A Beloved Dominie and His Hymns

More than two hundred years have passed since Dr. Philip Doddridge was a preacher in the Calvinist church at Northampton, Eng­land. His hearers were composed mostly of hum­ble shoemakers in the town's mills, and not many could read or write. But they listened attentively to their beloved dominie, and after the sermon he would repeat, line by line, a hymn he had just written, which they would sing with devout fervor.

MORE than two hundred years have passed since Dr. Philip Doddridge was a preacher in the Calvinist church at Northampton, Eng­land. His hearers were composed mostly of hum­ble shoemakers in the town's mills, and not many could read or write. But they listened attentively to their beloved dominie, and after the sermon he would repeat, line by line, a hymn he had just written, which they would sing with devout fervor.

Everybody in the congregation admired Dr. Doddridge. He had not been in Northampton long before he established a charity school for teaching and clothing the children of the poor. He also helped to found a county infirmary. When he mixed with the townsfolk, they all cherished his company, for his life was given to good works, and he was moved to sympathy for all who were in want or distress. He was no less noted for his brilliant scholarship. Probably there were few clergymen in England with such a vast knowledge of literature. When John Wes­ley wanted advice on the best books for young ministers to read, he naturally turned to Dr. Doddridge.

It was because of his learning and saintly life that the Calvinist families in the country chose him to set up a school for the education of their sons, and to train them for the ministry. Somehow the busy dominie managed to do this along with his crowded preaching schedule and his writing of religious works.

From the new undertaking the headmaster drew one solid satisfaction. Thanks to his in­fluence, most of his students decided to follow his footsteps and become preachers! In their training they had received one curious kind of assistance: Dr. Doddridge had made shorthand a must in his curriculum. The result was that when a young person had mastered that, he was able to carry off complete transcripts of all the lectures!

Possibly not many young men lacking money and social standing would have stuck by the "faith of their fathers" as did this resolute or­phan. After Philip finished at St. Alban's School the Duchess of Bedford offered to send him to college and to find him a comfortable berth in the Church of England. The boy refused, feeling he belonged in the Nonconformist fold.

In his struggle to become a minister he found hard going for a while. Finally he enrolled in the Dissenting Academy of John Jennings, and after completing his training, was called to a church at Kibworth. There were 150 members all told, and the twenty-one-year-old pastor's salary was only £35 a year ($175).

Doddridge's pastorate at Kibworth lasted only two years, and then he took a church at Market Harborough. On Christmas Day, 1729, he began his final ministry at Castle Hill, Northampton, which he held until his death, twenty-two years later. There was deep gloom in this parish in the autumn of 1751. Word had just come that their beloved pastor would never return. In the late summer Dr. Doddridge had developed a racking cough and cold, and finally a good friend had given him passage money to sail to Portugal, hoping the warmer climate would bring him relief. Then the report came from Lisbon that he had succumbed to his illness and had been buried in the Protestant cemetery.

Only a small headstone in a distant land marks his remains, but Philip Doddridge today has a far more enduring monument. So long as music remains a part of Christian worship, various stanzas he "lined out" for his faithful followers will be cherished. In many hymnals these titles may be found: "O Happy Day! That Fixed My Choice," "Awake, My Soul! Stretch Every Nerve," "Hark, the Glad Sound the Sav­iour Comes," "Let Zion's Watchmen All Awake/' "Great God, We Sing That Mighty Hand," "Eternal Source of Every Joy," and "How Gen­tle God's Commands."

Even in the lonely heart of Africa the great missionary David Livingstone found new hope and renewed his courage by reading aloud these stanzas of Dr. Doddridge, which he had heard sung as a boy in a lowly kirk in Scotland:

O God of Bethel, by whose hand

Thy people still are fed;

Who through this weary pilgrimage

Hast all our fathers led!

 

Through each perplexing path of life Our wandering footsteps guide;

Give us each day our daily bread, And raiment fit provide.

O spread Thy covering wings around Till all our wanderings cease,

And at our Father's loved abode We find at last Thy peace.

Reprinted From Youth (October, 1959), British Union MV Department.

 


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December 1960

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