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Hymn Writers and Their Hymns: Benjamin Beddome

January 12, 2015

My Times Are In Thy Hands

Benjamin Beddome (1717-1795) was a well known and widely respected Baptist preacher throughout England. He began his preaching ministry at a church in Bourton-on-the-Water, England in 1740, and though he received invitations from churches elsewhere, he continued to preach at Bourton until his death. In 1749, he married Elizabeth Boswell who bore him three sons, but before pursuing Elizabeth, Beddome was one of the several bachelors whose marriage proposal was declined by Anne Steele. You can read his rather impressive Letter of Proposal here.

Like other preacher/hymn-writers, Beddome began writing hymns for the purpose of supplementing his sermons. His hymns were usually composed to be sung after he delivered his sermon. One of these hymns was, My Times Are In Thy Hands:

My times of sorrow and of joy,
Great God, are in thy hand;
My choicest comforts come from thee,
And go at thy command.

If thou should’st take them all away,
Yet would I not repine;
Before they were possessed by me,
They were entirely thine.

Now would I drop a murmuring word,
Though the whole world were gone,
But seek enduring happiness
In thee, and thee alone.

What is the world with all its store?
‘Tis a deceitful cheat;
When I attempt to pluck the rose,
A piercing thorn I meet.

Here perfect bliss can ne’er be found,
The honey’s mixed with gall;
Midst changing scenes and dying friends,
Be thou my all in all.

Beddome composed this hymn for his sermon on Psalm 11, a Psalm that expresses the confidence David had, even in times of crisis. In his hymn, he models for us a spirit of resignation, that whatever our fortune we would be pushed toward deeper contentment in God’s design. Though most of us aren’t threatened to be attacked by our enemies as we see David was, our faith nonetheless gets discouraged by the wicked. Matthew Henry advises that when we do have such thoughts, we can consider these six things:

  1. That there is a God in heaven.
  2. That this God governs the world.
  3. That this God perfectly knows every man’s true character.
  4. That, if he afflict good people, it is for their trial and therefore their good.
  5. That, however persecutors and oppressors may prosper and prevail awhile, they now lie under, and will forever perish under the wrath of God.
  6. That though honest good people may be run down, yet God does and will own them, and favor them, and that is the reason why God will severely reckon with persecutors and oppressors, because those whom they oppress and persecute are dear to him.

It has been said that the shaking of a tree makes it take deeper and faster root. As Charles Spurgeon said it, “The saints are chastened and the sinners are enriched: this is no small trial of faith.” It was in God’s providence that Beddome had prepared that Sunday’s message and composed this hymn, for he learned later that day that one of his sons, Benjamin, had just died of a fever.

Lester Ruth is currently the Research Professor of Christian Worship at Duke Divinity School. In doing a survey and comparison of the theological content between contemporary songs and hymns he makes the observation that hymns refer to the Christian life as being a journey; however, more modern songs create a sense of immediate fulfillment (i.e. we don’t sojourn, we arrive). One speculation he makes for this is, “Pilgrim’s Progress has been lost as the defining narrative for Christian experience” thus, without this narrative of pilgrimage in modern songs, a key element of discipleship is being missed.

I bring this up because I want us to see that many hymns exemplify a fuller range of a theological diet compared to many modern songs that are so popular today. I am not making a “hymns only” case. I more so desire to see the content of modern songs for the church meet and even exceed the depth and breadth of hymns because God is worthy and his people are hungry.

In meditating on Psalm 11 and singing this hymn, perhaps Beddome and his congregation were better prepared to face suffering and loss. Teaching and singing about these today may not grow your church number-wise, but it will grow your church.

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