Thomas Kelly*

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THE name of Thomas Kelly is found almost as frequently as that of the Wesley's in most of our best collections of hymns. He was son of the Right Honorable Baron Kelly, and was born at Kellyville, in Queen's County, Ireland, July 13, 1769. He graduated from Dublin University, intending to take up the study and practice of law. But God had better occupation for him, and at the age of 23 he was ordained a clergyman of the Church of England.
We are sorry to have no personal account of his conversion, which must have been with deep conviction and much power. We learn however, that young Kelly passed through a season of self-mortification; like many another, probably seeking to attain peace with God and mastery over a sinful nature by such means as self-imposed hardships, which God uses, however, to show to earnest souls the inveterate evil in our nature. "At length," writes Josiah Miller, "young Kelly found peace with God, through the Lord Jesus Christ, by way of 'justification by faith,' of which he became afterward so firm and faithful an advocate," and of which he afterward wrote:
"Grace is the sweetest sound
That ever reached our ears:
When conscience charged, and justice frowned,
‘Twas grace removed our fears.
'Tis freedom to the slave,
'Tis life and liberty;
It takes its terror from the grave,
From death its victory.
Of grace, then, let us sing!
(A joyful, wondrous theme!)
Who grace has brought shall glory bring,
And we shall reign with Him.”
Kelly determined, thereafter, to devote himself to the service of God, and, in 1792, was ordained as a minister of the established church in Ireland. There he displayed so much zeal that his ecclesiastical superiors looked upon him as a disturber of the peace of their State-established "Zion," and efforts were made to get rid of him. A biographer says, "He was too zealous for anything like tame routine, and some considered him almost a fanatic. Rowland Hill made his acquaintance, and, before long they were both silenced because their preaching was too direct and spiritual for those times.”
Their preaching was too spiritual, we may say, to suit the worldly-minded preachers and people of their time. Such heart-searching preaching is just what is needed at all times, but the worldly professors of religion do not like to be disturbed in their self-deception and spiritual sleep; whilst the true people of God welcome with thankful hearts the preaching and teaching in the power of God's Spirit which makes Christ and the truth a living reality. But such ministry does not suit the cold formalism of State Churches or other worldly congregations; little wonder therefore that these servants of Christ were forced outside. "The Archbishop of Dublin closed all the pulpits of his diocese to these two men," a writer says.
Thus driven from the Establishment, Mr. Kelly went wherever he found open doors; thus he was free to go where he believed the Lord was leading him, and was happier doubtless in this path than he could have been under bondage to man or the jurisdiction of the State. Cast out for the truth's sake, he was given opportunity to bear "the reproach of Christ,” and taste the "fellowship of His sufferings"—thus prepared also, and made a vessel meet to give to the church those hymns which have been the joy and uplifting of so many of God's people. Had he continued in the Establishment and compromised his conscience, he could not have served the Lord and His blood-bought people as he did; and the Christian church would probably have been deprived of that rich legacy of song left her by this gifted servant of Christ.
Our Lord's return was a precious theme to Mr. Kelly, and reference to it is found in many of his hymns. In the following he celebrates His triumphant return:
"Lock, ye saints, the sight is glorious;
See the Man of sorrows now:
From the fight returned victorious,
Every knee to Him shall bow:
Crown Him! crown Film!
Crowns become the Victor's brow.
Sinners in derision crowned Him,
Mocking thus the Savior's claim;
Saints and angels crowd around Him,
Own His title, praise His name.
Crown Him! crown Him!
Spread abroad the Victor's fame.
Hark, those bursts of acclamation!
Hark, those loud triumphant chords!
Jesus takes the highest station;
Oh, what joy the sight affords!
Crown Him! crown Him!
King of kings, and Lord of lords!
“He was a musician and a poet," his biographer says, "and he consecrated all his gifts to his divine Lord. At the age of thirty, he married a lady of like heart, views, and purpose." In this he was more fortunate than either John Wesley or George Whitefield. "A prudent wife is from the Lord" (Prov. 19:1414House and riches are the inheritance of fathers: and a prudent wife is from the Lord. (Proverbs 19:14)), and if the servants of Christ were careful to marry "only in the Lord," how much sorrow and handicap they might save themselves.
Thomas Kelly labored in Dublin more than sixty years. At last, stricken with paralysis, he died May 14, 1855. Shortly before his death someone repeated for his comfort, the words of the Psalmist, "The Lord is my Shepherd:' etc. With his last remaining strength he answered, "The Lord is my everything!" They we the last words his lips uttered on earth. Blessed finish of a course so fruitful of good works and words—these last to be sung by Christian lips throughout the world while the 'English tongue shall last.
The following lines of his own composition form a fitting conclusion or evensong for a life of such long and uninterrupted usefulness:
"Through the day Thy love has spared us;
Now we lay us down to rest;
Through the silent watches guard us,
Let no foe our peace molest.
Jesus! Thou our Guardian be;
Sweet it is to trust in Thee.
Pilgrims here on earth, and strangers,
Dwelling in the midst of foes,
Us and ours preserve from dangers;
In Thine arms may we repose.
And when life's short day is past
Rest with Thee in heaven at last.”
“This author wrote and published hymns for fifty-one years," one who was himself a hymn-writer says, "and left behind him no less than 765 lyrics, many of which rank among the best in our tongue.”
The Mighty Victor—by Thomas Kelly
The head that once was crowned with thorns,
Is crowned with glory now;
A royal diadem adorns
The mighty Victor's brow.
The highest place that heaven affords
Is His, is His by right;
The King of kings, and Lord of lords,
And heaven's eternal light.
The joy of all who dwell above,
The joy of all below
To whom He manifests His love,
And grants His name to know.
To them the cross, with all its shame,
With all its grace, is given;
Their name an everlasting name,
Their joy the joy of heaven.
They suffer with their Lord below,
They reign with Him above;
Their profit and their joy to know
The mystery of His love.
The cross He bore is life and health,
Though shame and death to Him;
His people's hope, His people's wealth,
Their everlasting theme.