The following extracts from the Doctor's preface contain the substance of his plan in the three different parts into which the Hymns are divided; the whole would have exceeded the limits of a small book.
"Far be it from my thoughts to lay aside the Book of Psalms in public worship; few can pretend so great a value for them as myself: it is the most noble, most devotional and divine collection of poesy; and nothing can be supposed more proper to raise a pious soul to heaven than some parts of that book; never was a piece of experimental divinity so nobly written, and so justly reverenced and admired. But it must be acknowledged still, that there are a thousand lines in it which were not made for a church in our days to assume as its own. There are also many deficiencies of light and glory which our Lord Jesus and his apostles have supplied in the writings of the New Testament: and with this advantage I have composed these Spiritual Songs, which are now presented to the World. Nor is the attempt vainglorious or presuming; for in respect of clear evangelical knowledge, 'The least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than all the Jewish Prophets.' Matt. xi. 11.
"Now let me give a short account of the following composures.
"The greatest part of them are suited to the general state of the gospel, and the most common affairs of Christians: I hope there will be very few found but what may properly be used in a religious assembly, and not one of them but may well be adapted to some seasons either of private or public worship. The most frequent tempers and changes of our spirit, and conditions of our life, are here copied, and the breathings of our piety expressed according to the variety of our passions, our love, our fear, our hope, our desire, our sorrow, our wonder and our joy, as they are refined into devotion, and act under the influence and conduct of the blessed Spirit; all conversing with God the Father 'by the new and living Way' of access to the throne, even the person and the mediation of our Lord Jesus Christ. To him also, even 'to the Lamb that was slain and now lives,' I have addressed many a song; for thus doth the holy Scripture instruct and teach us to worship in the various patterns of Christian psalmody described in the Revelation.
"I have aimed at ease of numbers, and smoothness of sound, and endeavoured to make the sense plain and obvious. If the verse appears so gentle and flowing as to incur the censure of feebleness, I may honestly affirm, that sometimes it cost me labour to make it so.
"In the first part I have borrowed the sense and much of the form of the song from some particular portions of scripture, and have paraphrased most of the doxologies in the New Testament, that contain any thing in them peculiarly evangelical: and many parts of the Old Testament also, that have a reference to the times of the Messiah.
"The second part consists of hymns whose form is mere human composure; but I hope the sense and materials will always appear divine. I might have brought some text or other, and applied it to the margin of every verse, if this method had been as useful as it was easy. If there be any poems in the book that are capable of giving delight to persons of a more refined taste and polite education, perhaps they may be found in this part; but except they lay aside the humour of criticism, and enter into a devout frame, every ode here already despairs of pleasing.
"I have prepared the third part only for the celebration of the Lord's Supper, that, in imitation of our blessed Saviour, we may sing an hymn after we have partaken of the Bread and Wine."
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