Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Come, Ye Sinners (Greenville)

Praise for the Lord #112

Words: Joseph Hart, 1759
Music: Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1752 (GREENVILLE)

Joseph Hart (1712-1768) was never voted "most likely to become a minister" by the friends of his youth. Though raised among Christian influences, he was not serious about spiritual matters and soon fell into, as he put it, the "vanities and vices" of youth. But as an adult he began to feel a concern for his soul, running what he described as "an uneasy restless round of sinning and repenting."(Hymns, iii) Frustrated by his inner turmoil, he looked for answers elsewhere; and listening to all the wrong voices of the age, fell captive to a doctrine that taught grace unfettered by any responsibility. Among his scholarly writings during this period was a scathing attack on John Wesley titled The Unreasonableness of Religion (1741), which reveals his adherence to the rationalist critics and to a certain extent to deism. But approaching the age of forty, he became convicted of the error of his beliefs and reformed his ways. Over the next few years he began in earnest to seek a truer path, and eventually became a minister to a Congregationalist body in London.(Hymns, vi)

Hymns composed on various subjects (1759), which went through countless editions as "Hart's Hymns," was written during this period of deep soul-searching and repentance beginning around 1757. According to Hart, "They are published not only in the same order, but also in the same manner in which they were first written: for though they have since undergone a cursory revisal, and have been lightly retouched, the alterations I have made in them are neither very numerous nor material."(Hymns, i-ii) His collection is therefore not only an anthology of his work, but a spiritual journal of this period in his life. And for a body of hymns so quickly got together, his work well stood the test of time. Augmented by his supplements of 1762 and 1768,(Julian, 492) "Hart's Hymns" became a staple in Calvinist circles. A search of Worldcat.org shows that new printings appeared every two or three years for more than a century, and the collection was reprinted as recently as 1965 by the Sovereign Grace Union in the U.K., and in 1980 by the Old Paths Gospel Press in Chouteau, Montana.

"Come, ye sinners" is held by many to be Hart's greatest hymn.(Wright, 99) It is #100 in his original 1759 collection, and falls within the last group of hymns in that work (#76-119), probably written in the spring of that year.(Wright, 52) These hymns as a group seem to look back in review of Hart's spiritual journey, though they still shows flashes of that "disorder and darkness of soul" that plagued him over his sins.(Hymns, 1) Frequent themes are the assurance of salvation (as Hart understood it in a strict Calvinist sense), our hopelessness without the atoning work of Christ, the majesty of Christ revealed in His humble sacrifice, and--this in particular--encouragement to the weak in faith.

Hart could speak to this last group from his own experience. His biographer Thomas Wright said, "No man had a deeper knowledge of the needs and depravity of the human heart."(Wright, 53) Most men would cringe to hear that said of them, but Hart's own assessment is far more harsh. He did not mind at all using himself as an example to sinners:
No goodness, no fitness
Expects He from us;
This I can well witness,
For none could be worse.
(Hymns, #83, p. 114)
To this extent, then, "Come, ye sinners" is as much autobiography as invitation.

The title of "Come ye sinners" in Hart's hymnal is "Come and welcome to Jesus Christ," almost certainly borrowed from John Bunyan's work of same name.(Wright, 45 n.1) Bunyan's treatise is an exposition of John 6:37, "All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out." Though Hart's hymn does not necessarily borrow directly from Bunyan, they are closely tied to the same ideas.

Hart's original text was 7 stanzas, and has undergone so many alterations and revisions that even John Julian threw up his hands and stopped counting.(Julian, 492) The three stanzas given with the GREENVILLE tune in Praise for the Lord are the 1st, 2nd, and 4th from the original, and are probably those most commonly found in modern hymnals.

Stanza 1:
Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love, and pow'r:
He is able, He is able,
He is willing: doubt no more.

The opening phrase has a long history in English folk song, so much in fact that there is an entire genre called "come-all-ye" songs. In addition to drawing the attention of the audience, the phrase emphasizes the typical instructional nature of the song, and usually identifies the singer with the people being addressed. A "come-all-ye" could be to members of a dangerous profession--"Come all ye bold sailors," or miners, or firemen, or soldiers--and was then usually a sympathetic story of the trails common to that walk of life. Equally often, there were "come-all-ye" songs addressed to the young--"Come all ye fair maidens," or "Come all ye young fellows"--telling them cautionary tales and exhorting them to avoid pitfalls of life (often detailed from the singer's personal experience).

Hart does a bit of both in using this form of beginning. His audience is sinners, more specifically those who understand and are convicted of their sins. Hart very freely identifies himself with this audience, but his hymn is also an admonition and encouragement to come to Jesus, rather than suffering from pangs of conscience as Hart himself had done for so long. The author fills out his description by calling his audience "poor and wretched [in the original], / Weak and wounded, sick and sore." Hart's language here is mild compared to some other writers; these were the days of calling sin by its name, and calling those who practiced it, sinners. Indeed, Hart believed this full conviction of the terribleness of sin was what he so long lacked: "A wounded soul / And not a whole / Becomes a true believer."(Hymns, #91, p. 123)

King David was a man who knew, to his lifelong sorrow, what it was to be a sinner. But He also knew repentance and forgiveness, and gave this inspired summary of his experience: "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise."(Psalm 51:17) Jesus taught this truth again, in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector: "But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!'"(Matthew 18:13) Now, regardless of the 1st-century stereotype of the tax collectors as dishonest, heartless traitors to their own nation, there is no reason to suppose that this man was really any worse a sinner than the Pharisee. He only seems so, because he recognized his true condition, where the other man did not. And his broken, compliant attitude about his sins meant he was far more likely to listen to God's word and to obey it; God can work wonders with the broken spirit of an acknowledged sinner, but He can do very little with the self-righteous Pharisee who sees no need to change.

The antidote to the plague of sin is not to be found among ourselves. "None is righteous; no, not one."(Romans 3:10; cf. Psalm 14:1-3) "Pulling yourself up by your bootstraps" may be a wise philosophy in some things, but it is physically impossible, and if we try to rid ourselves of sin by ourselves, we are all in the same predicament. What is needed is an outside power of greater moral authority, and unblemished by sin; but that power must also be willing to aid us, as well as able.

Enter the Christ, "full of pity, love, and power" (originally, "full of pity joined with power.") Jesus, "who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin,"(Hebrews 4:15) has the moral authority to stand in judgment over us and pronounce our pardon. But is He willing? Will the perfect, sinless Son of God have sympathy with rebellious and sinful humanity? We know the answer is yes, because His power is joined with pity.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved--and raised us up with Him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.(Ephesians 2:4-7)
Stanza 2:
Come, ye thirsty, come and welcome,
God's free bounty glorify;
True belief and true repentance,
Ev'ry grace that brings us nigh,
Without money, without money,
Come to Jesus Christ and buy.

This stanza is closely based on Isaiah 55:1-3,
"Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to Me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, My steadfast, sure love for David.
The Scriptures are sometimes startling in their immediacy; these words spoken more than 2,000 years ago could be talking about the United States today. Will Rogers once said, "We will be the only country in the history of the world that will drive to the poor-house in an automobile." We probably have more of everything in a material way than any nation ever has, but we have less idea than ever how to use these blessings wisely. We have more of everything, but we seem none the happier for it.

At the very same time, the true food and drink we need is available all around us. In the Bible, you have a library of moral guidance, emotional comfort, instructive history, and inspiring poetry, all right at hand. In prayer, you have free 24-hour access to the throne of heaven. But more than this, in the Savior, you have forgiveness of sin, healing of spirit, a new start in life, and promise of a far better future.

Jesus echoed the words of Isaiah chapter 55, among other prophecies, when He sent out His invitation to the crowds in Jerusalem:
On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'"(John 7:37-38)
Jesus had already identified himself as the source of living water in John chapter 4. In John chapter 6 He introduced the challenging idea that He himself is the spiritual feast, "For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink."(John 6:55) What we need, to satisfy that hunger and thirst that cries out in our souls, is the pure, sweet spirit of Christ living in us. Until we come to Him in obedience and accept that free gift, we may find ways to distract ourselves, but we will never be full.

Stanza 3:
Come, ye weary, heavy laden,
Bruised and broken, full of sin;
If you tarry till you're better,
You may never enter in:
Not the righteous, not the righteous;
Sinners Jesus came to win.

"Bruised and broken" is not how people like to think of themselves, but it is the natural consequence of sin. Isaiah called out the nation of Judah for its sinful ways using the same language:
Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly! They have forsaken the LORD, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged. Why will you still be struck down? Why will you continue to rebel? The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but bruises and sores and raw wounds; they are not pressed out or bound up or softened with oil.(Isaiah 1:4-6)
At the time, Judah was quite prosperous. The economy was strong and the borders were secure. King Uzziah was an effective and popular leader. But the eyes of the Lord saw a sick society, riddled with sin and at the point of moral bankruptcy. They were bound for ruin and didn't even know it. How much more fortunate, really, is the person who feels the weight of sin and realizes his or her need for forgiveness. "He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy."(Proverbs 28:13)

An essential theme in Hart's hymn is found in the 3rd-4th lines of this stanza: "If you tarry till you're better / You may never enter in." Now, does Hart use the word "may" in the sense that there is a possibility we will never enter in? Or does he mean it in the sense of permission--that we will never be allowed to enter in? I suggest he intended the latter, and that the import of his words is, "If you wait until you have mended your own sinful state before you come to Jesus, you will never be permitted to enter into His kingdom." Of course repentance of sins, a change of mind leading to a change of behavior, precedes salvation; but repentance alone does not bring forgiveness. We might succeed in making ourselves somewhat better people by our own efforts, but Jesus is not looking for slightly reformed sinners; He wants to make a "new creation."(2 Corinthians 5:17)

Hart's own experience had taught him the futility of a "self-made religion."(Colossians 2:23) In one hymn he reflected on God's clothing of Adam and Eve as a type of our own need to be spiritually clothed, not in righteousness of our own, but with "that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness of God that depends on faith."(Philippians 3:9)
Of all the creatures God has made
There is but man alone,
That stands in need to be array'd
In cov'rings not his own.
(Hymns, #82, p. 112)
But lest the soberness of this warning be too heavy to bear, Hart ends the stanza with a another Scripture reference that helps us see our situation in the right perspective: "Not the righteous, not the righteous / Sinners Jesus came to win." Hart reminds us that Jesus said, after all, "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."(Luke 5:32) We need not despair; we are all in the same boat, and say with Paul, "Faithful is the saying, and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief."(1 Timothy 1:15) There is no need to carry that burden of sin a step further; Jesus came to take it away.

About the music:

Odd as it may seem, the tune-writer named at the head of this post is none other than the Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), the famed philosopher. He was a man of many talents, and actually had a significant impact on the development of European music during the transition from the Baroque era into the Classical period. In particular, Rousseau's belief in the superiority of the "natural man" to the artifices of modern civilization led him to pursue a musical style rooted in the simplicity and directness of folk song. Though his music is not as well known today, many of his ideas were realized in the music of the better-known composers of the era.

Most famous among his works is Le devin du village (The Village Soothsayer), an intermedè (a sort of light one-act opera) for which Rousseau wrote both the libretto and music. It was a semi-comic work, but the libretto was full of Rousseau's Enlightenment-era ideas on the current system of class distinctions and the basic dignity of the working class. This work was a direct influence on Wolfgang A. Mozart, who as a teenager wrote his Bastien und Bastienne as a parody of Rousseau's Le devin.(Heartz)

The tune in question appears at the beginning of a pantomime that concludes the work; it is found on page 64 of the score available through the International Music Score Library Project. (The video at right plays the music for the pantomime in full.) The hymn tune we have today is identifiable in Rousseau's instrumental air, though it has undergone considerable adaptation. So much adaptation, in fact, that it may sound like an entirely different tune--one known in the United States as "Go tell Aunt Rhody" (or Aunt Tempie, or Aunt Nancy), and concerning the demise of a certain gray goose. I am completely in the debt of John Bealle, author of several books on old-time music and Sacred Harp singing, for his unravelling of the twisted tale of this melody!

In 1812, Englishman William Ball printed a song adaptation of this melody (now titled "Rousseau's Dream") with his own lyrics. The "Rousseau's Dream" tune was also a popular subject for piano variations. One of its earliest adaptations as a hymn tune was in Lowell Mason's Handel and Haydn Society Collection of Church Music of 1825, where it is titled "GREENVILLE;" later editions attributed it to Rousseau. But is the folk-song about the gray goose just a humorous adaptation of the hymn tune? Bealle suggests that the widespread distribution of the "Aunt Rhody" family of folk songs, and the existence of that tradition in Afro-Caribbean folk music, suggest a different origin of the two tunes. He also notes that William Augustus Fraser claimed in 1893 to have it on "good authority" (which Fraser unfortunately did not deign to disclose) that Rousseau did not claim to have written the tune, but instead borrowed it from a common gondola-song in Venice. Simple as it is in structure, the tune may have a whole family of variants that came down to us in parallel paths, perhaps influencing each other as they went.(Bealle)

Excursus: Checking the Facts

The massive amount of information so easily available on the Internet is a blessing and a curse. At no prior time in human history have so many people had so much access to knowledge, but at the same time, at no prior time has so much false information (in whole or in part) been in the way of getting at the truth. And all too often, that false information gets repeated, usually without attribution, so that there may be hundreds of websites repeating the same information from one flawed source.

A case in point is the discussion of this hymn tune in The Story of the Hymns and Tunes (1906) by Theron Brown and Hezekiah Butterworth. I have referred to this book often, and nothing I say here is meant to be condemnation of their work as a whole. I enjoy their style, and their desire to highlight the contributions of people who might otherwise have been forgotten. But there are problems with their discussion of GREENVILLE:
It was originally a love serenade ("Days of absence, sad and dreary") from the opera of Le devin du village, written about 1752. The song was commonly known years afterwards as "Rousseau's Dream." But the unbelieving philosopher, musician, and misguided moralist builded better than he knew, and probably better than he meant when he wrote his immortal choral. Whatever he heard in his "dream" (and one legend says it was a "song of angels") he created a harmony dear to the church he despised, and softened the hearts of the Christian world towards an evil teacher who was inspired, like Balaam, to utter one sacred strain.(Brown & Butterworth, 112-113)
There are some factual inaccuracies in this passage, and unfortunately they have been scattered far and wide across the Internet.

The first problem is the authorship of the text "Days of absence, sad and dreary." It is alternately ascribed to Rousseau or to Shakespeare in the sources I have consulted, and a specific citation is suspiciously lacking. (Bartlett's Quotations is sometimes mentioned, but that was only true of the 1909 edition, which attributed the lyric to Rousseau. The modern editions of Bartlett's do not contain the lyric at all.) I cannot believe a Shakespeare quote would be so hard to pin down, and neither can I connect it to anything in the libretto of Le devin du village. I strongly suspect that it is a misattribution, and I believe I know how it happened.

In 1822 these very lyrics appeared in the London Literary Gazette under the initials "J. M." I have not seen this text mentioned earlier than that date. The Gazette suggests singing it to the tune, "Ye banks and braes o' bonnie Doon"--so in that instance, at least, there is no connection to Rousseau, his opera, or his melody. I suspect some enterprising entertainer realized that the "Rousseau's Dream" tune that was also floating around London in those days would fit the lyrics equally well. The popularity of this combination is evident from the set of piano variations titled "Days of Absence, or, Rousseau's Dream" by Ferdinand Lauter, published in Baltimore in 1826. I believe the attribution of the "Days of absence" text to Rousseau simply came about from its connection to the melody bearing his name.

Neither was this tune a "love serenade" in the original; it was part of an instrumental number, as Messrs. Brown and Butterworth could have read in contemporary editions of Grove's Dictionary of Music.(Grove) The function of the music was to introduce the pantomime section at the end of the opera, where the chorus of villagers come on stage. The melody is a simple folk dance style, perhaps a gavotte. The later identification as a "love serenade" probably came with the connection to "Days of absence," and after the tune had been rhythmically transformed into the much more placid "Rousseau's Dream" version.

The "dream" story is not well supported either--as Sir George Grove so delicately put it, "The origin of the title 'Dream' is not forthcoming."(Grove) But the idea of Rousseau as an unwitting agent of God is too appealing to the Brown and Butterworth, who probably held the common conservative view that blamed Rousseau for the abuses of religion that took place during the French Revolution. (Though I disagree with Rousseau's deism, of course, it is hardly fair to hold him responsible for the oppressive statist religion of the Reign of Terror; his views on toleration would have led him straight to the guillotine had he still been alive!) Rousseau gets the last laugh, however, if in fact his "immortal choral" turns out to have been borrowed from a children's song, or an unknown Venetian gondolier.


Hart, Joseph. Hymns composed on various subjects, 10th ed. Elizabeth, New Jersey: Shepard Kollock, 1787. http://openlibrary.org/books/OL25226130M/Hymns_c._composed_on_various_subjects

Julian, John. Dictionary of Hymnology. New York: Scribner's Sons, 1892.

Wright, Thomas. Joseph Hart. London: Farncombe & Son, 1910. http://www23.us.archive.org/stream/josephhart00wrigiala#page/n5/mode/2up

"Come ye sinners." Hymnary.org. http://www.hymnary.org/text/come_ye_sinners_poor_and_needy_weak_and

Heartz, Daniel. "Rousseau, Jean-Jacques," The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie, 20 vols. London: Macmillan, 1980, volume 16, pages 270-273.

Bealle, John. "History behind the songs." Liner notes to CD The Bullfrog Jumped: Children's Songs from the Byron Arnold Collection, produced by the Alabama Folklife Association.

Brown, Theron, and Hezekiah Butterworth. Story of the Hymns and Tunes. New York: American Tract Society, 1906. http://archive.org/stream/storyofhymnstune00buttuoft#page/112/mode/2up

J. M. "Absence." London Literary Gazette no. 303 (9 November 1822), p. 714.

Grove, George, Sir. "Rousseau's Dream." Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians [2nd ed.], 5 volumes, ed. J. A. Fuller Maitland. London: Macmillan, 1904-1910, volume 4, page 168. http://archive.org/stream/grovesdictionar00maigoog#page/n179/mode/1up

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