John Ellerton was born in Clerkenwell, London. Taking orders in 1850, he was appointed Curate of Easebourne, West Sussex (not to be confused with Eastbourne, East Sussex). He moved to St Peter's, Brighton in 1852.
In 1860, he became chaplain for Lord Crewe and vicar of Crewe Green. He became chairman of the education committee at the Mechanics Institute for the local Railway Company. Reorganizing the Institute, he made it one of the most successful in England. He taught classes in English and Bible History. He also organized one of the first Choral Associations of the Midlands.
In 1872 he became Rector of Hinstock, Shropshire. In 1876, he was transferred to Barnes, a western suburb of London. The work among a large population broke him down and he had to go abroad for a year, serving as Chaplain at Pegli in Italy from 1884-1885. After returning, he took a smaller parish in White Roding in 1886, his last. During his final illness, he was made an Honorary Canon of St. Albans Cathedral. He died at Torquay.
He wrote or translated over eighty hymns, including the Candlemas hymn Hail to the Lord who comes.
(Scroll down for more hymns)
The best-known hymn written by Revd Ellerton. He is said to have written it as he made his nightly walk to teach at the Mechanics' Institute. It was included in A Liturgy for Missionary Meetings 1870.
The tune St Clement was written by Revd Clement Cotteril Scholefield, although Sir Arthur Sullivan may have had a hand in it (he was organist at St Peter’s South Kensington while Revd Scholefield was curate there). Ralph Vaughan Williams and others were critics of the tune; the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Cosmo Gordon Lang described it as a “feeble waltz tune”.
However, the hymn, with this tune, is one of the nation's favourites.
The day thou gavest, Lord, is ended,
the darkness falls at thy behest;
to thee our morning hymns ascended,
thy praise shall sanctify our rest.
We thank thee that thy Church, unsleeping
while earth rolls onward into light,
through all the world her watch is keeping
and rests not now by day nor night.
As o’er each continent and island
the dawn leads on another day,
the voice of prayer is never silent,
nor dies the strain of praise away.
The sun that bids us rest is waking
our brethren ‘neath the western sky,
and hour by hour fresh lips are making
thy wondrous doings heard on high.
So be it, Lord; thy throne shall never,
like earth’s proud empires, pass away;
thy kingdom stands, and grows for ever,
till all thy creatures own thy sway.
The Latin hymn Rerum Deus tenax vigor was translated by Revd John Ellerton, apparently assisted by Revd Fenton John Anthony Hort (1828-1892).
The original hymn written by Saint Ambrose (340-397). He unexpectedly became Bishop of Milan, a theologian, and one of the most influential ecclesiastical figures of the 4th century. His appointment as Bishop was sudden and unexpected, and he was at first reluctant to take on the job. At the time he was Roman governor of Aemilia-Liguria in Milan. In 374 the Bishop of Milan died and there was a dispute between rival ecclesiastical parties about who should succeed him. Ambrose turned up at the church where the election was to take place in order to try and prevent an uproar. Somebody in the crowd shouted “Ambrose, Bishop” and the cry was taken up by the whole assembly. Although Ambrose professed to be a Christian he had not actually been baptised and certainly had no theological training. Despite his initial reluctance he was baptised and consecrated as Bishop before the end of the year.
A different translation of the same Latin text by Revd John Mason Neale appears as:
O God, Creation’s secret force
Thyself unmoved, all motion’s source,
Who from the morn till evening ray
Through all its changes guid’st the day.
For some reason this has fallen out of fashion.
The tune Welwyn was composed by Sir Alfred Scott Scott-Gatty (1847-1918). He was a long serving officer of arms at the College of Arms in London and a successful composer, mainly of songs for amateur singers. He wrote a few hymn tunes, of which this is the most notable. It deserves to be better known.
The tune Strength and Stay was composed by J B Dykes.
O Strength and Stay upholding all creation,
who ever dost thyself unmoved abide,
yet day by day the light in due gradation
from hour to hour through all its changes guide;
Grant to life’s day a calm unclouded ending,
an eve untouched by shadows of decay,
the brightness of a holy death-bed blending
with dawning glories of the eternal day.
Hear us, O Father, gracious and forgiving,
through Jesus Christ thy co-eternal Word,
who with the Holy Ghost by all things living
now and to endless ages art adored.
Strength and Stay
Ambrose insisted that liturgy was a tool to serve people in worshipping God, and ought not to be a rigid entity that is invariable from place to place. His advice to Augustine of Hippo on this point was to follow local liturgical custom. “When I am at Rome, I fast on a Saturday; when I am at Milan, I do not. Follow the custom of the church where you are.” His advice has remained in the English language as the saying, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
Saint Ambrose is the patron saint of bee keepers, candle makers, bishops, geese and police officers.
A hymn to St Bartholomew - commemorated on 24 August.
There are various stories about how Bartholomew was martyred, one of them being that he was skinned alive. For this reason he is is the patron saint of tanners, leatherworkers, bookbinders, and glove makers (among others).
Not a great deal is recorded about Bartholomew in the Bible. He is listed as one of the Twelve in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke (the Gospel of John doesn’t include such a list). He is among the list of eleven named at the beginning of Acts of the Apostles before Matthias was chosen to join them. He may be the same person as Nathaniel named in the Gospel of John as being introduced to Jesus by Philip.
John 1.45-51: Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee.
Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.
Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these. And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.
However, the lack of hard facts did not deter Revd Ellerton from publishing this hymn about him in 1871.
The words are here coupled with the tune Rustington by C H H Parry.
King of saints, to whom the number
Of thy starry host is known,
Many a name, by man forgotten,
Lives forever round Thy throne;
Lights, which earth-born mists have darkened,
There are shining full and clear,
Princes in the court of heaven,
Nameless, unremembered here.
In the roll of Thine apostles
One there stands, Bartholomew,
He for whom today we offer,
Year by year, our praises due;
How he toiled for Thee and suffered
None on earth can now record;
All his saintly life is hidden,
In the knowledge of his Lord.
Was it he, beneath the fig tree
Seen of Thee, and guileless found;
He who saw the good he longed for
Rise from Nazareth’s barren ground;
He who met his risen Master
On the shore of Galilee;
He to whom the word was spoken,
“Greater things thou yet shall see”?
None can tell us; all is written
In the Lamb’s great book of life,
All the faith, and prayer, and patience,
All the toiling, and the strife;
There are told thy hidden treasures;
Number us, O Lord, with them,
When thou makest up the jewels
Of thy living diadem.
A hymn for the Conversion of St Paul - commemorated on 25 January.
Acts 9.1-6: And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem. And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?5 And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.
Revd Ellerton published this hymn in 1871.
The words are here coupled with the tune King's Lynn, a folk-song arrangement by Ralph Vaughan Williams. You can read the words of the original ballad of Young Henry the Poacher at the bottom of this page.
We sing the glorious conquest
Before Damascus' gate,
When Saul, the Church's spoiler,
Came breathing threats and hate;
The ravening wolf rushed forward
Full early to the prey;
But lo! the Shepherd met him,
And bound him fast to-day!
O Glory most excelling
That smote across his path!
O Light that pierced and blinded
The zealot in his wrath!
O Voice that spake within him
The calm reproving word!
O Love that sought and held him
The bondman of his Lord!
O Wisdom, ordering all things
In order strong and sweet,
What nobler spoil was ever
Cast at the Victor's feet?
What wiser master-builder
E'er wrought at thine employ,
Than he, till now so furious
Thy building to destroy?
Lord, teach thy Church the lesson,
Still in her darkest hour
Of weakness and of danger
To trust thy hidden power.
Thy grace by ways mysterious
The wrath of man can bind,
And in thy boldest foeman
Thy chosen saint can find!
A hymn to St Simon and St Jude - commemorated on 28 October.
It may seem unfair that some of the saints have to share their Saint’s Day, especially when they were two of the Twelve Apostles, but the reason is that Saints Simon and Jude were both martyred on the same day in Beirut about 65 AD.
St Simon, nicknamed the Zealot (presumably to avoid confusion with Simon who was re-named Peter) had been a zealous observer of Jewish law, believing that this was the most important way for people to live. As a Disciple, he came to see that the most important thing was to follow Jesus and his teachings.
St Jude, the patron saint of lost causes and desperate cases, also had a nickname, Thaddeus, to distinguish him from Judas Iscariot. He is sometimes identified as the brother of Jesus – this is referenced in the second verse of the hymn. He may be the author of the Epistle of Jude, the penultimate book of the New Testament.
The tune Finnian was written by Christopher Dearnley (1930-2000) who was organist at Salisbury Cathedral 1957-1958 and St Paul’s Cathedral 1968-1990. Apparently he would turn up to choir practice at St Paul’s in plus-fours, much to the amusement of the choristers.
The hymn originally had more verses - see below.
 Thou Who sentest Thine apostles
two by two before Thy face,
partners in the night of toiling,
heirs together of Thy grace,
throned at length, their labours ended,
each in his appointed place;
 Praise to Thee for those Thy champions
whom our hymns to-day proclaim;
one, whose zeal by Thee enlightened
burned anew with nobler flame;
one, the kinsman of Thy childhood,
brought at last to know Thy Name.
 Praise to Thee! Thy fire within them
spake in love, and wrought in power;
seen in mighty stars and wonders
in Thy Church’s mourning hour;
heard in tones of sternest warning
when the storms began to lower.
 Till, with holy Jude and Simon
and the thousand faithful more,
we, the good confession witnessed
and the lifelong conflict o’er,
on the sea of fire and crystal
stand, and wonder, and adore.
 God the Father, great and wondrous
in Thy works, to Thee be praise;
King of saints, to Thee be glory,
just and true in all Thy ways;
praise to Thee, from both proceeding,
Holy Ghost, through endless days.
 Once again those storms are breaking;
hearts are failing, love grows cold;
faith is darkened, sin abounding;
grievous wolves assail Thy fold:
save us, Lord, our one Salvation;
save the faith revealed of old.
 Call the erring by Thy pity;
warn the tempted by Thy fear;
keep us true to Thine allegiance,
counting life itself less dear;
standing firmer, holding faster,
as we see the end draw near:
For each hymn we have provided a set of verses together with an electronically generated sound-track. The sound track does not provide any words - just the tune.
The selection of hymns to be included was subject to certain limitations, notably the restrictions of copyright. This meant that many modern hymns were excluded, and the exclusion even applied to some updated versions of traditional hymns. Some publishers have made a few minor changes to make hymns more "inclusive" and have then claimed copyright over the revised text. So in most cases the ORIGINAL texts have been used, even though these may not be the versions that appear in modern hymnals.
In deciding what tunes to be used, this has largely been the Webmaster's personal choice. It is a mixture of familiar tunes and tunes that are not well-known, but deserve to be better known. The webmaster has included some personal favourites (and excluded some pet hates!). The soundtracks provided go with the words provided - if there are four verses, the tune is repeated four times. Where possible tunes have been provided with descants or alternative arrangements.
Wherever possible, there is an explanation of who wrote the words or tunes, the circumstances under which they were written, when (and sometimes why). Many hymns include references to verses appearing in the King James Version of the Bible; more modern translations were not then available! In some cases we have tried to explain these scriptural references or other instances where words have changed their meaning over time.
This selection of "Sing-along Songs of Praise" was originally a series of blog posts written during the COVID Lockdowns of 2020. It was intended to allow people to sing hymns in the safety and privacy of their own homes at a time when hymn-singing in church was not allowed (even if the church building was open!).
When hymns are sung as part of a church service, it is normally the case that the hymn books are set aside at the end of the hymn and the next part of the service continues. There is no time to sit and reflect on the meaning or the beauty of words and/or music. This collection allows you to take your time, to read, listen sing along, reflect, and to repeat a hymn again if you wish.
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