Thomas Kelly, 1769‑1855

These notes are taken from "Songs of Pilgrimage and Glory" by E.E. Cornwall:

Thomas Kelly was born in Ireland on July 13th. 1769 and died in Dublin on the 14th. 1855. He was the only son of Judge Kelly of Kellyville, near Cathy, Queen's County. He was educated for the Bar at Trinity College, Dublin. While completing his studies in London, he was convicted of sin through the writings of William Romaine. Finding that all his efforts to reform were useless, he at last obtained "peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ"...and forthwith abandoned the study of law for the preaching of the Gospel and at the early age of 23 became a clergyman of the Church of Ireland.

His evangelical preaching led to the Archbishop of Dublin (Dr. Fowler) prohibition; and forbidden any longer to preach in the established church, he left it and (with others like-minded) taught in various chapels in Ireland those glorious truths that find expression in his hymns. At the age of 30, Thomas Kelly married Miss Tighe of Rosanna, Co. Wicklow, whose family, besides having wealth and position, were revered for their piety. Three years later he began to publish his hymns, and during the next fifty years, 765 hymns came from his pen, many being found in our principal collections. Dr. Julian in his Dictionary of Hymnology gives the various editions in which the best known appeared.

In 1802 he published "Psalms and Hymns by Various Authors". It contained 33 of his hymns. In 1804, came "Hymns on Various Passages of Scripture". New editions of this came out in 1806, 1809, 1826, 1836. All these editions contained hymns written by Thomas Kelly. In 1853, the last edition by him contained all his hymns. In 1815 he published "Hymns not before Published". Possessing musical talent, he also composed tunes suitable for many of the hymns he had written; these were issued as a companion volume, also in 1815.

Mr. Thomas Kelly (not to be confounded with Mr. William Kelly, the expositor) was not only poet and musician, but a linguist and man of learning, combined with gracious personal qualities. In some of his hymns we see the glowing fervour of his own Christian life. While some hymns may be poor, others are very fine and triumphant. While his hymns seem to cover the whole field of Christian life and experience, the Gospel is the basis of them all. Someone has said of him, "His personal labours in the work of the ministry were unwearied and his faith in the old truths of the Gospel as the power of God unto salvation are unwavering".

In the last preface to his hymn book, Thomas Kelly observes; "It will be perceived by those who read these hymns, that though there is an interval between the first and the last of near sixty years, both speak of the same great truths, and in the same way. In the course of that long period, the author has seen much and heard much; but nothing that he has seen or heard has made the least change in his mind that he is conscious of, as to the grand truths of the Gospel. What pacifies the conscience then, does so now. 'Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ'".

Hymns by Thomas Kelly are to be found in all the principal hymn‑books of Great Britain and America, and have been freely used in Church of England hymnals that are evangelical, but probably none have drawn more upon them than those known as "Brethren", many of whom were themselves Irish, and well acquainted with his hymns, so widely known in Ireland in the early part of the 19th. century. Their own hymns were as yet mostly unwritten, and those of Kelly contained in large measure the truth which to them had become so real. Almost their first hymn book, "Hymns for the Poor of the Flock" contained a great many of them, as did also the collection that took its place, known as the Little Flock Hymn Book. (A good hymn omitted from those two hymn books "Speed Thy servants, Saviour, speed them," is included in 'Spiritual Songs' in an adapted form).

While preaching at the advanced age of 85, Mr. Kelly had a stroke and died the year following. His last words were, "Not my will but Thine be done".

Knapp, in "Who wrote our hymns"; records that shortly before his death, someone repeated for Mr. Kelly's comfort, the words of the Psalmist, "The Lord is my Shepherd". With his last remaining strength he answered, "The Lord is my Everything".

J.G. Deck is the main contributor to 'Spiritual Songs' with his 38 hymns. Thomas Kelly contributed 31 hymns and J.N. Darby 27 hymns. It would be interesting to know the influence of Thomas Kelly's hymns in the 1859 revival in Ireland.

The hymns of Thomas Kelly in 'Spiritual Songs' are:

10: Grace is the sweetest sound That ever reached our ears
37: The atoning work is done, The Victim's blood is shed
62: In the Lord we have redemption
103: We'll sing of the Shepherd that died
105: Glory, glory, everlasting, Be to Him who bore the cross
125: Behold the Lamb with glory crowned
129: Awake each soul! Awake each tongue!
142: Glory to God on high, Peace upon earth and joy
168: The night is far spent and the day is at hand
175: We sing the praise of Him Who died
183: Saviour come! Thy saints are waiting
198: Lord accept our feeble song, Power and praise to Thee belong
221: Happy they who trust in Jesus
226: And art Thou, gracious Master, gone
241: Saviour, through the desert lead us
242: Sing aloud to God, our strength
263: The night is now far spent, The day is drawing nigh
280: O joyful day! O glorious hour!
285: The Head that once was crowned with thorns
286: Stricken, smitten and afflicted, See Him dying on the tree
290: Why those fears? Behold 'tis Jesus, Holds the helm
304: Soon the saints in glory singing
312: Lead on, Almighty Lord, Lead on to victory
317: How pleasant is the sound of praise
339: Lord, dismiss us hence with gladness
347: Gracious Lord, my heart is fixed
371: Look, ye saints, the sight is glorious
430: To wait for that appointed day
476: Praise the Saviour, ye who know Him
479: Soft the voice of mercy sounded
496: Speed Thy servants, Saviour, speed them (adapted).

All these hymns contain the spirit of reverence toward the Lord Jesus, and also all the fundamental features of the Gospel of the grace of God. They are worthy of a place in any collection of hymns, where persons who believe in the Person and Work of Christ gather to sing.

Hymns by Thomas Kelly