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Owing to the strong prejudice in the Reformed Church to hymns of “human composure,” the development of hymnody in England, as well as other countries where Calvin’s teachings were accepted, was slow. Crude paraphrases of the Psalms, based on the Genevan Psalter, appeared from the hands of various versifiers and were used generally in the churches of England and Scotland. It was not until 1637, more than a century after Luther had published his first hymn-books, that England’s first hymn-writer was born. He was Bishop Thomas Ken.

This first sweet singer in the early dawn of English hymnody holds the distinction of having written the most famous doxology of the Christian Church. It is the so-called “long meter” doxology:

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;

Praise Him, all creatures here below;

Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

His sublime evening hymn, “Glory to Thee, my God, this night,” is ranked as one of the four masterpieces of English praise. His beautiful morning hymn, “Awake, my soul, and with the sun,” is scarcely less deserving of high distinction. As originally written, both hymns closed with the famous doxology given above.

Bishop Ken looms as a heroic figure during turbulent times in English history. Left an orphan in early childhood, 210 he was brought up by his brother-in-law, the famous fisherman, Izaak Walton. Ken’s name has been found cut in one of the stone pillars at Winchester, where he went to school as a boy.

When, in 1679, the wife of William of Orange, the niece of the English monarch, asked Charles II, king of England, to send an English chaplain to the royal court at The Hague, Ken was selected for the position. However, he was so outspoken in denouncing the corrupt lives of those in authority in the Dutch capitol that he was compelled to leave the following year. Charles thereupon appointed him one of his own chaplains.

Ken continued to reveal the same spirit of boldness, however, rebuking the sins of the dissolute English monarch. On one occasion, when Charles asked the courageous pastor to give up his own dwelling temporarily in order that Nell Gwynne, a notorious character, might be housed, Ken answered promptly: “Not for the King’s kingdom.”

Instead of punishing the bold and faithful minister, Charles so admired his courage that he appointed him bishop of Bath and Wells.

Charles always referred to Ken as “the good little man” and, when it was chapel time, he would usually say: “I must go in and hear Ken tell me of my faults.”

When Charles died, and the papist James II came to the throne, Ken, together with six other bishops, was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Although he was acquitted, he was later removed from his bishopric by William III.

The last years of his life were spent in a quiet retreat, and he died in 1711 at the age of seventy-four years. He had requested that “six of the poorest men in the parish” should carry him to his grave, and this was done. It was 211 also at his request that he was buried under the east window of the chancel of Frome church, the service being held at sunrise. As his body was lowered into its last resting-place, and the first light of dawn came through the chancel window, his friends sang his immortal morning hymn:

Awake, my soul, and with the sun

Thy daily stage of duty run.

Shake off dull sloth, and joyful rise

To pay thy morning sacrifice.

Wake and lift up thyself, my heart,

And with the angels bear thy part,

Who all night long unwearied sing

High praise to the eternal King.

All praise to Thee, who safe hast kept,

And hast refreshed me while I slept:

Grant, Lord, when I from death shall wake,

I may of endless life partake.

It is said that after Bishop Ken had written this hymn, he sang it to his own accompaniment on the lute every morning as a part of his private devotion. Although he wrote many other hymns, only this one and his evening hymn have survived. The two hymns were published in a devotional book prepared for the students of Winchester College. In this work Bishop Ken urged the students to sing the hymns devoutly in their rooms every morning and evening.

The historian Macaulay paid Ken a beautiful tribute when he said that he came as near to the ideal of Christian perfection “as human weakness permits.”

It was during the life-time of Bishop Ken that Joseph Addison, the famous essayist, was publishing the “Spectator.” Addison was not only the leading literary light of his time, 212 but a devout Christian as well. From time to time he appended a poem to the charming essays which appeared in the “Spectator,” and it is from this source that we have received five hymns of rare beauty. They are the so-called “Creation” hymn, “The spacious firmament on high,” which Haydn included in his celebrated oratorio; the Traveler’s hymn, beginning with the line, “How are Thy servants blest, O Lord”; and three other hymns, almost equally well-known: “The Lord my pasture shall prepare,” “When rising from the bed of death,” and “When all Thy mercies, O my God.” The latter contains one of the most striking expressions in all the realm of hymnody:

Through all eternity to Thee

A joyful song I’ll raise:

But oh, eternity’s too short

To utter all Thy praise!

In the essay introducing this hymn, Addison writes: “If gratitude is due from man to man, how much more from man to his Maker. The Supreme Being does not only confer upon us those bounties which proceed immediately from His hand, but even those benefits which are conveyed to us by others. Any blessing which we enjoy, by what means soever derived, is the gift of Him who is the great Author of Good and the Father of Mercies.”

The Traveler’s hymn, “How are Thy servants blessed, O Lord,” was written after Addison’s return from a perilous voyage on the Mediterranean.

In addition to his literary pursuits, Addison also occupied several important positions of state with the English government. He died on June 17, 1719, at the age of forty-seven. When he was breathing his last, he called for the 213 Earl of Warwick and exclaimed: “See in what peace a Christian can die!”

The hymns of Addison and Bishop Ken may be regarded as the heralds of a new day in the worship of the Reformed Church. While Addison was still writing his essays and verses for the “Spectator,” Isaac Watts, peer of all English hymnists, was already tuning his lyre of many strings. Psalmody was beginning to yield to hymnody.

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