Thomas Ken (1637-1711) was a renowned English bishop, clergyman, and hymn writer whose life and works have had a profound impact on the Christian world. His enduring contributions to hymnody, coupled with his unwavering commitment to his principles, make him a significant figure in the history of the Church of England. This article delves into the life, faith, and hymns of Thomas Ken, celebrating the legacy of a devoted servant of God.
Early Life and Spiritual Formation
Thomas Ken was born on July 1637, in Little Berkhampstead, Hertfordshire, England. He experienced early loss, with both his parents passing away when he was just a child. Nevertheless, his devout maternal grandmother, Anne Slaney, took him under her wing and instilled in him a strong Christian foundation. Under her guidance, Ken developed a deep love for God and a passion for learning.
Education and Ordination
Ken’s exceptional academic abilities led him to Winchester College, where he distinguished himself as a scholar. His academic success provided him with the opportunity to attend Oxford University, where he furthered his theological studies at New College. During his time at Oxford, he embraced the principles of Anglicanism and developed a commitment to upholding the Church’s doctrines and practices.
In 1662, Thomas Ken was ordained as a priest in the Church of England, marking the beginning of his ecclesiastical career. He served in various parishes and chaplaincies, earning a reputation for his devout faith, eloquent preaching, and pastoral care for his congregation.
The Great Ejection and Non-Jurors
In 1685, England experienced political and religious turmoil with the ascension of King James II, a Roman Catholic monarch. As a devout Anglican, Ken remained loyal to the Church of England, even though he found himself in a precarious position due to his refusal to compromise his principles.
When James II attempted to undermine the Church of England’s authority and promote Roman Catholicism, many clergy and bishops, including Thomas Ken, resisted the king’s religious policies. Ken was among the “Seven Bishops” who refused to read James II’s Declaration of Indulgence in support of religious tolerance and were consequently arrested for seditious libel.
Ken’s steadfastness in defending the Church’s autonomy and his refusal to swear allegiance to James II’s government led to his removal from his position as Bishop of Bath and Wells, in an event now known as the “Great Ejection.” Despite facing significant hardships, he remained committed to his principles and became one of the leading figures among the “Non-Jurors,” a group of clergy who refused to swear allegiance to the new Protestant monarchs, William and Mary.
The Glorious Revolution and Exile
The Glorious Revolution of 1688 saw King James II being overthrown and replaced by William and Mary, Protestant monarchs who were more tolerant toward the Church of England. However, Ken’s refusal to take an oath of allegiance to the new monarchs led to his deprivation of ecclesiastical offices, including his bishopric.
Ken chose to live in peaceful seclusion at Longleat, the country house of his friend Thomas Thynne, the first Viscount Weymouth. During his time in exile, he devoted himself to prayer, writing, and composing hymns.
The Hymnody of Thomas Ken
Thomas Ken’s hymns have become a cherished part of Christian worship and have left an enduring legacy in the field of hymnody. Among his most famous hymns is the “Doxology,” which is still sung today in various Christian denominations around the world. The “Doxology” begins with the familiar words:
“Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”
The simplicity and theological depth of the “Doxology” have made it a favorite in congregational worship, a timeless expression of praise and adoration to the Triune God.
Another well-known hymn by Thomas Ken is “Awake, My Soul, and with the Sun,” a morning hymn that invites believers to begin their day with praise and devotion to God. The hymn reflects Ken’s deep personal piety and his desire to lead others in a life of consecration to God’s service.
The Manual of Prayers
In addition to his hymns, Thomas Ken is also known for his “Manual of Prayers,” a devotional work that contains prayers and meditations for various occasions. The “Manual of Prayers” was intended to guide individuals in their private devotions and to promote a life of piety and holiness.
Later Years and Legacy
In 1703, after living in seclusion for over a decade, Thomas Ken moved to the home of Lord Weymouth’s daughter, Lady Anne, in Longleat. There, he continued to write and compose hymns, leaving a legacy of profound spiritual insight and devotion.
Thomas Ken passed away on March 19, 1711, at the age of 73. Despite his exile and the political and religious controversies of his time, Ken’s life was characterized by unwavering faith, devotion to God, and a commitment to the principles he held dear.
Thomas Ken’s life and hymnody exemplify the power of faith and devotion to God amidst trials and adversity. His hymns continue to inspire and uplift believers around the world, serving as a timeless expression of Christian worship and praise. The legacy of Thomas Ken stands as a testament to the enduring impact of a life lived in unwavering dedication to God and the Church, leaving behind a rich treasure of hymns that continue to enrich the worship of God’s people across generations. As we sing the hymns of Thomas Ken, we join a chorus of believers throughout history, offering praise and adoration to the God he served with all his heart and soul.