Hymns, Their Authorship And History -- By: Hamilton A. Hill

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 024:94 (Apr 1867)
Article: Hymns, Their Authorship And History
Author: Hamilton A. Hill


Hymns, Their Authorship And History1

Hamilton A. Hill

Christian Psalmody has a threefold history. There is the connected record of sacred song from the apostolic age to our own time; there is the personal history of authors, with the circumstances in the midst of which they composed; and there is also the history of particular hymns subsequently to their introduction by the church into its public services, or by individual Christians into their private devotions.

A comprehensive history of hymns, according to our first distinction, would be a history of the Christian church. The purity and fervor of the primitive faith; the persecutions of the early centuries; the outward prosperity which followed the baptism of Constantine; the profound stillness of the Middle Ages; the great awakenings in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; the revivals of the eighteenth; and the missionary spirit of later times, — all, in turn, have moulded or modified the expressions with which men have sought to praise the Lord, and it would be difficult to divest these “hymns of the ages “of the social conditions and the experiences which gave rise to them. This is the scope of

Mrs. Charles’s interesting volume, “The Voice of Christian Life in Song,” a work which, although less generally known than “The Chronicles of the Schonberg Cotta Family” and “The Diary of Kitty Trevelyan,” by the same gifted author, is fully entitled to a place with them in the library of every Christian household. Mr. Christopher’s recent publication is a gracefully written and familiar commentary upon hymn-writers and their hymns, containing, as the preface says, “chat about hymns, their birth and parentage, their circumstances, their character, and their influence.” Our own purpose in the present Article is similar to this; and while incidentally referring to history and to biography, we desire mainly to allude to the causes which produced and to the occasions which suggested a few of the hymns in use among us; also to notice the associations which in the lapse of time have accumulated about them and enriched them.

The authorship of many of our most familiar hymns is involved in uncertainty.

“Jerusalem, my happy home,”

which has been made the foundation for so many beautiful compositions, is one of these. The version in most common use among us (No. 1231 in the Sabbath Hymn Book),2 first appeared in 1801, but the writer is not known. A variation of the original appeared in a collection made by David Dickson, and published at Edinburgh in 1662....

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