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CHAPTER III.  Mr. Morton’s idea of human composure.


CHAPTER III. Mr. Morton’s idea of human composure.

James Dodson

Mr. Morton,—You should have left off writing when you had finished your second chapter; its completion marked the culmination of your star.

The dispute about what is, and what is not human composure, being merely a question of words, has, of course, nothing to do with the controversy on Psalmody. If it were only agreed what should be sung in God’s worship, and what should not, it would matter less whether this or that be called divine or human composure. But an author who has plenty of time on his hands, may very profitably increase the size, and enhance the value of his book, by introducing into it a great deal of matter which has no bearing upon the subject which he professes to write. Our author has pursued this course with most admirable success.

One of the most curious of his digressions, is that in which he attempts to confound his readers’ notions of the distinction between divine and human composure. Most of those who have written on his side of the controversy on Psalmody, have aimed at the same laudable end; but none of them so successfully as he has done.

The reader knows, that to commit to writing words dictated by another, is not to compose, but only to write. Hence, the Bible, in the original languages, being dictated by God himself, to the men who were employed to write it, was not composed, but merely written by those men. Again, to express in one language, either in verse or in prose, that which an author has composed in another language, is not to compose, but to translate. Hence, the Bible, or any book of it, being rendered into English by some man skilled in Greek and Hebrew, is not composed, but translated by that man. On the other hand, if any one expresses his own thoughts—let him have gathered these thoughts from what source he may—in his own words, then he composes; and the composition is still his, though translated into a thousand languages.

When the terms divine and human are used, in speaking of any composition, or composure, they are descriptive, not of its character, but of its origin. Divine composition or composure, is that which God has composed;—human composition or composure, is that which man has composed. Mr. M. is a scholar, and knows that this is the full import of these terms, when used in such a connection.

Our author, in his chapter on "human composure,"' treats mainly of divine composure. With regard to the amount of divine composition existing in the world, he sets forth quite contradictory views.

He says, p. 75, "And if the subject matter is inspired, that is enough; the song is an inspired song. For everybody knows, and the Doctor admits it, that the composition has its character from the subject matter. Every song, then, having for its subject matter inspired truth, is in reality an inspired song." Again, on p. 76, he says, "And so in a treatise on divine things: it is not the composure, but the subject treated, or the matter of the composition, that gives it its distinctive character;—that makes it not a human, but an inspired or divine composition." Mr. M. undoubtedly possesses a private knowledge of the meaning of the terms ‘divine,’ ‘human’ and ‘inspired;’ but it is to be lamented that when he comes before the public, in his work on Psalmody, he uses them in a sense altogether different from their true meaning. The intelligent reader is aware that while it is true, that a composition receives its distinctive character from its subject matter, the application of the terms ‘divine’ and ‘human’ to it, has nothing to do with expressing a description either of its subject matter, or of its distinctive character. And still less does the word inspired, when applied to a composition, describe its character; since it only describes one of those numerous ways in which divine compositions have been communicated to men. The reader cannot fail, then, to see that to say, "it is the subject treated, or the matter of a composition that makes it an inspired composition," is a near approximation to nonsense; and that to say, that "every song having for its subject matter inspired truth, is in reality an inspired song," is a little like blasphemy. Why, at that rate, every sound work in the world, upon theoretical or practical divinity—every good treatise on any religious subject, is divine composition—inspired of course—the word of God, and therefore of equal authority with the Bible!

But Mr. M. is not a man of one idea, and therefore he seldom inculcates any doctrine without teaching its opposite. Whether he observes this rule merely to preserve his equilibrium—or that he may the better accommodate himself to the conflicting views of the numerous classes of Neodists—or that the very plain people for whom he writes may be doubly armed, does not distinctly appear. This, however is his mode of teaching.

Accordingly, after he has announced to us that every book which contains divine truth, is divinely inspired, he proceeds to let us into the painful secret that there is no Bible—no divine word—no "inspired composition" in the English language.

On p. 86 he expresses himself after this fashion: "Thus it was with the churches of Ephesus and Colosse: they were called upon to sing ‘Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs;’ and the songs prepared by inspiration in the Old Testament, they could not sing, because the Hebrew was to them a dead language; and they could not sing it any more than Dr. Pressly himself. They might draw the matter of their songs from the Hebrew songs; but the Hebrew songs themselves, prepared by inspiration they could not use. Or, as the Greek was their vernacular tongue, they might use the Greek translation of these songs. But that they did so, is not very probable, as this translation was not written in poetry at all. And even if they had used this, it would not have been tile songs prepared by inspiration." From this extract it is not difficult to learn our author’s sentiments.—‘If the Ephesians and Colossians had sung the Greek translation of the songs contained in the Old Testament, they would not, in so doing have sung the songs prepared by inspiration:’—that is, the Greek translation of the Book of Psalms, to which the primitive christians had access, and from which the apostles quoted so freely in proof of their doctrine, was not the Book of Psalms at all. And why might not that Greek translation of the Book of Psalms contain "the songs prepared by inspiration?" Mr. M. tells us, same page,—"The inspired songs of the Old Testament are written in Hebrew, and that has been a dead language to her ever since her (the christian church’s,) first existence. She might translate these songs;—but the songs themselves she could not use." Now, if the Greek translation of the Book of Psalms, used by Christ, his apostles, and the primitive christians, could not be the inspired Psalms, merely because it was a translation, and not the original, no more, for the same reason, could any other book in that Greek translation, be the inspired scriptures; and consequently the christian church, in that age, had no access at all to the written word of God. And the same reasoning will apply with equal force to English translations; nor has our author any disposition to exempt them from its sweeping conclusions. He says, p. 85, "We have seen that Rouse’s paraphrase of David’s Psalms is a human composure. And Watt’s Psalms and Hymns are the same. And all the sacred songs we have in English verse, are the same. Because no inspired man ever wrote in English verse." He observes farther, p, 71, that "no inspired man ever wrote in the English language," either in verse or in prose. And it is easy to see, that if ‘all the sacred songs we have in English verse, are,’ necessarily ‘human composure,’ simply ‘because no inspired man ever wrote in English verse,’ then, too, all the sacred songs we have in English prose, such as the prose version of David’s Psalms, the song of Moses, Ex. 15, the song of Deborah and Barak, Jud. 5, &c., must be human composure, because no inspired man ever wrote in English at all. For the same reason, no other part of any English translation of the Bible, can be any part of that Scripture which is given by "inspiration of God," since, as Mr. M. remarks, "all inspired men wrote in either Hebrew or Greek:"—and, as a matter of course, we have no bible in English at all—and, (which is still worse,) never can, till doomsday, have the Bible in any of the thousand languages spoken by human sinners.

Mr. M. does not make this startling disclosure, without preparing us for it; which he does in the following words, p. 61; "A translation, then, to be strictly a translation, must set forth just the ideas contained in the original, no more, and no less." It will be seen that if this be the true definition of a translation, then it is not possible for uninspired men to translate the Bible; since no man in the world knows fully and exactly what ideas are contained in the original Scriptures; and no man but our learned author has such absolute command of language, as to be able, if he did know them, to express them in another language, without the least excess or defect. Mr. M.’s definition is, indeed, quite descriptive of that imaginary thing, a perfect translation; but if we refuse to read the Scriptures, till we obtain a perfect translation of them, we will live without the Bible a long time.

After all that Mr. M. and others can do, to confound people’s notions about divine and human composure, the unsophisticated are likely to continue to believe, as they have believed all along, that the 39 Books of the Old Testament, and the 27 Books of the New,—whether in the sacred originals, or in any translation in prose or in verse,—are divine composition; to the utter exclusion of all other books or writings, ancient or modern, in verse or in prose,—from the Confession of Faith down to Morton on Psalmody.