Monday, February 25, 2019

Book Review: The Christian Book of Mystical Verse

The Christian Book of Mystical Verse: A Collection of Poems, Hymns, and Prayers for Devotional Reading. A.W. Tozer, editor. 1991/2016. 177 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: The purpose of this book is to bring together in one convenient volume some of the best devotional verse the English language affords, and thus to make available to present-day Christians a rich spiritual heritage, which the greater number of them for various reasons to not now enjoy.

The word mystic might throw some readers off--give the wrong impression--the introduction clarifies exactly what is meant by the word mystic.
The word “mystic” as it occurs in the title of this book refers to that personal spiritual experience common to the saints of Bible times and well known to multitudes of persons in the post-biblical era. I refer to the evangelical mystic who has been brought by the gospel into intimate fellowship with the Godhead. His theology is no less and no more than is taught in the Christian Scriptures. He differs from the ordinary orthodox Christian only because he experiences his faith down in the depths of his sentient being while the other does not. His religious experience is something elemental, as old as time and the creation. It is immediate acquaintance with God by union with the Eternal Son. It is to know that which passes knowledge.  
So what makes a poem or hymn mystical?!
The hymns and poems found here are mystical in that they are God-oriented; they begin with God, embrace the worshipping soul and return to God again.
The only healthy emotions are those aroused by great ideas, and even these must be restrained and purified by the Spirit of God or they will spend themselves in weak and sterile rhymes.
This devotional collection is arranged by topic or theme. The sections are: "Adoration of the Godhead," "Devotional Meditations on the Cross of Christ," "Penitential Reflections on Our Sins," "Rejoicing in Forgiveness and Justification," "Yearning for Purity of Heart," "Aspirations After God," "Delighting in God's Presence," "The Raptures of Divine Love," "The Rest of Faith," "The Spiritual Warfare," "Victory Through Praise," "The Prayer of Quiet," "The Bliss of Communion," "Joyous Anticipation of Christ's Return," and "Immortality and the World To Come."

Contributors include: Isaac Watts, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sir John Bowring, Fredrick William Faber, Walter Shelly, Henry Hart Milman, Charles Wesley, Jacques Bridaine, Bernard of Clairvaux, John S.B. Monsell, Christina Rossetti, John Wesley, Johann Andreas Rothe, Nicolaus Ludwig Von Zinzendorf, Nahum Tate, Nicholas Brady, Jeanne Marie de la Motte-Guyon, Gerhard Tersteegen, Oliver Holden, Paul Gerhardt, Mary Bowley Peters, George C. Neumark, William Cowper, Jean Sophia Pigott, Anna Laetitia Waring, Thomas Blacklock, Martin Rinckart, Michael Angelo, Thomas Moore, John Newton, Thomas Hastings, T.P, Johann Scheffler, Horatius Bonar, Reginald Heber, Philipp Nicolai, John Cennick, Henry Ware, Christian F. Gellert, Lord Plunket, Pierre Abelard, Anne R Cousin, and Bernard of Cluny. Some contribute just one or two pieces. Others contribute DOZENS.

I began reading this one with a good deal of skepticism. I'm not a fan of the word mystical or mystic. But I am a fan of A.W. Tozer. These poems--hymns--were selected by Tozer and among his favorites. I am not naturally drawn to poetry--and while I love music--I usually need to HEAR music to love a lyric.

I can't say that I had a reaction to every poem. That would be a lie. But I did find myself loving a handful of poems. As in LOVING. I wasn't expecting that. I wasn't expecting these words to speak to me--to speak of me.

From "Lord of All Being, Throned Afar" by Oliver Wendell Holmes
Grant us thy truth to make us free,
and kindling hearts that burn for thee,
till all thy living altars claim
one holy light, one heavenly flame. 
This flame/fire/burning theme is NOT new to modern worship music.

From "The Thought of God" by Frederick W. Faber
The thought of Thee, above, below,
Around me and within,
Is more to me than health and wealth,
Or love of kith and kin. (second stanza)
To think of Thee is almost prayer,
And is outspoken praise;
And pain can even passive thoughts
To actual worship raise. (tenth stanza)
O Lord! I live always in pain,
My life's sad undersong,
Pain in itself not hard to bear,
But hard to bear so long.  (eleventh stanza)
Little sometimes weighs more than much,
When it has no relief;
A joyless life is worse to bear
Than one of active grief. (twelfth stanza)
All murmurs lie inside Thy Will
Which are to Thee addressed;
To suffer for Thee is our work,
To think of Thee our rest. (fourteenth stanza)
This one resonated with me. I'm not sure I love the 'joyless life is worse to bear than one of active grief' bit. BUT all the rest I've shared...I've lived.

From "The Fear of God" by Frederick W. Faber
A special joy is in all love
For objects we revere;
Thus joy in God will always be
Proportioned to our fear. (fourth stanza)
They love Thee little, if at all,
Who do not fear Thee much;
If love is Thine attraction, Lord!
Fear is Thy very touch. (twelfth stanza)
I think the fear of God is a lost doctrine that desperately needs to be rediscovered by the modern church.

"God Is Present Everywhere" by Oliver Holden
They who seek the throne of grace,
Find that throne in every place;
If we live a life of prayer,
God is present everywhere.
In our sickness or our health,
In our want or in our wealth,
If we look to God in prayer,
God is present everywhere.
When our earthly comforts fail,
When the foes of life prevail,
'Tis the time for earnest prayer;
God is present everywhere.
Then, my soul, in every strait
To thy Father come and wait;
He will answer every prayer;
God is present everywhere. 
From "All Must Be Well" by Mary Bowley Peters
Through the love of God our Savior, all will be well
Free and changeless is his favour, all, all is well.
Precious is the blood that healed us,
perfect is the grace that sealed us,
strong the hand stretched forth to shield us,
all must be well. (first stanza)
We expect a bright tomorrow, all will be well.
Faith can sing through days of sorrow, 'All, all is well.'
On our Father's love relying,
Jesus every need supplying,
in our living, in our dying,
all must be well. (third stanza)
From "Jesus, I Am Resting, Resting" by Jean Sophia Pigott
Jesus! I am resting, resting
in the joy of what Thou art;
I am finding out the greatness
Of thy loving heart.
Thou has bid me gaze upon Thee,
And Thy beauty fills my soul,
For, by Thy transforming power,
Thou has made me whole. (stanza one)
Oh, how great Thy loving kindness,
Vaster, broader than the sea:
Oh, how marvelous Thy goodness,
Lavished all on me!
Yes, I rest in Thee, Beloved,
Know what wealth of grace is Thine,
Know Thy certainty of prime,
And have made it mine. (stanza two)
From "Bless, O My Soul! The Living God by Isaac Watts
Bless, O my soul, the living God,
Call home my thoughts that roam abroad;
let every power within me join
in work and worship so divine.
Lord God, how wondrous are your ways!
How firm your truth, how large your grace!
You take great mercy at your throne,
and thus you make your glories known. (first stanza)
Lord, your eternal love is sure
for all your saints, and will endure!
Let not this wonder that is wrought
be lost in silence and forgot!
Let all the earth behold your face;
let all adore and know your grace;
the noblest with the humble join
in work and worship all divine. (third stanza)
God's Eternal Now by Gerhard Tersteegen
Now stillness 'midst the ever-changing,
Lord, my rest art Thou;
So for me has dawned the morning,
God's eternal NOW.
Now for me the day unsetting,
Now the song begun;
Now, the deep surpassing glory,
Brighter than the sun.
Hail! All hail! thou peaceful country
Of eternal calm;
Summer land of milk and honey,
Where the streams are balm.
There the Lord my Shepherd leads me,
Wheresoe'er He will;
In the fresh green pastures feeds me,
By the waters still.
Well I know them, those still waters!
Peace and rest at last;
In their depths the quiet heavens
Tell the storms are past,
Nought to mar the picture fair,
Of the glory resting there. 
I haven't decided absolutely that this is my new favorite poem. But I'm considering.

From "My Heart Is Resting, O My Lord," by Anna Laetitia Waring
My heart is resting, O my God--
I will give thanks and sing;
My heart is at the secret source
Of every precious thing.
Now the frail vessel Thou has made
No hand but Thine shall fill--
For the waters of the Earth have failed,
And I am thirsty still. (first stanza)
Glory to Thee for strength withheld,
For want and weakness known--
And the fear that sends me to Thy breast
For what is most my own.
I have a heritage of joy
That yet I must not see;
But the hand that bled to make it mine
Is keeping it for me.  (second stanza)
"O! Tell Me, Thou Life and Delight of My Soul" by Thomas Hastings
O! tell me, Thou life and delight of my soul,
Where the flock of Thy pastures are feeding;
I seek Thy protection, I need Thy control,
I would go where my Shepherd is leading.
O! tell me the place where Thy flocks are at rest,
Where the noontide will find them reposing?
The tempest now rages, my soul is distress'd,
And the pathway of peace I am losing.
O! why should I stray with the flocks of Thy foes,
'Mid the desert where now they are roving,
Where hunger and thirst, where affliction and woes,
And temptations their ruin are proving!
O! when shall my foes and my wandering cease?
And the follies that fill me with weeping!
Thou Shepherd of Israel, restore me that peace
Thou dost give to the flock Thou art keeping.
A voice from the Shepherd now bids thee return
By the way where the footprints are lying:
No longer to wander, no longer to mourn;
O fair one, now homeward be flying! 
From "At the Lord's Table" by Horatius Bonar
I have no help but Thine; nor do I need
Another arm save Thine to lean upon;
It is enough, my Lord, enough indeed;
My strength is in Thy might,
Thy might alone.
Mine is the sin, but Thine the righteousness;
Mine is the guilt, but Thine the cleansing blood;
Here is my robe, my refuge, and my peace,
Thy blood, Thy righteousness, O Lord my God. (second to last stanza)
Prayer Before Communion by Reginald Heber
Bread of the world, in mercy broken,
Wine of the soul, in mercy shed,
By whom the words of life were spoken,
And in whose death our sins are dead:
Look on the heart by sorrow broken,
Look on the tears by sinners shed;
And by Thy feast to us the token
That by Thy grace our souls are fed. 
"The Blessed Morrow" by Gerhardt Tersteegen
'Midst the darkness, storm, and sorrow,
One bright gleam I see;
Well I know the blessed morrow
Christ will come for me.
'Midst the peace, the joy, the glory
And the light, God's own,
Christ for me is watching, waiting,
Waiting 'til I come.
Long the blessed Guide has led me,
By the desert road;
Now I see the coming splendor,
Splendor of my God.
There amidst the love and glory
He is waiting yet;
On His hands a name is graven
He can ne'er forget.
Who is this, who comes to meet me,
On the desert way,
As the Morning Star foretelling
God's unclouded day?
He it is who came to win me,
On the cross of shame;
In his glory well I know him,
Evermore the same.
O the blessed joy of meeting,
All the desert past;
O the wondrous words of greeting,
He shall speak at last!
He and I together ent'ring
The fair realm above;
He and I together sharing
All the Father's love.
Where no shade nor stain can enter,
Nor the gold be dim,
In His holiness unsullied,
I shall walk with HIm.
Meet companion then for Jesus,
From Him, for Him, made--
Glory of God's grace forever
There in me displayed.
He who in His hour of sorrow
Bore the curse alone;
I who through the lonely desert
Trod where He had gone;
He and I, in that bright glory,
One deep joy shall share--
Mine, to be forever with Him;
His, that I am there.
I haven't decided if I love, love, love this one...or not. At the very, very least it's given me food for thought. I haven't unpacked ALL the theology yet of this one. But for some reason it is resonating with me. It is in the section upon Joyous Anticipation of Christ's Return.

From "Jesus Lives, and So Shall I" by Christian F. Gellert
Jesus lives, and so shall I.
Death! thy sting is gone forever:
He, who deigned for me to die,
Lives, the bands of death to sever.
He shall raise me with the just:
Jesus is my Hope and Trust.
Jesus lives and reigns supreme;
And, His kingdom still remaining,
I shall also be with Him,
Ever living, ever reigning.
God has promised; be it must.
Jesus is my Hope and Trust. (first two stanzas)

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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