The Tower Of London, A Confederate Prison, & Their Song

What song do I sing every morning as I arise from my bed?

I sing the world-famous song of two notable prisoners: Bishop Thomas Ken who was imprisoned in the Tower of London, and Union Army Chaplain Charles McCabe who was imprisoned by the Confederates in the Libby Prison. Please enjoy reading the inspiring stories behind this one great song.

Thomas Ken (1637-1711) was both a Bishop and a songwriter. The record of his life shows that he was a man of conviction and discipline who was unwavering in his beliefs, even in the face of adversity.

As a Royal Chaplain to Princess Mary, he greatly displeased her husband, William of Orange, by going against the grain and insisting that certain promises made by royalty be fulfilled. He would not withhold from publicly denouncing the corruption of the authorities. King Charles II took notice of Chaplain Ken’s boldness and looked upon him with great admiration. Instead of facing punishment, Charles promoted him.

What was the promotion? Thomas Ken was brought near to King Charles and was made a King’s Chaplain.

Did the King’s favor cause Chaplain Ken to soften his rhetoric and refrain from speaking the truth? Not in the least. On one occasion, King Charles ordered that His new mistress, Nell Gwynne, stay in the same residence as Chaplain Ken. Thomas Ken openly rebuked their adulterous relationship and vehemently refused to bow to this immoral arrangement. Ken said, “Not for the KING’s kingdom”. Instead of incurring the King’s wrath, he won the King’s respect and caused King Charles to actually acquiesce to his protest.

Later when there was an opening for the role of Bishop, King Charles said, “Where is the good little man that refused his lodging to poor Nell?”. King Charles made certain that Thomas Ken filled this higher, influential post.

As Bishop, Thomas Ken served the people with great love. His actions brought about reform and repentance among the people. His influence caused others to reach out to the community and offer free education to underprivileged children. Of particular note was his contribution to the founding of the Warminster School which still exists today.

His weekly messages rang with unyielding truth. He preached an uncompromising message and would speak openly about the sins of the land. King Charles would rise for chapel service and was heard to say, “I must go in and hear Ken tell me of my faults”.

Under the rule of King James, Bishop Ken once again held to his convictions and made a stand. King James had issued his Declaration of Indulgence which leaned favorably towards Roman Catholicism. Ken refused to publish the document believing that it hindered the liberty of God’s church. Instead, he raised a protest against it. As a result, Bishop Ken was thrown into prison at the infamous Tower of London.

Oh by the way, did I mention in the beginning that Bishop Ken was also a songwriter?

Before he was ever a royal chaplain, he served at Winchester College and wrote a series of hymns for the students which were assigned to be sung at morning, evening, and midnight. The man was a worshiper of God. Like Daniel in the Bible who prayed three times a day, it was Ken’s personal discipline and practice to sing these personal hymns everyday of his life without fail. His song in the morning became world famous.

Because of Bishop Ken’s steadfast discipline and character, I don’t believe his imprisonment at the Tower of London deterred him from practicing his praise unto God. I believe that the same song that was later sung at his own funeral was being sung by him then in the dark reaches of that forbidden place.

If you could have walked by the infamous tower in those days, I believe you could have heard a faint echo ringing out his famous song.

Although sent to prison, he was acquitted and released one month later. He forgave King James and remained loyal to him. The declarations were later voided.

Not only do I believe this famed song was sung from the Prison Tower Of London, we know it brought great comfort in another prison during the Civil War.

The Union Army Chaplain, Charles Cardwell McCabe was captured by the Confederate Army. His story was recounted in the book, “Trophies of Song: Articles and Incidents on the Power of Sacred Music”:

Many have heard from Chap­lain Mc­Cabe’s own fire-touched lips, how this grand old song, that has doubt­less been on more lips than any other un­in­spired pro­duc­tion, was sung by the starv­ing boys in blue [Un­ion sol­diers in the Amer­i­can ci­vil war] that were in­car­cer­at­ed in Lib­by Pri­son [Rich­mond, Vir­gin­ia]. Day af­ter day they saw com­rades pass­ing away, and their num­bers in­creased by fresh, liv­ing re­cruits for the grave. One night about ten o’clock, through the still­ness and the dark­ness, they heard the tramp of com­ing feet, that soon stopped before the pri­son door un­til ar­range­ments could be made in­side. In the com­pa­ny was a young Bap­tist min­is­ter, whose heart al­most faint­ed as he looked on those cold walls and thought of the suf­fer­ing in­side. Tired and wea­ry, he sat down, put his face in his hands and wept. Just then a lone voice of deep, sweet pa­thos, sung out from an up­per win­dow,—

Praise God from whom all blessings flow;

and a do­zen man­ly voices joined in the se­cond line,—

Praise Him all creatures here below

and then by the time the third was reached, more than a score of hearts were full, and these joined to send the words on high,—

Praise Him above ye heavenly host;

and by this time the prison was all alive, and seemed to qui­ver with the sac­red song, as from eve­ry room and cell those brave men sang,—

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

As the song died out on the still night that en­vel­oped in dark­ness the doomed ci­ty of Rich­mond, the young man arose and hap­pi­ly said,—

Prisons would palaces prove If Jesus would dwell with me there

Yes, the great song written by Bishop Thomas Ken and practiced by Union Chaplain Charles McCabe is the Church’s Great Doxology. Click here to read ALL the rich lyrics of this great standard of worship.

This is the song that I sing every morning. Please enjoy listening to this beautiful rendering of worship to God by a groom waiting for his bride.

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Husband, Father, Salesman, Veteran, Real Identity: Child of God
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