Saturday, June 26, 2010

Philip Doddridge

Today is the birthday of hymnwriter Philip Doddridge (1702-1751). He was the youngest of twenty children and one of the only two who survived past infancy, though his health was apparently never strong. His parents also died when he was young, and he was raised by family friends. He came to believe that church and state should be separate, as they were not in England (a belief called Nonconformism), and refused an offer to be educated at Cambridge because of this. He attended a Nonconformist seminary and went on to pastor the Chapel Hill Congregational Church in Northampton.

As I've noted before, Doddridge wrote his hymns to follow his sermons, t0 expand on the scripture readings he spoke on. This hymn, which he called Jacob's Vow, and based on Genesis 28:18-22, still appears in many hymnals,

O God of Bethel, by whose hand
Thy people still are fed,
Who through this weary pilgrimage
Hast all our people led.

Our vows, our prayers, we now present
Before thy throne of grace;
God of our forebears, be the God
Of each succeeding race.

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 Maker’s loved abode
Our souls arrive in peace.

Philip Doddridge, 1737
adapt. John Logan, 1781; alt.
Charles Hutcheson, 1832

The text as we know it today is not as Doddridge wrote it. It was altered by editor John Logan for inclusion in Scottish Translations and Paraphrases (1781) for use in the Church of Scotland, where it became very popular, and was reportedly sung often in celebrations of the four hundredth anniversary of the Reformation in Scotland in 1960. STRACATHRO is one of several Scottish tunes that have been used.

Two stanzas of Doddridge's original, which no one now sings:

If thou wilt spread thy Shield around
Till these our Wanderings cease;
And at our Father's loved abode
Our souls arrive in peace:

To thee as to our Covenant-God
We'll our whole selves resign;
And count that not our Tenth alone,
But all we have is thine.

J. R. Watson, in An Annotated Anthology of Hymns (2002) calls Doddridge's original text "a revealing exercise in Puritan Covenant theology," and while I'm sure this is theologically valid (it does follow the Genesis passage), it may appear to modern worshippers as a bargain made with God (we'll do this if you, God, do that), while hymns more frequently reverse the process (we praise God because of the things God has done).

Two Years Ago: Philip Doddridge

One Year Ago: Philip Doddridge

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