“The Romance Of Sacred Song,” “Stories And Sketches Of Our Hymns And Their Witers,” Etc.
John Ritchie Ltd.
Publishers Of Christian Literature
First Published – 1940
Reprinted – 1944
Made In Great Britain
The sub-title of this book is excellently chosen, for the remarkable movement that it relates was no new thing, no novelty, but the recovery of truth that had become obscured by the encroachments of tradition and clericalism.
Our Lord rebuked the religionists of His day for making the Word of God of none effect by their traditions; He told them that in vain did they attempt to worship the Father teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. This has happened again. A monopoly unauthorised by the Scriptures has been given to a caste of priests or clerics who have so obscured the truth that in the Establishment itself there are such differences that no one can be sure of what is the way of Salvation. The Sacerdotalist says one thing, the Modernist says another, and the “low” Church seeks to explain away the doctrine of infant baptism and regeneration taught in the Prayer Book, and attempts in face of its plain words to teach the necessity of a new birth and salvation through faith alone. Was it any wonder that believers began to question the traditions in which they had been, brought up and to search the Scriptures daily to see if those things were so ?
They quickly discovered that they had no warrant in Scripture—nowhere is a Christian teacher called a priest in the New Testament in any other sense than that in which all believers are priests. No such monopoly as is claimed is to be found in the Word of God; no restriction is put upon the Liberty of the Spirit or the exercise of God-given gifts.
That the movement is no novelty can be learned from Mr. E. Hamer Broadbent’s illuminating book,
The Pilgrim Church. All down the ages there have been faithful souls who have met and worshipped in the simple way laid down in the word of the Lord. They have been hunted down as heretics by those who say they are apostles but are not, but have never been stamped out.
The movement seeks to avoid sectarianism. In the words of Mr. Lincoln, quoted on p. 88, the attitude of the brethren is,
“May I be kept by God’s grace from joining anything.” Their only creed is the Bible, from which they are seeking to receive all the truth as it is revealed to them by the Holy
In an issue of
The Evening Standard (19th April 1937) there appeared an article by Patrick Monkhouse, a journalist, on “The Brethren.” It is so well informed and aptly expressed that I take the liberty of quoting from it. He says:
“This is the century of over-organisation. Every trade, every art, almost every Church, is organised, associated, federated; councils and committees multiply; annual conferences meet incessantly to pass resolutions on every subject under the sun.
“In the midst of these imposing structures there is one body which has found the secret of vitality in a completely contrary policy…
“From the very first, it has been the endeavour of the Brethren to eliminate from their Church every trace of clerical procedure for which they could not find warrant in the New Testament.
“They have no clergy. They have no fixed order of service. They have no central organisation or officers with authority over the various assemblies.
“A minority, known as the Exclusive Assemblies, did indeed break away in the middle of the nineteenth century and establish an authoritative Central Meeting with power to censure or exclude adherents or assemblies. But the main body of the movement, known as the Open Assemblies, has continued its traditional freedom from organisation or authority…
“So far, indeed, does this refusal to organise go that the Brethren have no sure idea what their own numbers are. It has been estimated roughly that they come to 80,000 in England alone. But the movement is strong as well not only in Scotland, Wales and Ireland—it sprang from Dublin, which has still one of the largest assemblies—but also in many foreign countries.
“Their numbers are still increasing. A knowledgeable member gave me an estimate that they have gone up by 50 per cent, in the last twenty years…
“At their principal service, the breaking of bread, corresponding to the Communion Service in the Church of England, no one person presides, or performs any priestly function. Nor is there any fixed order of service. One member will offer up a prayer, another suggest a hymn, as the Spirit moves him.
“There are some evangelists and teachers who serve the movement full time. But they have no official title or position, nor do they receive any fixed salary. They depend on gifts made to them by the Assemblies which they visit.
“The Open Assemblies do not bar from their service members of other denominations who profess themselves believers in Jesus Christ…
“At all events, the Brethren have not found their high standards of personal conduct any more a bar to their vigorous progress than is the deliberate lack of hierarchical organisation which is what makes their churches so distinctive and so interesting.”
It is interesting to see ourselves as others see us. Mr. Beattie is eminently fitted to tell the story of the movement. He has a gifted and facile pen, and has given a charm to the history he records that cannot fail to reach the hearts of sincere believers, even though they may yet be satisfied to remain in the traditional churches.
I wish the book every success.