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This is the first composition of the sort which has come under our notice, and therefore it occasions the greater surprise and delight We are not just to the song when we go back upon it from a perusal of Isaiah. We put the song into a wrong time-setting, and therefore miss the music of the occasion. Yet even to go back upon it from a perusal of '' Paradise Lost " no whit of its magnificence is suSrendered. It is not, I assert, a fair treatment of the song, to go back upon it from all the poetic experience and culture of many generations and centuries. In the interpretation of Holy Scripture time is an instrument, or a medium, or a standard, which ought never to be neglected. Who is conscious of an intellectual fall from the perusal of Milton to the perusal of this song of Moses ? He sings well for the first time. It is a marvellous song to have been startled out of his very soul^ as it were, without notice. Verily, he must have been as much surprised as we by its magnificence, by its height that knows no dizziness, and by its audacity that loses nothing of the tenderest veneration. Milton staggers under the stars of poetry which he has enkindled, but Moses treads the nobler orbs of a sublimer fancy under his feet. Milton cringes under an effort; he is exhausted ; when he has done he sighs and pines for rest, and puts out a blind man's hand for something to lean upon. He must have time to recruit and re-tempt the muse into eloquence 90 high. Moses speaks his native tongue ; the singing of Moses is as the breathing of a man who is in his native air, and who is not conscious of speaking more like a god than the creature of a day. But what ia the poem or song^ wtien we do not go back
io8 THE PEOPLE'S BIBLE. [Exod.-xv. 1-21. upon it from Milton, but advance to it through the strife and
hatred, the sin and the danger, of the preceding pages ? That is the right line of approach. It is manifestly unfair to judge earlier poetry by later standards. Who would think it just to judge the first mechanical contrivances by present mechanical inventions ? Would it be fair to the very first locomotive that was ever made to compare it with the locomotives of to-day, that seem to challenge the wind and the lightning ? Every man would protest against such comparison and criticism. The fairminded man would protest that the right way to judge of any contrivance or invention, would be to come up to it along the line of its development, and to judge it by its own day and its own atmosphere. That is right. But when you compare earlier poetry with later, and say the old is better, how do you account for that ? "There is a spirit in man, and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth him understanding." Moses could not amend the song. Is there a genius now living who could paint this lily ? Point out one weak line in all the mighty psean ; change one figure for a better. Where this is the cise and considering the times and circumstances, do we not feel as if approaching the beginning of an argument for the profoundest view of Biblical inspiration ? We have sometimes tried to amend one of Christ's parables, and nowhere could we replace one word by a better. Authors wish to go back upon their works, to retouch them ; they issue new editions, "revised and corrected." Who can correct this Song ? Who can enlarge its scope, ennoble its courage, or refine its piety ? We feel ourselves under the influence of the highest ministry that has yet touched us in all these ancient pages. Our critical faculty is rebuked. Religious feeling has found sweet music to express its eloquence, and now we are carried away by the sacred storm. The heart will not permit grammatical analysis. The people are aflame with thankfulness, and their gratitude roars and swells like an infinite tempest, or if for a moment it falls into a lull, it is only to allow the refrain of the women with timbrels to be answered by the thrilling soprano of Miriam, for she answered the women, saying, "Sing ye to the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously : the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea." Then with the clang of timbrels and the
Exod XV. I-2I.] THE SO G OF DELIVERA CE. 109 tumult of the solemn dance Israel expressed thankfulness to the delivering God. The Church has now no great days of song —whole days spent in praise, with a tumultuous harmony of trumpet and comet, flute and clarionet, bassoon and sharp fife : men and women pouring their hearts' emotions forth in broad song shot through and through with the silver threads of children's brighter praise. The Church now objects to timbrels. To that objecting Church I do not belong. That objecting Church I disavow. We are making atheists in multitudes. We have turned the trumpet into an atheist, and the drum, and the flute, and the whole organ. We have shut them up for wicked enjoyment Every Sabbath morning the city or town should vibrate with the crash of instruments religiously played. We must rid ourselves of the bigots who are impoverishing Christ's Church, who are loading the Church with the burden of their cold respectability. We pay too heavy a price for the keeping of such men amongst us. The Church is now adjusting opinions, bandying controversial words, branding small heretics, and passing impotent resolutions; the timbrel is silent, the trumpet is dumb, the drum throbs no longer, the song is a paid trick in gymnastics, not a psalm bound for heaven. We have killed music in the Church. Who would not have music all day ? It would refine us, it would ennoble us, it would show us the littleness and meanness of verbal criticism and paltry opinion, and fill the soul with Divinest breath. Why this atheistic silence ? Are there no deliverances now ? Is God no longer our God, and our fathers' God? The great slave orator, Frederick Douglas, is reported to have said in a mournful speech, on a dark day for his race : '' The white man is against us, governments are against us-, the spirit of the times is against us ; I see no hope for the coloured race; I am full of sadness." Having concluded this melancholy utterance, a poor, little, decrepit, coloured woman rose in the audience, and said, -''Frederick, is God dead ? " In a moment the whole spirit i f the man was changed. He had forgotten the principal thing — speaking about white people, and governments, and spirit of the times,
and forgetting the only thing worth remembering. Why tfiis atheistic silence? Those who believe in God should not be afraid of his praise on a scale and after a method which will
no THE PEOPLE'S BIBLE. [Exod. xv. 1-21. make people wonder and tremble, and for a time flee away. Music is better than argument. You can always answer a statement — ^it is difficult to reply to a song. We must be careful to distinguish between true praise and mere rhapsody. The song of Moses is simply history set to music. Through the whole song there is a line of what may be termed historical logic Are these flowers ? Underneath the soil in which they grow are infinite rocks of solid, positive fact and experience. Those who sang the song witnessed the events which they set to music. I protest against music ever being set to frivolous and worthless words. That is profanation. Such music is made into mere rhapsody ; it is turned into sound without sense; it is a voice and nothing more. The music should owe all its nobility to the thought which it expresses. Persons who know not whereof they affirm have sometimes foolishly said that the words are nothing — ^it is the music that is everything. As well say the tree is nothing — the blossom is all. The words are the necessity of the music. The thought is so ardent, tender, noble, celestial, that it asks for the vehicle of a universal language for its exposition, and not for the loan of a dialect that is provincial or local. Even where there are no words to express — where the music is purely instrumental — the thought should be the majesty of the execution. We do not need words to tell us ^what music is in certain relations. Without the use of a single word we can easily tell the difiference between the jingle meant for a clown's dance, and the passion which expresses the fury of war or the agony of grief. So you can have thought without words — a noble expression without the use of syllables that can be criticised. But whether you have words in the ordinary sense of the term, or thought without words, the music is but the expression of the soul's moods, purposes, vows,
prayers, and as such it can be distinguished even by those who have had no critical musical culture. We know the cry of earnestness from the whimper of frivolity. We need not hear a word, and yet we can say, '' That is a cry of pain, and that is a song of folly.'' Music is the eloquence which flies. If, then, our music is poor, it is because our piety is poor. Where the heart is right it will insist upon having the song, the dance, the festivity, the banner of gold written with God's name in the
Exod. XV. i-ai.] THE SO G OF DELIVERA CE. in centre of it Poor piety will mean poor singing ; small religious conceptions will mean narrow services scampered through with all possible haste, so much so that decency itself may be violated. A glowing piety — a noble thought of God — then where will be the dumb tongue, the vacant face, the eye without accent or fire ? Realise the deliverance, and you cannot keep back the song; exclude the providence, and silence will be easy. The spirit which would degrade poetry into prose is a more destructive spirit than is^ sometimes imagined. Whoever would turn poetry into prose would destroy all beauty. There are some who boast of being prosaic. Let us not interfere with the fool's feast I Those who would take out of life its poetry, colour, fire, enthusiasm, would silence all bells, put out all light, extinguish all joy, cut down all flowers, terminate the children's party when the children are in the very agony of the rapture. They are bad men. I know no crime that lies beyond their doing, if they could perform it without detection. The spirit that would make prose in life, at the expense of life's too little poetry, is the enemy of love. It is an evil spirit It values the house more than the home. Its treasure is laid up where moth and dust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal. It is a Pharisee who has no kiss for the celestial guest. It is a destroyer who would take the lily-work from the top of the pillar. It is an enemy that would take away the garden from the tomb. At first it does not appear to be so, but by appearances we must not finally and conclusively judge. Have faith in any
man who stoops to pick a wayside flower for the flower's sake — because of the colour that is in it, the suggestions with which its odour is charged, and the symbolism which writes its mystery in the heart of the modest plant. The house is not wholly deserted of God that has its little sprig of Christmas holly in it The heart that thought of the holly may have a great deal of badness in it, but there is one little point that ought to be watched, encouraged, enlarged. Music should not be occasional Music should express the life. We cannot always be singing great triumph-songs ; but music will come down to minor keys, to whispered confidences, to almost silent ministries. There are sofl-toned little hymns that can be sung even when there is a cofiin in the house. Who would argue
iia THE PEOPLE'S BIBLE. [Exod. xv. i-ai. at the grave ? yet who would not try, though vainly because of the weakness of the flesh, to suig there in memory of disease exchanged for health, time enlarged into eternity, corruption clothed with immortality? We, too, have a sea to cross. We are pursued ; the enemy is not far behind any one of us. The Lord has promised to bring us to a city of rest, and, lie between us and our covennated land what may, it shall be passed. That is the speech of faith. We, too, shall sing, '' I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number ofthem was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands : saying with a loud voice. Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing. And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever." We, too, shall sing; the dumb shall break into praise, the cry will be, "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?"
''AH the angels stood round about the throne, saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen." It shall not always be grim silence with us. We shall learn the song of Moses and the Lamb. Then all argument will have ceased; controversy will have fought out its little wordy fight and have forgotten its bitterness and clamour, and all heaven shall be full of song. They shall sing who enter that city the song of Moses and of the Lamb. But we begin it upon earth. There is no magic in death ; there is no evangelising power in the grave, whither we haste. The song begins now, because it immediately follows the deliverances and benedictions of Providence, It may be a hoarse song, uttered very poorly, in the judgment of musical canons and according to pedantic and scholastic standards; but it shows that the soul is aUve, and would sing if it could ; and God knows what our poor throats and lips would do were we equal to the passions of the soul, and therefore he accepts the broken hymn, the poorly-uttered psalm of adoration, as if it were uttered with thunder, and held in it all the majesty of heaven.
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