Monday, July 11, 2011

"Hymns and Hymn Books" by J. W. McGarvey (I)

In the interest of increasing access to the writings of Restoration Movement leaders on the subject of church music, I recently transcribed J.W. McGarvey's article "Hymns and Hymn Books," and will review it here. It was published in Lard's Quarterly in March of 1864, and is the only work of his I have found so far on the subject of church music other than his well-known writings on the instrumental music question. It was available at one time through the Restoration Texts project at the University of Newfoundland, but the link has been broken for some time. I am pleased to make this available to the public again. The text is located here:

John William McGarvey (1829-1911) was a giant of the American Restoration Movement, and is still a household name within the Churches of Christ and the more conservative of the Christian Churches. He was not the most famous preacher of his day, or the most influential editor of a paper, but instead left behind a mountain of deep, thoughtful, and clearly expressed scholarship. In memory of the centennial of his death, I have also been posting MP3 recordings of some of his works, eventually to include (God willing) his entire book of sermons, at

McGarvey's article did not appear out of the blue; there was a major hymnal revision in the offing, and he was contributing to the discussions that would influence its outcome. Because of the interesting complexity of these events and the men behind them, I will cover the context of his article in one post, and will review his article more closely for content in a later post.

The 1865 Revision of The Christian Hymn Book

There was never an official hymnal for the Restoration Movement, because there was no human authority higher than the local congregation to make such a decision. The Churches of Christ and the conservative Christian Churches still maintain this to be the case, though the Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ) created a formal denominational organization in the 1960s. Alexander Campbell (1788-1866), however, had published the hymnals titled Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs from 1828, and his towering influence as a preacher, educator, and editor made this the de facto hymnal of the American Restoration Movement during his lifetime.(Holloway) Campbell had strong opinions about church music, and had decided by the 1830s that his hymnal needed no changes at all.("Stone-Campbell Movement Hymnals")

But by the time of McGarvey's writing, Campbell's health was failing, and it became apparent that any new revision of the hymnal would have to be carried out by others. In October 1863, Isaac Errett, a co-editor of Campbell's Millennial Harbinger, formed a committee to broach this subject with Campbell. By the fall of 1864, Errett had secured Campbell's permission to go forward. Campbell donated his rights to the hymnal to the American Christian Missionary Society, with all proceeds from sales to support the work of that institution; a hymnal committee would be selected, with his input, at the October convention of the Society.(Errett, "Hymn Book") Thus McGarvey's article, in the spring of 1864, came at a time when change was already afoot and the topic was very much on the minds of his readers.

The impetus for this change was probably twofold. First, the fact that Campbell's hymnal had been in use for over three decades without major revision had given ample opportunity for its faults to be discovered. McGarvey mentions specifically the need for hymns on a greater variety of subjects and the need for revision of the topical arrangement and indexes. But perhaps equally important is the fact that American church music of the 1860s was a different world from that of the 1820s and 1830s, when Campbell's hymnal took shape.

The Campbell hymnal came from a world in which the Midwest was still a frontier and hymnody meant Watts, Wesley, and the rough-and-ready products of the colonial-era singing schools and the camp meetings of the Great Awakening. By the 1860s, however, Lowell Mason's mission to "elevate public taste" in church music was spreading out from Boston, popularizing the classical hymn style of Europe.(Reynolds, 109) A more settled and increasingly urban-industrial Midwest felt this pull. At the same time, the growing Sunday School movement brought its own kind of songs, closely tied to the popular music styles of the day, exemplified in the works of Mason's associate William Bradbury.(Reynolds, 117) These would help give rise to the full-blown gospel style after the Civil War.

Many religious bodies in the United States were going through a similar process of hymnal revision during this same period. The Baptists used a number of different hymnals in the first half of the century, typically adaptations of Watts's hymns expanded by additions of other authors. The Psalmist, published in Boston in 1843 and revised to accommodate Southern tastes in 1850, was a first step in the direction of something different.(Reynolds, 122) This is one of the hymnals to which McGarvey makes comparison. By 1862 the Episcopalians had an American edition of the hugely influential new Anglican book, Hymns Ancient and Modern.(Reynolds, 124) And American Methodists, always in the forefront of hymnody, published no fewer than five major new hymnals between 1829 and 1871.(Reynolds, 125ff.)

The Revision Committee for the 1865 Hymnal

The preface to the 1865 Christian Hymn Book lists a committee consisting of Isaac Errett, William K. Pendleton (1817-1899), William T. Moore, Thomas M. Allen, and Amos Sutton Hayden. This was a prominent group of men:
  • Errett, the leader of the group, would shortly afterward launch his own paper, the Christian Standard. This journal, along with the Standard Publishing Company, remains a leading voice among the conservative Christian Churches.
  • Pendleton was Campbell's son-in-law and right-hand man in both his major enterprises, Bethany College and the journal Millennial Harbinger.(Harp)
  • William T. Moore, a prominent preacher in Cincinnati, was known for his literary bona fides, even dabbling in verse himself.(Pinkerton) Soon after the time of this article, he served alongside McGarvey among the earliest faculty of the College of the Bible in Lexington, Kentucky.("Catalogue," 8)
  • Thomas M. Allen, perhaps the most prominent evangelist in Missouri, presided over the first board of directors of the University of Missouri, as well as the founding board of directors of the Christian Female College (today Columbia College).(Columbia College, 5)
  • Amos Sutton Hayden (1813-1880) was the founding principal of the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute (today Hiram College), and was a successful hymnal publisher.(Moore, "Hayden") Hayden was the first hymnal publisher in the Restoration Movement to print music along with lyrics, and was especially known for his Sacred Melodeon (1849), which used the relatively new seven-shape notation.("Hymnal Writers") He must have been the de facto "music editor" of the project.

It is uncertain whether McGarvey's article was a bid to be included in this committee or simply an attempt to influence its outcome. Perhaps McGarvey wrote it, considered that he had contributed his bit, and moved on to his next project without a further thought. But the likelihood of his inclusion in the decision-making was colored by his relationships with the men who were eventually selected.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, McGarvey, then in Missouri, like David Lipscomb in Tennessee, took the position that Christians should not participate in armed conflict. As a pacifist who was "against secession, and also against coercion,"(Autobiography, 23) he placed himself in a perilous position in the violently partisan atmosphere of Missouri; this ultimately led both McGarvey and Moses Lard to emigrate to the calmer environs of Kentucky.(Autobiography, 37) McGarvey had appealed to Errett to join him in calling on Christians to eschew participation in the war, but to no avail;(Miles) Errett was a staunch Unionist, and had a brother and a son serving in uniform.(Errett, Memoirs, I:256) In 1863, Errett presided over the meeting at which the American Christian Missionary Society passed a resolution of loyalty to the Union, further separating him from the pacifists.(Errett, Memoirs, I:270ff.)

McGarvey's relationship with Errett was also complicated by the fact that Errett had in 1862 published a pamphlet titled "A Synopsis of the Faith and Practices of the Church of Christ." This was attacked by conservatives as an attempt at writing a creed, drawing the fire in particular of two of McGarvey's close associates, Ben Franklin and Moses Lard.(Miles) This was unfair, considering the document contained the statement that: "This declaration of faith and aims is not to be taken as a creed."(Errett, Memoirs, I:266ff.) McGarvey himself spoke well of Errett in his autobiography,(pp. 108-111) and Errett later gave McGarvey a regular column on Biblical Criticism in the Christian Standard;(McGarvey, Autobiography, 44) but in 1864 Errett's feelings toward McGarvey may have been rather mixed.

McGarvey maintained a deep respect for Pendleton, who was his mentor at Bethany College and had baptized him into Christ.(McGarvey, Autobiography, 9) Likewise he spoke well of fellow Missouri preacher Thomas M. Allen, who along with Alexander Proctor laid hands on McGarvey at his initial commissioning to preach.(McGarvey, Autobiography, 18) McGarvey always appreciated the interest that Allen had taken in his development as a young preacher.(Autobiography, 99ff.)

His relationship with William T. Moore is less clear. Moore once described McGarvey's preaching and writing style as follows: "He has very little imagination, and relies almost exclusively on facts for effect."(Moore, "McGarvey") This may be the most outstanding example of a back-handed compliment I have ever encountered; McGarvey was probably satisfied to be so described, but coming from a 19th-century man of literary pretensions, it is hard to see this as anything but condescension. When Pendleton and Moore later joined forces for the Christian Quarterly, it was a journal that Tucker and McAllister, the Disciples historians, call "scholarly and progressive."(223) Moore was not progressing in directions of which McGarvey would approve; he eventually advocated "open membership" to the unimmersed.(Tucker & McAllister, 377)

I am not aware of the beginning of McGarvey's acquaintance with Amos Hayden, but they were certainly aware of each other by the end of 1864. In November McGarvey published an article in the Millennial Harbinger against the use of instrumental music in worship, closing with an invitation for criticism of his argument. Hayden, who was on record as opposed to the use of instruments in worship, nonetheless took up the challenge and critiqued McGarvey's bases for objection to the practice. The exchange that took place in the pages of the Millennial Harbinger during 1864-1865 was perhaps the earliest such debate on this topic within the Restoration Movement. The full text is available here:

The hymn book committee was apparently selected in October 1864, before this discussion began, but the sharpness of the disagreement--though both men remained within the bounds of courtesy--could not help but have affected Hayden's thinking about McGarvey, at the very time when the hymn book project was just underway.

McGarvey's Influence on the 1865 Christian Hymn Book

If McGarvey was not a part of the inner circle revising the hymnal, then what became of the criticism made in his article? Did he have any impact at all? His suggestions fell under five main points, which are easily compared to the actual outcome.

1. Scripturalness of texts. Though McGarvey highly praised the previous editions of the Campbell hymnal, he objected to the inclusion of the following:
  • The Isaac Watts hymn, "Broad is the road that leads to death," for the stanza that says the backslider "Is but esteemed almost a saint." McGarvey reads this as implying that the Christian who "falls from grace" must never have been a saint to begin with, thus upholding the Calvinist doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. In the 1865 Christian Hymn Book this hymn appears as #283, with no alteration of the offending stanza.
  • Charles Wesley's communion hymn, "Happy the souls to Jesus joined," the second line of which is, "And saved by grace alone," which McGarvey reads as equivalent to "faith only" salvation. In the new hymn book this is #491, with the text altered to, "Happy the souls to Jesus joined, / And made in spirit one." Not exactly the height of English poetry, but they did take his--or someone's--advice. A quick search has not turned up any other examples of this hymn with this alteration.
  • "O turn you! O turn you! For why will you die?" by Josiah Hopkins. McGarvey objects to the lines, "If still you are doubting, make trial and see, / And prove that his mercy is boundless and free." He remarks, "Now this would suit very well as an invitation to the mourning bench, and for some such purpose it was originally composed; but it is most unscriptural to invite a sinner who is "still doubting" to come and make the confession." Despite his objection, the stanza remains unchanged in the new book, where this hymn is #329.

2. On the question of "poetic excellence," McGarvey suggested that of the 568 hymns in the old edition, there were at least 200 that "it could spare without any loss whatever to the people." (Haven't we all felt that way?) He recommended that the existing hymnal be heavily pruned of these, and a careful selection of about the same number of hymns be inserted in their place. He considered the Methodist and Baptist hymnals, with their 1000+ hymns, to have no more hymns of real merit than the much smaller Campbell hymnal, and thought a revision with 550-600 of the best hymns would be desirable.

In the actual event the new hymnal had over 1300 hymns, far larger than McGarvey had proposed. But in one sense his advice was followed almost to the letter--a comparison of the index of the 1865 hymnal to that of the preceding edition (accomplished with the valuable help of my volunteer research staff, Amelia and William) shows that exactly 200 titles from the earlier edition were dropped in the 1865 book! (In the interest of accuracy, it is probable that we missed a few, given the peculiarities of alphabetization in the two indexes and the fact that the same hymn might appear starting with a different stanza.)

A cursory look at the index of the revised hymnal reveals that the hymns by Alexander Campbell from the former edition are eliminated, and that among the additions are a few attributions to Hymns Ancient and Modern, the great Anglican hymnal, which was only four years off the presses at the time. Here again is evidence of the changing times, as a younger generation winnowed out the more rough-hewn poetry of the frontier and adopted a more cosmopolitan hymnody.

3. McGarvey found the earlier Campbell hymnal deficient in the variety of subjects addressed. It was arranged under 34 topical headings, with an adequate survey of the life of Christ but very few distinct categories addressing the nature of the Father, and virtually none regarding the Holy Spirit. Many categories relate not to subject but to function, such as morning hymns, evening hymns, and invitation hymns. Songs about the Christian life--in a marked contrast to today's hymnals!--were relatively few. In this area the new hymnal showed a significant improvement. The topical arrangement was expanded to 51 categories under eleven major headings, with a greatly expanded treatment of God the Father and of the Christian life (but still no category for the Holy Spirit). The overall arrangement is similar to that first popularized by the Methodist hymnals.

Additionally, the editors provide an eleven-page topical index showing off the specificity of subject matter available. Under the heading of "The Church," for example, there are songs on "Constitution," "Delight in," "Deliverance of," "Fellowship," "Growth and Triumphs," "God's dwelling," "Joining," "Ministry," "Organization of one," and "Permanency." Nearly every major subject is broken down in this fashion, showing an active concern for providing thorough coverage of topics.

4. The preceding features also tie in with McGarvey's fourth and most pointed complaint, the organization of the old book. Campbell had arranged his book quite literally into separate sections of Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs, even starting the numbering over at the beginning of each section. (This might have been something of a holdover from his Presbyterian background, in which psalms were viewed as the core of Christian singing, with hymns a rather late addition.) This arrangement was eliminated in the new book, and the indexing features just mentioned did much to improve the user-friendliness of the hymnal. McGarvey had insisted on "a careful distribution of the hymns under general headings, and, in addition to the index of first lines, and that of general subjects, another index to all the particular subjects treated in individual hymns." This is exactly what the hymnal committee did.

5. McGarvey advised that more attention be given to the physical format of the hymnal, making it durable without becoming expensive or gaudy. He also suggested the production of a large print edition and of a pocket edition. I have not been able to determine the quality of binding that was employed in the 1865 book, since I have only seen one or two of these over the years, and was not certain whether the binding were original. But they certainly produced pocket editions, fat little books only 11 cm tall! A more common size (based on a search of library holdings in was 14 cm, and there were a few 18-20 cm tall. Even this is only a little larger than the average paperback novel today, so it could hardly be considered "large print."

Overall, the influence of McGarvey's article seems to have been modest. The committee may have taken notice of one of his doctrinal objections to a specific hymn, and may have used his statements to support their decision to carry out a significant weeding and re-organizing of the old hymnal. Perhaps they even took his specific advice about subject arrangement and indexing, though this may simply have been a parallel development. But the resulting hymnal was not the sort of book McGarvey himself would have produced.

Postscript: The Later Controversy

The 1865 revision of the Christian Hymn Book later caused considerable controversy for an entirely different reason than any discussed here: the fact that it was owned by, and profited, the American Christian Missionary Society. McGarvey makes no mention of this, of course, because he was to the end of his life a participant in and defender of the ACMS; but many conservatives in the Restoration Movement objected to this body as a supra-congregational organization not authorized by Scripture.

In the years following the Civil War, tensions rose in particular between Isaac Errett, writing in the Christian Standard in Cincinatti, and David Lipscomb, the editor of the Gospel Advocate in Nashville, Tennessee. Lipscomb felt that the hymn book's ties to the missionary society were forcing conservative objectors to either forego the use of the common hymnal that had been shared by the brotherhood for generations, or buy it and be in implicit support of the ACMS. The "hymn book controversy" was a foreshadowing of the divisions that would fracture the fellowship of the Restoration Movement at the turn of the century.


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"Pivotal Stone-Campbell Movement Hymnals of the 19th Century: A Description." Enos E. Dowling Hymnal Collection, Lincoln Christian University.

Errett, Isaac. "The Christian Hymn Book." Millennial Harbinger 7/11 (November 1864), 520.

Reynolds, William, Milburn Price and David Music. A Survey of Christian Hymnody, 4th ed. Carol Stream, Ill.: Hope Publishing Co., 1999.

Harp, Scott. "Biographical Sketch on the Life of W. K. Pendleton." Restoration History.,wk.htm

Pinkerton, L.L. "Biographical Sketch On The Life Of W.T. Moore." Biographies and Sermons Of Gospel Preachers, ed. B.C. Goodpasture & W. T. Moore, p. 537ff. Reproduced online in Scott Harp's Restoration History,,wt.htm

Catalogue of the Officers and Students of Kentucky University, 1869.

Columbia College Office of Alumni Relations. Gates of Change, a special sesquicentennial issue of Friends. Columbia, Mo.: Columbia College, 2001.

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McGarvey, John W. Autobiography of J. W. McGarvey, ed. Dwight E. Stevenson from MSS notes ca. 1905. Lexington, Ky.: College of the Bible, 1960.

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Lamar, James Sanford. Memoirs of Isaac Errett, 2 vols. Cincinnati: Standard Publishing, 1893. Volume 1: - Volume 2:"

Moore, William T. "John William McGarvey." Living Pulpit of the Christian Church R. W. Carroll & Co., 1871, 325ff. Online edition © 1996, James L. McMillan.,jw.htm

Tucker, William, and Lester McAllister. Journey in Faith: A History of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Saint Louis: Bethany Press, 1975.

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