Part 1 - The Hymn Book

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It would be strange indeed to walk into the meeting places of the saints gathered to the Lord’s Name and not find the Little Flock Hymn Book on hand. Yet up to 1856 there was no such book! It was then that G. V. Wigram undertook the revision of hymns then in use and produced the 1856 book. It was called “A Few Hymns and Some Spiritual Songs (Selected 1856).” The title “Little Flock” was not actually applied until the 1881 revision by J. N. Darby.
The Lord had graciously restored to exercised believers the scriptural ground of gathering to the precious Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, based on the truth that the Church is one and is the body of Christ on earth (1 Cor. 12:12-1312For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. 13For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:12‑13): Eph. 1:22-2322And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, 23Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all. (Ephesians 1:22‑23) and 4:3-4). Between 1812 and 1820 there was a great concern as to the worldly formalism in the professing church by companies in New York, Great Britain and elsewhere. The result was that under the Lord’s guiding hand many were gathered outside the religious camp (Heb. 13:12-1612Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. 13Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach. 14For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come. 15By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. 16But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased. (Hebrews 13:12‑16)), that is from the systems men had set up, to the precious Name of Christ (Matt. 18:2020For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:20)). One of the first things was that they net to break bread in remembrance of the Savior as instituted by Him (Luke 22:14-2014And when the hour was come, he sat down, and the twelve apostles with him. 15And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer: 16For I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God. 17And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves: 18For I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come. 19And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. 20Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you. (Luke 22:14‑20) and 1 Cor. 11:23-2623For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: 24And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. 25After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. 26For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord's death till he come. (1 Corinthians 11:23‑26)). They met also for prayer and reading of the Scriptures and learned that the Holy Spirit led and taught in the assembly entirely apart from a one-man ministry. Many of them were clergymen and saw that this was not according to Scripture. This was about the year 1826 and while they did not at first see the need for entire reliance on the Spirit (they appointed certain ones to break the bread or to expound on the Scriptures at readings), they were led on to see things clearly as they acted on the light God’s Word gave them.
Various hymn books were at first used among them until 1838, at which time G. V. Wigram compiled a book called “Hymn for the Poor of the Flock” (Zech. 11:77And I will feed the flock of slaughter, even you, O poor of the flock. And I took unto me two staves; the one I called Beauty, and the other I called Bands; and I fed the flock. (Zechariah 11:7)). This book had a special arrangement of hymns by category such as “Baptism,,” “Lord’s Day,” “Lord’s Supper,” etc. Mr. Darby makes reference to “The Poor of the Flock” in his letter of October 25, 1879 (Letter of J. N. D., Vol. 3, p. 45). It contained many hymns written by the gathered saints as well as others of the Lord’s people. Apparently other books were also in use among the gatherings. In 1856 Mr. Wigram was called upon to review the whole matter of hymns. We shall let him tell in his own words what took place:
“Upon this let the compiler’s private account of his labors be heard. I was asked in 1856 to examine carefully some hymn books which were in common use. To do so was easy: to express my judgment faithfully, and yet not invidiously, was difficult. After consideration I determined to give my judgment by this attempt at a book more suited for present need than any I know of. It rests with others to decide how far I have or have not succeeded. I may add that my rules while working were these:
1. Retouch as little as possible, and with as light a hand as possible; But —
2. Allow to remain (1) no false, no faulty, no defective doctrine—cost what it might; (2) no dispensational incongruities; (3) no want of keeping in the truth or truths stated; (4) no ambiguities between that which is and that which is not true. And,
3. Add as many new hymns as the Lord might enable me. I now leave my labor with the Lord.
- G. V. Wigram,”
This book was entitled “A Few Hymns and Some Spiritual Songs (selected 1856).” It was published by Groombridge and Sons of Paternoster Row, London, England.
In the years just prior to 1881 Mr. J. N. Darby gave his attention to a revision of the 1856 hymn book. He was chiefly concerned about the lack of hymns to the Father. On June 10, 1880, he wrote:
“I had been going through the hymns that we have, for a new edition, and the question of hymns to the Father presented itself, and the study of our relationship with the Father was much blessed to me, developing in to my heart. How gracious He is!” (Letters, Vol. 3, p. 93)
Again in July 1881 he wrote:
“Take hymns and see how many you have addressed to the Father, or continue to have Him and not ourselves for their subject after the first verse, etc.” (Letters, Vol. 3, pp. 173-174.)
He therefore included in the new book these hymns to the Father: #25, 41, 50, 178, 331, and Appendix #7 and 48.
This edition was completed soon before his going to be with Christ, which took place April 29, 1882. It is known as “A Few Hymns and Some Spiritual Songs for THE LITTLE FLOCK” (Luke 12:3232Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. (Luke 12:32)).
The preface to this book should be read carefully and thought upon. The “Little Flock” is still in use, with its valuable collection of hymns, among those Christians gathered to the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
No hymn book is perfect, not being the work of divine inspiration, but we shall find a close adherence to the whole truth maintained in the book. Only one really needed correction occurs to the writer and that is in the second verse of #80 in the Appendix. Christ was no helpless Babe as was later taught by false teachers who caused a division among His people. The author of the hymn (Lord A. P. Cecil) we are sure had no wrong doctrine in mind, which developed after his departure. One would suggest that helpless Babe” be eliminated and “newborn Babe” substituted therefor.