Philip Doddridge

 •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 8
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WHAT English speaking Christian does not know the hymn,
"O happy day, that fixed my choice
On Thee, my Savior and my God?”
It seems a favorite everywhere, as it well deserves to be. It was written by a minister named Philip Doddridge, who was born in London, June 26, 1702, and was the youngest of a large family of twenty children! Being so small when he was born, the nurse thought he could not live; so she wrapped him up in cotton and laid him in a little box. But he lived, and grew up to be a very godly and useful man, as you will see.
“The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong" the Scriptures tell us. It is not those who have strong, vigorous bodies, who are therefore most useful in God's service, for, as it is written, "God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty... that no flesh should glory in His presence" (1 Cor. 1:27-2927But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; 28And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: 29That no flesh should glory in his presence. (1 Corinthians 1:27‑29)). So none should be proud because they possess what is called "a fine physique," nor should the feeblest become discouraged because they are weak in body. The Lord can make His strength perfect in our weakness, if we depend wholly upon Him, while those who feel themselves so strong are often easily overcome by Satan.
His father was a merchant and a faithful Christian, so young Philip was brought up "in the nurture and the admonition of the Lord," as children of Christian parents should be. Histories of the Old and New Testaments were taught him by his godly mother, before he could read, by means of the Dutch pictured tiles in the chimney piece of the room where they resided. But his father and mother both died while he was yet quite young, and he was left to the care of friends to bring up, who, a writer says, "showed much kindness to the afflicted orphan.
Young Philip loved study. "I want to be a minister," he would say while yet a lad. But he was an orphan and for. A rich lady offered to pay his expenses at Oxford, providing he would become an Anglican clergyman. He was grateful to the lady, but refused the offer, preferring to suffer reproach as a "Dissenter" rather than compromise his conscience.
He was much in prayer then, and God raised a strong supporter for him in Dr. Samuel Clarke who had been a friend of his father, and now acted as a father to Philip for many years—till his death, when Philip, who had then become "Dr. Doddridge," was called to preach at his funeral.
So God takes care of those whom He loves; if father and mother forsake us, or are removed from us by death, the Lord will see to it that we are provided for. This is to teach us not to lean upon any arm of flesh, but to "trust in the Lord at all times." He will never leave nor forsake us, is the sure promise of His word.
Doddridge began to preach when he was only twenty years of age, and seven years later, he opened an academy at Northampton, England, intended to help prepare young men for the ministry.
Although 28 years younger than Dr. Watts, Doddridge was an intimate friend of his; as also of Lady Huntingdon, Whitefield, Venn, Romaine, and Berridge —all of them devoted servants of Christ; the Wesleys too he counted among his friends, although differing from them in various things.
He kept to this work with unremitting zeal, together with his pastoral duties for twenty years. But his health, never strong, began to fail, and a severe cold became the seed of consumption. His devoted friends sought by all means to prolong his precious life, but it was evident that the malady, notwithstanding temporary improvements, was fastening upon him. As a last resort he was sent to Lisbon, Portugal, to spend the winter in that genial, mild climate, loving hearts having provided the means for himself and wife and servant.
The ship's easy progress and soft breezes from the South revived him, but his spirit was turning heavenward. To his tender companion he would often say, "Such transporting views of the heavenly world is my Father now indulging me with, as no words can express.”
The short improvement did not continue. Bad symptoms came soon after their landing, and on Oct. 6, 1751, the beloved Doddridge was "put to sleep by Jesus" and was buried in the English graveyard by the sea.
It was Doddridge's custom to begin his sermon with the stanza of a hymn of his own composition, which was sung at the close of the preaching. Many of his hymns were founded on some passage of Scripture, often one of the Psalms; so they serve as a kind of explanation on that portion of God's Word. Many of his beautiful hymns are used in almost all Protestant collections. Dr. James Hamilton wrote of them: "At once beautiful and buoyant, these sacred strains are destined to carry the devout emotions of Doddridge to every shore where his Master is loved and where his mother-tongue is spoken.”
He wrote in all 364 hymns for the use of God's people. Of these, James Montgomery, a noted Christian poet, wrote: "They shine in the beauty of holiness; ... they are lovely and acceptable for that fervent, unaffected love to God, His service and His people which distinguishes them.),
How beautifully he has expressed the new convert's outburst of joy in finding peace, rest, and full satisfaction in his Savior-God
"O happy day, that fixed my choice
On Thee, my Savior and my God!
Well may this glowing heart rejoice,
And tell its raptures all abroad.
'Tis done!—the great transaction's done;
I am my Lord's and He is mine;
He drew me, and I followed on,
Glad to confess the Voice Divine.
Now rest, my long-divided heart—
Fixed or, that blissful Center, rest!
With ashes who would loath to part,
When called on angels' bread to feast?
To this a chorus has been usually added since to intensify the soul's exuberant joy:
"Happy day! happy day!
When Jesus washed my sins away!”
From "Hymns Historically Famous," we quote the following narrative in connection with this hymn: "In January, 1898, a remarkable scene was witnessed at the old Centenary Methodist Episcopal Church in St. Louis. The occasion was the mid-week prayer meeting, and when the venerable pastor, Dr. Mathews, was about to dismiss the several hundred who had braved the rain and melting ice to attend the service, he invited anyone who desired the prayers of Christians to go forward while the last hymn was being sung..A well-dressed, earnest-looking lady came forward and quietly knelt at a chair. Intense interest was manifested. Several prayers were offered in her behalf, and her tears indicated great depth of earnestness and conviction.
“At about ten o'clock some were on their knees praying for the penitent, and the hymn,
"O happy day that fixed my choice
On Thee, my Savior and my God,
was started without book or organ. The entire audience chimed in with a soft, sweet unity. When the stanza, "
'Tis done, the great transaction's done,
I am my Lord's and He is mine,
was reached, the penitent woman still on her knees, raised her hands in prayer, while her face was as radiant as if from the throne of God." The St. Louis Christian Advocate reporting on this occurrence and meeting said, "The scene was worth more than all the books written on the evidences of Christianity to see this woman of modesty and culture rejoicing in the revelation of God's love.”
Besides his hymns, Dr. Doddridge wrote three famous books, his "Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul;" his "Life of Colonel Gardiner," and his "Family Expositor," a simple commentary on the entire New Testament.
So you see, that though so delicate and such a very busy man, with his school work and preaching, the good minister found time to write a great deal besides. He did not idle his time away as many do. And if we are earnestly engaged in what is useful or necessary, Satan cannot tempt us nearly so easily; it is for the "idle hands" that he so often "finds some work to do." Let us learn from the example of Dr. Doddridge to keep busy in that which is useful and good; then, though our life may not be long (he lived only 49 years) we may, like him, accomplish much that is lasting and good.
But, stop: Can you say, as he wrote,
"Tis done, the great transaction's done!
I am my Lord's and He is mine?”
If not, oh may you give yourself to Him now; let Him be your Savior; and then you can truly sing,
"O happy day, happy day!
When Jesus washed my sins away!”