Lays of the Covenant

David McAllister (1835-1907) was a Reformed Presbyterian minister who labored tirelessly for the cause of "Christ's Crown & Covenant" in America. He also, as he tells us in the introduction to a volume he edited titled Poets and Poems of the Covenant (1894), had an admiration not only for the Scottish Presbyterian Covenanters who sacrificed so much during the "Fifty Year Struggle" for freedom (1638-1688), but also for the poetic tributes their story has brought forth from so many gifted poets over the years, among them Robert Burns, William Cowper and William Wordsworth (as well as, for example, the writings of Robert Louis Stevenson). McAllister's carefully compiled volume, like J.C. Johnston's Treasury of the Covenant (1887) and James A. Dickson's Poems of Fighting Faith (1988), show the inspiration given to so many poets by the Covenanters whose blood was shed for Christ. 

Read the introduction for its personal reflections on how the history of the Covenanters has impacted the editor, and to better understand the principles that the Covenanters believed in and died for. Then read the fascinating biographical sketches helpfully contributed for each poet represented. If you can, read all the poems within this precious volume, but if your time is limited, consider especially James Hyslop's "The Cameronian Dream." As noted by McAllister, this is "the most popular of all poems ever written about the Covenanters." 

It begins on p. 25 thus:

In a dream of the night I was wafted away
To the moorland of mist where the martyrs lay;
Where Cameron's sword and his Bible are seen,
Engraved on the stone where the heather grows green.

Devotional Poems of James Waddel Alexander

As we have before noted, J.W. Alexander (1804-1859)'s Thoughts on Preaching: Being Contributions to Homiletics (1861, 1864) is not a volume confined just to the subject of homiletics. The whole of the book is made up of extracts from Alexander's private journal and correspondence, most of which share insights about aspects of preaching. The final section ("Miscellaneous Paragraphs") includes devotional meditations and poems that he wrote in his journal. All of these extracts were edited into one volume posthumously by his brother, Samuel Davies Alexander (1819-1894).

Four of Alexander's poems are found in the Miscellaneous Paragraphs, along with one prose paragraph on the nature of "true poetry," which, he says, should aim at religion for its highest theme.

Just one of his poems is here given, along with encouragement to the reader to seek out the other three as well ("Thy Word is Truth"; "The Scriptures"; and "Song in the Night"). 

On the Late Cloudy Weather

Clouds on clouds have long been here,
Overhanging all our sky;
Scarce a sunny hour did peer
Through the mantle spread on high.

Yet we know the sun is still
Reigning in his bridegroom power,
And the happy instant will
Pour his radiance through the shower.

Then the tinted promise-bow,
Spanning woods and meads, shall smile,
Then the cornfields brilliant glow,
If meek patience wait a while.

Nature is the type of grace --
Spirits have their cloudy time;
'Tis, alas! our present case,
While we wait the dawn sublime.

Yet in darkness we will hope,
He is coming who is Light,
Though we may disheartened grope
For a season -- as in night -- 

He is coming; lo! his beam
Gilds already yonder hill,
Streaks of opening clearness seem
The horizon's edge to fill.

Come, expected brightness, come,
We are panting for thy ray,
Let not hopeless grief benumb
Souls that do thy word obey.

Weeping may a night endure,
Yet the morning shall be joy;
Trust the promise -- it is sure,
Hopeful toil by thine employ.

He who loves me makes my day,
Clouds but minister his will;
Christ is waiting to display
Charms that every wish shall fill.

Three 19th century Presbyterian poets/hymn writers: J. W. Alexander, B. B. Warfield, and John L. Girardeau

I knew that James Waddel Alexander was a poet. He translated "O Sacred Head Now Wounded" from the German. But I had no idea that B. B. Warfield and John Lafeyette Girardeau were also poets and hymn writers. Yet listen to these rich gospel lines from the pen of Girardeau:

'Nothing to pay?' No, nothing, to win
Salvation by merit from law and from sin;
But all things, to buy, without money and price.
The wine and the milk of a free Paradise.

'Nothing to do?' No, not to procure
A heaven, by infinite blood made secure;
But all things, with labour and sweat of the face,
To honor my Saviour and magnify grace.

'What of the law?' Its thunders were stilled
Against my poor soul, by the blood that was spilled:
But the hands which were nailed to the wood of the Tree
Now wield its commands to be honored by me.

'Nothing of guilt?' No, not to my God,
As Judge and Condemner, uplifting His rod;
But, ah, I am guilty of breaking His Word
In the house of my Father—the Church of my Lord.

'What am I waiting for?' Spare me a while
To tell of Thy love to a sinner so vile!
Then take me to Heaven, which is not my due.
And give me the Crown of Fidelity, too!

You can find Alexander's translations of German hymns (entitled The Breaking Crucible) here; B. B. Warfield's Four Hymns and Some Religious Verses, a published volume of hymns (with some musical settings!) and poems, here; and Girardeau's poems on pages 345-364 of The Life Work of John L. Girardeau by George A Blackburn. Use these volumes in your private worship. And let me know if you think it would be a worthy project to reprint these hymns/poems in a single book.

This Presbyterian pastor was also a noted poet of his day - here are his volumes of poetry.

Samuel Jones Cassels was a Georgia native who pastored First Presbyterian Church in Macon from 1836-1842. While pastor, his wife and infant son died. His volume of poetry, Providence and Other Poems, was the first volume of poetry published in the state of Georgia. After leaving the state for other pastorates for a season, he returned when his health declined. He published two more books of poems, as well as a book on infant baptism, and a book proving Jesus was the Christ and the papacy of Roman Catholicism was the anti-Christ. All of his writings can be found here.