Josiah Conder

 •  6 min. read  •  grade level: 8
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JOSIAH CONDER'S contributions to hymns, appreciated on both sides of the sea, "rank next in number and value to those of Watts, Wesley and Doddridge," says a writer. He has title, therefore, to an honored place among our beloved hymn-writers. The following eight lines alone would have endeared his name to every loving Christian heart;
“Tis not that I did choose Thee,
For, Lord, that could not be;
This heart would still refuse Thee,
Hadst Thou not chosen me.
Thou, from the sin that stained me,
Hast washed and set me free,
And to this end ordained me,
That I should live to Thee.”
And what a grand hymn of his is that which begins,
"Thou art the Everlasting Word—
The Father's only Son: God manifest,
God seen and heard,
The Heaven's beloved One:
Worthy, O Lamb of God, art Thou
That ev'ry knee to Thee should bow.”
Its last stanza is,
"Of the vast universe of bliss,
The center Thou, and Sun;
Th' eternal theme of praise is this,
To Heaven's beloved One:
Worthy, O Lamb of God, art Thou
That ev'ry knee to Thee should bow.”
Josiah Conder was born in the city of London, September 17, 1 789. At the age of five he was vaccinated for small-pox, and, as sometimes happens, the virus worked in a way not expected, for as a result he lost the sight of one of his eyes. Fearing for the safety of the remaining eye, he was sent to Hackney for electric treatment, and the good doctor became also his instructor. In addition to his other studies, he took a course in French and Latin, and at the age of fifteen became assistant to his father in a metropolitan book store. Here he had opportunity to further cultivate his mind by judicious reading; and his occupation with books improved his taste for literature.
He had hardly reached his majority, when, "in company with some few friends of like gifts and ambitions," he published a small collection of verses entitled The Associate Minstrels. It must have possessed some merit, for two years later, in 1812, a second edition was called for. Soon after this he purchased the Eclectic Review of which he was the editor until the year 1837. "During this period," his biographer says, "he was in close association with the best literary people of that day, and was occupied with the publication of many works of his own, both in poetry and prose, mostly on religious topics.”
In the year 1837 he published The Congregational Hymn Boole, a Supplement to Watts; it contained sixty-two compositions of his own, with four composed by his wife. So popular did it become, that during the first seven years oi its publication ninety thousand copies were sold—an immense circulation for those days.
"He was of essential help to our modern hymnology," a prominent hymnodist Lays; "he made many and felicitous emendations of the rough poetry that went before him into the congregations. People blamed him for destroying their favorite expressions, but the future collections took his changes cheerfully, and found no fault with the ability and courage which gave them better hymns." Sir Edward Denny (of whom we write in another place) would not accord with this, for in the 3rd edition of his Hymns and Poems, 1870, he says: "Should any of these poems and hymns be deemed worthy of a place in any future collections, they may be left as they are, without alterations or abridgment.”
But it was different with the hymns Mr. Conder had to deal with, some of which required revision for doctrinal reasons; and this has been the case with many since. A hymn should above all things give expression to that only which is scripturally true. Other considerations, such as smoothness, rhythm, etc., are of secondary importance.
The hymn called "Hearer of Prayer," is said to have been written under the following circumstances: "While riding, Mr. Conder fell from his horse and was compelled to take to his bed in a trying season. He was not only suffering from pain, but feared becoming a permanent cripple. His affairs, too, were in a condition that required his utmost activity. This confinement summoned all his fortitude, and led him to constant supplication. It was thus he wrote the following lines in which the bravehearted preacher is seen at his best—bold, earnest, importunate.”
"O Thou God who hearest prayer
Every hour and everywhere,
For His sake, whose blood I plead,
Hear me in my hour of need:
Only hide not now Thy face,
God of all-sufficient grace!
Leave me not, my Strength, my Trust;
Oh, remember I am dust;
Leave me not again to stray;
Leave me not the tempter's prey;
Fix my heart on things above;
Make me happy in Thy love.”
Similar circumstances of trial and sorrow have given birth to some of our sweetest and most-prized hymns. Though Conder himself wrote, On reading a hymn nobody inquires why it was written, or attributes the feelings it depicts to the poet's actual or present experience." We do not, however, agree with him in this. The history of many hymns is almost as interesting as the biographies of those who wrote them. As examples, think of the circumstances that called forth many of those inspired poems, "The Psalms of David." See 2 Samuel, chaps. 7 and 22; also the titles of Psa. 3; 7; 18; 30; 34; 51; 52; 54; 56; 57; 60; 63, etc., and others of our own times of which the reader will find samples in this book.
Josiah Conder died in St. John's Wood, London, December 27, 1855, in the 67th year of his life, "and his works do follow him.”
Prayer for Divine Guidance—by Josiah Conder
Heavenly Father, to whose eye
Future things unfolded lie,
Through the desert where I stray
Let Thy counsels guide my way.
Lead me not (for flesh is frail)
Where fierce trial would assail;
Leave me not, in darkened hour,
To withstand the tempter's power.
Save me from his treacherous wiles;
Arm me against pleasures' smiles;
Give me, for my spirit's health,
'Neither poverty nor wealth.
Help thy servant to maintain
A profession free from stain,
That my sole reproach may be,
Following Christ and fearing Thee.
Lord, uphold me day by day;
Shed a light upon my way.
Guide me through perplexing snares,
Care for me in all my cares.
Let me neither faint nor fear,
Feeling still that Thou art near,
In the course my Savior trod,
Tending still to Thee, my God.