This article was found in the October 1950 copy of Progress, the monthly magazine of the Romford Congregational Church. It was written by R. A. Newman
The Rev. Christopher Wordsworth (nephew of the poet Wordsworth), first and only parochial charge was a little country living in Berkshire, with the curious name of "Stanford-in-the-vale-cum-Goosey." On settling down he was much troubled on finding that the villagers had never been taught the duty of giving. Their idea of religion was to receive all the church doles, by way of coal, soup, blankets, etc., and to give nothing. The vicar was a poet of no mean order, a talent probably inherited, and he decided, instead of appeals from the pulpit, that he would try to inculcate the duty of giving to God by writing a hymn, and having it sung in the church at intervals of about a month. The method proved most effective, and the people became really generous givers. It is therefore to this one-time niggardly congregation that the Church of Christ generally owes this most beautiful hymn:
O Lord of heaven and earth and sea,
To Thee all praise and glory be;
How shall we show our love to Thee
Giver of all?
If you have a hymn-book at home read this poem at your leisure, for it does really bring home to all hearts what a debt we owe to the giver of all. The Rev. Wordsworth was subsequently Bishop of Lincoln - and died in 1885.
The most popular of all Missionary hymns was written by Bishop Heber at Wrexham in 1819, when staying at the Vicarage. He had gone on a visit really to hear his father-in-law Dr. Shipely, the Dean of St. Asaph, preach in aid of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts on Whitsunday. It was on the Saturday evening that a few clerical friends gathered in the Vicarage library, that the Dean asked Heber to write something for them to sing on the morrow - appropriate for the occasion. Heber retired to a quiet corner of the room and after fifteen minutes, produced the first three verses of the hymn From Greenland's icy mountains.
His friends were delighted, but Heber felt it was not completed in its proper sense, and with five minutes more silence he wrote the last verse Waft, waft, ye winds His story.
He gave it to the Dean, and the hymn was sung for the first time in the Wrexham Church the following morning.
It is said to be one of the finest examples of spontaneous writing we possess. In a total of twenty minutes, i.e. five minutes to each verse of eight lines.
At the age of 40 he became Bishop of Calcutta, and is reputed to have ordained the first native to become a Minister of the Church. Other hymns of his composition are Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty and The Son of God forth to war.
At the age of 43 he passed on to his rest, in 1826.
Robert Robinson, born at Swaffham, in the county of Norfolk, in 1735, is our next author. He was destined for the Established Church, but the requisite means could not be obtained. At the age of 14 he was apprenticed to a hairdresser in London, who often found fault with him for giving more attention to books than to business. At the age of 17 it is recorded that he and other lads one Sunday got playing tricks with a fortune-telling old woman. They rendered her intoxicated, that they might amuse themselves with her predictions. He afterwards went out of curiosity one night to hear the great evangelist George Whitfield, and was so impressed, that he became a preacher at Mildenhall, and wrote the hymn Come, Thou Fount of every blessing.
He passed through many changes and was connected in turn with Wesleyans, Independents, Baptists, and finally a follower of Faustus Socinus, his joy and peace ending in depression and darkness. The following story is told of him -
He was travelling in a stage coach with a lady sitting opposite to him deeply engrossed in reading a little book. Neither of them knew who the other was, but she perceived that he was acquainted with religion, and asked for his opinion on a hymn she had been reading: Come, Thou Fount of every blessing.
He waived the subject, turning to some other topic, but she contrived to return to the subject, describing the benefits she had derived from the hymn, and her strong admiration for its sentiments.
She observed Robinson was strongly agitated, but did not suspect the cause, and woman-like carried on of the good it had done her, and asked him, "Don't you feel it is good?"
At length, entirely overcome by the power of his feelings, bursting in to tears he said, "Madam, I am the poor unhappy man who composed that hymn years ago, and I would give a thousand worlds, if I had them, to enjoy the feelings I then had."
It has been said that the most beautiful resignation hymn ever penned was Richard Baxter's Lord it belongs not to my care.
He is also of course known to most people as the author of the "Saints Everlasting Rest." At one time he was chaplain to the merry monarch, Charles II, and one can scarcely wonder why he should write such a hymn. He had a rough time, being much troubled by the Independents under Cromwell, and by the Royalists after the Restoration, who ejected him, and then Judge Jeffreys bullied and abused him.
It was Baxter, who, when greeted by the terrible Jeffreys with the remark, "Richard, I see the rogue in thy face," replied "I had not known before that my face was a mirror."
The history of those times are well worth the study of all Free Churchmen today, but space in "Progress" is limited.
One of the most curious places to write a hymn was on a pane of glass, with a diamond, where it remained for many years. One Whitsunday at Hoddesdon near Broxbourne and Ware, in Hertfordshire, Miss Harriet Auber was sitting in her bedroom, thinking over the sermon she had heard that morning in church - when she wrote the words of that hymn, which has found its way into nearly every collection ever written:
Our blest Redeemer ere He breathed
His tender last farewell,
A Guide, a Comforter bequeathed
With us to dwell.
She died in 1862 at the age of 89, but that pane of glass has disappeared from the house, which afterwards became a place of business.
I think more parents at the christening service of their children appreciate the two verses sung of Saviour, now this infant bless, written by Thomas Toke Lynch, who lived from 1818 to 1871.
I was amused at a recent service to hear a lady say, "What a pity, that makes three boys - never mind, next year maybe it will be a girl."
Viscount Templewood (formerly Sir Samuel Hoare) in his book The Unbroken Thread, speaks of the sporting clergy of the 19th century, particularly in the country districts, and quotes the following story -
"Can I have my baby christened on Saturday?" asked a parishioner of those days of the parish clerk.
"No," answered the clerk, "you can't, the Reverend is pike fishing on Saturday." "Can I have it then before Saturday?" queried the parent. "No, you can't neither, the Reverend has left a live bait in the font," said the clerk. Templewood adds there were many similar stories in those days; he came from a very old Norfolk stock.