Not much is known about the English hymn writer William Chatterton Dix but he is the author of a couple of well-known Christmas carols. Born in Bristol on 14th June 1837, Dix was named after the poet Thomas Chatterton who Dix’s father, John Dix, had written a biography. Dix was sent to Glasgow to develop a mercantile career, eventually becoming the manager of a maritime insurance company.
Alongside his career, Dix wrote hymns and carols. Most of his hymns have fallen out of favour, however, two of his carols remain popular favourites: As with Gladness Men of Old and What Child Is This?
As with Gladness is an Epiphany hymn, which Dix wrote on 6th January 1859 whilst unwell in bed. Dix was frequently unwell and suffered a nearly fatal illness at the age of 29, followed by long bouts of depression. Suprisingly, he managed to live until the age of 61, dying on 9th September 1898 in Cheddar, Somerset.
As with Gladness is based upon the visit of the magi in the Nativity. Using Matthew 2:1-12 as the theme, Dix’s carol describes the journey of the magi to visit Jesus, emphasising that it is not the gifts they bought that are important but their adoration of the Christ child. The first verse mentions the star that guided the magi (“Did the guiding star behold”) and the second describes the place of Jesus’ birth (“To that lowly manger bed”). The third verse mentions the gifts (“As they offered gifts most rare”) and the fourth references Jesus’ purpose (“Holy Jesus, every day/Keep us in the narrow way”). This is the only Epiphany hymn that does not use the words “magi” or “king” in the lyrics, nor does it allude to how many visited the child.
What Child is This? was also written when Dix was unwell. In 1865, whilst recovering in bed, Dix underwent a spiritual renewal, which led to the composition of this carol that was subsequently set to the tune of Greensleeves. The carol was originally part of a longer poem called The Manger Throne but Dix only felt three of the stanzas were suitable for singing. The first verse begins with a rhetorical question, which is answered in the second verse. Subsequently, the second verse asks another question, which is answered in the third. Unlike As with Gladness, which focuses on the magi, What Child is This? is about the shepherd’s visit and the potential questions they may have had when they met him.
Unfortunately, little else is known about William Chatterton Dix.
Angels from the Realms of Glory is one of the best-known works of Scottish hymn-writer and poet James Montgomery. Similar to other writers in the 18th and 19th century, Montgomery was passionate about humanitarian causes such as the abolition of slavery. He was also concerned about the exploitation of child chimney sweeps.
Montgomery was born on 4th November 1771 in Irvine, North Ayrshire to a pastor and missionary of the Moravian Brethren. Montgomery followed in his father’s footsteps, training for ministry at a school near Leeds whilst his parents went to the West Indies as missionaries. Unfortunately, both Montgomery’s parents died abroad and he failed to complete his schooling.
For a time, Montgomery was apprenticed to a baker in West Yorkshire followed by a storekeeper in the Dearne Valley, however, what Montgomery desired was a career in literature. In 1792, he moved to Sheffield to work as an auctioneer, bookseller and printer of the Sheffield Register. Later, he became the owner of the newspaper and renamed it the Sheffield Iris. For a time, it was the only newspaper published in Sheffield.
Since school, Montgomery had written poems, however, they were soon getting him into trouble. In 1795, he was arrested for writing a poem about the fall of the Bastille and, in 1796, imprisoned again for his poem that criticised a magistrate. He kept himself amused in prison by continuing to write and published a pamphlet of poems known as Prison Amusements on his release.
Despite enjoying poetry, Montgomery did not think any of them would become timeless classics. He believed the only way his name would be remembered was as a hymn writer. In some ways he was right and a handful of his hymns are still sung today. These include Angels from the Realms of Glory, Hail to the Lord's Anointed, Stand up and Bless the Lord and a version of The Lord is My Shepherd.
Angels from the Realms of Glory, which is sung as a Christmas carol, was first published in the Sheffield Iris in 1816 and began to be sung in churches sometime after 1825.
Montgomery’s success was boosted by the Reverend James Cotterill who preached at St Paul’s Chapel (now demolished), which was once part of Sheffield Cathedral. With Montgomery’s help, Cotterill republished his Selection of Psalms and Hymns Adapted to the Services of the Church of England with the addition of some of Montgomery’s hymns. It is estimated Montgomery wrote around 400 hymns, however, less than 100 are known today.
On 30th April 1854, Montgomery passed away and was honoured by a public funeral. He had remained unmarried but was popular in the city for his religious lifestyle and philanthropy. Several streets in Sheffield were named after Montgomery, as was a pub and theatre.
“A magnificent hymn of praise to God, perhaps the finest creation of its author, and of the first rank in its class,” is how Church of England clergyman John Julian described the hymn Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation. This was written in German by the German Reformed Church teacher Joachim Neander and translated into English by British writer Catherine Winkworth.
Joachim Neander, an important hymnist after the Reformation, was born in Bremen as Joachim Neumann in 1650. His grandfather, a musician, opted to change the family name to its Greek form Neander because Greek names were the current fashion. Neander’s father died when he was young and, therefore, he could not afford a prestigious education. Instead, he studied theology at a school in his hometown. At times, Neander felt he was wasting his time, however, after hearing a sermon by Protestant pastor Theodor Undereyk, he became much more serious about his studies.
In 1671, a year after concluding his education, Neander became a private tutor in Heidelberg and, in 1674, a Latin teacher in Düsseldorf. Whilst teaching, Neander also gave sermons at gatherings and services in the area, which led him to become a pastor in his hometown of Bremen. He was a very popular pastor, however, died in 1680, a year after his appointment from tuberculosis at the age of 30.
Most of Neander’s hymns were written in Düsseldorf, where, new evidence suggests, Neander caused a lot of problems with the Reformed Church. When Neander began working at the Latin School, which was run by the church, he got on amicably with the minister and elders. He accepted invitations to preach and visit the sick but soon tried to introduce new practices without permission, such as private prayer meetings. As the relationship between Neander and the Church began to crumble, Neander did even more to provoke the elders, for instance, refusing to attend Holy Communion because he did not want to sit in the same building as the “unconverted”. The final straw came when Neander made changes to the timetable and buildings at the school. Neander was subsequently suspended.
All Neander’s hymns were written in German, however, those that have been translated into English include All my hope on God is founded and Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation. The latter, known as Lobe den Herren in German, was a favourite of King Frederick William III of Prussia, who first heard it in 1800. The composer, Johann Sebastian Bach, based his Chorale cantata, Praise the Lord, the mighty King of honour, on Neander’s words. The hymn paraphrases Psalm 103 (a.k.a Bless the Lord, O my soul) and Psalm 150 (Praise ye the Lord).
There are at least ten English translations of Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation, but our modern version is based on the translation by Catherine Winkworth in 1863.
Catherine Winkworth was born on 13th September 1827 in Holborn, London, to Henry Winkworth, a silk merchant. At the age of two, Winkworth moved with her family to Manchester where her father had a silk mill. Winkworth’s education was overseen by the Unitarian minister Reverend William Gaskell and a religious philosopher, Doctor James Martineau.
The Winkworth family later moved to Bristol where she got a position as the secretary of the Clifton Association for Higher Education for Women. Winkworth was a feminist and is remembered at Clifton High School for Girls where a school house is named after her.
Catherine Winkworth spent a year in Dresden where she developed a fascination of German hymnody. In 1854, she published the book Lyra Germanica, which consisted of a collection of German hymns that she had translated, including one by Joachim Neander.
Unfortunately, Winkworth’s career as a translator was cut short when she died suddenly from heart disease whilst in Switzerland. She is commemorated on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church with a feast day on 7th August, the same day as the hymn writer and priest John Mason Neale.
"Arglwydd, arwain trwy'r anialwch,” wrote the Welsh premier hymnist William Williams (also known as Pantycelyn), which would eventually be known as Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah. Recorded as one of the greatest literary figures of Wales, Williams was among the leaders of the Welsh Methodist revival in the 18th-century.
William Williams was born on 11th February 1717 in the Welsh parish of Llanfair-ar-y-bryn to John and Dorothy Williams. The nickname Pantycelyn, which means “Holly Hollow”, comes from the name of the farmhouse where Williams died aged 73.
Not much is known about Williams’ childhood other than he was brought up in a nonconformist household and attended a nonconformist college. He originally intended to study medicine but changed his mind after listening to the evangelical Methodist revivalist Howell Harris. Following this, he felt called to the priesthood and abandoned his nonconformist upbringing to take orders in the Establish Anglican Church.
Williams’ first position was as curate to Theophilus Evans in the mid-Wales parish of Llanwrtyd. Whilst he was there, he became involved with the Methodist movement, which upset his parishioners who reported him to the Archdeacon. At the time, Methodism was not a church denomination but rather a faction, which many saw as a threat to the Anglican Church. Due to the complaints, Williams’ application to be ordained as a priest was refused.
Since he could not be an Anglican priest, Williams opted to be a Methodist preacher instead. Williams began to travel throughout Wales to preach the doctrine of Calvinistic Methodism. Since his pay was poor, he supplemented his income by selling tea. As there were no Methodist churches, Williams preached his sermons in seiadau (fellowship meetings), which he had to personally organise as he went from place to place.
Although there were several Methodist revivalists, Williams mostly worked alone, which was a considerable physical and mental burden, however, it was rewarding to see his community of converted Methodists grow.
As well as being a leader of the Methodist Revival, Williams was a celebrated hymn writer. He became known as "Y pêr ganiedydd" (The Sweet Songster), which echoes the description of King David in 2 Samuel 23:1: “the sweet psalmist of Israel”. The majority of his hymns were written in Welsh apart from O’er the Gloomy Hills of Darkness, Hosannah to the Son of David and Gloria in Excelsis. Williams’ most famous, however, is the English translation of “Lord, lead thou through the wilderness”, which has been adapted into Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah/Redeemer.
Cwm Rhondda, as it is sometimes known in Welsh, is based on Isaiah 58:11: “The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.” The hymn, which was translated into English by Peter Williams (1722-96), describes the journey through the wilderness of God’s people after they escaped from slavery in Egypt. They were guided by a cloud by day and fire by night, eventually arriving in the land of Canaan after forty long years. God kept his people alive during the journey by supplying them with a daily portion of manna.
Some people interpret Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah, as a Christian’s journey through life. By following Christ’s guidance, the Christian eventually reaches the gates of Heaven. The lyrics “verge of Jordan” can be understood as the gates and “death of death and hell’s destruction” as the end of time. As a result, the hymn is often sung at funerals, for instance, the funerals of Princess Diana and the Queen Mother. On the other hand, it was also sung at the royal weddings of Prince William and Catherine Middleton and Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
Non-Christian people may be familiar with the hymn from attending rugby union matches. Known as the “Welsh Rugby Hymn”, it is often sung by supporters of the Welsh team. Alternatively, the tune may be familiar to football fans, although, as of 2016, the lyrics have been changed to “You’re Not Singing Any More” and sung at the losing opposition!
At 22 years of age, Robert Robinson wrote the words to the hymn Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing; words which are still familiar today. Robinson was an English dissenter who, as well as writing hymns, spent his life researching and studying the antiquity and history of Christian Baptism.
Robert Robinson was born on 27th September 1735 in Swaffham, Norfolk. His father, Michael Robinson, died when the boy was only five years old and his mother, Mary, was cut off from the rest of her family who disapproved of her “lowly marriage”. Fortunately, Robinson’s uncle paid for his position at a school near Scarning, Dereham, under the tuition of Reverend Joseph Brett. Robinson remained at school until the age of 14 when he was sent to London as an apprentice hairdresser.
Inspired by his religious schooling and his love of reading, Robinson regularly studied the Bible and writings by early Christian authors. From his studies, Robinson became convinced infant baptism was inefficient, especially in comparison to the baptism of adults who have chosen to believe in God and the teachings of Jesus. As a result, none of Robinson’s twelve children were baptised as infants.
In 1752, Robinson heard the Calvinist cleric George Whitefield preach and was inspired to convert to Evangelical Methodism. He was subsequently invited to assist at the Calvinistic Methodist Norwich Tabernacle set up by James Wheatley in 1754 but left after a matter of weeks.
Rejecting Methodism, Robinson established a new Congregational church in St Paul’s Parish, Norwich. This, however, did not satisfy his beliefs and values, so by 1759, he had moved again. Robinson settled at the Stone-Yard Baptist Chapel in Cambridge, now known as St Andrew’s Street Baptist Church. He began preaching there as a Lecturer and then, in 1762, as a Pastor. Two years later, a new chapel was built to hold his growing congregation, which numbered more than one thousand.
It was Robinson’s life-long wish to meet the Separatist theologian Joseph Priestley and finally got his chance in June 1790. Robinson travelled to Priestley’s New Meeting Chapel in Birmingham where he preached two sermons on Sunday 6thJune. Robinson planned to stay in Birmingham for a few days, however, he never left, dying in his sleep in the early hours of Wednesday 9th June 1790 at the age of 54. Priestley conducted his funeral and he was buried in the Dissenters' Burial Ground in Birmingham.
Robinson’s two known hymns are Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing and Mighty God, while angels bless Thee, both of which remain in our hymnbooks today. The former was written shortly after Robinson converted to Methodism. The lyrics of Come Thou Fount… are based on 1 Samuel 7:12 in which Samuel says, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” Samuel had placed a stone between Mizpah and Shen and named it Ebenezer, which means “stone of help”. Some versions of the song contain the reference to the stone in the second verse:
Sorrowing I shall be in spirit,
Till released from flesh and sin,
Yet from what I do inherit,
Here Thy praises I'll begin;
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Here by Thy great help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
“God moves in a mysterious way.” The English poet and hymnodist William Cowper coined this adage in his poem Light Shining out of Darkness in 1773. Now known as God Moves in a Mysterious Way, the poem is sung as a hymn in many Christian churches. Cowper was an associate of John Newton (see previous article) and wrote poems in support of the Abolitionist campaign. He also wrote several famous hymns.
Cowper was born in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire on 26th November 1731. His father John was rector of the Church of St Peter and his mother, Ann, sadly passed away after giving birth to his younger brother. The death of Cowper’s mother greatly affected the young boy and she became the subject of his poem On the Receipt of My Mother’s Picture, which was written five decades later.
Moving from school to school because of severe bullying, Cowper eventually settled at Westminster School in 1742. Here he made life long friends and enhanced his love of reading. Afterwards, Cowper began to train for a career in law at Ely Place, Holborn and hoped to settle down with his sweetheart Theodora. Unfortunately, Theodora’s father rejected the match and Cowper began to experience bouts of depression.
In 1763, Cowper was offered a position as Clerk of Journals at the House of Lords but suffered a mental breakdown at the thought of the exams this required. After trying to commit suicide on more than one occasion, Cowper was admitted to an asylum in St. Albans.
After his recovery, Cowper moved in with a retired clergyman in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire. Reverend Morley Unwin and his wife Mary got on so well with Cowper that they invited him to move with them to Olney near Milton Keynes. It was in Olney where Cowper met John Newton who invited him to contribute to a hymnbook he was compiling.
Known as the Olney Hymns, Cowper contributed several hymns, including the one now titled God Moves in a Mysterious Way. Written shortly before another bout of severe depression, the six verses encourage people to trust God’s greater wisdom in the face of trouble or uncertainty.
In 1773, Cowper once again became mentally unwell. He believed he was eternally condemned to hell and hallucinated that God was commanding him to sacrifice his life. Mary Unwin, who Cowper was still living with despite her husband having passed away, took great care of him until he was well enough to focus on writing poetry again.
Cowper and Mary Unwin moved to Weston Underwood in Buckinghamshire in 1786 where Cowper began a lengthy project, translating Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey into English. During this time, he met and befriended Dr John Johnson, a clergyman in Norfolk, who Cowper and Mary moved to be near in 1795. Unfortunately, Mary died the following year and Cowper relapsed into depression, which he never fully overcame.
Dr Johnson looked after Cowper for the rest of his life. In 1800, Cowper was diagnosed with dropsy and died soon after. He is buried in the chapel of St Thomas of Canterbury in East Dereham and is honoured by a window in Westminster Abbey.
Amongst Cowper’s many hymns are the following, which we either sing in our church or are at least recognisable:
Cowper is remembered mostly for his poems, particularly The Negro’s Complaint, written in 1788. Originally intended to be sung, the poem talks about slavery from the perspective of a slave. He was likely inspired by John Newton’s experience aboard a slave ship. The poem became popular during the civil rights movement of the 20th century and was often quoted by Martin Luther King Jr.
“Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)” is the first line of one of the most recognisable Christian hymns from the 18thcentury. John Newton, an English Anglican clergyman who began his career as a sailor in the Royal Navy, wrote this hymn and a few others, which we sing today.
John Newton was born on 4th August 1725 in Wapping to John Newton the Elder, a shipmaster, and Elizabeth. Sadly, his mother died of tuberculosis in 1723 and Newton was sent to boarding school. After two years, Newton moved into his father’s new home in Aveley, Essex, where he lived with his new wife.
Newton experienced his first sea voyage at the age of eleven when he accompanied his father on his ship. John Newton the Elder intended his son to work on a sugar plantation in Jamaica, however, after enjoying a total of six voyages with his father, Newton signed on with a merchant ship sailing in the Mediterranean.
Less than a year after he had started working, Newton was forced to join the Royal Navy where he became a midshipman aboard HMS Harwich. Newton tried to desert but was caught and flogged in front of the rest of the crew then demoted to a common seaman. He struggled mentally after this humiliation and eventually transferred to a ship called Pegasus, which was bound for West Africa. Unfortunately, life on this ship was no better.
Pegasus was a slave ship that transported African slaves to North America. Newton did not get on with the crew and, in 1745, they left him with a slave dealer in West Africa. Newton was now a slave for Princess Peye of the Sherbro people who abused and mistreated him until 1748 when he was rescued by a sea captain who had been sent by Newton’s father to locate him.
On the journey back to England, the ship was caught in a severe storm. Believing he would die, Newton prayed to God, asking for forgiveness, after which the storm abated. Following this, Newton began to read the Bible and, by the time the ship reached England, had converted to evangelical Christianity. He then married his childhood sweetheart Mary Catlett and adopted his two orphaned nieces, Elizabeth Cunningham and Eliza Catlett.
Conversion to Christianity did not stop Newton’s activity within the slave trade. Between 1750 and 1754, Newton made three voyages as captain of a slave ship and only stopped when he suffered a severe stroke. In 1755, Newton worked as a tax collector, studying Greek, Hebrew and Syriac in his spare time. In 1757, Newton applied to be ordained as a priest in the Church of England but it was a long time before he was accepted. Finally, in 1764 he was ordained and became the curate of Olney in Buckinghamshire.
In 1779, Newton was invited to become the Rector of St Mary Woolnoth, Lombard Street in the City of London. He remained in that position for the remainder of his life and offered advice to many young churchgoers who were struggling with their faith. One of these people was William Wilberforce, an MP who led the movement to abolish slavery.
As an ally of Wilberforce, Newton helped to enact the Slave Trade Act of 1807. Newton published a pamphlet called Thoughts Upon the Slave Trade, which described the horrific conditions on the slave ships and publically apologised for his involvement.
During Newton’s life in the Church, he wrote several hymns, some of which were published in Olney Hymns, a collaboration between Newton and fellow hymn writer William Cowper. Newton’s hymns include Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken, based on Psalm 87:3 (“Glorious things are said of you, city of God.”), and How Sweet The Name of Jesus Sounds. Of course, his most famous is Faith's Review and Expectation, which is now known as Amazing Grace.
Amazing Grace was written from Newton’s personal experience. He did not have a religious upbringing and his life’s path was full of twists and turns, however, he found his way to God, who forgave and redeemed him of his sins. Newton wrote the hymn to illustrate his sermon on New Year’s Day in 1773. His sermon was based on 1 Chronicles 17 in which the prophet Nathan tells David God will maintain his family line forever. Newton emphasised that God is involved in everyone’s lives even if they may not be aware. Newton described sinners as "blinded by the god of this world" until "mercy came to us not only undeserved but undesired ... our hearts endeavoured to shut him out till he overcame us by the power of his grace."
The lyrics to Amazing Grace also contain references to the New Testament. “I once was lost, but now am found,” refers to the parable of the Prodigal Son and “Was blind, but now I see,” comes from the account of Jesus healing a blind man written in the Gospel of John.
As well as writing hymns, Newton penned a few books, including an autobiography and Letters to a Wife, in which he expressed his grief after his wife died in 1790. Newton also wrote a preface to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress.
Over a decade and a half after his wife’s death, John Newton passed away at the age of 82 on 21st December 1807. On his tomb at Olney, his self-penned epitaph reads “JOHN NEWTON. Clerk. Once an infidel and libertine a servant of slaves in Africa was by the rich mercy of our LORD and SAVIOUR JESUS CHRIST preserved, restored, pardoned and appointed to preach the faith he had long laboured to destroy. Near 16 years as Curate of this parish and 28 years as Rector of St. Mary Woolnoth.”
Newton has been honoured with a stained-glass window at St Peter and Paul Church in Olney and, in 1982, Newton was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. Newton’s influence on William Wilberforce was immortalised in the film Amazing Grace in which Albert Finney portrayed a penitent Newton, haunted by the ghosts of 20,000 slaves.
As an English Christian Minister as well as a theologian and logician, Isaac Watts is recognised as the “Godfather of English Hymnody” and is credited with at least 750 hymns. Many of Watts’ hymns are still used today, particularly When I Survey the Wondrous Cross and the popular Christmas carol Joy to the World.
Isaac Watts was born in Southampton in 1674 to nonconformist parents. At the time, it was illegal to go against the teachings of the Church of England and Watts’ father was imprisoned on two separate occasions. From a young age, Watts had the tendency to invent short rhymes, which angered his father who would beat him as punishment. Instead of deterring the young boy, Watts responded:
“O father, father, pity take
And I will no more verses make.”
Watts attended the independent King Edward VI School in Southampton where he learnt Latin, Greek and Hebrew, however, due to his nonconformist background, he was not allowed to attend prestigious universities, such as Oxford and Cambridge. Instead, Watts attended the Dissenting Academy at Stoke Newington.
After completing his education, Watts felt called to enter the church, becoming the pastor of Mark Lane Congregational Chapel in London. He also helped to train preachers, focusing on religious education rather than the teachings of a particular denomination.
Later, Watts worked as a private tutor for a nonconformist family in Stoke Newington where he got to know their neighbours, Sir Thomas Abney and Lady Mary. Eventually, Watts moved into the Abney household where he remained for 36 years, even after the death of Sir Thomas. Watts was still living at Abney House when he passed away in 1748.
Watts particularly liked the grounds at Abney Park in which the house was situated. It was here that he wrote many of his hymns, essays and educational works. Traditionally, hymns were based on the Psalms, however, Watts introduced new forms of poetry and encouraged the singing of hymns in general church services and not only for particular events and occasions.
As well as hymns and poetry, Watts spent a great deal of time writing Logick, or The Right Use of Reason in the Enquiry After Truth With a Variety of Rules to Guard Against Error in the Affairs of Religion and Human Life, as well as in the Sciences, which was first published in 1724. Known as Logic for short, the book became the standard text on the subject at Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard and Yale – universities that he, ironically, was not allowed to attend.
Despite his nonconformist lifestyle, Watts was honoured with a monument in Westminster Abbey and a statue in Abney Park. The Church of England and the Lutheran Church remembers Watts for his ministerial service in the Calendar of the Saints on 25th November, which was the date he died at the age of 74. In Southampton, the place of his birth, the Isaac Watts Memorial United Reformed Church was built after the Second World War.
Since there are so many hymns by Watts, it is impossible to list them all but there is are handful, which we still sing that are worth mentioning.
Joy to the World is loosely based on Psalms 98 and 96 as well as Genesis 3:17-18. Unlike other hymns based on the Psalms, the lyrics are Watts’ interpretation and call everyone to celebrate that God has brought salvation to the world.
When I Survey the Wondrous Crossis significant for being a departure from the norm, only loosely paraphrasing the Bible rather than quoting Psalms or passages. The beginning of the second stanza is the closest the hymn comes to quoting the Bible. Galatians 6:14 says, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whichthe world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” Watts adapted this verse to read, “Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast, Save in the Death of Christ my God.”
Jesus Shall Reign Where’er the Sun is an adaption of Psalm 73, which may have been written by King Solomon. Watts’ lyrics “His kingdom stretch from shore to shore,” correspond with the 8thverse of the Psalm, “He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth.” This hymn was chosen by King George III to commemorate the opening of a Christian government in the South Sea Islands.
Our God, Our Help in Ages Past paraphrases Psalm 90 and is often sung at Remembrance Day services, particularly in Canada. This was the final hymn that was sung at a service on the Titanic, the morning of the day it sank. It was also sung at the funeral of Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Psalm 90 is attributed to Moses, which would make it the first Psalm to be written chronologically.
Other hymns by Isaac Watts include Come Holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove, This is the Day the Lord Hath Made, and I Sing the Mighty Power of God.
John Mason Neale was an Anglican priest, scholar and hymn writer who is mostly remembered for his contributions to Christmas hymns and carols. Neale was born in London on 24thJanuary 1818 to clergyman Cornelius Neale (1789-1823) and Susannah. Neale’s younger sister Elizabeth (1822-1901) went on to found the Anglican religious order The Community of the Holy Cross.
Neale attended the independent boarding school Sherborne School in Dorset, followed by Trinity College, Cambridge where he failed to achieve an honours degree due to his lack of ability in mathematics. Nonetheless, by 22, Neale was the chaplain of Downing College, Cambridge and helped to found the Cambridge Camden Society. The society aimed to promote more Gothic architecture in churches.
In 1842, Neale was ordained and became incumbent of Crawley in Sussex. Unfortunately, he did not hold this position for long because he was forced to resign due to chronic lung disease. To ease his condition, Neale spent the winter in the Madeira Islands where he concentrated on writing his theological book History of the Eastern Church. By 1846, Neale was fit to work once more and became the warden of Sackville College, a Jacobean almshouse in East Grinstead.
In East Grinstead, Neale set up the Society of Saint Margaret, which was dedicated to nursing the sick. The society was run by nuns and spread throughout Britain and eventually to the USA, Haiti and Sri Lanka. Unfortunately, Protestants were suspicious of the society because they associated nuns with Catholicism. In 1857, Neale was attacked at a funeral for one of the society’s sisters; however, he received little sympathy in England. Fortunately, he was better respected in the USA and received a doctorate from Trinity College, Connecticut.
Due to his interest in the Eastern Church, Neale founded the Anglican and Eastern Orthodox Churches Union in 1864. Although he endured a lot of opposition for this, he dedicated his time to translating Eastern liturgies into English. He also translated ancient, medieval, Greek and Latin hymns into English. These include All Glory, Laud and Honour, O come, O come, Emmanuel and Of the Father’s Heart Begotten.
All Glory, Laud and Honour was a hymn written by Theodulf of Orléans in 820. Based on Psalm 2:1-11, the hymn was intended to be sung on Palm Sunday. Theodulf, who had once been Bishop of Orléans under the rule of Charlemagne, was in prison at the time he wrote the hymn. His imprisoner, Louis the Pious, heard Theodulf singing the song and ordered his release. He also ordered the song to be sung every Palm Sunday thereafter.
Neale translated O come, O come, Emmanuel from the original Latin in 1851. The first verse began, “Draw nigh, draw nigh, Emmanuel,” but ten years later, Neale modernised the hymn, so it began, “O come, O come, Emmanuel.” The version we sing today was updated in 1906 by T. A. Lacey.
O come, O come, Emmanuel is traditionally sung in the week preceding Christmas day, although some churches have adopted it as a hymn to sing throughout Advent. There are two other Christmas hymns that Neale is remembered for:
During his lifetime, Neale wrote more books than he did hymns. By his death on 6thAugust 1866, at the age of 48, Neale had written or contributed to at least twenty books. After his death, Neale was commemorated in the Calendar of the Saints of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Anglican Churches.
Henry Francis Lyte was an Anglican preacher, hymnodist and poet whose best hymns include Abide With Me, and Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven. Born on 1st June 1793, Lyte was the second son of Thomas and Anna Marie Lyte of Ednam, Scotland. His father arranged for Lyte and his older brother to attend Portora Royal School in Ulster, Ireland, but then deserted the family. Shortly after this, Lyte’s mother died, however, recognising his ability, the headteacher of the school agreed to pay Lyte’s fees and "welcomed him into his own family during the holidays."
Lyte went on to study at Trinity College, Dublin, after which he took Anglican holy orders in 1815. His first curacy was in County Wexham, however, Lyte was not sure whether he was in the right vocation. Yet, the following year, Lyte experienced an evangelical conversion and began studying the Bible in earnest.
By 1817, Lyte had become a curate in Cornwall where he met and married Anne Maxwell. Seven years older than her husband, Anne was a keen Methodist and the marriage worked well. They had five children, the youngest being Farnham Maxwell-Lyte, a pioneer of photography. Lyte’s daughter Emily Jeanette bore Lyte a grandson who went on to be known as Sir Henry Churchill Maxwell Lyte, the Deputy Keeper of the Public Records.
From 1820 to 1822, Lyte lived and worked in Hampshire before relocating to Devon. In 1824, the family settled in Lower Brixham where he established the first Sunday school in the Torbay area, plus a Sailors’ Sunday school. The latter provided general schooling for uneducated sailors. Lyte became so popular in Lower Brixham, the church had to be enlarged.
Admittedly, some people were attracted to Lyte for his good looks and personal charm, although he was slightly eccentric. He was an expert flautist who could often be found with his flute nearby. He could speak Latin, Greek and French; enjoyed literature; and had considerable knowledge of wildflowers. Yet, he still had time for his parish, predominately consisting of fishermen, and supplied every ship with a Bible. He also compiled religious songs and devotions for the men to use whilst at sea. Lyte even found time to dabble in politics, in which he took a Conservative stance, assisting Samuel Wilberforce in his request to abolish slavery in Great Britain.
Lyte published a few books, mostly of poems, but also a small collection of psalms and hymns entitled The Spirit of the Psalms. With lyrics based on the Psalms, Lyte’s most famous hymn is Abide with me! Fast falls the eventide. This was written after Lyte had preached his final sermon before travelling to the continent for health reasons, from which he never returned. Based on Luke 24:29 (But they constrained him, saying, Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. And he went in to tarry with them.), it became a favourite of George V and George VI. It is also the hymn the nurse Edith Cavell sang whilst she faced a German firing squad and her death.
Abide With Me has been sung at every FA Cup Final since the 1927 game between Arsenal and Cardiff City. The first and last verses are traditionally sung about 15 minutes before kick-off. Rugby League followed suit, singing the hymn at every Challenge Cup Final since 1929, the first time the match took place at Wembley Stadium.
Along with Abide With Me, Lyte’s top four hymns are Praise, my soul, the King of Heaven; Jesus, I my cross have taken; and Pleasant are Thy courts above. Praise, my soul is based on Psalm 103 and was sung at the wedding of Princess Elizabeth (now Queen) and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. It was also the first hymn sung at the funeral of former US President George H. W. Bush.
Sadly, Lyte began experiencing health problems from a young age, writing the poem Declining Days when he was only 46. Before then, Lyte had been diagnosed with debilitating asthma and bronchitis, for which he sought treatment in continental Europe. As a result, his congregation began to diminish, preferring a vicar who was fit and well over one who could not guarantee he would be well enough to preach.
By 1840, Lyte was spending most of his time in the south of France and Italy where the climate was better for his lungs. This meant he was unable to conduct his daughter’s wedding ceremony. Nevertheless, Lyte always appeared cheerful and interested in current affairs. He returned to England for the summer of 1847, where he preached for the final time before heading back to Italy. In November, he passed away in Nice. His final words were recorded as “Peace! Joy!”
"Praise, my soul, the King of Heaven; To his feet thy tribute bring. Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven, Who like me his praise should sing?"
~ Henry Francis Lyte
We are happy for you to use any material found here, however, please acknowledge the source: www.gantshillurc.co.uk
Rev'd Martin Wheadon