Before turning to some examples of Doddridge’s hymnography, we should pause to consider his technique. Unlike the endless variations of metre employed by Charles Wesley, Doddridge’s compositions are, in the main, restricted to common (CM), short (SM) and long (LM) metres.
This was not because Doddridge lacked imagination but because of the limited range of tunes available to him – he inherited a tradition that based its worship exclusively on the metrical psalms. Despite these restrictions, Doddridge’s compositions soar beyond the mould in which they are cast.
Selected verses from four seldom-sung hymns merit mention in relation to debates over the author’s orthodoxy.
Glorying in Christ’s deity, Doddridge first invites us to worship the incarnate Saviour (based on Luke 2:10-12):
Hail, progeny divine!
Hail, virgin’s wondrous Son!
Who, for that humble shrine,
Didst quit the Almighty’s throne:
Our voices sing,
And be the king
Of grace ador’d.
Second, Doddridge moves us to worship the crucified Saviour. This example – a rare use of the obsolete ’50th’ metre – comes from a hymn entitled ‘God’s love to the world in sending Christ for its redemption’ (based on John 3:16):
God’s only son with peerless glories bright,
His Father’s fairest image and delight,
Justice and grace the victim have decreed,
To wear our flesh, and in that flesh to bleed.
Prostrate in dust, ye sinners, all adore him,
And tremble, while your hearts rejoice before him.
Christ risen and ascended
Third, Doddridge calls us to worship the risen Saviour (based on Luke 24:34):
All-hail, triumphant Lord,
Who sav’st us with thy blood!
Wide be thy name ador’d,
Thou rising, reigning God!
With thee we rise,
With thee we reign,
And empires gain
Beyond the skies.
Fourth, Doddridge – in another use of the ’50th’ metre – calls us to worship the church’s ascended Head (Colossians 2:10):
We sing the blood, that ransom’d us from hell;
We sing the graces, that in Jesus dwell;
Led by his Spirit, guarded by his hand,
Our hopes anticipate the [heav’nly] land.
Still his incarnate Deity admiring,
And with heaven’s [angel hosts] in praise conspiring.
There can be no finer tribute to Doddridge’s method and purpose than the hymn ‘Hark the glad sound’. Some regard this as his finest. It relates ‘immediately to Christ’ and does more than any similar composition to set forth ‘the glories of his person’ and the ‘riches of his grace’.
Let us have the hymn in its original form (based on Luke 4:18-19):
Hark the glad sound! the Saviour comes,
The Saviour promis’d long;
Let every heart prepare a throne,
And every voice a song.
On him the Spirit largely pour’d,
Exerts its sacred fire;
Wisdom and might, and zeal and love
His holy breast inspire.
He comes the prisoners to release,
In Satan’s bondage held;
The gates of brass before him burst,
The iron fetters yield.
He comes from thickest films of vice
To clear the mental ray,
And on the eye-balls of the blind
To pour celestial day.
He comes the broken heart to bind,
The bleeding soul to cure,
And with the treasures of his grace
To enrich the humble poor.
His silver trumpets publish loud
The jubilee of the Lord;
Our debts are all remitted now,
Our heritage restor’d.
Our glad hosannas, Prince of Peace,
Thy welcome shall proclaim;
And heaven’s eternal arches ring
With thy beloved name.
This hymn, along with another, was the favourite of Colonel Gardiner, Doddridge’s close friend who was slain at the Battle of Prestonpans.
He is precious
Let Doddridge himself introduce the other hymn for us: ‘There is one hymn more, I shall beg leave to add, plain as it is, which Colonel Gardiner has been heard to mention with particular regard, as expressing the inmost sentiments of his soul; and they were undoubtedly so, in the last rational moments of his expiring life’.
It is called, ‘Christ precious to the believer’; and was composed to be sung after a sermon on 1 Peter 2:7:
Jesus! I love thy charming name,
‘Tis music to mine ear;
Fain would I sound it out so loud,
That earth and heaven should hear.
Yes, thou art precious to my soul,
My transport, and my trust;
Jewels to thee are gaudy toys,
And gold is sordid dust.
All my capacious powers can wish
In thee doth richly meet:
Nor to mine eyes is light so dear,
Nor friendship half so sweet.
Thy grace still dwells upon my heart,
And sheds its fragrance there;
The noblest balm of all its wounds,
The cordial of its care.
I’ll speak the honours of thy name
With my last labouring breath;
Then speechless clasp thee in mine arms,
The antidote of death.
This fine hymn is perhaps a little too quaint for modern congregations, and it has not appeared in hymnbooks for some decades. However, at one time it was greatly loved. It was not only sung by Anglo-Saxon believers, as one very interesting incident would seem to suggest.
In March 1792, The President and Congress of the United States invited a deputation of Indians to be their guests at Philadelphia. In the course of their journey, the party of fifty chiefs and warriors marched into Nazareth, Pennsylvania, accompanied by a missionary named Kirkland.
Indians had not been seen in the town for many years, and so their presence excited considerable interest. The local minister invited the visitors to the church, and hymns were sung in English, which some of the Indians understood. Let the record complete the story:
‘After a short pause, a select company of them rose, and joined their minister in singing hymns in the same strain in the Indian language, among which was that beautiful hymn of Dr Doddridge, Jesus! I love thy charming name.’
How thrilled Doddridge would have been to know of this incident, especially since he was deeply concerned that people everywhere should hear the everlasting gospel of the grace of God.
Doddridge was a true evangelist at heart, a fact that serves to introduce another little-known hymn, which also has connections with Colonel Gardiner. We have already observed the quickening effect that Whitefield’s first visit to Northampton (in May 1739) had upon Doddridge.
Doddridge was preaching at Leicester the following month from the words, ‘I beheld the transgressors, and was grieved, because they kept not thy law’ (Psalm 119:158). In a moving and eloquent sermon, he gave expression to his great longing for the salvation of souls. After the sermon, the congregation united to sing the following hymn (based on Psalm 119:136,158):
Arise, my tenderest thoughts, arise,
To torrents melt my streaming eyes!
And thou, my heart, with anguish feel
Those evils which thou can’st not heal!
See human nature sunk in shame!
See scandals pour’d on Jesus’ name!
The Father wounded through the Son!
The world abus’d, the soul undone!
See the short course of vain delight
Closing in everlasting night!
In flames that no abatement know,
The briny tears forever flow.
My God, I feel the mournful scene;
My bowels yearn o’er dying men:
And fain my pity would reclaim,
And snatch the fire-brands from the flame.
But feeble my compassion proves,
And can but weep where most it loves:
Thine own all-saving arm employ,
And turn these drops of grief to joy!
Little did Doddridge know that Colonel Gardiner was in the congregation; up until this time, the two men were entire strangers to each other. As soon as the service was over, Doddridge retired into the vestry, rapidly followed by the good Colonel.
The soldier threw his arms around the preacher in an unrestrained expression of affection. Colonel Gardiner, who had been remarkably converted in 1719, told Doddridge how much he had profited from his writings. A lifelong friendship commenced between the two men.
Doddridge later learned that this hymn was a perfect description of his friend’s sad state before his glorious conversion some twenty years before.