This is the day that … Henry Alford was born in London, in 1810.
The fifth generation of Anglican rectors who made a worthy impact, it was not long before Henry Alford showed himself an exceptional child. His mother died shortly after he was born and at an early age Henry was in the sole care of his studious father. So it is no wonder his academic preparation was exemplary.
At age 6 he wrote a manuscript on the Travels of Paul. Before he was 10 he wrote Latin odes … and a history of the Jews!! (Dictionary of the Christian Church, page 27).
Higher education took place at Trinity College, Cambridge – and from thence Alford served as a clergyman in the Church of England, eventually, in 1857, being appointed Dean of Canterbury.
He became, says his biographer, a man of many talents – “a poet, a preacher, a musician, a painter, a Bible scholar, a philologist … he could build an organ and play it!”
Adding to his many talents was his determination to see a task through to completion, as the following anecdote affirms. Henry was thrown from his horse in the February of 1847 when going to deliver his first lecture. Despite being very seriously shaken and disfigured he punctually appeared before his audience with his face and head covered with surgical bandages, and — resolutely lectured.
Among his many writings was A Dissuasive against Rome – a polemic against certain High Church tendencies in the Rome-ward direction in the Anglican Church.
A. Bailey tells us that Dean Alford was “a supporter of the Evangelical Alliance, and throughout his life he maintained cordial relations with non-conformists” (Gospel in Hymns, page 390).
But it is his Greek New Testament that is regarded as his magnum opus. This great work, which appeared between 1849-1861, occupied him for twenty years of his life and “took its place as the standard critical commentary of the later nineteenth century” (Handbook to Church Hymnary, page 251). The word ‘critical’ should not be misunderstood in that sentence. Whilst Dean Alford analysed the current theories and textual problems, he held to an evangelical position.
In order to harvest the depth of critical work originating in Germany, Alford taught himself German. Thus he brought to the English scholar insights which had previously not been available.
In the foreword to his New Testament for English Readers, (2 volumes, published 1863), he insists on belief in plenary inspiration – “I hold it to the utmost … the inspiration of the sacred writers I believe to have consisted in the fullness of the influence of the Holy Spirit specially raising them to, and enabling them for, their work, in a manner which distinguishes them from all other writers in the world, and their work from all other works …” (Volume 1, page 27).
Among his well-known hymns still sung today, are “Come, ye thankful people, come” and “Forward be our watchword”.
Dean Alford died in 1871.
This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.