Thomas Ken

Biographical Sketches Of Thomas Ken


1. “A Dictionary Of Hymnology”

The bare details of Bp. Ken’s life, when summarized, produce three results:—Born at Berkhampstead, July, 1637; Scholar of Winchester, 1651; Fellow of New College, Oxford, 1657; B. A., 1661; Rector of Little Easton, 1663; Fellow of Winchester, 1666; Rector of Brighstone, 1667; Rectore of Woodhay and Prebendary of Winchester, 1669; Chaplain to the Princess Mary at the Hague, 1679; returns to Winchester, 1680; Bp. Of Bath and Wells, 1685; imprisoned in the Tower, 1688; deprived, 1691; died at Longleat, March 19, 1711.

The parents of Ken both died during his childhood, and he grew up under the guardianship of Izaak Walton, who had married Ken’s elder sister, Ann. The dominant Presbyterianism of Winchester and Oxford did not shake the firm attachment to the English Church, which such a home had instilled. His life until the renewal of his connection with Winchester, through his fellowship, his chaplaincy to Morley (Walton’s staunch friend, then bishop of Winchester), and his prebend in the Cathedral, calls for no special remark here. But this second association with Winchester, there seems little doubt, originated his three well-known hymns.

In 1674 he published A Manual of Prayers for Use of the Scholars of Winchester College, and reference is made in this book to three hymns, for “Morning,” “Midnight,” and “Evening,” the scholars being recommended to use them. It can scarcely be questioned that the Morning, Evening and Midnight hymns, pub. In the 1695 edition of The Manual, are the ones referred to. He used to sing these hymns to the viol or spinet, but the tunes he used are unknown.

He left Winchester for a short time to be chaplain to the Princess Mary at the Hague, but was dismissed for his faithful remonstrance against a case of immorality at the Court, and returned to Winchester. A similar act of faithfulness at Winchester singularly enough won him his bishopric. He stoutly refused Nell Gwynne the use of his house, when Charles II came to Winchester, and the easy king, either from humor or respect for his honesty, gave him not long afterwards the bishopric of Bath and Wells.

Among the many acts of piety and munificence that characterized his tenure of the see, his ministration to the prisoners and sufferers after the battle of Sedgmoor and the Bloody Assize are conspicuous. He interceded for them with the king, and retrenched his own state to assist them. He attended Monmouth on the scaffold. James II pronounced him the most eloquent preacher among the Protestants of his time; the judgment of Charles II appears from his pithy saying that he would go and hear Ken “tell him of his faults.” Among the faithful words of the bishops at Charle’s death-bed, none were so noble in their faithfulness as his.

He was one of the Seven Bishops who refused to read the Declaration of Indulgence, and were imprisoned in the Tower by James for their refusal, but triumphantly acquitted on their trial. At the accession of William III he refused, after some doubt on the subject, to take the oaths, and was at length (1691) deprived of his see. His charities had left him at this time only seven hundred pounds, and his library, as a means of subsistence; but he received hospitality for his remaining years with his friend Lord Weymouth, at Longleat. The see of Bath and Wells was again offered him, but in vain, at the death of his successor, Bp. Kidder. He survived all the deprived prelates.

His attitude as a nonjuror was remarkable for its conciliatory spirit. The saintliness of Ken’s character, its combination of boldness, gentleness, modesty and love, has been universally recognized. The verdict of Macaulay is that it approached “as near as human infirmity permits to the ideal perfection of Christian virtue.” The principal work of Ken’s that remains is that on the Catechism, entitled The Practice of Divine Love. His poetical works were published after his death, in 4 vols. Among the contents are, the Hymns for the Festivals, which are said to have suggested to Keble the idea of The Christian Year; the Anodynes against the acute physical sufferings of his closing years; and the Preparatives for Death. Although many passages in them are full of tender devotion, they cannot rank either in style or strength with the three great hymns written at Winchester.


2. Louis Benson, “The English Hymn”

Thomas Ken had been educated at Winchester College under the Puritan regime, and returned to it in some capacity in 1665. In 1674 he published A Manual of Prayers for the use of the scholars of Winchester College, which contained the injunction: “Be sure to sing the Morning and Evening Hymn in your chamber devoutly.” Though Ken’s Morning and Evening hymns, now so well known, were not included in the Manual till after 1694, we may conclude that they were thus in use within a few years of the Restoration. In these we can hardly fail to recognize an independent beginning of modern hymn writing and singing; not developed out of Puritan precedents, but suggested by the models of the Breviary. The Latin hymns had been sung in the daily services of Winchester College up to the Reformation, and not improbably until Ken’s own school days.” But in any case a Breviary, Missal and several works on the Liturgy were among Ken’s cherished books.” He was evidently attracted by the old church ritual, and his hymns have caught the tone of the Breviary Hymns.

Bishop Ken’s hymns have had a marked influence upon English Hymnody in the direction of simplicity, but it must not be assumed that they had immediate influence upon the situation of their time. The Manual was a popular little book, often reprinted, but it is to be remembered that the hymns were not in it till the close of the XVIIth century. They were apparently sung in the school from Ms. or printed sheets, and only in 1692 were published in a pamphlet without Ken’s knowledge or approval.” Until then at least they could not have been widely known.


3. Josiah Miller, “Our Hymns: Their Authors And Origin”

This bard-bishop was born at Berkhampstead, in Hertfordshire. His eldest sister was the wife of the celebrated Izaak Walton. After receiving a pious education at home, he went to Winchester to study, and afterwards to Oxford. He took his bachelor’s degree in 1661, and in 1666 he was elected to a vacant fellow ship in the College at Winchester, where he went to reside. There he became domestic chaplain to the bishop, and it was for the benefit of the Winchester scholars that he produced his ” Manual of of which were added the “Morning,” “Evening” and “Midnight Hymns,” a book that was useful to Whitefield in the early period of his college life. The “Morning Hymn,” “Awake my soul and with the sun,”—No. 929, so generally a favourite now, was very dear to its author, who used often to sing it in the early morning to the accompaniment of his lute.

In 1675 Ken travelled in Italy, and in 1679 he was chaplain to the Princess of Orange at the Hague, where he resided for a year. In 1683 he accompanied the expedition of Lord Dart mouth against Tangier, and on the voyage wrote a poem, entitled “Edmond.” After being chaplain to Charles II, Ken was raised in 1684 to the see of Bath and Wells. In his new capacity he attended his royal master in his last illness, but his pious words appear to have been unheeded by the dying monarch. As we might suppose from his hymns, Ken was a pious, earnest, and laborious bishop. His”;Exposition of the Church Catechism” was intended to lessen the prevailing darkness of those times.

Ken was a political sufferer. His inflexibility in maintaining what he believed to be right, and his courage in reproving kings where it was necessary, made him many and powerful enemies. In May, 1688, he was committed to the Tower for refusing to read the “Declaration of Indulgence,”—a declaration introduced by James II to favour his Roman Catholic friends. For this refusal he suffered two months imprisonment, and in 1691, as a non-juror, he was deprived of his episcopal emoluments. Having made his protest, he retired to Longleate, where, after years of suffering, he died. It is said that, after burying him, his attendants saluted the opening day with the strains of his “morning hymn.”


4. Hezekiah Butterworth, “The Story Of The Hymns”

The grand doxology, beginning, “Praise God, from whom all blessings flow,” is suited to all religious occasions, to all Christian denominations, to all times, places, and conditions of men, and has been translated into all civilized tongues, and adopted by the church universal. Written more than two hundred years ago, it has become the grandest tone in the anthem of earth’s voices continually rising to heaven. As England’s drum-call follows the sun, so the tongues that take up this grateful ascription of praise are never silent, but incessantly encircle the earth with their melody.

Thomas Ken, (Kenn,) the writer of the hymns that first contained this magnificent stanza, in the form that it is now used, was born at Berkhamstead, England, in 1637, and was educated at Oxford. He early in life consecrated himself to God, and became a prelate. He was a lover of holy music. The organists and choristers being silenced by the rigid rule of Cromwell, musical societies were formed, in one of which Ken played the lute with admirable skill. This society was accustomed to meet in the college chambers.

The Morning and the Evening Hymn, which end with this doxology, were originally written for the use of the students in Winchester College, and were appended to a devotional work which he himself prepared, entitled “The Manual of Prayers.” In this latter work he thus counsels the young men of the college: “Be sure to sing the Morning and Evening Hymns in your chamber, devoutly remembering that the Psalmist upon happy experience assures you that it is a good thing to tell of the loving kindness of the Lord early in the morning and of his truth in the night season.” These hymns were probably at first printed on broad sheets of paper and sent to each student’s room. They were added to the Manual for Prayer in 1697. The work was now entitled, “A Manual of Prayers for the Use of Scholars in Winchester College and all other devout Christians; to which are added Three Hymns, Morning, Evening, and Midnight, not in former editions, by the same author.”

In 1679, Ken was appointed chaplain to Mary, Princess of Orange, and in 1680 chaplain to Charles II. In the latter capacity he fearlessly did his duty, as one accountable to God alone, and not to any man. He reproved the “merry monarch” for his vices, in the plainest and most direct manner. “I must go and hear Ken tell me my faults,” the king used to say good-humoredly. In 1684, Charles raised him to the see of Bath and Wells.

“Before he became a bishop,” says Macaulay, “he had maintained the honor of his gown by refusing, when the court was at Winchester, to let Nell Gwynn, the king’s mistress, lodge at the house which he occupied as prebendary. The king had sense enough to respect so manly a spirit. Of all the prelates he liked Ken best.” Charles once spoke of him as the “good little man that refused his lodgings to poor little Nell.”

He was the faithful spiritual adviser of Charles II. on his death-bed, and attended the Duke of Monmouth at his execution. He resisted the reestablishment of popery under James, and was one of the famous “seven bishops” who were tried for treason and acquitted. Having sworn allegiance to James, he was too conscientious to break his oath on the ascension of William III., Prince of Orange, and was deprived of his bishopric as a non-juror at the coronation.

He was now reduced to poverty, a condition not unacceptable to him, for he was not allured by the false glitter of the courts of kings. Like Fenelon, in retiring from places of splendor and power, he loved to be alone with his God, and let the world play its drama without being an actor. He was invited by Lord Viscount Weymouth to spend the remainder of his days in his mansion at Longleat, near Frome, in Somersetshire. There, enjoying the hospitality of a small suite of rooms, he lived in happy retirement for twenty years, universally respected and beloved. Queen Anne offered to restore him to the see of Bath and Wells, but he declined the position, “with grateful thanks for her majesty’s gracious remembrance of him, having long since determined to remain in privacy.”

He died in March, 1710, and was buried in the church- yard of Frome. He had requested that six of the poorest men of the parish might carry him to his grave, and that he might be interred without pomp or ceremony. This accordingly was the manner of his burial.

“The moral character of Ken,” says Lord Macaulay, “when impartially reviewed, sustains a comparison with any in ecclesiastical history, and seems to approach, as near as any human infirmity permits, to the ideal of Christian perfection.”



Awake, my soul, and with the sun,
Thy daily stage of duty run,
Shake off dull sloth, and early rise,
To pay thy morning sacrifice.

Redeem thy misspent time that’s past,
And live this day as if thy last,
Improve thy talent with due care,
‘Gainst the great day thyself prepare.

Let all thy converse be sincere,
Thy conscience as the noonday clear,
Think how all-seeing God thy ways,
And all thy secret thoughts surveys.

Influenced of the Light divine,
Let thine own light in good works shine,
Reflect all heaven’s propitious rays,
In ardent love and cheerful praise.

Wake and lift up thyself, my heart,
And with the angels bear thy part,
Who all night long unwearied sing,
Glory to the Eternal King.

I wake, I wake, ye heavenly choir,
May your devotion me inspire,
That I like you my age may spend,
Like you may on my God attend.

May I like you in GOD delight,
Have all day long my God in sight,
Perform like you my Maker’s will,
Oh may I never more do ill.

Had I your wings to heaven I ‘d fly,
But God shall that defect supply,
And my soul, winged with warm desire,
Shall all day long to heaven aspire.

Glory to Thee who safe hast kept,
And hast refreshed me while I slept,
Grant, Lord, when I from death shall wake,
I may of endless light partake.

I would not wake, nor rise again,
E’en heaven itself I would disdain,
Wert not Thou there to be enjoyed,
And I in hymns to be employed.

Heaven is, dear Lord, where’er thou art,
Oh never then from me depart,
For to my soul ’tis hell to be,
But for a moment without thee.

Lord, I my vows to thee renew,
Scatter my sins as morning dew,
Guard my first springs of thought and will,
And with thyself my spirit fill.

Direct, control, suggest this day,
All I design, or do, or say,
That all my powers, with all their might,
In Thy sole glory may unite.

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow,
Praise Him, all creatures here below,
Praise Him above, ye angelic host,
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.



Glory to Thee, my God, this night,
For all the blessings of the light,
Keep me, oh keep me, King of kings,
Under Thine own Almighty wings.

Forgive me, Lord, for Thy dear Son,
The ills that I this day have done,
That with the world, myself, and Thee,
I, ere I sleep, at peace may be.

Teach me to live, that I may dread,
The grave as little as my bed,
Teach me to die, that so I may,
Triumphing rise at the last day.

Oh may my soul on Thee repose,
And may sweet sleep mine eyelids close,
Sleep that shall me more vigorous make,
To serve my God when I awake.

When in the night I sleepless lie,
My soul with heavenly thoughts supply,
Let no ill dreams disturb my rest,
No powers of darkness me molest.

Dull sleep, of sense me to deprive,
I am but half my days alive,
Thy faithful lovers, Lord, are grieved,
To lie so long of Thee bereaved.

But though sleep o’er my frailty reigns,
Let it not hold me long in chains,
And now and then let loose my heart,
Till it a hallelujah dart.

The faster sleep the sense does bind,
The more unfettered is the mind,
Oh may my soul, from matter free,
Thy unveiled goodness waking see.

Oh when shall I, in endless day,
For ever chase dark sleep away,
And endless praise with the heavenly choir,
Incessant sing, and never tire?

You, my blest Guardian, whilst I sleep,
Close to my bed your vigils keep,
Divine love into me instil,
Stop all the avenues of ill.

Thought to thought with my soul converse,
Celestial joys to me rehearse,
And in my stead all the night long,
Sing to my God a grateful song.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow,
Praise Him all creatures here below,
Praise Him above, ye angelic host,
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.


5. Edwin Long, “Illustrated History Of Hymns And Their Authors”

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”

This doxology appeared as the last verse of the “Morning and Evening Hymns” added to the “Manual of Prayers,” by Bishop Ken in 1697. The morning hymn commences, “Awake my soul, and with the sun.” The evening hymn, “Glory to thee, my God, this night.” The “Morning Hymn” was very dear to its author, who used often to sing it in the early morning to the accompaniment of his lute.

Bishop Ken was born at Berkhampsted, England, in 1637. He was appointed chaplain to the Princes of Orange, 1669. In 1684, to King Charles II. In 1685, to James II.

When the king ordered him to read the well-known Declaration of Indulgence, he conscientiously refused to comply, for which he was imprisoned in the Tower.

Montgomery says of the doxology, “It is a master-piece at once of amplification and compression: amplification, on the burden, ‘Praise God,’ repeated in each line; compression, by exhibiting God as the object of praise in every view in which we can imagine praise due to Him; praise for all His blessings, yea, for all blessings,’ none coming from any other source,—praise, by every creature, specifically invoked, ‘here below,’ and in heaven ‘above;’ praise to Him in each of the characters wherein He has revealed Himself in His word, ‘Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”

“Yet this comprehensive verse is sufficiently simple that, by it, ‘out of the mouths of babes and sucklings,’ God may ‘perfect praise;’ and it appears so easy that one is tempted to think hundreds of the sort might be made without trouble. The reader has only to try, and he will be quickly undeceived: the longer he tries, the more difficult he will find the task to be.”

This doxology daily echoes around the globe and probably has been more used than any other composition in the world with the exception of the Lord’s Prayer, and it will, no doubt, continue to be till time shall be no more. “It has been said that Bishop Ken was accustomed to remark that it would enhance his joy in heaven to listen to his morning and evening hymns as sung by the faithful on earth.” Whitfield says, that the hymns of Ken were of great benefit to his soul when ten years old.

An impressive scene occurred in 1858, at Andover, where they were having a great gathering at the collegiate dinner table. Unexpectedly it was announced that the telegraphic cable across the ocean was successful, when, it is said that “a thousand gentlemen spontaneously arose, and, in the majestic sounds of “Old Hundred’ sang” the soul inspiring stain:—“Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”

Ken died as he was on a journey to Bath, in March 1711, in the 74th year of his age. He had been in the habit of travelling for many years with his shroud in his port-manteau, which he always put on when attacked by sickness. Of this he gave notice the day before his death, in order to prevent his body from being stripped. He was never married.

In accordance with his own request, he was buried at sunrise. His morning hymn was sung as his body sank in the grave. His death was calm and peaceful, exemplifying his words:—”Teach me to live, that I may dread, The grave as little as my bed.”

The Grave Of Ken

Bishop Ken’s physician, Dr. Merewether, made the following entry in his diary for the year 1711:—
“March 16th,—I went to Longleate, to visit Bishop Ken.
“March 18th,—I waited on his again.
“March 19th,—All glory to God. Between 5 and 6 in ye morning. Thomas, late Bishop of Bath and Wells, died at Longleate.”

Bishop Ken was buried aside of the eastern window in the parish church of Frome. The iron pales that fence the mound indicate in the picture opposite the resting-place of the dust of him who penned the immortal doxology.

Ken was fond of children, and they of him. A pleasing fact is recorded, and adverted to in the preceding verses, that after his lips could no longer sing his morning hymn, the children took up the strain, and, at early morn, encircling his tomb, would re-echo it over his silent grave.

Rev. W. L. Bowles says, in his biography of Ken: “It is interesting to think, that when, to this day, (1831) the same words of Ken are sung to the same tune, every Sunday, by the parish church of Frome, they are sung over the grave of him, who composed the words, and who had sung them himself, to the same air, over one hundred and sixty years before, though he now lies in the church-yard without an inscription.”


6. Carl Price—“A Year Of Hymn Stories”

The doxology of praise to the Holy Trinity was written by the Rev. Thomas Ken, whom King Charles II once made a chaplain to his sister, Mary, Princess of Orange. Ken was so courageous in his preaching at court that the king often said on the way to chapel: “I must go and hear Ken tell me my faults.” The king afterward made him Bishop of Bath and Wells.

Bishop McCabe said that while the prisoners of the Union Army during the Civil War were incarcerated in Libby Prison, day after day they saw comrades passing away and their numbers increased by living recruits. One night, about ten o clock, through the darkness they heard the tramp of feet that soon stopped before the prison door, until ar rangements could be made inside. In the company was a young Baptist minister, whose heart almost fainted when he looked in those cold walls and thought of the suffering inside. Tired and weary, he sat down, put his face in his hands, and wept. Just then a lone voice sang out from an upper window, “Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;” a dozen joined in the second line, more than a score in the third line, and the words “Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost;” were sung by nearly all the prisoners. As the song died away on the still night, the young man arose and sang: “Prisons would palaces prove, If Jesus would dwell with me there.”

Thomas Ken (1637-1710) was an English Protestant preacher and hymn writer. He is best known as the author of “Morning And Evening Hymns” and the Doxology, “Praise God, From Whom All Blessings Flow”. John Gadsby wrote of him:

“Thomas Ken was born at Berkhampstead, Herts, in July, 1637. He was sent to the Winchester College, and was afterwards elected to New College, Oxon, where he took up his decrees of B.A. 1661, M.A. 1664, Bachelor of Divinity 1678, and D.D. 1679. Some time after this he published his hymns, etc. In 1660 he was preferred to the dignity of Prebendary in the Cathedral Church of Winton, where he was taken notice of by King Charles II. In 1675 he travelled through Italy, and on his return said he had great reason to be thankful for his journey, since, if it were possible, he was more than ever confirmed of the purity of the Protestant religion. About 1679 or l680 he was appointed chaplain to the Princess of Orange, and went to Holland, where she was then residing. Here he compelled one of her favorites to fulfil a contract of marriage with a young lady of the princess's train, whom he had seduced by that contract. This zeal gave such offence to the prince (afterwards King William III) that he threatened to turn him out of the service; upon which Ken begged the Princess to allow him to resign, and accordingly threw up his office, nor would he consent to return until entreated by the Prince. In 1684 he was appointed chaplain to the king (Charles II). Upon the removal of the court to Winchester to pass the summer, Ken's house was fixed upon as the residence of the celebrated Nel Gwynne, Charles's mistress; but Ken positively refused her admittance, which, instead of offending that profligate monarch, he soon afterwards appointed him to the bishopric of Bath and Wells. In 1685 the king died, and James II ascended the throne. Having been brought up a Papist, he endeavored to re-establish the Popish religion, which Ken opposed, and often preached against it. On one occasion, when the king was absent, Ken's enemies took the opportunity of accusing him to the king for his sermon; whereupon Ken remarked, that "if his majesty had not neglected his own duty of being present, his enemies would have missed this opportunity of accusing him." When the king ordered the famous declaration of indulgence to be read, Ken and six other bishops refused to comply, and were committed to the Tower to take their trial; but the jury acquitted them. The infamous Judge Jeffries lived at this time, under whom no less than 250 persons were executed. When James abdicated, and the Prince of Orange came over as William III, Ken vacated his see, as he would not swear allegiance to the new sovereign while his former master was living. Ken now removed to Longleat, in Wiltshire, where he resided in comparative retirement the remainder of his days. He died March 19th, 1710. He was the author of the well-known Morning and Evening Hymns, and of the Doxology, "Praise God, from whom all blessings flow."

Thomas Ken Hymn Studies