436) An Illegal Hymn


 Thomas Ken (1637-1711)

    One of the best known of all hymn verses is what is often called the Doxology, written in 1674 by Englishman Thomas Ken:

    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.

     Many congregations sing this at every service.  It has been said that this one verse has done more to teach the doctrine of the Trinity than all the theology books ever written.  The four lines usually stand alone, but they were originally written as the last verse of two longer hymns.

     Martin Luther (1483-1546) was the first person in many centuries to write hymns for the congregation to sing at worship.  Previous to that, the congregation would sing only Psalms from the Bible, rephrased and put to music.  Luther argued that the devil should not be allowed to have all the good music, so in about 1525 he began writing popular hymns for congregational singing.  

     A little more than a hundred years later, Thomas Ken was born in a suburb of London.  Hymn singing had not yet caught on in England– in fact, it was illegal.  But Thomas Ken was not one to let the law get in the way of his convictions, so he wrote hymns anyway.  He was, for a time, the chaplain at a boys school, and he wrote two hymns for the boys’ devotions:  one for them to sing for their morning devotions, Awake, My Soul, and With the Sun for them to sing for their morning devotions, and, All Praise to Thee, My God, This Night for evening devotions.  The Doxology was the last verse of each of these hymns.  In order to avoid trouble, Ken told the boys to sing the hymns only in the privacy of their rooms.  Years later when hymn singing became legal, these morning and evening hymns became among the most popular in all England, and the Doxology, one of the most widely used verses of all time.

     Ken was a gifted preacher and rose through the ranks of church authority quickly.  He became a bishop as a young man, and even served in the palace of the king on various occasions.  But Bishop Ken’s plain-spoken condemnation of sin got him into trouble over and over again.  He would often denounce the corrupt lives of those in authority, including the king for his many mistresses.  Some of the rulers appreciated such boldness in a preacher, and some did not.  So over the years Thomas Ken went back and forth, one year serving as chaplain to the king’s court, the highest position in the land for a clergyman; and the next year being imprisoned in the Tower of London for his convictions.  Knowing that Jesus was his real King, Ken would not go against the command of Jesus to bow to any earthly king.  He was offered earthly comfort, fame, and authority; but when speaking the truth meant forsaking all of that, he spoke the truth. 

     Thomas Ken was a courageous preacher, and in those days those who spoke the truth to the king were often executed.  But Ken was too well liked to execute, so finally he was sent to serve in an obscure little parish, far from the center of power and all the important people.  He was more than happy to serve the remaining years of his ministry there.  When he died in 1711 at the age of 74 he asked for no special honors.  His only request was that six of the poorest men in the parish would carry his coffin from the church to his grave.  After his death it was said of him that he “came as near to the ideal of Christian perfection as human weakness permits.”


Psalm 67:8 —  Praise our God, all peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard.

Psalm 43:5  —  Why, my soul, are you downcast?  Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

Revelation 19:5  —  Then a voice came from the throne, saying:  “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, both great and small!”



Hear it sung at:


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.

Forgive me, Lord, for Thy dear Son,
The ill that I this day have done,
That with the world, myself, and Thee,
I, ere I sleep, at peace may be.

Teach me to live, that I may dread
The grave as little as my bed.
Teach me to die, that so I may
Rise glorious at the judgment day.

O may my soul on Thee repose,
And with sweet sleep mine eyelids close,
Sleep that may me more vigorous make
To serve my God when I awake.

When in the night I sleepless lie,
My soul with heavenly thoughts supply;
Let no ill dreams disturb my rest,
No powers of darkness me molest.

O when shall I, in endless day,
For ever chase dark sleep away,
And hymns divine with angels sing,
All praise to thee, eternal King?

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.