The following is the 'celebrated' preface to the 1780 Hymn Book ('A Collection of Hymns for the Use of the People called Methodists') - which was extended in 1830 by the addition of a supplement containing many more of Charles Wesley's Hymns, some of which had been published separately. This 1830 edition was reprinted many times in the 19th Century. Wesley's preface was however removed in the 1904 revision to produce the more prosaically named 'Methodist Hymn Book' - this edition also saw many more hymns added (and some of the earlier ones modified). Manning's comments on the removal, by 'rascals who compiled your hymn-book in 1904', that it removed one of Methodism's priceless heirlooms and 'one of the noblest pieces of eighteenth-century prose extant'.
The table of contents indicates Wesley's idea of the hymn-book as a spiritual biography of the sort of person he called a real Christian.
1. For many years I have been importuned to publish such a hymn-book as might be generally used in all our congregations throughout Great Britain and Ireland. I have hitherto withstood the importunity, as I believed such a publication was needless, considering the various hymn-books which my Brother and I have published within these forty years last past ; so that it may be doubted whether any religious community in the world has a greater variety of them.
2. But it has been answered, "Such a publication is highly needful upon this very account: for the greater part of the people, being poor, are not able to purchase so many books : and those that have purchased them are, as it were, bewildered in the immense variety. A proper collection of hymns for general use, carefully made out of all these books, is therefore still wanting ; and one comprised in so moderate a compass, as to be neither cumbersome nor expensive."
3. It has been replied, "You have such a collection already, (entitled Hymns and Spiritual Songs,) which I extracted several years ago from a variety of hymn-books". But it is objected, "This is in the other extreme : it is far too small It does not, it cannot, in so narrow a compass, contain variety enough ; not so much as we want, among whom singing makes so considerable a part of the public service. What we want is, a collection not too large, that it may be cheap and portable ; nor too small, that it may contain a sufficient variety for all ordinary occasions."
4. Such a Hymn-Book you have now before you. It is not so large as to be either cumbersome or expensive and it is large enough to contain such a variety of hymns, as will not soon be worn threadbare. It is large enough to contain all the important truths of our most holy religion, whether speculative or practical ; yea, to illustrate them all, and to prove them both by Scripture and Reason : and this is done in a regular order. The hymns are not carelessly jumbled together, but carefully ranged under proper heads, according to the experience of real Christians, So that this book is, in effect, a little body of experimental and practical divinity.
5. As but a small part of these hymns is of my own composing 1, I do not think it inconsistent with modesty to declare, that I am persuaded no such hymn-book as this has yet been published in the English language. In what other publication of the kind have you so distinct and full an account of scriptural Christianity ? such a declaration of the heights and depths of religion, speculative and practical ? so strong cautions against the most plausible errors ; particularly those that are now most prevalent ? and so clear directions for making your calling and election sure ; for perfecting holiness in the fear of God?
6. May I be permitted to add a few words with regard to the poetry ? Then I will speak to those who are judges thereof, with all freedom and unreserve. To these I may say, with-out offence, 1. In these hymns there is no doggerel ; no botches ; nothing put in to patch up the rhyme ; no feeble expletives. 2. Here is nothing turgid or bombast, on the one hand, or low and creeping, on the other. 3. here are no cant expressions ; no words without meaning. Those who impute this to us, know not what they say. We talk common sense, both in prose and verse, and use no words but in a fixed and determinate sense. 4. Here are, allow me to say, both the purity, the strength, and the elegance of the English language; and, at the same time, the utmost simplicity and plainness, suited to every capacity. Lastly, I desire men of taste to judge, (these are the only competent judges,) whether there be not in some of the following hymns the true spirit of poetry, such as cannot be acquired by art and labour, but must be the gift of nature. By labour, a man may become a tolerable imitator of Spenser, Shakspeare, or Milton ; and may heap together pretty compound epithets, as pale-eyed, meek-eyed, and the like ; but unless he be born a poet, he will never attain the genuine spirit of poetry.
7. And here I beg leave to mention a thought which has long been upon my mind, and which I should long ago have inserted in the public papers, had I not been unwilling to stir up a nest of hornets. Many gentlemen have done my brother and me (though without naming us) the honour to reprint many of our hymns. Now they are perfectly welcome so to do, provided they print them just as they are. But I desire they would not attempt to mend them ; for they really are not able. None of them is able to mend either the sense or the verse. Therefore, I must beg of them one of these two favours : either to let them stand just as they are, to take them for better for worse ; or to add the true reading in the margin, or at the bottom of the page ; that we may no longer be accountable either for the nonsense or for the doggerel of other men.
8. But to return. That which is of infinitely more moment than the spirit of poetry, is the spirit of piety. And I trust, all persons of real judgment will find this breathing through the whole Collection. It is in this view chiefly, that I would recommend it to every pious reader, as a means of raising or quickening the spirit of devotion ; of confirming his faith of enlivening his hope ; and of kindling and increasing his love to God and man. When Poetry thus keeps its place, as the handmaid of Piety, it shall attain, not a poor perishable wreath, but a crown that fadeth not away.
London Oct. 20 1779. JOHN WESLEY.
1: the majority are by Charles Wesley
Table of Contents
Exhorting Sinners to return to God .
1. The Pleasantness of Religion
2. The Goodness of God
Praying for a Blessing
Describing Formal Religion
Praying for Repentance .
For Mourners convinced of Sin
For Persons convinced of Backsliding
For Backsliders recovered .
Seeking for full Redemption
Interceding for the World
For the Society Meeting
On Divine Worship
On the Lords Supper.
On the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ, &c.
Hymns of Adoration
On the Incarnation, Sufferings, Glory, and Work of Christ
On the Divinity and Operations of the Holy Spirit
The Experience and Privileges of Believers
On the Establishment and Extension of the Kingdom of Christ
Time, Death, Judgment, and the Future State
Note the Additional Hymns and the Supplement were not in editions printed during John Wesley's lifetime
SUPPLEMENT TO THE COLLECTION OF HYMNS FOR THE USE OF THE PEOPLE CALLED METHODISTS.
ENTERED AT STATIONERS HALL, ACCORDING TO ACT OF PARLIAMENT.
THE following Supplement is designed to furnish a greater number of hymns suitable for public worship, for festivals, and for occasional services, than are found in that invaluable collection, in common use, which the piety and genius of the Wesleys bequeathed to the societies raised up by their ministry. It is compiled chiefly from the festival and other hymns which Mr. Charles Wesley published in separate pamphlets and from his unpublished poetry, which, by purchase from his heir, along with other papers, has lately become the property of the Connexion. To these, some hymns have been added from other authors, chiefly from Dr. WATTS ; and a few which, though they sink below the rank of the Wesley poetry, are inserted because of some excellence which will be found in the sentiment, and the greater choice of subjects which they afford. Most of the hymns of this class, however, were inserted in the Morning Hymn Book, prepared by Mr. Wesley for the London congregations, or in a smaller collection published by him ; and so had his sanction. A few others have been introduced because of their popular character, and their being favourites with many of our people. Limited as this Supplement is, it will render our congregations more familiar than they have ever been with some noble hymns of Mr. Charles Wesley, only to be found in collections which are in the hands of comparatively few persons ; whilst it brings into use, for the first time, a number of his compositions not inferior to those which he himself published. The Preachers will here find hymns adapted to various subjects on which they address the people ; and our fine occasional hymns, which were seldom used, because not in the hands of the congregations generally, will be ready for festival occasions ; and will be found in many instances adapted also, at least in some of their stanzas, to general use. As several of the hymns in this collection are selected from the papers of Mr. Charles Wesley above referred to, and have not before been published, a copy-right is established in this Supplement ; and all pirated editions are rendered liable to legal process. To guard against such attempts to turn to private profit, what is sacredly applied to the support of the work of God, this collection has been regularly entered at Stationers Hall.
LONDON, Nov. 9, 1830.
B. L. Manning The Hymns of Wesley and Watts London:Epworth Press 1942 - an outstanding set of five essays - worth reading for the beautiful use of the English language if for no other reason.
See Notes to Lioar dy Hymnnen