This famous hymn text was written by Samuel Crossman (1624-1683), an Anglican priest. The Anglican Church at this time sang only psalms, so it is most likely that Crossman intended his text to be read as poetry, not to be sung as a hymn. Crossman ministered successfully in the town of Sudbury, England until 1662. During this year, the English government had declared that every minister sign a document declaring their allegiance to the Book of Common Prayer. Many clergy could not in good conscience sign this document, and they, among which was Crossman himself, were expelled from the pulpit and from their homes and towns. It is about this time that such “dissenters” (known as “Puritans”) began to emigrate to America.
Crossman later recanted, pledged fealty to the Church of England, and became one of the King’s chaplains! In 1683, he became dean of Bristol Cathedral, where he is buried.
Notice that this hymn text captures the thoughts and feelings of the historical events surrounding Christ’s life. We recall Christmas and Christ’s incarnation in the second stanza which reminds us that “He came from His blest throne salvation to bestow.” We are reminded of the Palm Sunday crowd in the third stanza: “Sometimes they strew His way and His sweet praises sing; resounding all the day Hosannas to their King. Then “Crucify!” Is all their breath, and for His death they thirst and cry.” In the ultimate of ironies, the crowd’s call for Barabbas is echoes in the fifth stanza: “A murderer they save, The prince of life they slay. Yet cheerful He to suff’ring goes.” The final stanza, as in many hymns, is directed not to poeticizing the historical Passion narrative, but towards relating the story to the reader/singer. It is, then, our responsibility to respond to Christ’s act of justification and spend all our days in “His sweet praise.” Appropriate words as we commence celebrate Christ the King Sunday and prepare to enter the festival portion of the liturgical year.