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Many of the classic hymns of the Christian Church have been derived from devotional poems that were never intended as hymns by their writers. This is true of the beautiful morning hymn, “New every morning is the love,” and the equally beautiful evening hymn, “Sun of my soul, Thou Saviour dear.” Both of these gems in the treasury of hymnody have been taken from one of the most famous devotional books ever written—John Keble’s “The Christian Year.”

Keble was born at Fairford, England, April 25, 1792, the son of a country vicar. The only elementary training he received was at the hands of his gifted father, but at the age of fifteen years he was ready to enter Oxford University. Here he distinguished himself as a brilliant scholar, and at the age of twenty-three he was ordained as a clergyman of the Church of England. He remained as a tutor at Oxford for a number of years, but when his mother died he returned to Fairford to assist his father. Although he received a number of tempting offers at this time, he preferred to labor in this obscure parish, where he might be of help and comfort to his father and his two sisters.

It was not until 1835, when his father died and the home was broken up, that Keble accepted the vicarage of Hursley, another humble and scattered parish, with a population of 1,500 people. He married in the same year, and here he and his devoted wife labored until 1866, when they passed away within six weeks of each other.


It was in 1827, when Keble was only twenty-seven, that he yielded to the strong entreaties of his father and many of his friends and consented to publish the volume of poems known as “The Christian Year.” The verses follow the church calendar, and it was the author’s desire that the book should be a devotional companion to the Book of Common Prayer. For this reason it has been called “The Prayer Book in Poetry.”

Keble was so modest concerning his work that he refused to permit the volume to bear his name, and so it was given to the world anonymously. The work was a marvelous success. From 1827 to 1867, a year after the author’s death, the book had passed through one hundred and nine editions. Keble used a large part of the proceeds derived from the sales of his book in helping to rebuild the church at Hursley. He also was instrumental in having churches built at Otterbourne and Ampfield, hamlets that belonged to his parish.

Religious leaders, as well as literary critics, have been unanimous in rendering tribute to this remarkable volume. Dr. Arnold, the great schoolmaster of Rugby, speaking of Keble’s poems, says: “Nothing equal to them exists in our language. The knowledge of Scripture, the purity of heart, and the richness of poetry, I never saw equaled.” “It is a book,” says Canon Barry, “which leads the soul up to God, not through one, but through all of the various faculties which He has implanted in it.” And Dr. Pusey adds: “It taught, because his own soul was moved so deeply; the stream burst forth, because the heart that poured it out was full; it was fresh, deep, tender, loving, because he himself was such; he was true, and thought aloud, and conscience everywhere responded to the voice of conscience.”


The publication of “The Christian Year” brought Keble such fame that, in 1831, he was elected professor of poetry at Oxford. He did not remove thither, but in 1833 he preached at Oxford his famous sermon on “National Apostasy” which is credited with having started the so-called “Oxford Movement.”

This movement had its inception in the earnest desire on the part of many prominent leaders of the Church of England, including John Newman, to bring about a spiritual awakening in the Church. They looked askance at the evangelistic methods of the Wesleyan leaders and turned to the other extreme of high church ritualism. All England was profoundly stirred by a series of “Tracts for the Times,” written by Newman and his friends, among them Keble. A disastrous result of the movement was the desertion of Newman and a large number of others to the Church of Rome; but Keble shrank from this final step and remained a high church Episcopalian.

Although a great part of his later life was occupied with religious controversy, we would like to remember Keble as a consecrated Christian poet and an humble parish pastor. For more than thirty years he labored faithfully among his people, visiting from house to house. If it was impossible for a candidate to attend confirmation instruction during the day, Keble would go to his house at night, armed with cloak and lantern. He gave each candidate a Bible, in which he had marked the passages that were to be learned. These Bibles were highly prized, and some of them are to be found in Hursley to this day. It was noticed that, whenever the Vicar prepared to read and explain a passage of Scripture, he would first bow his head and close his eyes while he asked for the guidance of the Holy Spirit.


Keble’s famous morning hymn, “New every morning is the love,” is taken from a poem of sixteen verses. The first line reads, “O timely happy, timely wise.” It contains the two oft quoted stanzas that ought to be treasured in the heart of every Christian:

The trivial round, the common task,

Will furnish all we ought to ask,

Room to deny ourselves; a road

To bring us daily nearer God.

Only, O Lord, in Thy dear love

Fit us for perfect rest above;

And help us this, and every day,

To live more nearly as we pray.

The evening hymn is also taken from a longer poem, in which the author first describes in graphic words the setting of the sun:

’Tis gone! that bright and orbéd blaze,

Fast fading from our wistful gaze;

Yon mantling cloud has hid from sight

The last faint pulse of quivering light.

In darkness and in weariness

The traveler on his way must press,

No gleam to watch on tree or tower,

Whiling away the lonesome hour.

Then comes the beautiful and reassuring thought:

Sun of my soul! Thou Saviour dear,

It is not night if Thou be near!

O may no earthborn cloud arise

To hide Thee from Thy servant’s eyes.


The peculiar tenderness in Keble’s poetry is beautifully illustrated in the second stanza:

When the soft dews of kindly sleep

My wearied eyelids gently steep,

Be my last thought, how sweet to rest

Forever on my Saviour’s breast.

Other familiar hymns by Keble are “The Voice that breathed o’er Eden,” “Blest are the pure in heart,” and “When God of old came down from heaven.”

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