PODCAST: The Doxology (The History Behind the Hymns #23 with Daniel Whyte III)

Welcome to the History Behind the Hymns podcast. This is episode #23

I am your host, Daniel Whyte III, president of Gospel Light Society International. I am one of many Christians who still loves the old hymns of the faith even more than many modern Christian songs. For the past 33 years, my wife and children and I have sung the old hymns during our family devotion time. Over the years we have used an Independent Baptist hymn book, a National Baptist hymn book, and a Southern Baptist hymn book to sing the old hymns of the faith. And we have sung the old hymns of the faith with traditional Methodist churches online. The old hymns of the faith have been a tremendous source of blessing and encouragement to my heart down through the years. The purpose of this podcast is to encourage you to dust off your old hymn book and experience the power and blessing of well-written hymns based upon sound doctrine for the glory of God that will strengthen your faith.

The History Behind the Hymns passage of Scripture is Psalm 150:6 which reads: “.Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord.”

The History Behind the Hymns quote for today is from John Wesley. He said: “Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve here, and reward you when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.”

The quote in connection to today’s hymn is from Charles Spurgeon. He said: “Doth not all nature around me praise God? If I were silent, I should be an exception to the universe. Doth not the thunder praise Him as it rolls like drums in the march of the God of armies? Do not the mountains praise Him when the woods upon their summits wave in adoration? Doth not the lightning write His name in letters of fire? Hath not the whole earth a voice? And shall I, can I, silent be?”

Our hymn for today is “The Doxology” by Thomas Ken. It reads:

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heav’nly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!

Now here is the history behind the hymn, “The Doxology”. According to Umcdiscipleship.org:

Born in Hertfordshire, Bishop Thomas Ken (1637–1711) was orphaned as a child and raised by his sister Anna and her husband Izaak Walton. They enrolled him in the all-boys school at Winchester College). After his education there, he attended Hart Hall, Oxford, and New College, Oxford.

Ken was ordained as an Anglican priest in 1662, serving as rector to several parishes and as a chaplain to Princess Mary of Orange from 1679–80, King Charles II in 1683, and the Tangier Expedition from 1683–84. In 1685, he was appointed Bishop of Bath and Wells. During the reign of King James II, he was imprisoned in the Tower of London for refusing to sign the Declaration of Indulgence, a decree designed to promote the king’s Catholic faith. Ken was acquitted of the charge. When, however, King William III ascended to the throne, Ken refused to swear loyalty to him and resigned his office, living the rest of his life at the home of his friend, Lord Weymouth, at Longleat, Wilshire.

The original date of composition by Ken for the text of “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow” is unknown. The first mention of the hymn is in 1674 as the presumed final stanza of two longer hymns: “Awake, My Soul and with the Sun” and “Glory to Thee, My God, this Night.” These two hymns were referenced along with a third as Morning, Evening and Midnight Hymns in a later edition of a pamphlet written for his students titled A Manual of Prayers for the Use of the Scholars of Winchester College. The following directive is from the first edition:

. . . be sure to sing the Morning and Evening Hymn in your chamber devoutly, remembering that the Psalmist, upon happy experience, assures you that it is a good thing to tell of the loving kindness of the Lord early in the morning and of his truth in the night season.

This directive is most often interpreted to mean that the hymns were meant for private devotion, not the gathered assembly, and yet these four lines, often referred to as The Lesser Doxology, have “been sung more often than any other lines ever written”. The hymn texts were published later as an appendix in his 1695 pamphlet as “revised” versions.

Much of the beauty of these four lines lies in its reflection of the joyous outbursts of the psalms. Here we see both the “host” of heaven and the “creatures here below” of earth praising God as in Psalm 96:11-12a and the final jubilant line of Psalm 150:6:

Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad;
let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof.;
Let the field be joyful, and all that is therein. (Psalm 96: 11-12a, KJV)
Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord!
Praise ye the Lord! (Psalm 150:6, KJV)

Commonly called “The Doxology,” Ken’s acclamation of praise is actually one of many doxological declarations that appear in many hymns, often in final stanza. See, for example, the last stanzas of the fourth-century hymn “Of the Father’s Love Begotten,” William Draper’s versification of a thirteenth-century poem by Francis of Assisi, “All Creatures of Our God and King,” and Catherine Winkworth’s translation of Lutheran pastor Martin Rinkart’s “Now Thank We All Our God”. Though less common now, the pattern for many mainline Protestant congregations has been to sing another doxological acclamation, the “Gloria Patri,” earlier in a worship service, and Ken’s stanza at the time of the offertory. Of note is the cosmic character of Ken’s praise—“all creatures here below” and “above ye heavenly hosts”—calling on the entire cosmos to praise God.

The Trinitarian structure of Ken’s hymn has also led to its common liturgical use. The first line describes the person of God the Father as the source of all blessings. The second line, though, speaks to God the Spirit through whom all creatures praise God. The third line points to God the Son, who is begotten of the Father, firstborn of heaven and superior to angels and the heavenly host. The fourth line summarizes the stanza and all of praise in general, since all praise is directed toward God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The United Methodist Hymnal pairs this text with the hymn tune OLD 100th, which is attributed to John Calvin’s composer, Louis Bourgeois. The first two lines of Ken’s text were later adapted with additional inclusive words by United Methodist pastor Gilbert H. Vieira to be sung with LASST UNS ERFREUEN from Ausserlesene Catholische, Kirchengesänge, harmonized by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Pastor Vieira’s use of inclusive language reflects his continuing strong stands for inclusive and carefully chosen language.

The hymn tune MORNING HYMN was composed by François Hippolyte Barthélémon for the text of “Awake, My Soul, and With the Sun.” The appropriateness of the tune works well for this final stanza, where the words of the second phrase, “Praise him, all creatures here below,” are sung by descending stepwise through an entire scale. The third phrase, “Praise him above, ye heav’nly host,” is sung through a similar ascension that returns to the highest note of the tune in the final stanza, acknowledging the Trinitarian nature of God. Sheila Doyle comments on the hymn text saying, “The language is simple and precise, and the opening images of light and rising up, appropriate to morning, pervade the hymn and convey a powerful sense of renewal and aspiration”.

In our next episode we will look at the history behind the hymn, “O, How I Love Jesus” by Frederick Whitfield.

Let’s Pray —

Dear friend, this hymn honors God and the Lord Jesus Christ, if you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, and you want to get to know Him today here’s how.

First, accept the fact that you are a sinner, and that you have broken God’s law. The Bible says in Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”

Second, accept the fact that there is a penalty for sin. The Bible states in Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death…”

Third, accept the fact that you are on the road to hell. Jesus Christ said in Matthew 10:28: Also, the Bible states in Revelation 21:8: “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”

Now this is bad news, but here’s the good news. Jesus Christ said in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Just believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died for your sins, was buried, and rose from the dead by the power of God for you so that you can live eternally with Him. Pray and ask Him to come into your heart today, and He will.

Romans 10:9-13 says, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Pray and ask Him to come into your heart and He will.

May God bless you and keep you until we meet again.