Julian's account of J. Mason:
The known facts of his life are scanty. He was the son of a dissenting minister, and the grandfather of John Mason, the author of "A Treatise on Self- Knowledge". He was educated at Strixton School, Northants, and Clare Hall, Cambridge. After taking his M.A., he became curate of Isham; and in 1668, Vicar of Stantenburg, Bucks. A little more than five years afterwards he was appointed Rector of Water-Stratford. Here he composed the volume containing "The Songs of Praise", his paraphrase of the Song of Solomon, and the poem on Dives and Lazarus with which Shepherd's "Penitential Cries" was afterwards bound up. This volume passed through twenty editions. Besides the "Songs of Praise", it contains six "Penitential Cries" by Mason, and it is this portion of his work which harmonizes with the compositions of Shepherd. Probably his hymns were used in public worship, and if so, they are among the earliest hymns so used in the Church of England. Some of his hymns are often found in the Early Hymn Collections of the 18th. century. The most notable work besides this volume is "Select Remains of the Rev. John Mason", a collection of sententious and practical sayings and christian letters, published by his grandson, and much eulogised by Dr. Watts. His friend Shepherd, who was at Water-Stratford at the remarkable period to which reference is made below, published two of Mason's Sermons, with a preface of his own. Mason was "a man of true piety and humility; known for eminent prayerfulness; faithful, experimental, effective preaching; a light in the pulpit and a pattern out of it". His friendship with Baxter and Shepherd, the Nonconformist minister of Braintree, probably indicates his sympathies and theological position. Baxter calls him "the glory of the Church of England", and says:-"The frame of his spirit was so heavenly, his deportment so humble and obliging, his discourse of spiritual things so weighty, with such apt words and delightful air, that it charmed all that had any spiritual relish".
The close of his life was sensational enough. One night, about a month before his death, he had a vision of the Lord Jesus, wearing on His head a glorious crown, and with a look of unutterable majesty in His face. Of this vision he spoke; and preached a sermon he called "The Midnight Cry", in which he proclaimed the near approach of Christ's Second Advent. A report spread that this advent would take place at Water-Stratford itself, and crowds gathered there from the surrounding villages. Furniture and provisions were brought in, and every corner of the house and village occupied. Most extraordinary scenes occurred, singing and leaping and dancing. The excitement had scarcely died out when the old man passed away, (1694) still testifying that he had seen the Lord, and that it was time for the nation to tremble, and for Christians to trim their lamps. His last words were, "I am full of the loving kindness of the Lord"
Mason wrote a hymn entitled "A Song of Praise for the Evening". The third stanza is as follows:-
"Man's life a book of history,
The leaves thereof are days;
The letters, mercies closely joined;
The title is Thy praise".
This stanza is usually thought to have suggested Dr. Franklin's well known epitaph upon himself, wherein he compares his body to "the cover of an old book, the contents torn out, and stripped of its lettering and gilding". The whole hymn is sometimes quoted, and not without reason, as Mason's finest production.
Mason's hymn in 'Spiritual Songs' is No. 147. "To Him that loved us, gave Himself"
This hymn is No. 33 of Mason's Songs of Praise, 1683, in 4 stanzas of 8 lines and entitled "A Song of Praise collected from the Doxologies in the Revelation of St. John". It is very unequal in merit, some lines being very fine, whilst others are of little worth. It has, however, the elements of a splendid hymn of praise. In modern hymnody it is known as the hymn to which Watts is supposed to have been indebted for his "Now to the Lord that makes us know" (q.v.) a supposition which cannot be maintained. Original text is in D. Sedgwick's reprint of Mason's Songs. 1859, page 65.
This hymn is in all the editions of the Little Flock Hymn Book, 1856-1978.