Notes from "Popular Hymns and their Writers" by Norman Mable:
Philip Doddridge was born in 1702, the twentieth child of his parents, and was laid aside at his birth as still-born; but he survived and lived to become a famous Congregational minister. At the age of thirteen, Philip lost his father and the same year entered a private school at St. Albans in which city he became acquainted with Dr. Samuel Clark, the minister of a Nonconformist church there. Dr. Clark was exceedingly kind to the young boy, and indeed acted as a second father to him. A few years later, Doddridge joined the Church of England at St. Albans and on the Sunday of that occasion he made a covenant with God and wrote it out. From year to year he renewed it asking God's pardon for his failure to keep it as faithfully as he desired.
In 1718 he began considering what calling to adopt and felt inclined to enter the Christian ministry, but although he was a churchman, and was even offered by the Duchess of Bedford a living in the Anglican Church, he, like his great friend, Isaac Watts, preferred, as he put it, to "take his place amongst the Dissenters". One morning, feeling perplexed and worried, he took his petition to his Heavenly Father, seeking for direction. While on his knees, a letter was delivered at his house. It was from Dr. Clark, who, having heard of his difficulties, offered to assist him if he chose the ministry on Christian principles. He regarded this as an answer to his prayers, and throughout his life praised God for "so seasonable an intervention of Divine Providence" as he himself expressed it. Happy in his mind, he went through a course of instruction at Kibworth Academy under the Rev. John Jennings.
His studies finished, Philip Doddridge became pastor at Hinckley for a year, and then returned to minister at Kibworth for seven years. In 1729, Dr. Doddridge received a call to Castle Hill Church, Northampton. Feeling he could not take on additional responsibilities he was most reluctant to accept the call; indeed he rebelled against the thought of going. However he agreed to preach at the Church on a Sunday in 1729, and for his sermon took the text, "And when he would not be persuaded we ceased, saying, the will of the Lord be done". Acts 21:4. Upon his return to the house in which he was staying, while passing through a room, he heard a child reading to his mother "And as thy days so shall thy strength be". These words fixed themselves in his mind with "great force and sweetness", but he still could not decide to accept the call. Then a sudden death occurred which compelled him to remain in Northampton for the funeral. Seizing the opportunity, a number of the young people from the Church came and begged him to accept the pastorate. This, and the impression the child's text had made on his mind, convinced him that indeed the call was from God, and he finally accepted the invitation.
Greatly blessed was his twenty one years' ministry at that Church in Northampton. During this ministry in Northampton, Doddridge was instrumental in the conversion of a medical doctor who was an avowed atheist. Before Dr. Storehouse became an energetic Christian, he and Doddridge became firm friends and the strangely assorted pair established a hospital. They began with 40 beds which later was increased to 400. Writing many years later Dr. Stonehouse said "The exact date of my conversion to Christianity is not known, but the blessed instrument employed by God for effecting this great work was Dr. Doddridge". Doddridge himself refers to this as "one of the most signal instances in which God has ever honoured me".
Dr. Stonehouse attended Doddridge in his illness, and bare testimony to his patient's calmness and uncomplaining attitude during his painful and distressing illness. In 1751, at the age of forty nine, Dr. Doddridge became ill with consumption. Upon the advice of his doctor, he went on a sea voyage to Lisbon, but a few days after landing there, he passed peacefully away. Immediately before his death his wife noticed his lips moving. She asked if he required anything. "No," he whispered, "I am only renewing my covenant engagements with God".
Doddridge's hymns in 'Spiritual Songs' are:
47 Grace taught our wandering feet
197 O God, what cords of love are Thine
236 O gracious Father, God of love
240 May the Saviour's love and merit
253 Since Christ and we are one
Doddridge wrote hundreds of hymns of which many are in common use. A well-known hymn of Doddridge's which is not in 'Spiritual Songs' is "O happy day that fixed my choice, On Thee my Saviour and my God". It was written in the middle of the eighteenth century and was entitled by him, "Rejoicing in our Covenant. Engagement with God". It was a fitting choice by Queen Victoria when one of the princesses was being confirmed. When the Princess was about to confess publicly her vows to God, the Queen selected this hymn to be sung.
These hymns of Doddridge may not be among the favourite hymns of those who sing from 'Spiritual Songs' but they are worthy hymns. No 236 was one of the hymns we chose for our wedding day. [F.W.]