Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, ON THE MEANING OF ST. PAUL'S EXPRESSION OF SPEAKING WITH TONGUES, by JOHN BYROM



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ON THE MEANING OF ST. PAUL'S EXPRESSION OF SPEAKING WITH TONGUES, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: If you remember, rev'rend sir, the talk
Last Line: For gifted ostentation to disgrace?
Subject(s): Paul, Saint (1st Century)


IF you remember, rev'rend sir, the talk
That pass'd betwixt us in the garden walk,
The gift of tongues was mention'd; when I thought
That notion wrong, which learned men had taught,
And that this gift was not at all concern'd
With that of speaking languages unlearn'd.

St. Paul, I said, in his Corinthian charge,
Had treated on the subject more at large;
From whose account one plainly might deduce
The genuine gift, its nature, and its use;
And make appear, from passages enow,
The vulgar notion not to be the true:
But that to speak in tongues, or speak in tongue,
Was meant of hymns which the Corinthians sung:
This is the gift which the apostle paints,
And lays its practice under due restaints.

You know the chapter—First then let us see
How tongues do there with languages agree;
Then how with hymns; and let which better suits
Th' apostle's context regulate disputes.

First—He that speaketh in a tongue ("unknown"
Translators add, for reasons of their own,)
Speaketh to God, and speaketh not to men—
Peculiar tokens of a hymn—again,
For no man understandeth him—from hence
'Tis plain, that languages was not the sense:
Would he rise up, who had them at command,
To speak in one that none could understand?
What can be more unlikely to suppose?
Yet thus the learned commentators glose;
As their mistake about the gift imply'd
The christians guilty of this awkward pride:
Such fact they make no scruple to advance,
As would appear absurd in a romance.

One in his softer, one his harsher terms,
The same miraculous disgrace affirms:
All, from the difficulty try some shape,
Whilst there is no escaping, to escape.

Whereas, to hymns all phrases correspond;
Of them Corinthian converts were too fond;
And Paul, who will'd them really to rejoice,
But more with heart affected than with voice,
Authority, with reason mix'd, employs,
Not to repress, but regulate their joys.
The benefit of hymns he understood;
But, most intent upon the church's good,
The gift prophetic more expedient found,
(That is, to preach the gospel or expound,)
Than to sing hymns—The prophet speaks, says Paul,
To men; instructs, exhorts, and comforts all.

Speaking in tongues,—or hymning, to proceed,—
May edify the singer's self indeed;
But prophecy, the church; a private soul
Should always yield the pref'rence to the whole:
Consistent all, if hymning he explains;
If languages unknown, what sense remains?
Would Paul affirm, that speaking might do good,
In foreign languages, not understood,
To a man's self? Would he so gently treat
Such a suppos'd enormous self-conceit?
Would he vouchsafe to pay, the chapter thro',
Respect to tongues, if taken in this view?
Would he allow, nay choose it?—For that next
Is said of tongues in the succeeding text.

I will you all to speak with tongues—"to sing"
Makes this a plain, intelligible thing;
The other meaning, which they spread about,
No commentators have, or can make out.
That he should will them all to sing was just,
And properly to use the gift or trust;
For his intention was not to reduce
Singing itself, but its improper use:
It was the good apostle's great concern,
To preach the gospel so that most might learn:
This was the gift, in which he rather will'd
Such as had been converted to be skill'd.
Speaking in tongue was good; but this, he knew,
Was the more useful talent of the two:
Greater its owner, but with an except,
That shews the justice for a hymner kept;
The matter sung, who, if he could express,
To edify the hearers, was not less;
Interpretation render'd them alike;
But does not this absurd supposal strike,
That in plain speaking, on some christian head,
One should interpret what himself had said;
First use a language to the church unknown,
Then, in another, for his fault atone?
What reason possible can be assign'd,
Why the known tongue should be at first declin'd?
This difficulty, and so all the rest,
The nature of a hymn explains the best.

Now should I come among you, says the saint,
Speaking with tongues,—should only come to chant—
What shall it profit you, except I preach;
Some revelation, knowledge, doctrine teach?
And here the vulgar meaning of the word,
For apostolic use, is too absurd;
He scarce would if the speaking in a tongue,
Unknown to christians, whom he came among;
Nor would a question find with him a place,
About their profit in so gross a case.
He plainly hints a coming, not design'd
To please their ear, but to instruct their mind;
The real profit which he pointed at;
And hymns themselves were useless without that.

That such a speaking as is mention'd here,
Was musical, is evidently clear
From the allusion which he then propounds,
To pipe, and harp, and instrumental sounds;
Which none can urge, with reason, to belong
So properly to language as to song;
Tho' it may serve for both, in some respect,
Yet here one sees to which it must direct;
If pipe or harp be indistinctly heard,
No tune or meaning can be thence inferr'd;
If an uncertain sound the trumpet yield,
How shall a man make ready for the field?

Thus of dead instruments; of them that live,
So ye, th' apostle adds, except ye give
Words, by the tongue, that man can apprehend,
Ye speak, but, as to hearers, to no end;
And (what with hymning posture seems to square,)
Will be like men who speak into the air.

So ye, to shew how tongue and song agree,
Except ye utter with the tongue, says he,
Words that are easy to be understood,
(Which in a foreign tongue they never could,)
How shall the thing be known to any one
That ye have spoken (that is, sung) upon?
And, what with hymning posture seems to square,
He adds, for ye shall speak into the air.

Except ye utter with the tongue— "unknown"
Translators here thought fit to let alone;
"Unknown, and easy too to understand;"
That could not be—unknown they must disband.
It was enough to shew them their mistake,
To see what incoherence it would make;
Yet they not minding, just as they think fit,
Sometimes insert it and sometimes omit.
But if the epithet, at first, be right,
Why is it kept so often out of sight?
Do not omissions carry, all along,
Tacit confession of its being wrong;
Tacit confession, which is open proof
How little can be said in its behoof.

They who shall speak in tongue, and they who hear,
Unless the meaning of the voice be clear,
(The sense not being within mutual reach,)
Will be, says Paul, Barbarians each to each,
Or foreigners—and, therefore, is his drift,
With all your fondness for the speaking gift,
Have the whole church's benefit in view;
Let him, who speaks in tongue, interpret too.

Can such confession, such allowance made,
Suit with that insupportable parade,
And show of gift, which commentators vent,
Giving a meaning that could scarce be meant?
While zeal for hymns, a natural effect
In novices, tho' wanting to be check'd,
Accounts for checking, for allowing phrase,
For ev'ry motive that St. Paul displays;
His placid reas'ning, and his mild rebuke;
For which no insolence of gift could look:
No insolence, I say, of such a kind
As commentators, rashly, have assign'd
To the first christians; which the latter now,
Suppose it offer'd, never would allow.

For if I pray in tongue, St. Paul pursues,
My spirit prayeth; but no fruit accrues
To them who do not understand my pray'rs—
And what the remedy which he prepares?
Why, it is this—I will so (sing or) pray,
That all may understand what I shall say:
Plain the two phrases in the verse proclaim,
That praying here and singing is the same;
That some Corinthians so display'd their art,
That none but they themselves could bear a part:
Hence "to interpret hymns" his words ordain,
Or else "to sing intelligibly plain;"
Praying, or praising—for, says he again,
How shall unlearned persons say "amen"
To thy thanksgiving, if when thou shalt bless,
They understand not what thy words express?
Thou verily hast given thanks, and well;
But this, unedified, they cannot tell;
The common benefit is still his aim,
True, real glory of the christian name.

In languages unknown, was pray'r and praise
Perform'd by christians, in th' apostle's days?
Was that a time, or was the church a place,
For gifted ostentation to disgrace?





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