Essay / Theology

Thomas Kelly, the "Charles Wesley of Ireland"

Thomas Kelly, born this day (July 13) in 1769, was an evangelical Irish pastor and hymn writer. Though his piety hardly seems outlandish today, in the torpid established church of eighteenth-century Ireland, he was considered too hot to handle and too born-again to put up with. Barred from preaching in the established church, he and his like-minded friends became a powerful force as independents.

Kelly’s great contribution to Christian literature is the hundreds of hymns he wrote; he was so fervent and prolific that he has been called the “Charles Wesley of Ireland.”

Like anybody who writes hundreds of hymns, Kelly produced plenty of mediocre pieces, but with almost 800 to choose from, why dwell on the weak ones? His great collection, Hymns on Various Passages of Scripture, is a theological feast prepared with easy rhymes and vigorous phrasing.

From Kelly’s hymn entitled “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted,” a meditation on how we must measure sin by what it cost in atonement:

Ye who think of sin but lightly,
Nor suppose the evil great,
Here may view its nature rightly,
Here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the sacrifice appointed!
See who bears the awful load!
‘Tis the WORD, the LORD’S ANOINTED,
Son of man and Son of God.

And an invitation to meditate on the cross, with a prediction of what the love of God will do to lesser loves:

Come, ye saints, look here and wonder;
Come behold what love could do;
Gaze upon the victim yonder:
Jesus suffer’d thus for you.
Bid adieu to low desire;
Here let earthly love expire.

The evangelical teaching on salvation by grace:

Now let others boast of doing,
We have no such plea as this:
Grace alone prevents our going
Down to hell’s profound abyss.
Jesus came to save the lost;
In his name alone we boast.

On the cross and the exaltation of Christ:

The head that once was crown’d with thorns
Is crown’d with glory now;
A royal diadem adorns
The mighty victor’s brow.

On looking for the return of Christ:

Fly, ye seasons, fly still faster;
Let the glorious day come on,
When we shall behold our Master
Seated on his heav’nly throne;
When the Saviour
Shall descend to claim his own.

On heaven:

In heav’n itself, and there alone
The joys of heav’n are understood;
Where saints shall know, as they are known,
And shall behold the face of God

On the earthly pilgrimage of believers:

The world with all its pageantry,
Is nothing in the pilgrim’s eyes;
He aims at immortality;
He seeks a home beyond the skies.

Plenty of hymns on Christ as King, Priest, Prophet, and Shepherd.

King:

JESUS, we hail thee Israel’s King;
To thee our tribute, Lord, we bring;
Nor do we fear to bow the knee;
They worship God who worship thee.

Hail, Israel’s King, enthron’d in light,
Whose glory never shone more bright,
Than when, by trembling friends betray’d,
Thy foes insulting homage paid.

Priest:

Th’ atoning work is done,
The victim’s blood is shed;
And Jesus now is gone,
His people’s cause to plead:
He stands in heav’n their great High Priest
And bears their names upon his breast.

Prophet:

Great Prophet of the ransom’d church,
Command the light to shine;
For stores of wisdom let us search,
Thy word the sacred mine.

Shepherd:

JESUS is the Lord my Shepherd,
Then let fear he far away;
From the lion and the leopard,
And from ev’ry beast of prey,
He will guard his helpless sheep;
Jesus loves his own to keep.

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