George Rundle Prynne (1818-1903), educated at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, was ordained to the priesthood in 1841. He served in Cornwall, and then at Clifton. In 1848, he went to St Peter’s, Plymouth, where he remained for fifty-five years. Prynne, one of the pioneers of the catholic revival, was a friend of Edward Bouverie Pusey, and he made St Peters a beacon of gospel preaching and catholic worship. Although there were periods of controversy (and at one stage even violence) as the fullness of the catholic worship was restored, Prynne’s faithfulness at St Peter's over so many years earned him widespread respect. Of special note was his care for the poor and the ill during outbreaks of disease. Prynne's love of God found expression in his books and hymns. He wrote A Eucharistic Manual (1858), books of sermons, and The Soldier’s Dying Vision, and Other Poems (1881). He edited A Hymnal Suited for the Services of the Church, Together with a Selection of Introits (1858 and 1866) and served on the Revision Committee of Hymns Ancient and Modern (1875). He composed at least three hymns, including “Jesus, Meek and Gentle” (1858):
Jesus, meek and gentle,
Son of God, Most High,
Pitying, loving Saviour,
Hear Thy Children’s cry.
Pardon our offences,
Loose our captive chains,
Break down ev’ry idol
Which our soul detains.
Give us holy freedom,
Fill our hearts with love,
Draw us, Holy Jesus,
To the realms above.
Lead us on our journey,
Be Thyself the Way
Through terrestrial darkness
To celestial day.
Of these words Prynne wrote: “This hymn is commonly thought to have been written for children, but it is not, however, specifically written for them . . .”
SERMON XXV (from Prynne's "Parochial Sermons", published in 1876
THE SPRINGS OF ZION
PSALM lxxxvii. 7.
“all my springs are in thee.”
MOST persons, I imagine, in reading this Psalm use the words of my text in reference to God. They think it expresses the pious aspiration, that the fresh springs of all we think, do, or say, are, or should be, in God. This, doubtless, may be a very beautiful devotional application of the words, but it is not the meaning which the Psalmist had in his mind when he penned them. What David meant to express was this: “ All my springs are in Thee, O Zion;” and prophetically, he speaks these words of God’s spiritual Zion—His Holy Catholic Church. A Christian, therefore, who uses them in the sense of the writer, expresses himself thus: “All my springs are in Thee, O Zion, thou City of God! thou abiding resting-place of the Holy Ghost! thou Bride of Christ! thou Church of the living God!”
That such is the first and proper meaning of the passage is at once evident, if we carefully consider what is written in the previous verses of the Psalm. The Psalm is all about Zion and the Church. This is stated in the heading which is put to it in our Bibles, and which is designed to show what the contents of the Psalm are. It there says, “The seat and glory of the Church: the increase and honourable distinction of the members thereof.”
In the first verse, the foundation of this Church is said to be in the holy mountains; and it is added, “The Lord loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.”1 By “the holy mountains” are meant those hills of Judea which God had chosen to Himself, whereon to build His holy city and temple. And as the dwellings of Jacob had been loved by Him more than the dwellings of other nations, so He is here said to love the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.
The Church of Christ alone fulfils all the prophecies spoken of old concerning mount Zion and Jerusalem. What Jerusalem was, the Christian Church is. She is “built upon the foundations of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto a holy temple in the Lord.”2 This holy temple of the Lord, of which the temple at Jerusalem was a type, and for which the whole Jewish polity was a preparation, is not designed to be superseded by any other Church. She has the promise of her Lord for her continuance; and however active her enemies may be, they can never really prevail against her. “No weapon formed against her can prosper,”3 for her Lord has said it. “The gates of hell shall never prevail against her.”4
In the Christian Church alone are fully fulfilled all those glowing descriptions given by inspired prophets of old; and though David could say of the temple at Jerusalem, “Very excellent things are spoken of thee, thou city of God,”5 yet his words have far greater meaning when applied to the Christian Church.
The Psalmist himself, probably, scarcely realized the full meaning of his words, when, guided by the Holy Ghost, he spoke of events connected with the glories of Zion, which were never realized in the Jewish Church, but which receive their fulfilment in the Church of Christ. “I will make mention of Rahab and Babylon to them that know me: behold Philistia, and Tyre, with Ethiopia; this man was born there.”6 This is a prophecy (as all interpreters agree) of the admission of the Gentile nations into the true Zion. God says, by His prophet, that He will cause to be admitted or born into His Holy Church this man and that man; i:e. any number of men in succession from many and various Gentile nations. Thus the Psalm is a prophecy that the true spiritual Zion should no longer be confined to the Jewish people, but become the mother of all the human race—a truly Catholic, instead of a national Church.
“The Highest Himself shall establish her,”7 it is added—a prophecy which was fulfilled when our blessed Lord said, “ Upon this rock will I build my Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”8 “The Lord shall count, when He writeth up the people, that this man was born there.”9
There is not one member admitted into the number of God’s spiritual Zion whose name is not carefully preserved by Him. Our Baptismal Registers are carefully kept in the Book of God’s remembrance; to some, alas! it will be a register of condemnation, inasmuch as they sin away the blessings and privileges of their new birth; but to others, it will be the height of joy and felicity to find, at the last great day, that their names remain written in the book of life, and that they are allowed to enter on the enjoyment of that inheritance of which, in their Baptism, they were made heirs.
In Baptism we receive the germ, the first springs of our spiritual life, and the gift of bestowing Baptism was left by Christ to His Church. The Church is, then, “the Mother of us all,” even of all who are re-born to God by water and the Spirit. From the Church we derive the first springs of our life. “We are born there.” The Lord counts, when He writeth up the people, that this man was born there; i.e. in His Church. The singers also, and players on instruments, shall rehearse the same truth ; they shall sing or chant it forth in procession, as it is expressed in the Hebrew. “All my springs are in Thee.” Thus are the songs of praise prophesied of, which, as Christ’s members, we are privileged to sing, and in which we are bound to acknowledge that all the fresh springs of our spiritual life come to us in that spiritual Body to which we belong—His Holy Church.
But some may say, Is this true ? Do all spiritual blessings come to us through the Church ? Is not this to draw off our thoughts from the Author and Giver of all spiritual good ? God forbid that we should say a word which could draw off our thoughts from ascribing all praise and glory to God for every gift, natural or spiritual; but, in truth, there is no contradiction in the matter. God is the giver of every good and perfect gift; but He gives through and by means and channels. We call parents the authors of our life and being, not as though they could give life and being, apart from God, but only as being the instruments through which God brings us into existence.
And so we say the Church is the mother through whom we receive our spiritual birth, not as though the Church could give spiritual life, apart from God, but because the Church is God’s channel and means of conveying it. The Church is, in truth, already united to God by means of her union with the man Christ Jesus. He is the one Mediator between God and man, and the Church is the means of our union with Him, as it is written, “ He [i.e. Christ Jesus] is the Head over all things to the Church, which is His Body.”10 Thus, by union with the Church, we are made members of Christ’s Body—-“of His flesh, and of His bones;” and as no man can. come unto the Father but through Jesus Christ, so no man can come unto Christ, and be united to Him, but through the Church, “which is His Body, the fullness of Him which filleth all in all.”
It is our bounden duty thus to think upon and realize the greatness of our blessings and privileges, as members of Christ’s Holy Church— the spiritual Zion of God. It is unthankful and ungrateful not to realize them. We have nothing to do with those that are without; for those which are without, we are told, God judgeth. They will be judged according to a just and true measure, proportioned to their knowledge and their opportunities ; but it is a mistaken and false liberalism, to soften down or explain away the great marks, which distinguish the children of the Church from the members of all other religious bodies, and gives them grounds of gratitude and thankfulness, which no other professing Christians can possibly possess. God has, through His own free grace and electing love, placed us in the privileged position of being born in God’s spiritual Zion, His Holy Catholic Church. Christ is the Head of the Church, and we, through union with the Church, have union with Him.
Ought not our hearts to be filled with gratitude to God for showering such spiritual blessings upon us? Ought we not, with thankful hearts, freely to acknowledge that all our springs of new life and better hopes, are through and by this union? From Baptism to the grave, all our fresh springs are, through God’s gracious appointment, in Zion, His Holy Church. God has always, under every dispensation, given grace to man sacramentally; that is, He has given spiritual grace by means of outward acts. What was the Incarnation itself but a great Sacrament,, by means of which God united man’s nature to Himself, and devised means whereby all men might be united to Him, through union with the one Man Christ Jesus?
What is the Church but a great Sacrament, by union with which we become united to Him who is God and man? Baptism, the means of our incorporation into the Church, is, as we call it, a sacrament wherein the first springs of spiritual life are given us; and then what a wonder of love and mercy is made ours in that other great Sacrament, which the Church tells us is necessary to salvation, even the Holy Communion of the Body and Blood of Christ! Ah! have we not felt, over and over again, as we have gone forth from that Heavenly Feast, that fresh life, fresh nerve, fresh fervour, fresh resolution has been made ours for carrying on the great work which God has given us all to do in this world; i.e. sanctifying our souls for His presence, and fulfilling faithfully the duties of our respective vocations? Have we not felt that, but for this heavenly and supernatural strength granted us, the journey to the heavenly country would be too great for us, and that we should faint by the way, but that in the strength of that food, we could go on our appointed time of trial to Horeb, the mount of God ? Yet in His Church, and nowhere else, does God grant this heavenly food. The Church, and the Church alone, is the store-house and dispenser of this, God’s unspeakable gift.
Well and truly, therefore, and with hearts overflowing with gratitude, may her children sing, in solemn procession or choral harmony, high anthem or thrilling antiphon—“ Very excellent things are spoken of thee, O Zion. All my fresh springs are in thee.”
Yet further, in all the daily troubles or trials which beset us—in all the varied circumstances of life, and in all the changes and chances which befall us—in all the daily struggles of our souls—our daily mournings over sin and failure—our daily renewed purposes and resolutions, do we not continually draw strength and comfort from the thought that we are not mere isolated individuals, but members of a grand and glorious corporation, whose sacrifices and prayers are constantly ascending to the Great God, and drawing down of His fullness and grace for grace. When our own prayers are cold, warmer prayers are around us; when our own efforts are languid, more earnest and sustained ones are around us; and though we may not in this way make excuses for negligence, yet we may take comfort from reflecting that we can draw strength where others find it, to do what others are doing.
Up, then, dear brethren! let us all be at work. The Church of Christ is no place for despondency. Treasures of grace are flowing around us on every side. We need not sink down into deadness or coldness; we need not deem it impossible to serve our God as we long to serve Him. We are where graces are ever abounding; we are where Christ is, and where the Lord and Giver of life is ever dispensing His gifts. Let us believe this ; let us believe in the mercy and love which has placed us where we are; let us trust in God, and be confident that we may find grace to help us in every time of need, if we will faithfully use the means of grace which He gives us. Blessed be God, let us say to our souls, we are in that city whose walls are salvation, and whose gates are praise. Blessed are they who dwell in Thy house; they will always be praising Thee.
O Zion, thou shalt never be forgotten by me! In thee have I learnt to know and love my God and Saviour—in thee have I received celestial food and heavenly consolation from my youth up until now—in thee have I been nourished and sustained ever since I was born—in thee will I live—in thee will I die—in thee will I go from strength to strength, until I appear before my God in the heavenly Zion.
“ All my fresh springs are in thee.”
1 Ps. lxxxvii. 2.
2 Eph. ii. 20,21.
3 Isa. liv. 17.
4 S. Matt. xvi. 18.
5 Ps. lxxxvii. 3.
6 Ps. lxxxvii. 4.
7 Ps. lxxxvii. 5.
8 S. Matt. xvi.18.
9 Ps. lxxxvii. 6.
10 Eph. i. 22.