Tuesday, October 18, 2016

An earlier "first" Baptist hymn book?

Last week I wrote about Benjamin Keach's Spiritual Melody, published in 1691, as being considered the oldest or first-known Baptist hymn book. Now this. I'm not ready to dethrone Keach just yet, but I have discovered a slightly older book, compiled (and evidently the poetry written) by a man who is identified as a General Baptist.

The  book is Spiritual Hymns Upon Solomon's Song. The University of Michigan library owns a copy dated 1684 -- seven years before Keach's Spiritual Melody was published. The full title is Spiritual Hymns upon Solomons Song: or, Love in the right channel, Wherein that divine part of scripture is paraphras'd, and the dark places expounded; and may be vocally sung in the ordinary tunes of the singing Psalms (London: printed by John Hancock Senior, 1684). Google Books has the 1693 (apparently second) edition online.

The man is John Reeve. The Dictionary of National Biography, Volume XLVII (Sidney Lee, editor, London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1896, p. 409) identifies the author as a General Baptist minister. The dictionary records "Another John Reeve, author of 'Spiritual Hymns Upon Solomon's Song,' 1693, 12mo, was a general baptist minister at Bessel's Green, Kent." I found precious other little biographical information on him. A John Reeve at Bessel Green is mentioned in Baptist Churches till 1660. Several libraries incorrectly identify him with "the other" John Reeve in The Dictionary of National Biography, Volume XLVII. The author is not John Reeve (1608–1658), second son of Walter Reeve, who died over 25 years before Spiritual Hymns Upon Solomon's Song was published.

This hymn book contains 150 hymns related to the 8 chapters of the Song of Solomon. It references on the title page three passages of Scripture -- Isaiah 5:1, Colossians 3:16 and Revelation 15:3. The lengthy title indicates the hymns were intended to be "vocally sung in the ordinary tunes of the singing Psalms." In addition 22 hymns suggest particular psalm tunes to be used in singing them. However little or much use this hymn book achieved, it was an attempt to promote hymn singing based on texts of Scripture other than the Psalms. Unless upon further inspection John Reeve proves not to be a Baptist, it looks like there is an earlier first Baptist hymn book than Spiritual Melody by Keach.

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