Edward Henry Bickersteth was born in London, England, on January 25, 1825 – his father being an Anglican clergyman and Edward his only son.
Following in his footsteps, young Edward took ‘holy orders’ in 1848, became a curate, then rector, then vicar, and eventually Bishop of Exeter (1885-1900).
And also like his father, he wrote poetry and hymns. Still sung by modern day congregations is:
Till He come, Oh, let the words
Linger on the trembling chords …
usually used at the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.
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Bickersteth married Rosa Bignold in 1848, and they had sixteen children, including Edward, Bishop of South Tokyo. Three years after Rosa died, in 1876, Bickersteth married his cousin Ellen Susanna Bickersteth.
Bickersteth’s penchant for writing poetry was evident in his undergraduate years, winning the Chancellor’s Prize for English Poetry for three successive years, 1844-46. He pressed on to his MA in 1850.
For thirty years from 1855 Bickersteth was vicar of Christ Church, Hampstead. In the same year he was appointed Dean of Gloucester, and three months later he became Bishop of Exeter.
In August, 1875, Edward Bickersteth was called to the bedside of a dying relative, Archdeacon Hill, of Liverpool. The text, Isaiah 26:3, was read, and in a few minutes a poem had been hastily written to comfort the dying man. Later it was set to music. It was said to have been a favourite of Queen Victoria. And when Bishop Bickersteth travelled the Far East he heard this hymn being sung in Japanese and Chinese.
Without doubt it is one of the loveliest hymns the Church possesses. Notice how each first line is a question – the second line the answer. Ponder the words:
Peace, perfect peace, with sorrows surging round?
On Jesus’ bosom nought but calm is found.
Peace, perfect peace, our future all unknown?
Jesus we know, and He is on the throne.
Bickersteth wrote several volumes of poems and he wrote many hymns, published in two volumes. Among his other writings was a Commentary on the New Testament.
Of Bickersteth’s hymns it is recorded: “Joined with a strong grasp of his subject, true poetic feeling, a pure rhythm, there is a soothing plaintiveness and individuality in his hymns which give them a distinct character of their own. His thoughts are usually with the individual, and not with the mass: with the single soul and his God, and not with a vast multitude bowed in adoration before the Almighty. Hence, although many of his hymns are eminently suited to congregational purposes, and have attained to a wide popularity, yet his finest productions are those which are best suited for private use.”
Edward Bickersteth died on May 16, 1906.
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This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com