Hymnspiration: The Doxology (Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow)

ThomasKenThis hymn, known as the Doxology, is one of the most beloved hymns sung hundreds of times on any given Lord’s Day.  The word “doxology” is derived from the Greek words “doxa” (glory) and “logos” (word) – a word of glory:

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.

Hymn writer James Montgomery said this about the beloved and well-known hymn:

It is a masterpiece at once of amplification and a compression: amplification, on the burden, “Praise God,” repeated in each line; compression, by exhibiting God as the object of praise in every view in which we can imagine praise due to Him; praise for all His blessings, yea for all blessings, none coming from any other source – praise, by every creature, specifically invoked, “here below,” and in heaven “above”; praise to Him in each of the characters wherein he has revealed Himself in His word, “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”

Bishop Thomas Ken was born in Berkhamsted, England in July of 1637 at a time when there was great upheaval in England in regards to the Church and the Monarchy – an English civil war, if you will.  His father Thomas was an attorney in the Court of Common Pleas and his mother’s name was Martha.  Martha died when Thomas was only four years old.  His half-sister Anne, thirty years old and married to Izaak Walton (author of The Compleat Angler), took fourteen year-old Thomas into her family after their father died.

In 1652 Thomas entered Winchester College, where he was an exemplary student.  In 1656 he entered Oxford and was ordained in 1662.  After a decade of several pastorates, he returned to Winchester College to serve in various capacities, including chaplain to the bishop.  He also composed poems, prayers and hymns, some of which would later be published in a book entitled “Manual of Prayers”.

He also wrote hymns for his students to mark the passing of a day: Morning Hymn, Evening Hymn and Midnight Hymn.  Thomas would rise each morning to sing the Morning Hymn before putting on his clothes.  It began:

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.

There were ten stanzas and it ended with the four lines we now know as the Doxology.  Similarly, the Evening Hymn began:

All praise to Thee, my God, this night,
For all the blessings of the light!
Keep me, O keep me, King of kings,
Beneath Thine own almighty wings.

This hymn had six stanzas followed by the Doxology ending.

In 1679, Thomas was appointed by Charles II as chaplain to Princess Mary, wife of William of Orange.  William’s attitude and behavior towards Mary was challenged by Thomas – resentment ensued, although William relented.  However, Thomas later resigned and returned to Winchester whereupon he was appointed to serve as one of the king’s chaplains.

King Charles would sometimes visit Winchester to oversee the construction of one of his palaces.  Thomas’ home was near the Deanery, where customarily the King stayed while visiting. For one visit, Charles wanted his mistress, Nell Gwynne, to reside in Thomas’ home.  As a man of God, Thomas Ken objected vociferously:

“Not for his Kingdom!” he said.  “A woman of ill repute ought not to be endured in the house of a clergyman, and especially the King’s Chaplain.”

Thomas Ken won the argument and Nell Gwynne was lodged in a room adjacent to the Deanery.  One version of the story says that Thomas went so far as to have the roof of his home removed, leaving Nell with no other choice but to find lodging elsewhere.  I can’t help thinking though, in the current era of churches and ministries cowering in fear of losing their non-profit status, of how courageous and bold Thomas Ken was – literally risking his head by defying the King.

In 1684, Thomas was appointed bishop of Bath and Wells by King Charles, perhaps a bit surprising given his stance regarding the king’s mistress.  When the time came to appoint the new bishop, Charles knew just who he wanted to fill the vacancy.  He asked, “Where is the good little man that refused his lodging to poor Nell?”  Thomas Ken was at the bedside of King Charles before his death to administer last rites and ensure absolution of the King’s sins.

King Charles II wasn’t the only royal that Thomas clashed with, however.  Charles’ successor, James II, reissued Charles’ Declaration of Indulgence which was meant to suspend punishment for persons choosing to worship wherever and however they saw fit.  The Declaration also proposed to end the requirement that religious oaths be taken before assuming public office.

Thomas, along with six other bishops, refused to support the Declaration – all were confined to the tower for their refusal on June 18, 1688, but were acquitted on June 30.  When James II later abdicated the throne, William of Orange ascended to the throne.  However, Thomas, the Archbishop of Canterbury and five other bishops disagreed with William’s claim to the throne.  Mary was part of the royal lineage and they thought her the rightful heir to the throne.  For his refusal to take an oath to William, Thomas’ bishopric was suspended.

Longleat_House_2012He spent the next twenty years at Longleat where he was given lodging and a pension.  Thomas Ken continued to write hymns until his death in 1711.  His hymns, especially the Doxology, influenced countless people.  George Whitfield remarked that Thomas Ken’s hymns were of great benefit to his soul at the age of ten.  Other stories related in Illustrated History of Hymns:

An impressive scene occurred in 1858, at Andover, where they were having a great gathering at the collegiate dinner table.  Unexpectedly it was announced that the telegraphic cable across the ocean was successful, when, it is said that “a thousand gentlemen spontaneously arose, and, in the majestic sounds of ‘Old Hundred’ sang” the soul inspiring strain: “Praise God, from whom all blessings flow.”

The Doxology Sung Thirty Five Times in One Day: Stevenson records the fact that during a season of revival in London, the church was accustomed to sing the doxology at each time the report was given of a new case of conversion.  During one day they had occasion to repeat it thus thirty five different times, as one and another had been added as trophies of the cross.

Such was the boldness and conviction of Bishop Thomas Ken.  It is said that not many (if any) of his sermons are remembered, but the Doxology became one of the most powerful anthems of the Church.

Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!

© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2014.



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