It’s common to say that so-and-so did not have a promising start, but even amongst a crowded field Philip Doddridge’s birth would stand out as particularly unpromising. He was the twentieth child of his parents, and so he was not likely to receive all the attention of an only child. What is worse, when he was born it was assumed that he was stillborn, and so was put to one side. Needless to say he survived.
A shadow of trouble seemed to lie over his family. His grandfather was a clergyman, but had been ejected from the Church of England on 24th August 1662 along with over two-thousand other ministers. Writing some two hundred years later J C Ryle, Bishop of Liverpool, commented that this act was an “injury to the cause of true religion in England which will probably never be repaired”.
When Doddridge was aged just thirteen, his father died and so the lad began his schooling in St Albans where he wrote a “covenant with God”, which he would review every year. It was a way of encouraging himself in his discipleship, and each year he would pray for forgiveness where he’d strayed.
He was clearly noticed there, and the Duchess of Bedford offered to pay for his University training so that he might be ordained in the Church of England. He declined (perhaps remembering his grandfather?) and decided instead to join a church outside the Church of England. This decision meant that he was barred from studying at a University in England or holding public office . Given this, it is perhaps even more gratifying to know that he was awarded a Doctor of Divinity by the University of Aberdeen in recognition of his great work in the church, not least the hundreds of hymns he penned and his stalwart work in training men for ministry outside of the Church of England.
This prolific man did not live to great old age, and as he lay dying in 1751 his wife noticed his lips moving. She wondered if he needed anything. “No”, he answered, “I am only renewing my covenant-engagement with God”.
Ye servants of the Lord,
each in his office wait,
observant of his heavenly word,
and watchful at his gate.
Let all your lamps be bright,
and trim the golden flame;
gird up your loins as in his sight,
for awful is his name.
Watch! 'tis your Lord's command,
and while we speak, he's near;
mark the first signal of his hand,
and ready all appear.
O happy servant he
in such a posture found!
he shall his Lord with rapture see,
and be with honour crowned.
Christ shall the banquet spread
with his own royal hand,
and raise that faithful servant's head
amid the angelic band.