing desire. It does so in language that is common to lovers of every generation, especially in lines 2 and 4 (‘You are my heart’s delight/ And where you are/ I long to be’).
In verse 1 the verbs ‘I long’ and ‘I pine’ are those of profane love, here employed in the service of God (as Charles Wesley often does: see ‘Love divine, all loves excelling’). The beloved is the Shepherd of Israel and the shepherd of the poet himself, both distant in his grandeur and close in his heart, where he is simultaneously the heart’s joy and the heart’s desire. In opposition to ‘I long’ and ‘I languish’, the word ‘communion’ suggests the sacred: accumulations of meaning and association are found in the language of this verse. These are the sheep who are cared for by the good shepherd (from John 10); yet they also need to obey him:
The pasture I languish to find
Where all who their Shepherd obey,
Are fed, on thy bosom reclined,
And screened from the heat of the day.
The word ‘pasture’ leads us through Addison’s paraphrase, ‘The Lord my pasture shall prepare’ towards the 23rd Psalm: here it relates directly to the verse from the Song of Solomon, ‘where thou feedest, where thou makest thy flock to rest at noon’, but presents us with that verse transformed by the additions from other places in the Old Testament and the New Testament, notably of course John 10.
Nothing, however, prepares us for the astonishing verse 2, beginning with a word - ‘Ah’ - that Charles Wesley uses sparingly but very effectively to convey emotion, as he does in ‘Jesu, lover of my soul’, where we have ‘Leave, ah! Leave me not alone’. Here the verse takes us away from the peace of the feeding flock into a vision of an ecstatic contemplation:
Ah, show me that happiest place,
The place of thy people’s abode,
Where saints in an ecstasy gaze,
And hang on a crucified God;
Thy love for a sinner declare,
Thy passion and death on the tree;
My spirit to Calvary bear,
To suffer and triumph with thee.
This is linked this to verse 1 by the intensity of feeling. It returns the mind to the love imagery of ‘I pine’, ‘I long’, ‘I languish to find’. But now the saints who are gazing in an ecstasy and hanging on a crucified God are experiencing the consummation of love. It is Charles Wesley’s equivalent of Bernini’s brilliant and theatrical Ecstasy of St Teresa in Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome, which depicts a moment of rapture as the angel (in her description) pierced her with the golden arrow. She was ‘utterly consumed by the great love of God’:
The pain was so severe that it made me utter several
moans. The sweetness caused by this intense pain is so
extreme that one cannot possibly wish it to cease, nor is
one’s soul then content with anything but God.
Wesley’s verse, which is parallel to this in its passionate rendering of experience, shows love in a different mode from that of his verse 1: no longer is it the love of a shelter and tranquillity, of food and rest, but it is now that of the ecstatic devotee. It is a love which longs to suffer and triumph with the loved one. The saints who are the ecstatic gazers are also ‘hanging’ on the crucified God, totally dependent upon God: and the poet longs to be carried in the spirit to Calvary itself, to experience the suffering and triumph of the dying and risen Lord. The mood of love is akin to the experience of a mystical contemplation, an experience that transcends all normal processes of thought and action.
We can say, as we may elsewhere in Charles Wesley's work, that he uses the language of love to glorify the Saviour: he is snatching back the music and poetry of love from the profane use and appropriating it to a sacred purpose. It is said that John Wesley was uneasy about the use of the language of love in devotion, and that he left out ‘Jesu, lover of my soul’ from the 1780 book for this reason (he also left out ‘Thou shepherd of Israel and mine’); but a poem such as this shows how powerful the result can be. For the more tranquil third verse returns to the image of the lambs resting in peace and sheltered from the heat by the shadow of the rock and the closeness of the shepherd’s breast:
’Tis there with the lambs of thy flock,
There only I covet to rest,
To lie at the foot of the Rock,
Or rise to be hid in thy breast;
The final movement of this hymn expresses yet another of the aspirations of love, that of never being parted from the beloved:
’Tis there I would always abide,
And never a moment depart,
Conceal’d in the cleft of thy side,
Eternally held in thy heart.
Here, as elsewhere, the heart concludes the poem, although this is the heart of the Saviour himself, the good shepherd, not the heart of the human sinner of which I spoke earlier. But, as the old saying (which Newman chose as his motto when he was made a cardinal) put it, ‘Cor ad cor loquitur’, heart speaks to heart, and never more feelingly than in this hymn.
If I were to choose a verse from the Bible to epitomise the Charles Wesley that I have found on this pilgrimage, it would be from Luke 7, and the story of the penitent woman that I have already mentioned: ‘Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much’ (Luke 7: 47). In the Peake Memorial Lecture of 2005 I drew attention to what I thought was a special affinity between Luke’s Gospel and Wesley’s thinking, but I missed that quotation, and I regret that. It seems to me to sum up so much of Charles Wesley’s necessary and vital appeal for us today. He is close to us because he felt much, he sinned much, and he loved much. We can find our own selves in his work. In that work, beneath the superficialities of our daily lives, are the deepest questions of our existence, and thus Wesley, like Shakespeare, is our contemporary (I take this idea from Jan Kott’s 1964 book, Shakespeare our Contemporary). We can share his representative humanity, his enthusiasm, his anxiety, his ecstasy, his religious experience of being a sinner and being forgiven; and above all, we can aspire, like him, to a love for God. We can do so, as we do in our daily lives, in our complex and simultaneous human awarenesses: conscious of our own shortcomings and failures, even as at the same time we long for the closer communion and celebrate the wonder of divine love. James Montgomery, as so often, got it right when he described Charles Wesley’s hymns as moving through gradations of ‘doubt, fear, desire, faith, hope, expectation, to the transports of perfect love’.
1. James Montgomery, The Christian Psalmist (Glasgow, 1825), pp. xxi-xxii.
2. The other two are ‘Sons of men, behold from far’ (the Epiphany) and ‘Granted is the Saviour’s prayer’ (Whitsunday).
3. Life of St Teresa, trans. J.M. Cohen (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1957), p. 137. I think it unlikely that Wesley would have seen an engraving of Bernini’s statue, but he might have known Crashaw’s poem ‘A Hymn to the Name and Honour of the Admirable Saint Teresa’. See Howard Hibbard, Bernini (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1965), p. 240.
4. Pitying Tenderness and Tenderest Pity: The Hymns of Charles Wesley and the Writings of St Luke. The A.S. Peake Memorial Lecture, the Methodist Conference, 2005. Published by the Farmington Institute for Christian Studies, Harris Manchester College, Oxford, OX1 3TD (Modern Theology 17).
Keeping In Tune: Editing Songs Of Praise by Hugh Faupel
When I took over as the editor of the BBC television programme Songs of Praise nearly ten years ago it was a responsibility I relished, but it was also a task tinged with trepidation.
Songs of Praise is a national institution and it is also the programme that most people think of as ‘religious broadcasting’. Unsurprisingly it is a subject of both affection and mockery. Over the years it has been imitated and copied but never bettered!
I first worked on Songs of Praise as a junior assistant producer in 1988. I knew that it had a loyal and vocal audience who had very clear ideas about what they liked about the programme and what they expected to be delivered. In broadcasting terms it has a strong pedigree - how many other television programmes have been broadcast for over forty years? So ten years later in 1999 I approached the role of editor acknowledging that I was ‘steward’ rather than ‘owner’ of this jewel of a programme. I quickly learnt it was rather like being given charge of the family silverware. It is valuable, cherished and needs continual care and attention. One of the first letters I received welcomed me to the post but went on to caution me against ‘mucking around with our programme.’
Historically, Songs of Praise began in 1961 as a programme of live congregational hymn singing from churches around the country. Venues were dictated by the proximity to the location of the televised Saturday afternoon football or rugby matches. It was an early example of how sharing resources, in this case outside broadcast technology, could be put to best use. The singing in those days was exclusively amateur and enthusiastic but the ability to join in singing with others was an immediate success and popular with the viewers.
Over its forty-plus-year history Songs of Praise has evolved in response to the needs of the audience, the changing faces of religious music and church worship and the challenges of the broadcasting world. The programme has earned its place in the schedules, providing programming which both surprises and delights and demonstrates that religious experience is mainstream activity and not a minority interest.
Songs of Praise has broadcast from around the United Kingdom and around the world. It has featured soloists from Bryn Terfel to Daniel O'Donnell and Heather Small, choirs including the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Huddersfield Choral Society through to orchestras such as the BBC Scottish Symphony and our own Big Sing orchestra. It has marked the Olympics in Atlanta and Sydney, celebrated the lives of Christian Heroes like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Edith Cavell and it has grieved with the nation following the death of Princess Diana and the Tsunami disaster. Week by week it has told moving stories about individuals, groups and communities and the part that the Christian Faith holds in their lives. Running through the core of each and every programme is community hymn singing.
One of my first tasks as editor was to decide how Songs of Praise was going to mark the Millennium, a broadcasting opportunity that doesn’t come round too often, and to think about how we should celebrate Songs of Praise 40th birthday a year later. My response to both was to create musical celebrations that would be noticed. So for the Millennium, Songs of Praise came live from 60,000 seater Millennium stadium in Cardiff, where the singing was led by Bryn Terfel, Cliff Richard and the Band of the Welsh Guards and where the audience included Prince Charles and his two young sons. It is still the largest ever Songs of Praise and certainly one of the most memorable.
Songs of Praise fortieth birthday presented a different challenge. Previous celebrations to mark its 25th and 30th birthdays had been recorded in ecclesiastical settings but for its 40th celebrations I chose London’s Royal Albert Hall. This was not to retreat from Songs of Praise’s Christian roots but to make a statement about the programme’s ability to contact with a broad audience, many of whom would not regard themselves as church goers - who are enthused by and enthusiastic about inspirational music. The resulting programme, where a packed audience raised the roof singing the nation’s favourite hymns, proved so popular that our Albert Hall Big Sing has become an annual event.
What both those celebrations had in common was great hymns, stirring music and the opportunity for people to take part and join in at home. Other television programmes have audiences who watch but Songs of Praise has an audience who not only watch, but also take part and are very often the subject of the programme too. Week by week over three million people tune in to take part in the largest ‘Karaoke’ event in the world.
When I attended one particular Songs of Praise recording, a stalwart of the programme accosted me and wanted to know why I included modern hymns in Songs of Praise, ‘It’s just like those vicars who insist on a modern translation of the Bible’ she declaimed. ‘I prefer the Authorized Version - I love its language and its beauty’ and she added quickly, ‘If it was good enough for Saint Paul - it’s good enough for me!’ I started to point out the error of her ways but she was having none of it. She knew what she liked and liked what she knew. The idea that ‘Abide with Me’ was once a new hymn did not occur to her.
It reminded me, if I needed reminding, that people have fixed ideas about what hymns they like and determined views about what hymns work. For the record my own personal favourite is ‘Thine be the Glory’ and the reason for its selection reveals the variety of reasons that everyone has for their own personal favourites. Mine is a combination of singing it in French on a school trip to Paris with the sheer emotional energy of the tune which captures the joy of the resurrection. But I have also grown to love many of the new hymns and their ‘toe tapping’ praise band accompaniments.
On Songs of Praise we try to reflect traditional and modern hymnody as well as contemporary worship songs. There are some classic hymns which viewers love but there are also modern hymns written in contemporary language, which clearly shows that the art of hymn writing is very much alive. When you add popular praise worship songs to the mix, the vitality of the genre is very evident. But so are viewers' personal likes and dislikes. It is a challenging and difficult task to keep a balance between different styles of music as they all have their champions and critics. I try to ensure that all genres of hymns and songs are well reflected but often I only succeed in antagonising one group or another. We’ve polled viewers' favourite hymns twice in the last ten years and their choice has been instructive. While the nation's favourite hymn has steadfastly remained ‘How great thou art’ with ‘Dear Lord and father of mankind’ coming a close second there has been a noticeable inclusion of more modern items like ‘Shine Jesus Shine’ and ‘In Christ Alone’.
An interesting development for Songs of Praise in the last ten years has been the inclusion of inspirational or ‘cross over’ music where secular music can take on a spiritual significance. You only have to look at how Rodgers and Hammerstein’s ‘You’ll never walk alone’ has become a modern anthem to the divine or how ‘You raise me up’ is similarly interpreted to see how these modern classics can move and inspire people. I remember attending an audience focus group about Songs of Praise when the interviewer asked the group of 15 or so viewers to nominate their most inspirational, spiritual or religious song. One of the group lost no time and exclaimed “That has to be ‘He ain’t heavy’ by the Hollies, it sums up the Christian mission”: and who could argue with that. Now while the Hollies may not have made it into the programme or indeed the Songs of Praise hymn book. ‘You’ll never walk alone’ has, and it has become a firm favourite.
Another successful addition to the Songs of Praise year has been the school choir competition. This annual competition encourages hymn singing in schools and is another way of the programme championing the genre and bringing hymns and hymn singing to a wider audience. Now in its sixth year the competition regularly draws school choirs from across the county and has proved extremely popular with every generation of viewer. Like the Big Sing it has become a fixed point in the Songs of Praise calendar and the winning choirs make regular appearances throughout the year’s programmes.
I’m often asked to comment on what makes a good hymn and conversely what I consider a bad one. Much comes down to taste but over the years I have developed my own benchmarks. Sometimes you can point to words that express a truth or belief perfectly, on other occasions it is the tune which draws you in, sometimes it is both. The nation’s favourite according to Songs of Praise viewers is a clear example. ‘How Great thou art’ may not have the greatest words or indeed the perfect tune but the combination is very hard to beat which is why it has remained so popular.
As the editor of Songs of Praise I am very grateful that people take the time to let me know what they think about our hymn selection. Well, most of the time! I am particularly pleased to have suggestions or reminders from viewers about hymns and songs we should feature. Our recent Mary programme from Walsingham drew very positive response from a section of the audience who rightly point out that there is a wealth of Marian music that we should feature more often. It is music that I grew up with and I was pleased to include it within Songs of Praise.
Music can trigger memories, create moods and it can also inspire and encourage. The words of hymns give voice and expression to those things that we ourselves do not have a vocabulary for. Combine the two and you have a potent force. Hymns may remind us of great events like weddings, times when all the family was together. They may be tunes from our youth, school days or holidays with the family. But they can give us so much more than that, because the best ones express something not only about ourselves and our relations with the world, but also about our relationship with an altogether more powerful presence. To paraphrase William Booth, The Devil does not have all the good music.
Having worked on Songs of Praise for ten years as Editor, I know that it holds a very special place in viewers’ affections. Certainly the interviews and features we include are moving and loved by viewers but it is the music that keeps people switching on every Sunday evening. Whether the programme is watched in community, while preparing the evening meal or, according to many viewers, whether it forms the backdrop to the weekly Ironing - Songs of Praise has the power to move and inspire people, power to touch the heart and the soul.
I am both very proud and very humbled to have played my part in its continuing success. With its 50th birthday looming in 2011 I believe Songs of Praise has a bright future. I hope you feel the same, if not I'd welcome any and all suggestions.
We list here the year’s notable anniversaries of hymn authors and composers represented in current British hymnals, ? = exact date unknown.
|50 Years ago (1958)|
|Composers Born||Composers Died||Authors Born||Authors Died|
|~||W.G. Alphege Shebbeare, 19 Jan||~||Florence Margaret Smith, 24 Feb|
|R. Vaughan Williams, 26 Aug||John B. Trend, 20 Apr|
|Bentley deForest Ackley, 3 Sep||Alfred Noyes, 28 June|
|George Bennard, 10 Oct||Bentley deForest Ackley, 3 Sep|
|Alice Georgina Edwards (née Purdue), 22 Oct||G.K A Bell, 3 Oct|
|Martin Shaw, 24 Oct||George Bennard, 10 Oct|
|John Eric Hunt, 12 Nov||Alfred N. Rowland, 15 Oct|
|Walter B. Hastings, ?||Alice Georgina Edwards (née Purdue), 22 Oct|
|L.J. Egerton Smith, 17 Nov|
|Eveline Martha Lewis (née Griffiths), 26 Nov|
|Mads Nielsen, 8 Dec|
|George Perfect, 15 Dec|
|J.M.C. Crum, 19 Dec|
|William H. Hamilton, 25 Dec|
|Frederick May Eliot, ?|
|Jennie Evelyn Mussey, ?|
|Mary Watson, ?|
|100 Years ago (1908)|
|Composers Born||Composers Died||Authors Born||Authors Died|
|A.T.O. Olude, 16 July||Edward Husband, 3 Jan||Seymour Miller, 9 Feb||Benjamin Waugh, 11 Mar|
|Gerald H. Knight, 27 July||Philip Armes, 10 Feb||Kathleen Raine, 14 Jun||Alice J. Janvrin, 3 Apr|
|Cyril Herbert Knight, 30 July||Francis R. Statham, 4 Mar||A.T.O. Olude, 16 July||Archibald H. Charteris, 24 Apr|
|James Hopkirk, 5 Sep||Olinthus R. Barnicott, 11 Mar||Daniel T. Niles, ? Aug||Edmund Vaughan, 1 July|
|Fred Dunn, 24 Nov||Frank Joseph Sawyer, 29 Apr||Robert Wesley Littlewood, 28 Aug||Charles Bigg, 15 July|
|William B. Wordsworth, 17 Dec||Phoebe Palmer Knapp (Mrs J.F.), 10 July||Stuart Hamblen 20 Oct||Ira D. Sankey, 13 Aug|
|Theodore Parker Ferris, ?||Winfield S. Weeden, 31 July||Fred Dunn, 24 Nov||Charles R. Hurditch, 25 Aug|
|Waldemar Hille, ?||Ira D. Sankey, 13 Aug||Waldemar Hille, ?||Walter Chalmers Smith, 19 Sep|
|Lewis H. Redner, 29 Aug||Sr Margarita, ?||Joseph Leycester Lyne, 16 Oct|
|Spenser Nottingham, 17 Dec||Marcella Martin, ?||Anthony S. Aglen, 19 Nov|
|Love Maria Willis (née Whitcomb), 26 Nov|
|Charles Edward York, 19 Dec|
|Julia Abigail Carney (née Fletcher), ?|
|150 Years ago (1858)|
|Composers Born||Composers Died||Authors Born||Authors Died|
|Frederick Luke Wiseman, 29 Jan||John Wyeth, 23 Jan||Joseph Armitage Robinson, 9 Jan||Samuel Gilman, 9 Feb|
|J.H. Maunder, 21 Feb||William Horsley, 12 June||Anthony J. Showalter, 1 May||John King, 12 Sep|
|Mark James Monk, 16 Mar||Henry W. Greatorex, 18 Sep||Maltbie D. Babcock, 3 Aug|
|Wesley Woolmer, 28 Mar||Isaac B. Woodbury, 26 Oct||J. Athelstan Riley, 10 Aug|
|W.H. Vipond Barry, ? Apr||George Coles, ?||Catherine Booth-Clibborn,18 Sep|
|Anthony J. Showalter, 1 May||William de Witt Hyde, 23 Sep|
|Edward D. Rendall, 22 July||Dorothy F. Gurney (née Blomfield), 4 Oct|
|Lucy E. Broadwood, 9 Aug||J.D. Allan, ?|
|Catherine Booth-Clibborn,18 Sep||John Merritte Driver, ?|
|Thomas J. Linekar, 6 Oct||William S.L. Pond, ?|
|Thomas Facer, 11 Dec||Eleanor Smith, ?|
|J.D. Allan, ?|
|Frank Allmand, ?|
|John Merritte Driver, ?|
|John Grace, ?|
|Frederic James, ?|
|William Jeater, ?|
|John Herbert Lewis, ?|
|Arthur E. Sharpley, ?|
|200 Years ago (1808)|
|Composers Born||Composers Died||Authors Born||Authors Died|
|Friedrich Layriz, 30 Jan||Francois H. 23 July||Friedrich Layriz, 30 Jan||Francois H. 23 July|
|Michael A.A. Costa, 4 Feb||Barthélemon, ?||Catherine Elizabeth May (née Martin), 19 Feb|
|Samuel Waifeley, 3 July (bapt.)||William Mather, ?||William J. Blew, 19 Feb|
|John Harrison, ?||Henry Edward Manning, 15 July|
|William Lindsay Alexander, 24 Aug|
|A.W. Chatfield, 2 Oct|
|Samuel F. Smith, 21 Oct|
|Ray Palmer, 12 Nov|
|Henry F. Chorley, 15 Dec|
|Jane E. Leeson, 18 Dec (bapt.)|
|Horatius Bonar, 19 Dec|
|Joseph Anstice, 21 Dec|
|Margaret Cockburn-Campbell (née Malcolm), ?|
|250 Years ago (1758)|
|Composers Born||Composers Died||Authors Born||Authors Died|
|Christian Ignatius La Trobe, 12 Feb||Johann B. Konig, 31 Mar||Christian Ignatius La Trobe, 12 Feb||Johann Andreas Rothe, 6 July|
|Thomas Greatorex, 5 Oct||John Travers, ? June||Joseph D. Carlyle, 4 June|
|300 Years ago (1708)|
|Composers Born||Composers Died||Authors Born||Authors Died|
|~||John Blow, 1 Oct||Elizabeth Scott, ?||Samuel Rodigast, 29 Mar|
|350 Years ago (1658)|
|Composers Born||Composers Died||Authors Born||Authors Died|
|~||John Hilton, ? Mar||Luder Mencken, 14 Dec||Philipp Nicolai, 26 Oct|
|Philipp Nicolai, 26 Oct|
|400 Years ago (1608)|
|Composers Born||Composers Died||Authors Born||Authors Died|
|~||~||John Milton, 9 Dec||~|
|William Fuller, (in 1608 or 1609)|
Eric Coates, composer of DAMBUSTERS’ MARCH, the invariable companion to Richard Bewes’s ‘God is our strength and refuge’, died not in 1958 as countless hymnals and commentators allege, but on 21 December 1957 (and not 23 December as some reference works allege). This is a striking illustration of the well-worn aphorism of publishers: when one person (we politely paraphrase) makes a mistake a dozen others will happily copy it.
Christopher Idle remembers two creative people with Oak Hill connections:
Maurice A P Wood, 1916-2007
Bishop Maurice Wood, author of the hymn ‘Worship, glory, praise and honour’ (Anglican Hymn Book 661), died on 24 June in his 91st year. Maurice Arthur Ponsonby Wood was born at West Norwood, South London, on 26 August 1916. He was successively Rector of St Ebbe’s Oxford, Vicar of Islington, Principal of Oak Hill Theological College and (from 1971 to his retirement in 1985) Bishop of Norwich. Famed for his gifts of communication, genial good humour and tireless evangelism, he adopted for himself and shared with others the aim ‘to known Christ better and to make Christ better known’.
The author of some popular paperbacks and a series of evangelistic ‘Islington Booklets’, he wrote his hymn for Islington in 1956. It provided for many a welcome alternative to the much-used but much-varied ‘We love the place, O God’ at Anglican services for the institution of a new incumbent or the dedication of a new building; it also served as an anniversary hymn.
Christopher Hayward, 1968-2007
Though not a member of our Society, Chris Hayward was a widely respected musician whose tunes and arrangements appear in Sing Glory, Praise! The Carol Book (RSCM) and other collections and books of the past twenty years. Born in Canterbury (4 Feb 1968) and educated in Tonbridge, he was a Cambridge graduate in music and theology who served on the staff of St Andrew the Great, Cambridge, and later taught, including Hebrew and Greek, at Oak Hill Theological College. He was also a gifted singer and choir conductor; good-humouredly critical of verbal or musical nonsense, he had a quick mind and a retentive memory for both words and music. He played keyboard, string and woodwind instruments including his favourite, the oboe. One of his most-valued gifts was that of encouraging and enabling others; among hymnwriters this included Hilary Jolly and myself.
Chris and his family moved to Penshurst, Kent, in 2005 where he taught in local schools and assisted with the music at St John’s Tunbridge Wells, including a celebration last year of Bishop Timothy Dudley-Smith’s 80th birthday. He was killed on 12 August while on holiday, in a car-crash which left his wife Helen, also a trained singer and teacher, critically injured. They have two young sons.
Hymns of Universal Praise, Chinese Christian Literature Council Ltd., 14/F, 140 Austin Road, Kowloon, Hong Kong. HK$152
I was delighted to receive from the Chinese Christian Literature Council of Hong Kong a copy of the recently published Hymns of Universal Praise. The title is particularly appropriate because virtually everything in it is printed in both Chinese and English. It is intended to serve the Anglican and Methodist Churches and the Church of Christ in China. A lengthy Foreword outlining the aims of the editors laments that while there is no shortage of Christian poets offering hymns, the content of them often “barely goes beyond that of personal spirituality,” so they had sought Chinese pastors who could communicate the “greater spiritual depth and passion sometimes lacking in our contemporary songs of the Chinese church.” I have no way of judging the quality of the original Chinese texts; but I am much impressed by the choice of contemporary English hymns.
The book is divided into three main sections. The first, and by far the largest, is “Hymns and Spirituals”(1-905). More the 120 of these are prayers and readings. The items are all arranged thematically, beginning with “The Holy Trinity”; No.1 is “Holy, Holy, Holy” set to NICAEA, with a setting to accompany v.3 sung in Unison, and a descant for v.4. No.2. is headed, “Praise the God of Universe” (sic), and is a compilation of nine verses from five different psalms to be read responsively.
The second section is “Psalms”. This has more than 140 items, and includes paraphrases, chants, and responsive readings with or without sung refrains. Seventy-eight Psalms are represented, some in part, some whole. For example, there are five entries for Psalm 150; 150a and 150b are lively modern settings, 150a is a translation of the text with music by J. Jefferson Cleveland (Copyright 1981) and 150b the Liturgical Psalter version set by John Barnard, in which the time signature flits between Common and 7/8. 150c is an antiphonal reading. Two traditional paraphrases follow; 150d being Henry Baker's “Sing praise to (“O praise ye”) the Lord” set to Parry’s LAUDATE DOMINUM, and 150e Lyte’s “Praise the Lord, his glories show” to SPANISH MELODY, with each line followed by “Alleluia, amen;” a descant (one of the 182 in this book) is supplied.
The final section is “Indexes” - twelve in all. One which was new to me (though some readers may be astounded by my ignorance) was of “First lines of tunes in Numerical Notation.” Every melody in the book is also given in “numerical notation,” printed immediately above the stave, in the way tonic-solfa is sometimes provided. The most interesting and significant Index for most of us is that of “Authors, Translators and Text Sources”. It was a great pleasure to see so many familiar names of contemporary writers there. In terms of the number of English texts included in the book, Timothy Dudley-Smith heads the list with 33; Carl Daw (the Executive Director of the Hymn Society of USA and Canada) follows with 22; Fred Pratt Green, Fred Kaan and Brian Wren have 21 each, Chris Idle 17, Shirley Erena Murray 12 and John Bell and James Quinn 11 each. Surprisingly, Charles Wesley has only 16, Isaac Watts 12 and John Newton 3.
I was not surprised to read that this book, which supersedes a 1977 hymnal, has taken twelve years to produce. The translation of so many English texts into Chinese so that original and translation can both be sung to the same tune was a huge undertaking. I sincerely hope that there may be Chinese equivalents of Fred Kaan and Alan Gaunt among the translators! Sometime I want to find a bilingual Chinaman who can translate the Chinese of Hymn 32 back into English for me!
Basil E. Bridge
Charles Wesley: Life, Literature and Legacy edited by Kenneth C Newport and Ted A Campbell, Epworth 2007; 573pp £25.00 ISBN 978-0-7162-0607-1
The Methodist surgeons are at last getting to work. It is proving a long, difficult and multi-disciplinary task. What is it? Simply the operation to separate the conjoined twins John and Charles, linked from birth at the head, heart, hands and feet. They make notable progress, but eventually and for no fault of theirs the surgery proves incomplete. A few lines into almost every chapter of this symposium we meet the elder and weaker brother, and if readers ever long for a book (even a chapter) about Charles which leaves John out of it, we realise in the end that it would be impossible.
To change our metaphor, here is a rich treasure-store and a fine addition to the Wesleyana of this tercentenary year of CW’s birth. Some 25 authors - ‘the cutting edge of Charles Wesley scholarship’, says the Preface - combine to continue and extend the work of Arnold Dallimore (briefly) and Gary Best (more fully) in bringing Charles out from behind John’s shadow. They achieve this with surprisingly little overlap except in chapters 6 and 27; this valuable material on his attitude to the lay preachers could have been gently tidied up editorially.
Who are these contributors? Surprisingly, we are not told; some names are recognisable as veteran Wesley scholars such as the late Frank Baker (1910-99) to whose memory the book is dedicated; two, but only two, are members of our society, of whom one (Dr Andrew Pratt) is a hymn-writer. Professor Richard Watson, too, hardly needs introduction here. Some of the rest are historians and theologians; how many, we wonder, are musicians, pastors or itinerant evangelists? Or indeed Anglicans, or Americans? Three are women, including the very welcome Anna Lawrence whose chapter (26) deals with far more than ‘Charles Wesley and marriage in early Methodism’. It needs a woman to correct the male myths which for too long have coloured the received history of many Wesley encounters and relationships, healthy or otherwise.
Dare I call John the weaker brother? That is a not a view represented in this book (or any other?). But if it is a weakness never to apologise, always to insist on the last word, always to be right, always to justify oneself, always to take over - then yes, I stand by the word. This is just one of many adjustments of the mindset that students of this period and these brethren may be obliged to make.
A review can make only selected observations; the first chapter (Gareth Lloyd on CW’s biographers) sets the scene admirably and whets the appetite for all that follows. Chapter 5 introduces us afresh to Susanna; chapter 7, to John Fletcher; chapter 19, to Charles’s letters. These are highly illuminating; too much so for some traditional Wesleyan mythmakers. Equally fascinating are the following dozen pages by Beckerlegge and Newport on shorthand, with illustrations; they will not seem strange to preachers or diarists, but few of either group can have developed their own system to such a fine art.
In ‘Charles Wesley and a Window to the East’ (ch. 10), S T Kimborough Jr sometimes stretches a point in claiming his subject’s debt to Eastern Orthodoxy. We may be thankful there is no section on ‘Wesley and the Celtic tradition’; what scholars look for they tend to find. But the ‘window’ image is highly apposite when applied to the hymns. Similarly, Jason Vickers’s chapter on his subject’s Trinitarian doctrine (16), like Martin Groves’s on spirituality (25), is rather overloaded with superfluous polysyllables; it doesn't have to sound that complicated. Even in this density, it is helpful to be shown by Vickers (related to biographer John V?) how the Holy Spirit features so rarely before 1738 and so clearly afterwards; and that the few undisputed sermons we have are at least as sure a guide here as the hymns. Microscopic attention is sometimes paid to developments which are readily understood as a spiritually young but academically-minded Christian growing daily in his new faith. Occasionally too we are invited to admire the deep insights of Charles when he is actually quoting Scripture verbatim.
Chapter 13, Robert Webster on ‘Healing Imagery’, includes some familiar but still amazing statistics almost as an aside; Wesley was a compulsive versifier. By now this is probably called somebody’s syndrome; ‘Samuel Daniel’s’ would fit. Other chapters too give examples of his lifelong addiction to putting things in rhyme, from pleasantries to bitterness and from trivia to profundity.
Richard Heitzenrater rather outstays his time in an interesting but over-long analysis of ‘Purge the Preachers’ (ch27); to refer to Grace Murray as ‘John’s fiancée’ (who thanks to Charles’s slippery footwork married John Bennet instead) is a strange simplification in a book of this scope. But a small nugget in this chapter is the reminder that those for whom last week ‘God gave me the words of this song’ have their 18th-century predecessors.
Andrew Pratt, who (like most editors) would not make such claims, relates the Wesley corpus to some contemporary hymnody; one might have wished for more of the salutary challenges in the second half of his chapter (23). But does he really mean Jabbok’s ‘well’ (p.402)? Richard Watson, always worth reading and pondering, sets Wesley in the context of the English poetic tradition (ch 21), in the kind of acute analysis which has often enriched our conference sessions and these Bulletin pages. As with all good sermons, the true worth of this literary appreciation is that we are not so much impressed with its cleverness (though we are!) as moved by its clarity.
Other chapters relate to the social, church and family background; to suffering and sympathy, Roman Catholicism, Christmas hymns, music (Carlton Young), contemporary theology, and more. Charles the family man, mighty preacher, music-lover, argumentative critic and warm-hearted friend is well presented in these chapters, almost passim. The weakest chapter is on Charles and Calvinism. Knockabout stuff, this; it is hard to know if the writer is ignorant of the role of Whitefield, Williams, Harris, Rowland and co, or whether he simply prefers his readers to be. It is understandable that early Methodists should take a Wesley’s word as gospel, but inexcusable that 21st-century scholars should do so. Does no-one wonder why John in his published Journal invariably has the last word, the crushing punch-line in any dispute? Do Methodists never ask why their Calvinist brethren were first into the open air, first to engage in nationwide evangelism, first to call the world their parish, first to summon publicans, harlots and thieves to repentance? Here, that last characteristic is represented as a peculiarly Arminian trait! The absence of even the name of Toplady from the Index says it all. And what about the Welsh, who had so little time for the Wesleys’ hyper-Arminianism? Or the apostle Paul?
Such controversies apart, here is a book in which several questions vaguely wondered about by many of us, and others which had never crossed our minds, are stated clearly and answered comprehensively. To slip in one more: what about Hetty? Surely Charles did not share his father’s unforgiving view of the brilliant but disgraced daughter and sister. To judge from frequency of quotation, the archetypal or favourite hymn of these Wesleyphiles is ‘Love divine, all loves excelling’, oddly dubbed a ‘parody’ (rather than an adaptation or a borrowing) by one contributor. The nearly 2000 footnotes, more for reference than for further essays, should satisfy most of us; occasionally they shine light into related dark corners such the rise and fall of Martin Madan (p. 138, not indexed). 32 pages of Bibliography, from popular booklets to heavyweight theses, provide generous food for further thought; Faith Cook’s biographies of William Grimshaw and the Countess of Huntingdon, not to mention Dallimore on Whitefield, would also enhance the total picture. The Index is no more than adequate; the Thirty-Nine Articles, for instance, appear more times than you would know from here. Was it too much to expect an index of quoted hymns? It is hard to be consistent with capital letters, especially when quoting, but while some are as usual removed, it is odd to find some added (‘His’, ‘He’ etc), even to Scripture which has hitherto been free of such innovations. The odd misprint (pp.221, 222, 470) is forgivable; but how do you spell ‘Bennet(t)’?
Three more topics relevant to our time are missing. A chapter on Wesley and Holy Scripture could do more than simply affirm how steeped in the Bible he was; how characteristic of his age, for instance, are the principles guiding his approach to the Old Testament which is so overpoweringly typological and individualistic? What about Wesley and war? - this high-church evangelical Tory has a radical attitude to soldiery which seems to puncture the contemporary bubble of much militarism, let alone its modern counterpart. And editors Newport and Campbell refrain from mentioning his treatment of Islam, which makes those recent cartoons of its prophet seem pretty lukewarm stuff. I suppose we do not need further riots across the Arab world; but our hymnwriter does not easily merge with any multi-faith agenda. Slavery receives a passing mention.
How, though, would Charles Wesley have us spend our time? Analyse how we may, the answer remains intact: ‘in publishing the sinners’ Friend’; ‘O let me commend my Saviour to you!’. We cannot fully appreciate the man until, mindful of our gifts and calling, we make some move to follow in his footsteps as gospel people. Meanwhile, for those content to commend or publish the sinner, this is a very fine resource indeed. Lovers of ‘the Shakespeare of hymnody’ will hardly need to be persuaded to read it; let us also hope that writers of the more popular Wesleyana, before repeating the familiar hagiography, will fully absorb the findings set out so compellingly here, Oh, and the price? With none of your £24.99 nonsense, here is an absolute bargain. You can pay more for a couple of CDs, a drop of petrol or half a concert.
(‘well’ spotted Chris! Ed.)
Some New Hymns. John Miller, 35 Branscombe Close, Colyford, Devon, EX24 6RF. May, 2007,
These 12 hymns come from the pen of an experienced writer, one who has the ability to bring fresh insights to bear on familiar aspects of faith and liturgy. Here, for instance, is the opening verse of a text on the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus: ‘Two weary men were on their way, / from Zion’s gates to home and bed. / Their friends had seen the empty tomb / and said that Jesus was not dead. / In anxious thought, they talked it through. / Nailed to the cross, they knew he’d died. / But full of care, they did not see / the stranger walking at their side.’ This hymn would be a useful addition to the Easter repertoire. John Miller’s Christmas text, ‘We give our Christmas gifts’ is here matched to QUAM DILECTA but these words also appear in a more extended setting for SATB and organ, with original music by Gordon Langford, published by Nymet Music (2006). The same publisher also issues ‘Born for Us’, again with music by Gordon Langford. Both of these choral settings are available in a version for orchestra and could be useful for choirs or choral societies looking for new material at Christmas. Further information about all these publications may be obtained from the author, the Rev John Miller, 35 Branscombe Close, Colyford, Devon, EX24 6RF.
Five Anthems for All-Age Worship. John Earwaker. Available from the author, at 89 Dransfield Rd, Crosspool, Sheffield S10 5RP, at £5 plus postage.
Some years ago the author hit on the idea of writing some simple songs for a group of children to sing which could be combined with a well-known hymn tune sung by the congregation and/or adult choir. These pieces work really well, for the writer is able to use his skill as a musical contrapuntalist to produce words and music which appeal to children and adults alike. At Advent the children sing newly composed words and music, starting ‘Is it time yet Lord? Has your moment come’, which eventually works alongside ‘Come, thou long expected Jesus’. At Christmas, DIVINUM MYSTERIUM is the tune for the congregation. For Palm Sunday, ‘Donkey-Riding Jesus’ is set against WINCHESTER NEW. This one is a real winner, as is the anthem for Trinity, in which the children sing a lilting tune in 6/4, ‘Low or high, sink or fly, I know there’s God beyond/ beside/ within me’. By itself this is a good song, but the effect is magical when it works alongside NICAEA, ‘Holy, holy, holy’. At Harvest, the congregation starts by singing new words, ‘All creation, sing in praise’ to ST GEORGE’S WINDSOR, to be joined by the children whistling or singing a catchy tune which later picks up the words, ‘Who’s wishing for a wonderful world’.
To be effective these settings will need a competent adult choir to lead the congregation as well as a highly efficient children’s choir or a group of soloists. There is also scope for instrumental participation. For places where all-age worship is taken seriously, and where there is a director of music who can work with combined resources of children and adults, these anthems are a valuable resource. The composer says that they are freely available to download from the sibelius music website.
Exploring Praise! Volume 2; the authors and composers. Compiled by Christopher Idle. Praise Trust, Darlington. £30.00 ISBN 09532809 5 7
The first volume of Exploring Praise! (864 pages) is now followed, just a year later, by volume 2, containing 534 pages, The whole package, including the hymnbook Praise! is therefore three volumes (totalling 1492 pages plus 976 hymns) at a total cost of £95.00. This is a massive achievement by any standard, much of it the work of Christopher Idle, sometime Editor of the Hymn Society Bulletin and himself a major author of over 300 hymn texts. Modestly, Idle does not even print his name on the title page, presumably reckoning that its presence on volume 1 will suffice. I was invited to review volume 1 and congratulated the compiler on the outstanding work which he had provided. In those circumstances I suggested to the Bulletin Editor that perhaps someone else ought to review this volume. He demurred, arguing that I was hardly likely to produce a second eulogy unless this volume really deserved it. In that he was entirely accurate.
Here we have a series of indexes, involving four sections: authors of texts; composers of tunes; an extended Scripture index; and a variety of minor subjects. The final two sections are comprehensive and criticism would be superfluous. So what of the author and composer indexes? The former runs to 250 pages and the latter 142 pages. These include biographical notes. Inevitably the authors’ names included are those of people to be found in Praise! and many of these are far from well-known in the wider world of hymns and songs. This results, especially among the authors, in a considerable imbalance in the number of lines of text given to each subject. Some examples of lines per hymn might be helpful at this point:
J. Ellerton 103 lines for 6 hymns
A. Toplady 100 lines for 6 hymns
C. Wesley 98 lines for 54 hymns
F. Alexander 85 lines for 5 hymns
W.W.How 83 lines for 3 hymns
At a lower level (i.e. lines per single hymn)
T. Haweis 110 lines
P. Dearmer 79
H. Moule 72
A. Steele 71
C. Spurgeon 69
T. Binney 63
H. White 64
J. Ryland 63
J. Milton 62
D. Bonhoeffer 61
In the field of contemporary hymn writers:
T. Dudley-Smith 49 lines for 53 hymns
U. Clarkson 47 lines for 13 hymns
G. Kendrick 36 lines for 34 hymns
A. Gaunt 30 lines for 3 hymns
C. Idle 29 lines for 75 hymns
J. Bell 29 lines for 3 hymns
S. Townend 27 lines for 3 hymns
M. Baughen 26 lines for 2 hymns
F. Kaan 26 lines for 1 hymn
M. Saward 25 lines for 13 hymns
D, Preston 25 lines for44 hymns
C. Daw jnr 25 lines for 2 hymns
B.Wren 20 lines for 2hymns
These figures clearly indicate the irrationality at work. For Haweis to get 110 lines for 1 hymn in contrast to Kaan’s 26 lines for the same output makes no real sense. So too Toplady’s 100 lines for 6 compares unfavourably with Wren’s 20 for 2. As to actual content, some pieces deal largely with hymns while others mention ‘running local newspapers’, ‘Italian olive groves’, ‘sexual ethics’, ‘the Arminian Baptist Billy Graham’, and ‘a young man’s follies’. In short the biographies are patchy and inconsistent, some being excellent and valuable while others are unbalanced and puzzlingly unsatisfactory.
The total package of the three books (Praise! and two commentaries) together with the promise that further details will shortly be available on the internet, is warmly to be welcomed as, in general, a high quality production but there is clearly room for improvements with regard to the details about the authors and composers and the space allocated to them.
Don’t, however, be discouraged! The curate’s egg is generally very edible and the bits that aren’t could easily be made more palatable in future editions. All in all it’s a first class work and worthy of high praise.
Hymns of Love, Hope and Joy, Priory PRCD 873, www.priorv.org. uk The Priory Singers, Belfast directed by Harry Grindle with Philip Stopford (organ)
This is a highly distinctive disc, with Dr. Harry Grindle, the former Director of the Choir at Belfast Cathedral during the dark days of Northern Irish terrorism, conducting his Priory Singers in no fewer than 29 hymns, the whole programme lasting just a few seconds short of 80 minutes.
Favourites such as ‘When I survey the wondrous cross’ (ROCKINGHAM), ‘There is a green hill far away’ (HORSLEY), ‘He who would valiant be’ (MONKS GATE), ‘Now thank we all our God’ (NUN DANKET) and ‘Rejoice the Lord is King’ (GOPSAL) appear alongside the less familiar, much of which has a distinct Irish accent. There are, for instance, two texts attributed to St. Columba: ‘Alone with none but Thee, my God’ (EMAIN MACHA by Charles Wood) and ‘Christ is the world’s Redeemer’ to the traditional Irish melody MOVILLE in an attractive arrangement by John Vine.
Continuing the Irish theme, Harry Grindle offers two tunes of his own - STRANMILLIS and BANGOR ABBEY, the first to a lovely text by his sister Norma, the second to a Trinitarian text by Bishop Timothy Dudley-Smith, and we also have Donald Davison’s KERRINGTON to Albert Bayly’s ‘O Lord of every shining constellation’ and Bishop Edward Darling’s LIMERICK to another Dudley-Smith text: ‘When God the Spirit came’. All four are well worth discovering.
However, none of this gets to the heart of what makes the disc so distinctive. Most of the hymns are treated to arrangements by Harry Grindle, with descants and revised harmonisations gracing several final verses, along with occasional reharmonisations for earlier verses. Some of these involve moving the melody to the tenor part, as in ‘As pants the heart for cooling streams’ (MARTYRDOM), where the effect is particularly lovely. Of course, there are dangers in treating hymns in this way, but what shines through is Dr. Grindle’s love of the tunes he is arranging. Only very occasionally did I think he was anywhere near the bounds of good taste, e.g. the very end of the descant to ‘Let all mortal flesh keep silence’ (FRENCH CAROL/PICARDY) and generally he is self-effacing in his harmonic movements. But he is not always predictable by any means: listen, for instance, to the descant to MARTYRDOM and I bet you guess wrongly how it will conclude.
I am intrigued at Dr. Grindle’s choice of tunes. He obviously loves those four-liners that I, at least, would regard as potentially rather drab - STUTTGART, HORSLEY, RIVAULX, ST. ANNE amongst them, but he knows what he is doing, and it is in these hymns that some of his loveliest ideas are to be found. Equally he offers smashing descants to Michael Fleming’s PALACE GREEN (for ‘You, living Christ, our eyes behold’) and Kenneth Naylor's COE FEN (for ‘How shall I sing that majesty’), surely two of the greatest tunes composed in the latter part of the last century.
Because all the hymns here are arranged in some way, the disc is probably best enjoyed in short bursts, otherwise one tends to suffer from a surfeit of changed harmonies and descants; but lovers of hymns and hymn-singing should not overlook this recording. The Priory Singers are on fine form, and the organ is played by the current Director of Music at Belfast Cathedral, Philip Stopford, who makes a superb contribution to the success of the whole enterprise. Readers who possess the Church Hymnal (5th edition) should know that several hymns and tunes recorded here are to be found in that book.
The Hymn Society is inviting authors and composers to submit entries, texts or tunes, for a hymn search on the theme, ‘One in Christ’. More information is included in the Secretary's Newsletter and on the web-site.
For those of you who set your watches and calendar by the Bulletin I must apologise on three counts:
- For the late arrival of this Bulletin
- For the fact that the previous Bulletin was dated June, not July
- And that it was listed as Volume 19, not 18 as it should have been.
John Barnard, a secondary school language teacher by profession, has been active in church music throughout his life, and is currently Director of Music at John Keble Church, Mill Hill. He is more widely known as a composer and arranger of liturgical music, most particularly of hymn tunes.
David Blanchflower is a Methodist Minister who has served in the Circuit Ministry in Yorkshire, Cheshire and sixteen years in Birmingham. For nine years he was Chaplain to the Methodist Diaconal Order, and is now serving in the Belper Circuit.
Basil Bridge is a retired minister of the United Reformed Church and has for many years been an influential hymn writer.
Elizabeth Cosnett taught English, initially in schools and then for 27 years in what was then Liverpool Hope University College. Stainer and Bell have published a collection of her hymn texts entitled Hymns for Everyday Saints and she is a past Executive President of the Hymn Society.
Christopher Idle, aside from writing several hundred hymns and being a past editor of the Bulletin, has written an abridged version of John Wesley’s Journal.
Hugh Faupel is the editor of B.B.C. Songs of Praise.
Sibyl Phillips received Doctorate from the University of Leicester as a mature student. She is fascinated by, and writes with commitment about, local history and hymnody.
Michael Saward has recently published his hymn collection, Christ Triumphant. He was Words Editor of Hymns for Today’s Church, Sing Glory and Sing to the Lord and was a Director of Jubilate Hymns for over 25 years. He served on the General Synod for 20 years and was Canon Treasurer of St Paul’s Cathedral for the last 10 years before his retirement.
Ian Sharp is Emeritus Senior Fellow in Church Music, Liverpool Hope University.
J. R. Watson is Emeritus Professor of English, University of Durham, and the author of The English Hymn. He is currently working on a revision of Julian’s Dictionary of Hymnology.
The Bulletin of the Hymn Society of Great Britain and Ireland
Honorary President: The Archbishop of Canterbury
Executive President: Alan Gaunt
Executive Vice-President: Alan Luff
Editor: Andrew Pratt
Elizabeth Cosnett and Ian Sharp
Secretary: Robert Canham
Treasurer: Michael Garland
Registered Charity No. 248225
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