Thomas Ken was a rebel. At least, some of his contemporaries probably thought so. He was fired from jobs in the pulpit twice, and even thrown in prison (the Tower of London, see the picture) for his penchant to say exactly what he was thinking. What would you think of a preacher today who had that kind of reputation? What would a rebel do today, something that pushes the envelope, making people squirm? Some of the counter-culturalists might actually cheer to hear someone blast away at perceived corruption of leaders, or of others in positions of authority. But, eventually, a person’s adversaries catch up to him. In Ken’s life, this might be one perspective, but not the only one.
Imagine living among people who thought that songs could only come from scripture, nowhere else. Now, the Psalms are great, and many of our contemporary songs emanate from them, so in one way this thinking makes some sense. But, take it further. Don’t be an independent creative worshipper, and don’t mess with the Lord’s music that He’s given us to sing, or we’ll call you a heretic! This was Thomas Ken’s world, in the 17th Century. So, being who he was, as Anglican Bishop Ken, but definitely with his own opinions, this fellow decided he would compose hymns on his own anyway. In 1673, he wanted to create something that his students to use at Winchester College, so he put together a prayer manual that they could sing to themselves every morning in their rooms. The hymns in it, from which the song Doxology comes, were for morning, evening, and midnight, and the song was originally named “Awake My Soul and with the Sun”. It’s a measure of Ken’s devotion, the background to this song, that he created not just for himself, but for those he was mentoring. The song itself was rather like Ken telling them, as they sang something extra-scriptural, intentionally, ‘your devotion to the Lord is your own business’.
Ken could have written a revolutionary song, one with a verse or two. This song when he wrote it had 11 verses! Still, he did seem to instruct his students to sing it only outside of the formal worship services, so Bishop Ken wasn’t completely out of touch with his culture. In a turn that even in his own death may have made him smile, Thomas Ken’s song, this one he instructed his students to keep to themselves, was sung at his funeral. Thomas Ken was in good company, in being a critic of the establishment, and yet in it. There was another, a long time ago, who also got in trouble with the religious elite. You’ve probably guessed who it is already. Jesus. That’s food for thought when you sing to Him. It’s between you and Him when you sing.
Information on the song was obtained from the books “101 Hymn Stories”, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1982; and “Amazing Grace – 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions”, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, 1990. See also the following links for historical information on the song and its many verses: