Blog #366: A Famous Hymn Arising out of Non-Compromise

John Cline

If you’ve spent much time in the church, chances are you have sung “The Doxology”. But how familiar are you with what could be the most widely-sung Christian hymn of all time, that being “The Doxology”? Who wrote “The Doxology” and what were the historical reasons behind it being written. Earlier this year, author Jessica Lea answered this question for us in her article on the website. In part, what follows in this blog is based upon what Lea shared in her article.

The word “doxology” comes from two Greek words put together: “Doxa” (which means, “glory”), and “logos”, which means, “word”. Thus, a doxology is a “word of glory”, literally speaking. The lyrics to the most famous of the many songs known as “The Doxology” are as follows: 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.

But while this specific version of a doxology has come to be the best known of all the versions, there are actually many expressions of praise to God within the Bible which are doxologies. Consider for example, Psalms 96:6, 112:1, and 113:1, as well as Romans 11:36, Ephesians 3:21, and 1 Timothy 1:17 (please look them up for yourself). And, then, within the history of Christianity, there have been many “doxologies” written in Latin in the ancient Roman Catholic Church, and in English in the Church of England/Anglican traditions, as well as (most likely) in every language around the world wherever Christianity is followed.

Now, for the version of “The Doxology” most commonly sung today, here are the historical events behind its creation: Jessica Lea writes, ‘“The Doxology” was written by a man named Thomas Ken, an Anglican bishop in England in the late 17th century whose life was characterized by a refusal to compromise on what he believed from the Bible. Born in England in 1637, Thomas Ken was orphaned at a young age and grew up living with his married sister. He was ordained into pastoral ministry around 1662, and in 1680, he was appointed royal chaplain to King Charles II. Based upon what he read in the Bible, Thomas Ken took a number of bold stands and got himself into quite a bit of trouble with British authorities. These included refusing to surrender his residence for the king’s mistress, refusing to publish documents in support of Roman Catholicism (for which he was imprisoned), and refusing to support the reign of William and Mary. For this last decision, Ken was punished by losing his bishopric. He died in poverty in 1711.’

Thus, “The Doxology” was Thomas Ken’s response to humans trying to unjustly bully him or convince him to abandon beliefs that he believed were based on what he read in the Bible. So, the song we sing so sweetly and innocently today was actually one man’s declaration of dependence upon God only. It was written to the glory of God. May we similarly be dedicated, uncompromising servants of God.

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