Monday, May 20, 2013

The Baptist Psalmody and Abram Poindexter

When the Southern Baptist Convention met in Nashville in 1851, the hymnal that was recommended for use in all the churches was The Baptist Psalmody. When The Baptist Psalmody was published in 1850 by the Southern Baptist Publication Society, its editors, Basil Manly and Basil Manly Jr., sought to include not only the older, proven hymns of the faith, but new hymns. They compiled the collection at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa and expressed their purpose for the hymnal a year before its publication in an article in the Alabama Baptist:
In accordance with a request of the Tuscaloosa Association, at its late session, the undersigned propose to publish a Hymn Book adapted to the use of Baptist Churches in the South. We design it to contain unaltered, the old hymns, precious to the children of God by long use, and familiarized to them in many a season of perplexity and temptation as well as spiritual joy. We shall also add such other hymns of more recent date as seem worthy to be associated with the former, in order to make a complete Hymn Book for public and private worhip [sic]. [1]
Among these worthy additions were several hymns by American Baptists, including many by contemporary authors from the newly formed Southern Baptist Convention. One notable contributor was Abram Maer Poindexter.

Poindexter was born into the family of a Baptist minister in Bertie County, North Carolina on September 22, 1809. He was saved in July 1831, at the age of twenty-one and soon after decided to enter the ministry. He was licensed to preach in February 1832. The following year he entered Columbian College (later became George Washington University) in Washington D.C. His studies did not last long, however; he became ill before completing his first year and had to return home.

In spite of this discouragement at the beginning, Poindexter did not lose heart. He entered the pastorate in 1835 and eventually received an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from Columbian College in 1843. In 1845, the year the Southern Baptist Convention was founded, he became an agent for the college.

God began to use Abram Poindexter in some marvelous ways in the new convention. It was under the powerful preaching of Poindexter that John A. Broadus surrendered to preach the Gospel in August 1846. [2] Broadus went on to become the first secretary of the Sunday School Board when it was established in 1863. In August 1848, Poindexter became the corresponding secretary of the Southern Baptist Publication Society. While serving in this office, he worked with Basil Manly and Basil Manly Jr. in publishing The Baptist Psalmody. Poindexter worked several weeks on the final revisions of the hymnal and contributed seven of his own hymns to the collection. [3] He also served as an agent for Richmond College (1851-1854 and 1866-1870), and as the assistant secretary of the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention (1854-1862). The final year of his life he spent as pastor of the Baptist churches at Louisa Court House and Lower Goldmine. He became ill and died in Gordonsville, Virginia on May 7, 1872.

In an article published in January 1851, the Southwestern Baptist offered praise for Poindexter’s hymns as well as the publication of the new hymnal:
BAPTIST PSALMODY, by Basil Manly, D.D. and B. Manly, Jr:
Southern Baptist Publication Society, Charleston, S.C, p.p. 772. 
We are at last in receipt of a copy of this long looked for Hymn Book, and a handsome book it is. True we are abundantly stocked with hymn books, and some of them of fine merit; nevertheless, we welcome this to a place among the rest, and predict for it an extensive circulation in our Southern churches. 
The Baptist Psalmody is about the size of The Psalmist, and is published much in the same style. It contains 1296 hymns and spiritual songs, selected from the best lyric poets, and arranged with admirable skill. We have looked through the work with considerable care, and while we find most of our good old familiar hymns restored to their proper places-- a thing neglected in some compilations of the sort within the last few years; we are glad to see a number of new ones, of no less merit, introduced, so far as we know, for the first time to a position of such notoriety. Among these latter may be instanced several from the pen of Rev. A. M. Poindexter, and several from the pen of brother Manly, Jr. Brother Poindexter's hymns have great poetic beauty as a general thing, and well deserve a place by the side of Dodridge, Cowper, and Watt's [sic]; while those of brother Manly, in point of unction and pious fervor, are not inferior to the productions of Charles Wesley, to whose style they bear a strong resemblance. The whole book, as it lies before us, must commend itself to the cordial esteem of Baptists generally, on account of the soundness of its doctrinal views, the excellence and simplicity of its arrangement, the deep-toned fervor of its… breathings, as well as for its poetic merits. It is just what we expected from the hands of its compilers-- a hymn book for the Baptist churches of the South. [4]
Below is one of Poindexter’s hymns, a passionate prayer that God would revive His church and that He, who alone can give life, would graciously assert His power and bring salvation.
 880.
Return for thy servant's sake.  Isai. 63:17. 
1 O our Redeemer, God,
      On Thee Thy people wait;
   We faint beneath Thy chastening rod,
      Thy house is desolate. 
2 Yet are we not Thine own,
      Though now in deep distress?
   Then be to us Thy mercy shown,
      Thy mourning people bless. 
3 Spirit of God, return,
      Thy cheering light impart;
   O may Thy love within us burn,
      And warm each languid heart. 
4 O’er all assembled here
      Assert Thy gracious power;
   And to our friend and kindred dear
      Be this salvation’s hour. 
5 O Lord, our God, descend!
      Our fainting hearts revive:
   On Thee alone our hopes depend,
      For Thou canst make us live.
Ken Puls

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[1] Basil Manly and Basil Manly Jr., "A New Hymn Book," Alabama Baptist, 31 July 1849, reprinted in Donald Clark Measels, "A Catalog of Source Readings in Southern Baptist Church Music: 1828-1890," (DMA diss., Louisville, Kentucky: Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1986), 2:152.

[2] Archibald Thomas Robertson, Life and Letters of John Albert Broadus, (American Baptist Publication Society, 1901; reprint, Harrisonburg, Virginia: Gano Books, 1987), 52-53.

[3] Henry S. Burrage,  Baptist Hymn Writers and Their Hymns, (Portland, Maine: Brown Thurston and Company, 1888), 343.

[4] "Baptist Psalmody," Southwestern Baptist,  8 January 1851, reprinted in Donald Clark Measels, "A Catalog of Source Readings in Southern Baptist Church Music: 1828-1890," (DMA diss., Louisville, Kentucky: Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1986), 2:154.

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