John Samuel Bewley Monsell Hymnwriter

John Samuel Bewley Monsell was born on March 2, 1811, at St Columb’s, Londonderry, Ireland. His father was the Archdeacon of Londonderry, and young John followed into Clerical ministry in his footsteps.

Monsell attended Trinity College in Dublin, gaining his BA in 1832 and LLD in 1856.

He was ordained in 1834 and following his holy orders he ministered in Surrey and Guildford in England. During the latter ministry, as Rector of St. Nicholas, Guildford, he was accidentally killed during renovations to his church.

Monsell was a prolific poet and hymn-writer. He published 11 volumes of poems, of which almost 300 were hymns which came from his pen.

“We are too distant and reserved in our praises,” he wrote.  “We sing not as we should sing to Him and of Him who is Chief among 10,000, the Altogether Lovely.”

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Among his best known contributions to the world of hymnody are … “O Worship the Lord in the Beauty of Holiness” and “Fight the Good Fight with All Thy Might”.

One of Monsell’s hymns, ‘Awake, glad soul, awake, awake” was written according to the preface to his ‘Spiritual Songs‘, “amid the orange and olive groves of Italy during a winter spent (for the sake of his health) upon the shores of the Mediterranean Sea”.

In the title page and introduction to the 1864 Fourth Edition of ‘Spiritual Songs’, Monsell identified himself as Vicar of Egham, Surrey and Rural Dean, and Author of ‘Parish Musings’. The collection provided a poem for each of the Sundays and Holy Days throughout the year. Monsell saw this English Ritual of the liturgical religious calendar as an expression of the “mind of Christ”.

A distinction among hymns, which can be seen in Monsell’s music, is between the hymn and the Processional. The inclusion of a repetitive chorus was a feature of Processionals, and so Monsell modified some of his hymns to create a chorus for processional use, such as using the first four lines of the first verse as a chorus for the other verses. Hymns with choruses became the principal style of hymn in the twentieth century.

Monsell’s death occurred on 9 April, 1875 when he fell from the roof of the church as it was being rebuilt.

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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:

John Berridge of Everton

John Berridge was born in Kingston, Nottinghamshire, England, on March 1, 1716, the eldest son of a wealthy farmer and grazier.

Berridge’s father wanted him to learn to run to farm, but the boy was much more inclined to his studies and so the father sent him to Cambridge to prepare for ministry.

It was not until his early teens that he had an encounter with the things of God.  When he was coming home from school one day a boy invited young Berridge into his house “that he might read to him out of the Bible”.  The seed was sown, although for nearly 30 years the devil snatched it away or covered it with thorns.

Having been raised in a Christian home Berridge learned to pray and hold faith in God, but during his studies he “lost much of his early religious impressions” and almost entirely gave up “secret prayer for ten years”.

During those wasted years, Berridge had excelled as a scholar at Clare Hall, Cambridge and entered the Church of England ministry as curate to the parish of Stapleford, near Cambridge in 1749.  Not until he was in his second parish, at Everton, at the age of 42, did he come to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus.  When he did, his preaching came alive.  “As soon as I preached Jesus Christ and faith in His blood, then believers were added to the church continually; then people flocked from all parts to hear the glorious sound of the Gospel …”
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Not only did the Vicar of Everton preach to his own people, but he often rode 100 miles and preached 12 times a week … which brought him into conflict with the bishop, who told him that it was against ‘the canons of the church’.  “My lord,” replied Berridge, “I only preach in two seasons.”   “Which are they, Mr Berridge?”  “In season, and out of season, my lord.”

Berridge remained the Vicar of Everton until his death, totally 37 years in that pulpit. Yet his wider ministry is captured by one historian describing “Berridge preaching from a horse-block at Potton, mingling smiles and tears, and the quaintest humour with the deepest pathos”.

Berridge sympathized with and aided the Methodist revival. John Wesley esteemed Berridge highly and looked on his as a co-worker. Berridge is alluded to often in Wesley’s writings.

It is true that Berridge used many a quaint saying in his pulpit ministry, causing some to label him ‘a buffoon’; and it is true that strange physical effects were often evidenced under his preaching.  Loud cries and convulsions and trance-like states would sometimes occur among his listeners.  But he never encouraged these demonstrations.  And as for his quaint sayings, he acknowledged that ‘he was born with a fool’s cap on, and a fool’s cap was not so easily put off as a night cap.’ This remark was clearly one of self-deprecation since he was an excellent scholar.

As Bishop Ryle comments, “Better a thousand times for men to smile and be converted than to look stiff and grave and sleepy in their pews, and remain dead in trespasses and sins.”

Berridge never married and in 1785 he published a volume of hymns titled Zion’s Songs. Of the three hundred and forty-two hymns he composed very few remain in use. His ‘wedding hymn’, “Since Jesus Freely Did Appear“, which is a prayer in song for the divine blessing on the bridal couple, is one of the few that can be found in hymn books today.

Many of Berridge’s hymns were first published in the Gospel Magazine, under the pseudonym “Old Everton“. His biographer says that the hymns were written during Berridge’s “long and trying illness”, although the nature of the physical condition is not explained.

Berridge’s hymns and preaching reflect the abject worthlessness of man and the supreme blessing of Christ’s salvation. His hymns give us such lines as: “Self-condemned and abhorred, How shall I approach the Lord”; and “I drop my vile heart in the dust.”

John Berridge died at Everton on 22 January, 1793.

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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:

Sabine Baring-Gould Writes for 90 Years

Sabine Baring-Gould was born in Exeter, on January 28, 1834.

His father had been injured as an employee of the East India Company and enjoyed escaping England with frequent trips to Europe. Sabine’s formal education was thus disrupted by these family travels, but his own perspective was expanded at the same time. An average student he did manage to graduate from Cambridge, despite his dislike for Mathematics.

He held unconventional views and was perpetually critical of the established church.

By 1864 we find him a Church of England clergyman … and thus he continued for sixty years until his death on 2 January, 1924.

In 1867 he rescued a mill-girl named Grace Taylor from drowning. He fell in love with her, paid for her education, and married her in 1868.

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In 1872 he inherited his father’s estate, some 3000 acres of land in Devonshire. And here it was he became squire of Lewtrenchard in West Devon, lord of the manor, justice of the peace … “and appointed himself rector of the parish” (Gospel in Hymns, by A. Bailey, page 372).

He wrote “160 volumes” on such subjects as music, history, folk-lore, biography, novels, theology, and travel. His 15 volume Lives of the Saints was his ‘magnum opus’- and was banned by the Roman Catholic Church!

His book The Evangelical Revival, attacks basic doctrines held dear by Bible-believing Christians. “Evangelicalism,” he writes, “is a feeder of Rome … and the occasion of infidelity!” (pages 297, 300).

Yet this High Church Anglican was responsible for some of our best-loved hymns … He tells us Onward Christian Soldiers, marching as to war… was written in less than 15 minutes, for Whitsunday, 1865, when a procession of Sunday-School children marched through the streets at Horbury Bridge, Yorkshire. (The tune, incidentally, was composed by Arthur S. Sullivan, of Gilbert and Sullivan fame.)

Sabine Baring-Gould also wrote, Now the day is over, night is drawing nigh… in 1867.

William Kelynack writes: “In his early ministry he was intolerant; his treatment of nonconformity evoked strong resentment. But … in his later years he endeavoured to make amends, more especially to the local Methodists…” (Companion to Methodist School Hymnbook, page 16).

Baring-Gould lived for 90 years, living in the one village, which became his base for his broader travels and abundant writing. He did much to capture the folk songs of the countryside, taking over 12 years to compile his collection, by visiting the various singers personally and having an assistant note down the music while he edited the lyrics. He changed the frequently bawdy language to words which were much more acceptable to a broader and more cultivated audience.

Toward the end of his life Baring-Gould rated his collection of folk songs, published as “Songs of the West”, as his greatest achievement. It was, as he subtitled the work, “A collection made from the mouths of the people”.

Baring-Gould’s eccentricity is widely acknowledged, with such evidences as his teaching at Hurstpierpoint with his pet bat on his shoulder.

Baring-Gould died in 1924 at Lew (as Lewtrenchard was often referred to) and was buried in his own churchyard just across the road from his house.

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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:

Edward Henry Bickersteth Pens Poems for God

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:

John Mason Neale Harvests Ancient Hymns

John Mason Neale was born on January 24, 1818 in Cockney London.

He has been described as “one of the most prolific and certainly one of the greatest hymn writers the Church of England has ever produced.” Another writer describes him as “the most learned hymnologist … of his time.”

“A brilliant scholar,” (the most gifted Cambridge undergraduate of his time) a third biographer informs us, “Neale had a knowledge of 20 languages; he authored books on church architecture, church history, etc.; he translated many hymns from the Latin and more from the Greek than any other hymnologist, and he wrote some hymns of his own”.

His parents gave him an evangelical upbringing, his father being an evangelical priest. After John’s father died in 1823 John left the city and went with his widowed mother to the village of Shepperton. There his tutor gave him a Greek New Testament and assisted John to memorise a verse each day.

Next he went to Blackheath and on to Sherborne, where he enjoyed extensive walks and became a proficient horseman.

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At Cambridge, he became High Church in his sympathies, including respect for the Tractarians.

After taking ‘holy orders’ at the age of 23, he ministered at Crawley, in Sussex, for six weeks … and left “for health reasons”. Ill health challenged him for the rest of his life.

In 1842 he married Sarah Norman, the daughter of an Anglican minister. And Neale’s love for church architecture, which he shared with his life-long friend Benjamin Webb, prompted them both to establish the Camden Society, to record and celebrate England’s religious architecture.

In 1854 Neale co-founded an Anglican order of women dedicated to nursing the sick, the Sisterhood of St. Margaret.

Neale spent three years of study in Madeira, Spain, where he pored over musty volumes of hymns and ancient Eastern liturgies. This made a lasting impression on him.

His interest in ancient liturgies prompted fears among his peers that he was a Catholic agent intent on subverting Anglicanism back to the Romish fold. Less than a decade before, John H. Newman had encouraged Catholic practices, then defected to the Roman Church. Suspicions thus abounded toward anyone who appeared to be of similar inclination.

At 28 years of age we find him as warden of Sackville College, an elderly men’s home (a charitable residence for the poor). His chapel services “with liturgies at variance with the Anglican tradition” caused the local bishop to forbid him to continue “debasing the minds of these poor people with his spiritual haberdasheries!” He was accused – and probably rightly so – of ‘Romish practices.’

For the next 14 years he not only had a verbal war with his bishop, but opposition from many people who lived in East Grinstead, Sussex. He was charged with misappropriating funds. Arson was attempted on his home. A riot at a funeral he was conducting for one of the Sisters of St Margaret necessitated police intervention …

In the midst of all this he continued his translation of ancient hymns: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel and Jerusalem the Golden were originally written in Latin in the 12th century. Art Thou Weary? was written in Greek in the 8th century.

Neale noted that the English Reformation and the break with Rome also caused a loss of much of the Latin and other hymn traditions of the Roman church, which were, none-the-less the heritage of the whole church. Archbishop Cranmer had previously seen the need to have these works translated for the English tongue, but no-one had achieved the task until Neale came along with appropriate interest and superlative qualifications to mine the rich hymnal heritage for the English church.

A glimpse of the names of hymn writers in the rear of most hymn-books will reveal a surprising number of Neale’s contributions.

Among his own compositions were Good King Wenceslas and Good Christian men, Rejoice! Neale also wrote historical fiction, among other efforts to inform his readers and illuminate their understanding. His time working among the poor and illiterate caused him to develop remarkable skills in unpacking truth so that simple folk could comprehend.

One biographer notes, “Excessive work killed this remarkably gifted son of the Church at the early age of forty-eight, in 1866.” He died on 6 August, 1866.

Find hundreds of succinct Church History posts at:

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: