It is a matter of great satisfaction, however, that a change is beginning to take place in this department of literature, as well as in others. The eclat of war, although it has yet a strong hold upon fallen humanity, is much diminished; and domestic affections, regulated and refined by religious sentiment, are more highly appreciated, as compared with irregular and sinful desires. Rural and domestic life and other subjects, such as are congenial with the truths of nature, and with the spirit of the Gospel, are beginning to find hearts that can estimate, and pens that can develop, them. The man who writes a poem after the manner and in the spirit of the Eclogues and Georgics of Virgil, or, taking more recent examples, in the spirit of the Seasons of Thomson and the Task of Cowper, in which the beauties of nature and the humble virtues of agricultural life are celebrated, does a great work for God and humanity. The Scotch poet, Burns, has sung both of war and love; and few persons have touched with a stronger hand those mighty passions; but the time is coming, when the gentler and purer virtues, which are celebrated in his beautiful poem, entitled "The Cotter's Saturday Night," will excite a wider and deeper interest.
Poetry has done much for vice. The day has come when it is expected to do much for virtue. This is not an art in which it is safe for a man to separate himself from God. Let it be employed in showing the deformities of wickedness and the excellences of goodness; in depicting the beauties of nature, and in describing the attributes of the God of nature; and in encouraging men to walk in the paths of truth and peace.
Among other things, it ought not to be forgotten that poetry has its religious uses. If angels sung at the birth of the Savior, certainly there is more reason that men should sing. The author of a good hymn, expressive of sentiments of Christian piety, may feel that he has lived and labored to some purpose. In enumerating those who through divine grace have done a good and great work for God and his church, we should not be likely to forget the names of Watts, Cowper, and Wesley.
But whatever a person undertakes to write of this kind, whether hymns or poetry which is more secular in its character, it is very certain that he can do nothing well, without God to help him. If the ancients needed the aid of Apollo and the muses, it would be a shame to a Christian poet to attempt to write without the aid of that divine inspiration which Christianity teaches him to supplicate. And, accordingly, Milton was unwilling to proceed in his great work, the Paradise Lost, without first invoking the divine assistance:
"And chiefly Thou, O Spirit! that dost prefer
Before all temples the upright heart and pure,
Instruct me, for Thou knowest."
— edited from A Treatise on Divine Union (1851) Part 7, Chapter 8.