Nicholas Brady was born in Ireland. He attended Christ Church, Oxford, and Trinity College, and became an Anglican clergyman. He served in Ireland and later in London. As well as pastoring a church in the city, Brady became chaplain to King William II and Queen Anne. He is best known in hymn history for his collaboration with Nahum Tate (who gave us the carol While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night). The two men produced A New Version of the Psalms of David in 1696. This fresh paraphrase of the psalms went through several editions.
Quaint though the 300-year-old poetry may sound to our ears, it was a vast improvement over what came before. To give you some idea of their work, here is the beginning of Psalm 139 and what Brady and Tate did with it.
O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether. Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it. (Ps. 139:1-6, KJV)
Thou, Lord, by strictest search hast known
My rising up and lying down;
My secret thoughts are known to Thee,
Known long before conceived by me.
Thine eye my bed and path surveys,
My public haunts and private ways,
Thou know’st what ’tis my lips would vent,
My yet unuttered word’s intent.
Surrounded by Thy power I stand,
On every side I find Thy hand;
O skill, for human reach too high!
Too dazzling bright for mortal eye!
(2) Today in 1738 – Charles Wesley Converted
British hymn writer Charles Wesley produced around 6,500 hymns. He has been called the poet laureate of Methodism. Five years younger than his famous brother John, he accompanied the latter in his evangelistic work. But after 1756 he did little traveling, preferring a more localized ministry that permitted him to care for his wife and family. (For more about Charles Wesley, see Today in 1707.)
It is impossible to treat many of Wesley’s great hymns in a short blog, but here are a couple. First, there is O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing, written in 1739 to commemorate the first anniversary of Charles Wesley’s conversion. A stanza of the hymn no longer used shows that this was first meant as a personal testimony:
On this glad day the glorious Sun
Of Righteousness arose;
On my benighted soul He shone
And filled it with repose.
Think of how Wesley’s prayer has been answered as his hymns have “spread through all the earth abroad” the honours of the Lord’s name!
O for a thousand tongues to sing
My great Redeemer’s praise,
The glories of my God and King,
The triumphs of His grace!
My gracious Master and my God,
Assist me to proclaim,
To spread through all the earth abroad
The honours of Thy name.
Another great hymn by Charles Wesley is the dramatic Arise, My Soul, Arise.
Arise, my soul, arise; shake off thy guilty fears;
The bleeding sacrifice in my behalf appears:
Before the throne my surety stands,
My name is written on His hands.
He ever lives above, for me to intercede;
His all redeeming love, His precious blood, to plead:
His blood atoned for all our race,
And sprinkles now the throne of grace.
My God is reconciled; His pardoning voice I hear;
He owns me for His child; I can no longer fear:
With confidence I now draw nigh,
And “Father, Abba, Father,” cry.
(3) Today in 1837 – When This Passing World Is Done published
The hymn was one of several written by the great Scottish preacher and evangelist Robert Murray McCheyne (whose songs were published posthumously). Educated at Edinburgh University, McCheyne was ordained as the minister of St. Peter’s Established Church in Dundee, Scotland. In 1839, he went to Palestine to consider what might be done to establish an evangelistic ministry among the Jews. He died at the age of 30.
I Once Was a Stranger (Jehovah Tsidkenu) was one of Robert McCheyne’s hymns, as was When This Passing World Is Done.
When this passing world is done,
When has sunk yon glaring sun,
When we stand with Christ in glory,
Looking o’er life’s finished story,
Then, Lord, shall I fully know—
Not till then—how much I owe.
When I stand before the throne,
Dressed in beauty not my own,
When I see Thee as Thou art,
Love Thee with unsinning heart,
Then Lord, shall I fully know—
Not till then—how much I owe.