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The Hymns Of Methodism In Their Literary Relations by Charles H. Kelly


apo blefouV ta iera grammata oidaV

Many Allusions to Scripture

In the year 1729,' wrote John Wesley, I began not only to read but to study the Bible.' The results of that devoted study of the Word of God are to be seen in every page that he wrote. Both the brothers must have had a most profound, exact, and extensive acquaintance with the Scriptures. Indeed, it is only a close study of the Bible on our own part that can reveal to us the extent of their intimacy with it. There can hardly be a single paragraph anywhere in the Scriptures that is not somewhere reflected in the writings of the Wesleys. The hymns, in many cases, are a mere mosaic of biblical allusions. Here is a stanza -- and many others would have served equally well -- where there is a distinct quotation of Scripture in every line:

Behold the servant of the Lord!

I wait Thy guiding eye to feel,

To hear and keep Thy every word,

To prove and do Thy perfect will;

Joyful from my own works to cease,

Glad to fulfil all righteousness.

These six lines recall the following six passages in the Authorized Version:

And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord' (Luke 1:38).

I will guide thee with Mine eye' (Ps.32:8).

If a man love Me he will keep My words' (John 14:23).

That ye may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God' (Rom.12:2).

For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from His' (Heb.4:10).

For thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness' (Matt.3:15).

The Prayer-Book Psalter

But the most interesting points with regard to the Wesleys and the Authorized Version are naturally their many divergencies from it. They often used, and sometimes deliberately preferred to use, the older version of the Psalms (substantially Coverdale's) which is retained in the Book of Common Prayer. As devout Churchmen they had been familiar with this from childhood, and in many cases their use of it was doubtless merely casual. But there are other instances in which they remembered both versions, and combined or contrasted them.

Much of Charles Wesley's language and thought was colored by renderings in this version. Thus the words of Ps.27:16 O tarry thou the Lord's leisure,' are recalled in many of his verses:

Fainting soul, be bold, be strong,

Wait the leisure of thy Lord;

Though it seem to tarry long,

True and faithful is His word.

And the language of Ps.45:4, Gird Thee with Thy sword upon Thy thigh, O Thou most Mighty, according to Thy worship and renown,' is closely paraphrased in another hymn:

Gird on Thy thigh the Spirit's sword,

And take to Thee Thy power divine;

Stir up Thy strength, Almighty Lord,

All power and majesty are Thine;

Assert Thy worship and renown;

O all-redeeming God, come down!

In a poetical paraphrase of Ps.84, both versions of the eleventh verse are utilized, For the Lord God is a light and a defence' (P.B.V.), For the Lord God is a sun and shield' (A.V.):

God is a sun and shield,

A light and a defence,

With gifts His hands are filled,

We draw our blessings thence.

The earlier version of Ps.99:1, The Lord is King, be the people never so impatient,' is remembered in the opening verse of a hymn --

The Lord is King, and earth submits,

Howe'er impatient, to His sway,

Between the cherubim He sits,

And makes His restless foes obey.

So a clause from Ps.139:23, Try me, O God, and seek the ground of my heart,' is remembered in another hymn --

Try us, O God, and search the ground

Of every sinful heart!

Whate'er of sin in us is found,

O bid it all depart!

Many other examples might be quoted. There is one, however, of unusual interest. In Ps.74:12, where the Authorized Version with the Hebrew, Septuagint, and Vulgate, has For God is my King of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth,' the Prayer-Book Version renders For God is my King of old; the help that is done upon earth, He doeth it Himself.' This is following Luther, der alle Hilfe thut, so auf Er den geschieht,' and the Zurich Bible, du der alles heyl und hilff (das in der gantzen welt geschieht) allein thust.'

It is reproduced in one of the hymns:

A feeble thing of nought,

With lowly shame I own

The help that upon earth is wrought

Thou dost it all alone.

John Wesley emphatically preferred this rendering. He wrote in his Journal, under the date October 14, 1785, I preached in the evening in the old Temple Church, on Ps.74:12. In the old translation it runs, |The help that is done upon earth, God doeth it Himself.| A glorious and important truth! In the new, |Working salvation in the midst of the earth.| What a wonderful emendation! Many such emendations there are in this translation; one would think King James had made them himself.' In another passage in the Journal, a year and a half later, April 22, 1787, he refers to the text and translation again: I opened and applied that glorious text, |The help that is done upon earth, He doeth it Himself.| Is it not strange that this text, Ps.74:12, is vanished out of the new translation of the Psalms?'

Notwithstanding Wesley's uncritical scorn of the emendation,' it is the only correct rendering. He was very old, and very busy, or a glance at his Hebrew Bible would have shown him that the Authorized Version was unquestionably right.

John Wesley's Revision of the New Testament

In the Notes on the New Testament Wesley freely revised the Authorized Version. And it has never yet been sufficiently recognized that in this (as in so much else) he was wonderfully ahead of his age. Wesley's version, issued in 1754, was a marvellous anticipation of the Revised Version of a hundred and thirty years later. We have tested three chapters, chosen haphazard, and find that in these chapters Wesley introduced sixty-one changes into the text. Out of these sixty-one changes he anticipated the reading of the Revised Version in thirty-two cases. Moreover, it is nearly always in the more serious alterations that the Revisers agree with him. There must be in the whole New Testament, say, 3,000 changes in the text of the Authorized Version, in which Wesley anticipated the Revisers of 1881. And he anticipated them in the arrangement of the text into paragraphs.

The Wesleys and the Greek Testament

Behind all this there was, of course, an intimate knowledge of the Greek Testament. John Wesley was Greek Lecturer at Lincoln College, and that did not mean that he had to do with Hellenic studies (as some who have written about it have assumed), but that he lectured on the Greek Testament. One of the early Methodist preachers recorded that Wesley could always remember the Greek of a passage in the New Testament, even when he was at a loss for the exact language of the Authorized Version. And Charles Wesley, like his brother, had a devout scholar's knowledge of the New Testament in the original.

This intimacy with the Greek Testament appears in many delightful ways in their writings, as well as in the revised text given in the Notes on the New Testament. Naturally it is most easily discerned where the Authorized Version is defective. Many scores of examples might be quoted.

Mistranslations in the Authorized Version

There are a few absolute mistranslations in the Authorized Version. One of the worst is in Philip.2:7, where made Himself of no reputation' represents the Greek eauton ekenwte emptied Himself.' The translators of 1611 were apparently afraid of the Apostle's bold and simple word. Wesley removed the futile circumlocution of the Authorized Version and gave the only possible rendering, as the Revised Version did later. Wherever the passage is referred to in the hymns, the proper equivalent of the Greek is given --

He left His Father's throne above,

So free, so infinite His grace!

Emptied Himself of all but love,

And bled for Adam's helpless race.

To Thee, who from the eternal throne,

Cam'st emptied of Thy glory down,

For us to groan, to bleed, to die!

There is another passage in Philippians where the translation, inadequate to begin with, became still more unsatisfactory through the change in meaning of an English word. The Authorized Version of Philip.3:20 is For our conversation is in heaven.' The Greek is politeuma, citizenship,' and the Revised Version reads accordingly, For our citizenship is in heaven.' The poet evidently had the original in mind when he wrote --

To me the victor's title give

Among Thy glorious saints to live.

And all their happiness to know,

A citizen of heaven below.

The Greek Article

Again, one of the striking defects of the Authorized Version is its strange indifference as to the presence or absence of the Greek article -- a characteristic largely due to the influence of the Vulgate. The Authorized Version of 2 Tim.4:7 is, I have fought a good fight,' but the Textus Receptus is, ton agwna ton kalon the good fight.' So Wesley rendered it in the Notes, and the force of the article is remembered in more than one hymn --

I the good fight have fought,

O when shall I declare?

The victory by my Savior got

I long with Paul to share.

There is only one good fight' -- what the Apostle calls elsewhere the good fight of faith.'

The very next verse, of Scripture furnishes another example of the same thing. The Authorized Version translates Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness.' But the Greek is o ths dikaiosunhV stefanoV the crown of righteousness.' So Wesley renders it in the Notes. And so constantly in the hymns:

The glorious crown of righteousness

To me reached out I view,

Conqueror through Him, I soon shall seize

And wear it as my due.

Different Words in the Original

Again the Authorized Version frequently ignores that important canon of translation which ordains that different words in the original shall be rendered by different words in the version. It is well known that there are two words in the Greek Testament, both of which the Authorized Version renders crown,' diadhma and stefanoV. The former is the kingly ornament, the royal crown. The word only occurs thrice, in the whole of the New Testament, and all the three instances are in the Apocalypse -- the seven diadems' of the dragon (Rev.12:3), the ten diadems' of the beast (Rev.13:1), and the many diadems' of Christ (Rev.19:12). In each case Wesley, in the Notes, retained the original word, as the Revisers did in 1881. One of the hymns, too, remembers the word --

And who in Christ are found,

They His diadem shall wear,

With life and glory crowned.

The other word, stefanoV, is much more frequent, and it is poorly represented by the English crown,' since it never means the badge of royalty, as the English word generally does. The significance of the word has been beautifully defined by Archbishop Trench, in his Synonyms of the New Testament. It is the crown of victory in the games, of civic worth, of military valor, of nuptial joy, of festal gladness -- woven of oak, of ivy, of parsley, of myrtle, of olive -- or imitating in gold these leaves or others -- of flowers, as of violets or roses, the |wreath,| in fact, or the |garland,| the German |Kranz| as distinguished from |Krone.|' This is the word consistently used in the New Testament of the rewards of the faithful; the stefanoV of life, of glory, of righteousness. It is this which is used in Rev.2:10, Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life,' ton stefanoV thV zohV. The passage is quoted in many of the hymns, and the proper significance of the word is brought out in nearly every case.

Be faithful unto death,

Partake My victory,

And thou shalt wear this glorious wreath,

And thou shalt reign with Me.

And so in references to 2 Tim.4:8 --

The glorious wreath which now I see

The Lord, the righteous Judge, on me

Shall at that day bestow.

In John 13:10 the Authorized Version is, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit.' This fails to distinguish between the two Greek verbs upon which the whole meaning of the passage turns, and which should be rendered as in the Revised Version, He that is bathed (o leloumenoV) needeth not save to wash (niyasqai) his feet.' The point is remembered in a hymn --

If bathed in Thine atoning blood,

Am I not every whit made clean?

My care is now to wash my feet,

And if I humbly walk with Thee,

Sin I need never more repeat,

Or lose my faith and purity.

There is a remarkable example of this in regard to Heb.4:9, There remaineth, therefore, a rest to the people of God' (A.V.). The word here translated rest,' sabbatismoV, is one which means a keeping of the Sabbath,' and it stands in deliberate contrast to the ordinary word rest,' katapausiV, which occurs eight times in the immediate context. The only satisfactory translation, of course, is one which marks the difference, like that of the Revised Version, A promise being left of entering into His rest . . . For we which have believed do enter into rest . . . As I sware in My wrath, They shall not enter into My rest . . . There remaineth therefore a sabbath-rest for the people of God.' Now recall the lines:

Lord, I believe a rest remains

To all Thy people known,

A rest where pure enjoyment reigns,

And Thou art loved alone.

O that I now the rest might know,

Believe, and enter in!

Now, Savior, now the power bestow,

And let me cease from sin.

Remove this hardness from my heart,

This unbelief remove;

To me the rest of faith impart,

The sabbath of Thy love!

In 1 Peter 5:7 two different Greek words are used where the Authorized Version would suggest the same word: Casting all your care (merimnan) upon Him, for He careth (melei) for you.' The first word should, of course, be rendered anxiety,' or trouble.' The point is remembered in a hymn based upon the passage --

O Lover of sinners, on Thee

My burden of trouble I cast,

Whose care and compassion for me

For ever and ever shall last.

Vivid or Unusual Words

Again, the Authorized Version did not always do justice to the vivid or unusual character of a word in the text. It rendered Philip.4:7, The peace of God shall keep your hearts.' The Revised Version guard' is much better, but the Apostle's word, frourhsei, means to keep with a military guard.' It is the same word that he uses in 2 Cor.11:32. In Damascus the Governor under Aretas the King kept-with-a-garrison (efrourei) the city of the Damascenes, desirous to apprehend me.' Wesley remembered this in dealing with Philip.4:7 in the Notes. His comment is Shall guard, as a garrison does a city.' Again the point was recollected in a hymn --

My strength, the joy Thy smiles impart,

Thy peace doth garrison my heart.

The Authorized Version of Matt.28:9 is, Go ye therefore, and teach all nations,' but the word does not here represent the usual Greek verb (which occurs in the next sentence, teaching (didaskonteV) them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you'), but maqheusate make-ye-disciples-of.' This is remembered in a hymn At the Baptism of Adults' --

We now Thy promised presence claim

Sent to disciple all mankind,

Sent to baptize into Thy name,

We now Thy promised presence find.

The Authorized Version of a phrase in Col.1:13 is His dear Son,' but the Greek is literally translated by the Revised Version, the Son of His love.' John Wesley was clearly thinking of the exact language of the Apostle when he wrote --

Son of Thy Sire's Eternal Love,

Take to Thyself Thy mighty power,

Let all earth's sons Thy mercy prove,

Let all Thy bleeding grace adore!

It is well known that the word in John 14:18, rendered comfortless' in the Authorized Version, and desolate' in the Revised Version, is orfanouV, literally, orphans. This is remembered in a hymn for Whit-Sunday --

. . . Orphans we

Awhile Thine absence mourn,

But we Thy face again shall see,

But Thou wilt soon return.

The Authorized Version renders John 16:33, But be of good cheer, I have overcome the world,' and the Revised Version retains the reading. But the exact and vivid sense of alla qarseute, But take-courage!' is conveyed in the line --

Courage! your Captain cries,

Who all your toil foreknew;

Toil ye shall have, yet all despise,

I have o'ercome for you.

In the lines --

The pure in heart obtain the grace

To see without a veil His face,

there are two references to Scripture, the first to Matt.5:8, the second to 2 Cor.3:18, where the Authorized Version translates With open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord.' The Greek is, however, anakekalummenw proswpw with unveiled face.' So it is rendered by the Revisers, and by Wesley in the Notes on the New Testament.

Obviously the proper sense of anakekalummenoV was in the mind of the writer of the line To see without a veil His face.' The rendering is specially important, because the Apostle was referring to his own words throughout the previous paragraph about the veil (kalumma) of Moses. There is a subtle illustration of the intimate knowledge of the Greek Testament possessed by the Wesleys in the lines --

Jesus, confirm my heart's desire,

To work and speak and think for Thee,

Still let me guard the holy fire,

And still stir up Thy gift in me.

A Suggestive Word

The hymn is based upon Lev.6:13, Fire shall be kept burning upon the altar continually: it shall not go out.' The text is prefaced to the hymn in the Short Hymns on Select Passages of the Holy Scriptures. This thought of a perpetual flame pervades the verses, and it was this which suggested the quotation of Paul's words to Timothy, Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God which is in thee.' There is no apparent connection to the English reader, but there is to a student of the Greek Testament. For the word rendered stir up,' anazwpurein -- it only occurs this once in the whole of the New Testament -- is a word that means (as is apparent in the very structure of it) to stir up a fire, to rekindle.' Literally, blowing up the coals into a flame,' as Wesley remarks in the Notes on the New Testament. Unquestionably, it was this remembrance of the original sense of anazwpurein which suggested the particular form of the lines --

Still let me guard the holy fire,

And still stir up Thy gift in me.

Some Important Words

The important word diaqhkh is always rendered covenant' by John Wesley in the Notes on the New Testament, despite the authority of Bengel, who prefers testamentum. Wesley was right, for, as Farrar has said, diaqhkh always means |covenant| -- except that in Heb.9:17 by a play upon words it has the meaning |will.|' So constantly in the hymns --

Stablish with me the covenant new

And write perfection on my heart!

Then there is the obvious preference for new creation' rather than new creature' as a rendering of the Apostle's phrase kainh ktisiV in 2 Cor.5:17, and Gal.6:18, which is evidenced by several hymns --

My Soul's new creation, a life from the dead,

The day of salvation, that lifts up my head,

And there is the constant use of bears away' for the feebler (though legitimate) taketh away,' in allusions to John 1:29 --

Lamb of God, who bear'st away

All the sins of all mankind!

Behold the Lamb of God, who bears

The sins of all the world away!

Such are some of the cases in which the Wesleys anticipated later scholarship in the exact and sensitive rendering of important phrases of Scripture.

The Very Words of the Apostles

There are also several striking instances in which, while no question of accurate translation arises, the ipsissima verba of the New Testament writers are recalled. Such is the allusion in one of the hymns to Titus 3:4, the kindness of God our Savior, and His love toward man' (R.V.), where the latter phrase is a translation of one Greek word, filanqrwpia our word philanthropy. The original text of the passage is remembered in the lines --

When that philanthropy divine

Into a sinner's heart doth shine,

It shows the wondrous plan,

The wisdom in a mystery

Employed by the great One and Three,

To save His favorite, man.

In Eph.4:11,13 -- the whole armor of God' -- the two words represent one Greek word, panoplia, which we have in English as panoply. The splendid word is remembered and used in the lines --

Stand then in His great might,

With all His strength endued;

But take, to arm you for the fight,

The panoply of God.

The Wisdom of Solomon'

One of the books of the Apocrypha -- the finest of them all -- has considerably influenced the hymns. There are numerous allusions in the verse of the Wesleys to the language of the Wisdom of Solomon. One of John Wesley's translations, the fine version of Scheffler's Du unvergleichlich Gut, combines two recollections of this book in two lines --

High throned on heaven's eternal hill,

In number, weight, and measure still,

Thou sweetly orderest all that is;

And yet Thou deign'st to come to me,

And guide my steps, that I, with Thee

Enthroned, may reign in endless bliss.

This recalls both, But Thou hast ordered all things in number, and measure, and weight' (Wisdom 11:20), and Wisdom reacheth from one end to another, and mightily and sweetly doth she order all things (Wisdom 8:1). Neither reference is in the German --

Du bist die Weisheit selbst die ewiglich regieret,

Der tiefeste Verstand, der alles glücklich führet.

One of the most affecting titles given to our Lord in the hymns is from the same source. But Thou sparest all, for they are Thine, O Lord, Thou Lover of Souls' (Wisdom 11:26). This is used again and again:

Jesu, Lover of my soul,

Let me to Thy bosom fly,

While the nearer waters roll,

While the tempest still is high.

Lover of Souls! Thou know'st to prize

What Thou hast bought so dear;

Come then, and in Thy people's eyes,

With all Thy wounds appear!

The fine rhapsody in Wisdom 3:1-4: But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God. . . . For though they be punished in the sight of men, yet is their hope full of immortality,' is remembered in the verse --

The promised land, from Pisgah's top,

I now exult to see:

My hope is full (O glorious hope!)

Of immortality.

And the noble passage in Wisdom 11:24, For Thou lovest all the things that are, and abhorrest nothing which Thou hast made, for never wouldest Thou have made anything if Thou hadst hated it,' is behind the stanza --

O may I love like Thee!

In all Thy footsteps tread!

Thou hatest all iniquity,

But nothing Thou hast made.

Luther's Galatians'

The first allusion to any book other than the Bible in the hymns of Charles Wesley is a reminiscence, often repeated, of Luther's Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians -- a reference rather to the Reformer's emphasis than to his language. There is a manuscript of 1738 in the archives of the Brethren from the hand of William Holland, one of the earliest of the English Moravians, in which he writes: Being providentially directed to Martin Luther's Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, I carried it round to Mr. Charles Wesley, who was then sick at Mr. Bray's, as a very precious treasure that I had found.' Charles Wesley writes in his Journal, under the date Wednesday, May 17, 1738: Today I first saw Luther on the Galatians, which Mr. Holland had accidentally lit upon. We began, and found him nobly full of faith.' On the evening of the same day he writes: I spent some hours this evening in private with Martin Luther, who was greatly blessed to me, especially his conclusion of the second chapter. I labored, waited, and prayed to feel |Who loved me and gave Himself for me.|' Luther spends some beautiful pages over these words of the Apostle, words full of great and mighty comfort.' He writes: Therefore thou shouldest so read these little words me and for me, as to meditate well upon them, and deem that they have much in them. Use thyself to lay hold of this little word me with a sure faith, and apply it to thyself, and do not doubt that thou art of the number named in this little word me.'

Three days after Charles Wesley had first read these words, on Sunday, May 21, he found the peace of God. Luther's loving insistence upon the Apostle's words is remembered and reflected in more than one hymn written at the time.

O Filial Deity,

Accept my new-born cry!

See the travail of Thy soul,

Savior, and be satisfied:

Take me now, possess me whole,

Who for me, for me hast died!

And can it be that I should gain

An interest in the Savior's blood?

Died He for me, who caused His pain?

For me, who Him to death pursued?

Amazing love! how can it be

That Thou, my God, should'st die for me?

And throughout a hymn written exactly a year later, in May, 1739, and entitled For the Anniversary Day of one's Conversion':

Then with my heart I first believed,

Believed with faith divine;

Power with the Holy Ghost received

To call the Savior mine.

I felt my Lord's atoning blood

Close to my soul applied;

Me, me, He loved -- the Son of God --

For me, for me, He died!

Bengel's Exposition of the Apocalypse

John Wesley's Notes on the New Testament were largely indebted to the Gnomon of Bengel -- that great light of the Christian world (lately gone to his reward) Bengelius,' as he is called in the preface. It is a striking proof of Wesley's scholarship and shrewdness that he should have selected as the basis of his exposition a work which, in the language of Dr. Sanday, stands out among the exegetical literature not only of the eighteenth century, but of all centuries, for its masterly terseness and precision, and for its combination of spiritual insight with the best scholarship of the time.' In his notes on the Apocalypse Wesley used in addition to the Gnomon Bengel's German exposition of the book, the Erklärte Offenbarung Johannis, und vielmehr Jesu Christi, as it is quaintly entitled.

On Rev.2:17 Bengel has this beautiful note: A new name. So Jacob after his victory received the new name of Israel. The word new is very characteristic of the Revelation (ein recht apocalyptisches Wort): a new name, a new song, a new heaven, a new earth, new Jerusalem, all things new. Which no one knoweth but he that receiveth it. Jesus Himself had a new name, known only to Himself. Would'st thou know what the new name shall be? Overcome! Before that thou askest in vain: thereafter thou wilt soon read it, written on the white stone.' Charles Wesley assisted in compiling the Notes, and this comment, the last two sentences of which were translated by the elder brother, evidently impressed him; for eight years later, in the Short Hymns on Select Passages of the Holy Scriptures, he published a hymn which paraphrases Bengel's note:

Dost thou desire to know and see

What thy mysterious name shall be?

Contending for thy heavenly home,

Thy latest foe in death o'ercome;

Till then thou searchest out in vain

What only conquest can explain.

But when the Lord hath closed thine eyes,

And opened them in Paradise,

Receiving thy new name unknown,

Thou read'st it wrote on the white stone,

Wrote on thy pure humanity,

God, Three in One, and One in Three.

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