Monday, January 25, 2016

Edward Henry Bickersteth

Edward Henry Bickersteth, bishop and poet, was born on this date in 1825. His interest in hymnody probably developed early in life; his father, also named Edward, published an influential hymn collection titled Christian Psalmody in 1833.

Ordained in the Church of England in 1848, Edward Henry embarked on a successful clerical career which included missionary work abroad as well as parish appointments. He eventually became the Dean of Gloucester Cathedral in 1885 and, later that year, Bishop of Exeter.

He believed that the multitude of hymnals used in the Church of England was a weakness, and to that end he compiled The Hymnal Companion to the Book of Common Prayer (1870), hoping that it would be one of the most widely used books. While the book did go through several editions, and he updated it more than once, it never reached the popularity of Hymns Ancient and Modern or Church Hymns.  And, of course, to this day the Church of England has never selected one "official" hymnal for the denomination.

Bickersteth's own hymns were published in different collections of his poetry, including Water from the Well-Spring (1852) The Two Brothers and Other Poems (1871),  and several eventually ended up in his Hymnal Companion.  From Year to Year (1884) was a collection of hymns appropriate for each Sunday and feast day of the church year, as hymn writers before him such as John Keble (The Christian Year), Henry Alford (The Year of Praise), and Christopher Wordsworth (The Holy Year) had done. Today's hymn, one of at least two that he wrote for the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul (also observed on his birthday, January 25), first appeared in the 1890 revision of his Hymnal Companion.

All-merciful, Almighty Lord,
We bless the love, its depth and height,
Which made by thy transforming word
Thy foe a burning, shining light.

A chosen messenger of God,
Eternity o’ershadowing time,
Paul's bleeding feet unwearied trod
From shore to shore, from clime to clime;

Content to reckon all things loss,
To live and die for thy dear name;
His only glory, Christ, thy cross;
His heart aglow with heavenly flame.

O Jesus, may we follow him
Most humbly, as he followed thee;
Nor let the Gospel torch grow dim,
But quenchless flash o’er land and sea.

Henceforth no more our own, but thine;
Much loved, much loving, much forgiven;
Apostles of the grace Divine
Which fashions thus the heirs of heaven.

Edward Henry Bickersteth, 1890; alt.
Henry J. Gauntlett, 1861

Seven Years Ago: We sing the glorious conquest

Five Years Ago: The great Apostle, called by grace

One Year Ago: By all your saints still striving

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