Friday, October 21, 2016

Two Important Southern Hymn Books; Comparing Mercer and Lloyd

The Cluster of Spiritual Songs, Divine Hymns, and Sacred Poems, being Chiefly a Collection was first published by Jesse Mercer (1769-1841) around 1800. The oldest surviving copy was published in 1810.[1] A Mercer’s Cluster was reprinted at late as 1875 in Philadelphia, suggesting there was at least some demand for the hymn book over 30 years after Mercer’s death. The Primitive Hymns, Spiritual Songs, and Sacred Poems: Regularly Selected, Classified and Set in Order, and Adapted to Social Singing and All Occasions of Divine Worship was first published by Benjamin Lloyd in 1841, the year Jesse Mercer died.[2] It has remained in publication from that time to the present.

Some researchers of Mercer’s hymn book, such as Kay Norton & Don Tennyson, believe that Benjamin Lloyd used The Cluster as a prototype for his own hymn book.[3] In contrast Primitive Baptist writers such as R. Paul Drummond, discount the idea, positing the ecclesiological differences between the two and the simple fact they could have coincidentally used a common source.[4] There is little doubt there is some incidence of common source. Lloyd did not identify his sources or credit any authors of hymns,[5] so one cannot determine the sources based on original documentation. We are left rather with the evidence of circumstance. Different investigators, approaching with different inclinations, come to different conclusions. I now cast mine into the ring as well.

First, a definite conclusion is not possible. All conclusions are based on circumstantial evidence and are susceptible to interpretation. As Drummond points out “there is no real evidence to disprove these assertions.” Several factors alone may not have great significance, but together may bind a tighter case.

Regional proximity
Jesse Mercer and Benjamin Lloyd, though of different generations, were both Southerners of similar background and religious persuasion. Though Lloyd may not have known Mercer, their lifespans overlap by over 35 years – and Lloyd certainly would have known of the prominent Georgia Baptist Mercers. Benjamin Lloyd was an active Georgia Baptist preacher in the last ten years of Mercer’s life. He was born in Hancock County, Georgia, the very area where the Mercers were located. Benjamin’s grandfather, John Lloyd, settled in Hancock County in 1784, about 3 miles west of Powelton. Silas Mercer organized the Powell’s Creek Church there in 1786 and pastored until his death in 1796.[6] Though Lloyd was born here in 1804, his parents moved to Jones County when he was small.[7] Nevertheless, is it likely that his family, if Baptists, were members of the Powell’s Creek Church.[8] It is know that Lloyd’s future father-in-law Cary Cox “and his wife were received into Powell’s Creek Baptist Church in Warren Co., on 2-7-1795.”[9]

Theological similarity
Theological differences between Mercer and Lloyd are often raised as reasons Lloyd would not have copied Mercer. There were differences. But sometimes they are misunderstood and overemphasized. For example Kay Norton, citing Beverly Bush Patterson and commenting on the Lloyd and Mercer common heading “On Free Grace”, says that this was “an emphasis that sometimes rendered the Lloyd collection less popular with Primitives.”[10] Neither Mercer’s nor Lloyd’s “On Free Grace” sections have anything to do with Arminianism, but rather with their common belief that God’s grace is free and unmerited by any act on man’s part. Tennyson, a Southern Baptist, assumes that Mercer and Lloyd would have different positions on “election, predestination and feet washing”[11] – with Lloyd demonstrating “the absence of overtly pro-mission hymns and the presence of certain hymns about foot washing, predestination and election.”[12] Lloyd was not “pro-mission” and would exclude such hymns.[13] Lloyd emphasized feet washing perhaps to a greater degree than Mercer, including five hymns under his heading “Washing the Saints’ Feet.” But at least two of Mercer’s hymns favorably mention the practice of feet washing, numbers 404 and 544.[14] Further Mercer boldly used “Election, ‘tis a joyful sound” (the first line of his No. 45, but first line of the second stanza of Lloyd’s No. 18). Mercer and Lloyd well agreed that “Long ere the sun began his days” salvation was fixed by the three-in-one and that by God’s “high displays of sovereign grace” not one whom God predestinated would be lost (Mercer 54 and Lloyd 6).[15] Jesse Mercer’s Ten Letters Addressed to the Rev. Cyrus White demonstrate well his allegiance to the doctrines of predestination, unconditional election, and the limited atonement.[16] It must be understood that the great division between Baptists in the 1810s to 1840s was more ecclesiological (as a matter of practice) than soteriological (as a matter of salvation) – certainly in Mercer’s and Lloyd’s cases.

Organizational comparability
The similarities of The Cluster and Primitive Hymns have been noted by both those who conclude that Lloyd used The Cluster as a prototype and those who disagree. I do not expect to change many opinions but wish to point out some of the correspondence between the two books that has been previously noted, but add one that I think has not. 

Comparing Mercer and Lloyd[17]
o   Likeness of title
§  Spiritual Songs, Divine Hymns, and Sacred Poems” vs. “Primitive Hymns, Spiritual Songs, and Sacred Poems
§  There is a certain parallel in the titles of the two works. This is one easily ascribed to coincidence and commonality. Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs are mentioned in the Bible and frequently used in hymnal titles. In contrast, in my list of over 400 Baptist hymn books and hymnals, the word “poem” is used prominently in only ten titles (including The Cluster and Primitive Hymns) and “Sacred Poems” is found in the title of only one other than these two – The Western Harp, or Hymns, Spiritual Songs, and Sacred Poems, by Peter Long in 1848 (seven years after Lloyd’s book).
o   Agreement of content
§  Mercer “clustered” his hymns in topical order, beginning with “Free Grace,” as does Lloyd. From here they diversify, but also share the headings “Glories of Christ,” “Conviction & Conversion,” “(Believers’) Baptism” and “Christian Exercises.” Lloyd creates many categories not found in The Cluster. Nearly half of Mercer’s hymns are found under the heading “Christian Exercises.”[18] “Christian Exercises,” though not occupying as large a percentage in Primitive Hymns as in The Cluster, is by far the largest section of subjects (162 of 700 hymns) in Lloyd’s book. The largest individual sections, in decreasing order, are “Prayer,” “Joy and Praise,” “On Free Grace” and “The Glories of Christ.” The two largest (“Prayer,” “Joy and Praise”) are themselves sub-categories of the “Christian Exercises” category of songs.
§  Lloyd’s hymn choices often agree with Mercer’s. 58 of Lloyd’s hymn were in the 1810 Cluster – about a third of Mercer’s content at the time. “…51% [of Lloyd’s hymns] were found in the 1823 edition of Mercer’s Cluster…”[19] In itself this in not a particularly compelling argument, considering Tennyson found a greater percentage of Lloyd’s hymns (58%) in the 1828 Dover Selection of Andrew Broaddus.
o   Hymns with the same tune recommended:
§  In some cases Mercer and Lloyd name hymn tunes to match particular hymns in their books. For example, Portugal is recommended for “How lovely, how divinely sweet” (Mercer 354 and Lloyd 331) and Lenox for “Awake, awake, arise,” “Blow ye the trumpet, blow,” “Come every pious heart,” “Encouraged by thy word,” “Jesus, at thy command,” “Sinful, and blind, and poor,” “Supported by thy Word,” and “Why tarriest thou, arise.” Since Lenox and the hymns are H.M. (Hallelujah Meter, or there may not have been many well-known tunes from which to choose.
o   Hymns with the same subject heading:
§  Both Mercer and Lloyd give titles or subject heading for their tunes. Many of them that I compared were the same. Some are simple or short enough to explain by coincidence, but others seem unlikely to have arisen that way.
§  Awake, awake, arise: The birth of Christ hailed
§  Blow ye the trumpet, blow: The jubilee
§  Come every pious heart: Christ’s love above all price
§  Encouraged by thy word: The beggar’s plea made before the Lord
§  How lovely, how divinely sweet: The blessedness of public worship
§  Jesus, at thy command: The Christian’s life perilous
§  O when shall I see Jesus and reign with Him above: Longing for and encouraging others in the way to heaven
§  Sinful, and blind, and poor: Bartimaeus, or a convicted sinner begging
§  Supported by thy Word: This is the victory, even our faith
§  Thy mercy, my God, is the theme of my song: Grace, free and full
o   Hymns in the same order:
§  Hymns that Lloyd shares in common with Mercer are often found in the same order (or reversed order) in both books. Here are a few examples:[20]
Mercer No.    
First line of hymn
Lloyd No.
Long ere the sun began his days 
When first the God of boundless grace 
The soul that’s truly born of God
Behold the Savior of mankind 
High on a throne my Lord doth sit
Up, haste to Calvary, my soul 
To him who on the fatal tree 
How condescending, and how kind 
How sweet and awful is the place
A thousand promises are wrote 
Come, humble souls, ye mourners, come

We also find that Lloyd’s 65-71 are Mercer’s 148-155, though not in exactly the same order. Lloyd’s 129-131 are Mercer’s 220-218 (i.e., in reverse order). Lloyd’s 160-163 are Mercer’s 239-242, though not in exactly the same order. Should a perusal of the order of the hymns in The Cluster and Primitive Hymns yield fairly consistent results, this would add to the weight of evidence toward Lloyd’s using The Cluster as a prototype and away from the explanation of simple coincidence.

According to C. D. Mallary, The Cluster had “extensive circulation in many parts of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi...”[21] It “reflected [Mercer’s] understanding of biblical doctrine.” Chute’s proposition that use of The Cluster would have “affected the theology of those who attended worship where it was in use” seems reasonable.[22] Its wide circulation in the South reasonably suggests that it influenced the orbit of Benjamin Lloyd. It probably was acceptable to many “Primitive” Baptists until the rise of the mission controversy. “The hymnal that Jesse Mercer edited, The Cluster, enjoyed a commanding presence in the majority of Baptist churches in Georgia until he added hymns containing missionary themes.”[23] The mission controversy provided the reasoning for a new hymn book.

There is no shame that Lloyd would have looked to a successful and familiar hymn book for ideas on how to move forward with his fledgling venture. There was no need to reinvent the wheel. Where he found agreement with Mercer’s content and method he had a handy guide. Where he did not, he could consult others and use his own judgment. The division in the Baptist fellowship made Benjamin Lloyd feel the necessity of moving forward with a hymn book for the Old School Baptists, “…seeing that no one of the Primitive Denomination has stepped forward.”[24]

  • A Piety Above the Common Standard: Jesse Mercer and the Defense of Evangelistic Calvinism, Anthony L. Chute, Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2004
  • A Portion for the Singers: a History of Music Among Primitive Baptists Since 1800, R. Paul Drummond, Atwood, TN: Christian Baptist Publications, 1989
  • “A Study of Benjamin Lloyd’s ‘The Primitive Hymns’,” Don Tennyson, Thesis, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, 1973
  • Baptist Offspring, Southern Midwife —Jesse Mercer's Cluster of Spiritual Songs (1810): A Study in American Hymnody, Kay Norton. (Detroit Monographs in Musicology/Studies in Music, 34.) Warren, MI: Harmonie Park Press, 2002
  • “Baptist Offspring, Southern Midwife--: Jesse Mercer's Cluster of Spiritual Songs (1810): A Study in American Hymnody,” a book review by Stephen A. Marini in Notes 59(4):884-886, January 2003, Music Library Association, Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Benjamin Lloyd’s Hymn Book: a Primitive Baptist Tradition, Joyce Cauthen, editor, Montgomery, AL: Alabama Folklife Association, 1999
  • Biographical History of Primitive or Old School Baptist Ministers of the United States, R. H. Pittman, Anderson, IN: Herald Printing Co., 1909
  • “Elder Benjamin Lloyd: a Pioneer Baptist in Alabama,” Zion’s Landmark, Vol. 113, No. 9, August 1980, (By Oliver C. Weaver, originally published in The Alabama Review 21, April 1968: 144-55)
  • “I Will Sing the Wondrous Story”: a History of Baptist Hymnody in North America, David W Music and Paul A Richardson, Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2008
  • Memoirs of Elder Jesse Mercer, Charles Dutton Mallary, New York, NY: John Gray, 1844
  • Primitive Baptists of the Wiregrass South: 1815 to the Present, John G. Crowley, Gainesville, FL: University of Florida Press, 1998
  • The Cluster of Jesse Mercer, C. Ray Brewster, Macon, GA: Renaissance Press, 1983

[1] “Mercer…published the first edition of The Cluster around 1800 as a collection of roughly 150 hymns and added a small supplement to the 1804 edition. No copies of these first two editions have survived.” (Marini, Notes, 884)
[2] There are no extent copies of the 1841 edition.
[3] Baptist Offspring, Southern Midwife, Kay Norton, p. 83 and “A Study of Benjamin Lloyd’s ‘The Primitive Hymns’,” Don Tennyson, 1973, p. 26, both promote this proposition.
[4] A Portion for the Singers, Drummond, pp. 77-78
[5] Only one hymnist is identified in Primitive Hymns. A note under hymn number 690 explains, “This hymn was composed by Rev. F. Swint, formerly a member of the Darien Church, Ga., in view of the discord produced by the introduction of the religious societies in the churches.” Elder Frederick Swint (1789-1860) (there called “Reverend) was an early Baptist minister in Chambers County, Alabama. He was one of four ministers of the presbytery (along with Lloyd) when Mount Pisgah Primitive Baptist Church was constituted in 1837, and was the first pastor of the church. Don Clark, from Mount Pisgah, says Lloyd’s hymn book has been continuously used in the song services at Mount Pisgah Church since it was published in 1841.
[6] That Silas Mercer was held in high esteem might be noted in naming children, such as Elder John Parker’s son Silas Mercer Parker
[8] As far as I know, no one has investigated the church records for the Lloyd family.
[9] To my parents Jesse Berryman Robinson II and Helen Evelyn Cox, Helen R. Graves, [S.l. : s.n.], 1900, p. 150
[10] Baptist Offspring, Southern Midwife, Norton, p. 83; Drummond agrees that Lloyd’s has a few “texts that…reflect doctrines that are not typical of the Old Baptists,” but does not think this a major difficulty with the volume. –  A Portion for the Singers, Drummond,  p. 78
[11] “In the early nineteenth century Primitive Baptist hymnody, as typified by The Primitive Hymns, is (with the exception of a few hymns dealing with election, predestination, and feetwashing; and the omission of hymns related to missions) essentially in the same stream as the hymnody of the pro-mission Baptists.” – Tennyson, p. 29
[12] Benjamin Lloyd’s Hymn Book, Cauthen, p. 66
[13] It was the system Lloyd opposed and not preaching the gospel. He would have no problem with texts such as hymn number 557, “Go forth, ye heralds, in my name…Where’er the human race is found, The joyful news to all impart…” It is interesting that, though Lloyd would use some hymns that would later be criticized as “pro-mission” and “Arminian” (Tennyson cites 109, 118, 142, 435 & 559) he includes none of the 20 hymns in Mercer’s “Missions” section of his book. Subtitled “The Dawning of the Latter-Day Glory,” these hymns seem to me to be heavily weighted toward the postmillennial eschatological position. Millennial differences may have been part of the impetus for world-wide missions among some Baptists and part of the source of consternation among those Baptists who held a non-millennial or premillennial position.
[14] This should come as no surprise, considering the active practice of feet washing among the Separate Baptists of Mercer’s heritage. It should also be noted that all Primitive Baptists do not observe the rite.
[15] Mercer also includes John Newton’s hymn in which the Great Physician “rescued me against my will.” (No. 5)
[16] Mercer probably disagreed with “the absolute predestination of all things,” but so do the majority of those styled Primitive Baptists.
[17] To me it seems ideal to compare Mercer’s 1835 edition with Lloyd’s 1841 edition. I have compared Lloyd’s 1858 with Mercer’s 1823 online and the first lines and hymns in Ray Brewster’s book.
[18] Based on the 1823 edition; see, e.g., A Piety Above the Common Standard, Chute, p. 38; p.223 43.37% devoted to his category titled Christian Exercises in 1823 edition
[19] Tennyson, as cited in Benjamin Lloyd’s Hymn Book, Cauthen, p. 66
[20] I changed Mercer’s original Roman numerals to Arabic numerals.
[21] Memoirs of Elder Jesse Mercer, Mallary, p. 85
[22] A Piety Above the Common Standard, p. 38
[23] A Piety Above the Common Standard, p. viii
[24] The Primitive Baptist, March 18, 1841; cited in Benjamin Lloyd’s Hymn Book, Cauthen, p. 63

Two Important Southern Hymn Books: Mercer’s and Lloyd’s

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