John Berridge "Preface To Sion's Songs"
by Kevin Twit
August 17, 2013
John Berridge's hymns are full of the gospel and his preface to his hymn book is particularly full of gospel sweetness.
JOHN BERRIDGE “PREFACE TO SION’S SONGS”
MANY volumes of Hymns hare been lately published, some of them a new composition, others a mere collection ; and it may seem needless to add one more to the number, especially after having published a collection myself. But ill-health, some years past, having kept me from travelling or preaching, I took up the trade of Hymn-making, a handicraft much followed of late, but a business I was not born or bred to, and undertaken chiefly to keep a long sickness from preying on my spirits, and to make tedious nights pass over more smoothly. Some tinkling employment was wanted, which might amuse and not fatigue me.
Beside, I was not wholly satisfied with the collection I had published. The bells, indeed, had been chiefly cast in a celebrated foundry, and in ringing were tunable enough, none more so, but a clear gospel tone was not found in them all. Human wisdom and strength, perfection and merit, give Sion's bells a Levitical twang, and drown the mellow tone of the gospel outright.
The book of Psalms seems intended as a model for Hymns ; and after this model I have copied as nearly as I could. Here we find instruction, exhortation, caution, and Christian experience, blended with prayer and praise. The thoughts are easy and free, flowing from the heart, and the language simple and plain, yet neat and elegant. And nothing, sure, can be more unsuitable than humble prayer uttered in pompous expressions.
In composing the Hymns, an easy flow of words has been sought, with care to make the sense end, or nearly end, at proper pauses. Some text of Scripture also has been taken, as a subject for each Hymn, with a view to keep my thoughts from rambling, and to explain Scripture with a reference to Christ. He is the end of the law, which was a shadow of things to come ; but Christ is that body, to which the shadow belongs. Accordingly he is shadowed forth by patriarchs, prophets, and kings of Israel, and by a vast variety of types and similitudes; and must be sought in the book of Proverbs, as well as in Leviticus, the dearest book of Jewish gospel.
My heart, I think, is open to embrace every one of every sect, who truly loves and follows Jesus Christ. The whole household of faith are my brethren, and some care has been taken not to give any of them a needless offence. In matters which are not fundamental, let every one see with his own eyes, and judge for himself, as God enables him. The Hymns are upon a catholic plan, not intended to depreciate any sect of Christians, but to sink the creature to his real standard of worthlessness and helplessness, and to exalt the Saviour in the hearts of his people, that they may trust in him, love and obey him. Man's emptiness, and Christ's fulness, are my general topics, but diversified in a variety of cases; and these topics are not suited to the relish of depraved nature, which loveth gilding and varnish to hide a base metal.
The more we feel our own misery, the more we learn to value Jesus; and the more we know of him, the more we shall trust in him; and the more we trust in him, the more we shall love and obey him. To know Jesus was the top of Paul's ambition, and is the joy and crown of each believer; it is the pinnacle of human glory; and, according to the Lord's own account, it is eternal life.
Where human pageantry appears in any shape, Jesus Christ is veiled by it; and much of this is found among us. Human wealth, human grandeur, human literature, all naturally producing human loftiness, have almost buried Jesus in Great Britain. The power of godliness is gone, and the form is scampering after it. The head of the Christian body is dishonoured and rejected ; and the members can have no life, apart from the head.
These Hymns are likely to please no one who is pleased with himself. They are designed to set a man at variance with himself, and to shew that his worst foes are lodged in his own breast. Nor yet will they satisfy a Laodicean professor, who is neither cold nor hot, and seemeth to be rich, but is poor, having a head full of knowledge, and a heart full of mammon, talking bravely of the doctrines of faith, but a stranger to holiness and the life of faith. My kindly readers must be such as feel they have no spiritual supplies in themselves, nor ability to lay up stores for a future supply, and therefore live as daily pensioners on the Saviour's bounty; having vital union with him by faith, producing conformity to him, and centering all their hopes in him, whilst receiving all supplies from him.
Do you wish to sing as angels sing ? Ask of God. a heavenly mind. A harp must be tuned, before it makes good music. And when the heart is put in tune, well warmed with the love of God, singing proves delightsome service, and a heavenly feast. But genuine praise cannot be offered unto God, while saucy merit roosts in man, who thanks another for only paying us what is our due? And if eternal life is not the gift of God, but wages due for service, no need to thank him for his heaven. Since merit has prevailed much among us, psalm-singing is become a vulgar business in our churches. This tax of praise is collected chiefly from an organ, or a solitary clerk, or some bawling voices in a singing loft. The congregation may listen as they please, or talk in whispers, or take a gentle nap. By feeling ourselves monuments of mercy, spared, fed, and redeemed by it, we learn to love and praise the Author of such mercy.
Twelve years ago these Hymns were composed in a six months' illness, and have since lain neglected by me; often threatened with the fire, but have escaped that martyrdom. Fatherly mercy prevented that literary death ; for authors can seldom prove cruel to their own offspring, however deformed. But they come into the world naked, neither clothed with recommendation or correction of any friend. Such as they are I offer them to the reader, and suppose he may find in them the common lot of human productions, some things to blame, and some to commend.
A few of the following Hymns occasionally rambled into magazines, under the signature of Old Everton, and are now finding their way home again.
Before the preface shuts up I must turn to Jesus my Master ; and, Christian reader, if thou canst pray, join with me in asking his blessing :
My Saviour and my God, accept this mite of love, which is cast into thy treasury. Give it a blessing, and it shall be blessed. What is water in the Hymns turn into wine; by giving them a charge to enliven the hearts of the children, and to stir up the wills of aliens to seek thy salvation. Only attend them with an unction of thy Spirit, and whatever be the Hymns, thy glory shall be promoted by them. Amen.