If you answer the question honestly, you might draw strange looks. The question being—what else did you do in church today? The proper response being—I was singing to saints and angels. It’s enough to get you committed in some places.
But each week, in Christian worship services around the world, believers sing a song called the Doxology. Unfortunately, many people don’t realize exactly what they are singing.
Our English word “doxology” comes from a combination of the Greek words doxa, (meaning glory), and logos, (or word). A doxology is a word, or short hymn of praise to God giving him glory. We find doxologies in the Bible. Paul breaks out into praise in passages such as Romans 11.36, Galatians 1.5, and Ephesians 3.21. The traditional version of The Lord’s Prayer ends with the doxology—“for Thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory, forever, Amen.”
Singing doxologies at the end of hymns is a tradition that grew out of the ancient Jewish synagogue. Once adapted by early Christians, they often became songs of praise to the Trinity.
In ancient church history, there were two very famous doxologies. There is the Greater Doxology, also known as the Gloria in Excelsis (Glory to God in the highest) based on Luke 2.14. It is still sung in the Catholic Mass. There is also the Lesser Doxology, otherwise known as the Gloria Patri. It is a hymn and creed probably suggested by Matthew 28.19 /John 1 and used to combat Arianism. It emphasizes the eternal glory of the Trinity.
However, the Doxology that most Protestants use in worship came from the pen of Thomas Ken in 1674. It is sometimes referred to as–The Common Doxology. Its opening words—“praise God from whom all blessings flow” exalt God for being the source of all good things. Then it reminds us of the larger context of worship as we call others to praise—“praise him all creatures here below, praise him above, ye heavenly hosts.”
When we praise God in our Sunday worship, we actually enter the heavenly Jerusalem and have access to the Holy of Holies in heaven because of the redeeming work of Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant. We actually join a joyful heavenly assembly. As we enter his presence, according to Hebrews 12.22,23, we “have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly.” We are literally singing with the angels. What is more, we also join with “the spirits of righteous men made perfect,” that is the spirits of those who have died in the Lord, (2 Corinthians 5.8-10; Revelation 14.13), i.e. all the saints who have gone before us of the old and new covenant, including our own loved ones. Perhaps you have not thought of worship like that before. It is no small thing we do when we raise our voices in doxology.
But for Thomas Ken (1637-1711), he was hoping this hymn of praise would assist students in their private devotion.
While Ken became an Anglican minister, he began his life as an orphan. He was adopted by an English writer named Izaak Walton. Walton later became famous for his book The Complete Angler, the first and classic book on instruction in fly fishing.
Thomas Ken studied at New College in Oxford. He later became the Bishop of Bath and Wells but also spent some time as an instructor at Winchester College. His work there included preaching, teaching, and encouraging students in their own private walk with God.
Ken’s Doxology was originally the final verse of two longer hymns, a morning hymn—Awake My Soul and With the Sun, and an evening hymn—Glory to Thee, My God, This Night. They were first published in 1709 and have been most often sung to the tune of The Old 100th (Psalm).
In Ken’s day, it was believed that only Scripture hymns and psalms should be sung in the church. Writing non-biblical lyrics was considered by many to be the equivalent of adding to the Bible—it was greatly frowned upon. When Ken wrote his Doxology, he encouraged students to use it only in their private rooms, singing it as a morning and evening hymn as part of their devotions. Ironically, this private doxology has since become widely used in public worship. Here are the first three, and the last stanza of Thomas Ken’s morning hymn:
Awake, my soul, and with the sun, thy daily stage of duty run;
Shake off dull sloth, and joyful rise, to pay thy morning sacrifice.
Thy precious time misspent redeem, each present day thy last esteem,
Improve thy talent with due care; for the great day thyself prepare.
By influence of the Light divine, let thy own light to others shine.
Reflect all Heaven’s propitious ways, in ardent love, and cheerful praise.
Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow; Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host; Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.