IN compliance with repeated requests, another edition of the following Letters is given; but neither in the mere spirit of controversy, nor in that of party proselytism. From the former the author is constitutionally averse, and for the latter he never had either disposition or talent.
The subject, while all know that it is not the only one—nor yet the chief one—of interest to the church of God, is, nevertheless, judged to be of great importance. That among good men there should be serious differences of opinion and practice upon it, is matter of regret, and should it in any instance be treated in an improper spirit, without seriousness and without candour, the reason of regret would be greatly enhanced. Of the difficulties which stand in the way of reform, in this subject of discussion, we are not unapprized. Distinguished names, though but incidentally connected with a measure, give to it a sanction of some authority, and the practice of two or three generations gives a form and stability to the habits of the present age. The purity of motive, too, which may be connected with a very ill-advised measure, and the plausibility attached to reasons, in themselves defective or false, will often contribute to the permanence of abuses. The casual relation, likewise, of what is evil to what is of great excellence, lends its aid to the same end. And to the intellectual, moral, and religious worth, the extended activity, great resources, and happy influence of several, if not of all, of those portions of the household of faith, where the evil of which we complain exists, we are not insensible. In their possession of these advantages we rejoice, and for their appropriate results, in a happy progress, we cherish a confiding hope.
While plain and candid discussion of the subject of the church’s Psalmody may be both profitable and becoming, we are well persuaded that the tone and spirit of angry controversy are unsuitable, must do harm, and ought to be avoided. A revision of the following Letters has not led us to any change of mind as regards our original position, nor do we perceive that the reasons assigned in sustentation of that position should be abandoned. They are therefore retained. Were we disposed to complain, we think cause of complaint has been furnished by the manner in which, generally, our position and argument have been met in the numerous pamphlets by which the discussion of the subject was taken up. But we complain not. Something else than our position was assailed, and our main arguments remained untouched. To irrelevant matter and personalities we make no reply. It is easy to lose sight of the main question by turning aside to that which is incidental, or but remotely, if at all, connected with it.
It is assumed that this is not a mere party work for the purposes of mere partyism. Few deny, that, throughout all the Departments of the Church, a reform is needed in her Psalmody. The subject now advocated is a solemn institution of the Church of God, authorized by her standards, and the main points of which, now advocated, are sustained by many, if not by all, of the ablest men of her several denominations. The argument is not a little sectional one, but a plea upon the broad ground of Christian institution, for Christian consistency, truth, and influence, in a deeply interesting part of the solemnities of Zion. In the sustentation of the plea, the voice of some of the most distinguished men of the Presbyterian, Episcopal, and Baptist, families of the great Christian commonwealth, is distinctly heard.
It will be remembered, it is trusted, that our plea is not, exclusively, for any specified version of inspired psalmody. A faithful version is that for which we plead. We have no opposition to the elegance of poetic diction, nor, in the aesthetics of a version, to the gratification of a refined taste. Nor, whatever may be said of its expediency, do we exclude as unlawful in psalmody any inspired matter of sacred poetry. The question of mere expediency can produce no serious difficulties. Our plea is for a true version of the book of Psalms, in the psalmody of the church, as of divine authority, of superior excellence, and of peculiar suitableness. Its exclusion from that part of public worship is evil, and, to the interests of true religion, is of evil consequence. The evil is enhanced by substituting instead of that inspired book, an imitation—a partial imitation—of it, emanating from the source it did, and its adoption urged, and its use continued, by such arguments as were used in favour of the measure. It is only added, what we have formerly said:—“Inconclusive reasoning, when seen, we will readily abandon, and to correct misstatements, if any we have unconsciously made, will afford us unfeigned pleasure.”