Wednesday, December 16, 2009

John Ellerton

Anglican priest John Ellerton(December 16, 1826 - June 15, 1893) is one of my favorite hymnwriters, not only for his several familiar hymns that are still sung today, but for the forgotten ones that still retain some value for us. His total output was around eighty, including both original texts and translations.

He was also a well-loved clergyman who served in several churches and was known for his devotion to social causes and the everyday life of his parishioners. His hymns are straightforward, using simple language rather than obscure doctrine. Historian John Julian wrote of Ellerton's texts in his monumental Dictionary of Hymnology:

Ordinary facts in sacred history and in daily life are lifted above the commonplace rhymes with which they are usually associated, thereby rendering the hymns bearable to the cultered and instructive to the devout.

As we have seen, hymns were written for many more occasions and purposes than those to which our modern hymnals sometimes limit themselves. This particular hymn by Ellerton, which was first published in Church Hymns (1871), one of the hymnals he helped compile, is designated for “Wednesday,” and used for midweek services. The first phrase comes from the familiar passage Matthew 18:20: For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them, and the overall theme of the hymn is our commonplace lives, from the perspective of the middle of the work week (when fewer people were probably in attendance at services). Since Ellerton's birthday falls on a Wednesday this year, this hymn seems especially appropriate.

Thou in whose Name the two or three
Are met today to meet with thee,
Fulfill to us thine own sure word,
And be thou here thyself, O Lord.

Today our week, but now begun,
Already half its course hath run;
To thee are known its toils and snares,
To thee its trials and its snares.

Thou by whose grace alone we live,
Our oft-repeated sins forgive;
Be thou our counsel, strength, and stay
Through all the perils of the way.

Give thankful hearts thy gifts to share;
Give steadfast wills thy cross to bear;
And when life's working days are past
Give rest with all thy saints at last.

John Ellerton, 1871
Henry Baker, 1854

Click on Ellerton's name below to bring up the several other hymns we've already seen here. He's probably one of the most often used writers here at C.W.S.

One Year Ago: John Ellerton

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