1711/12–24 May 1768
JOSEPH HART, to whom the Church is indebted for many valuable hymns, was born (1712) of pious parents, in London, England. He “imbibed the sound doctrines of the Gospel from infancy,” and was often seriously impressed, even from childhood. His education was specially good and liberal, enabling him to become a classical teacher.
At the age of twenty-one, he became greatly anxious about his spiritual condition. He strove “to commend [himself] to God’s favor, by amendment of life, virtuous resolutions, moral rectitude, and a strict attendance on religious ordinances.” He fasted, prayed, and wept; but was often brought into bondage by fleshly lusts. Seven years were passed in this manner, before he obtained a hope of forgiveness.
A relapse followed. Giving way to pride and self-conceit, he adopted extreme Antinomian views, and indulged in gross sensuality and vice. “For,” he says, “having, as I imagined, obtained by Christ a liberty of sinning, I was resolved to make use of it; and thought the more I could sin without remorse, the greater hero I was in faith. … In this abominable state, I continued, a loose backslider, an audacious apostate, a bold-faced rebel, for nine or ten years; not only committing acts of lewdness myself, but infecting others with the poison of my delusions. I published several pieces on different subjects, chiefly translations of the ancient heathens, to which I prefixed Prefaces, and subjoined Notes, of a pernicious tendency.” One of these publications was a Translation of Herodian’s History of his Own Times (1749).
In 1741, his parents, on the opening of Whitefield’s Tabernacle, Moorfields, London, became stated attendants there. That same year, their son, having himself become an occasional hearer of Whitefield and the Wesleys, published a pamphlet, entitled, “The Unreasonableness of Religion, being Remarks and Animadversions on the Rev. John Wesley’s Sermon on Rom. viii. 32.” Not long after, he removed to Sheerness, Kent. Here he exerted an influence so pernicious, by his example and teachings, that Mr. William Shrubsole, of the Dock Yard, and Minister of Bethel Chapel, after much entreaty prevailed on him to return to London, in order that the nuisance might thus be abated.
At length, in 1751, in his fortieth year, he was led to see the enormity of his principles, and to abandon his immoralities. He now received the true doctrine of the Gospel, and became strictly correct in conduct. He resorted to daily prayer, and the reading of the Scriptures in their original tongues as well as in English. For five years he continued this course with no lively sense of divine love.
Two years of despondency followed. All this while he was an attendant of the Tabernacle and Tottenham Court Road Chapel. A sermon on Rev. iii. 10, that he heard on Whit-Sunday, 1757, at the Moravian Chapel in Fetter Lane, brought light and grace to his soul, and put a happy end to his life-long perplexities. He now became a thorough convert, a consistent and happy Christian. He entered upon, and continued to the end to live, a new life to the glory of God. He had long been accustomed to write in verse. He delighted now in the composition of hymns and spiritual songs, expressive of his new experience.
In the spring of 1759, he published 119 “Hymns, etc., composed on Various Subjects, with a Preface, containing a Brief Account of the Author’s Experience, and the Great Things that God hath done for his Soul.” A second edition, with a Supplement of 82 additional hymns and 7 doxologies, was published in 1762. The fourth edition (1765) contained, also, an Appendix of 13 hymns. Numerous editions of this book have been published. An American edition was printed (1798) by Shepard Kolloch, Elizabeth Town, N.J. It has been highly extolled and prized by distinguished preachers. The Rev. John Towers, his successor in the ministry, says of it,— “Herein the doctrines of the Gospel are illustrated so practically, the precepts of the word enforced so evangelically, and their effects stated so experimentally, that with propriety it may be styled a treasury of doctrinal, practical, and experimental divinity.” It is used extensively to this day in some parts of England.
A few of his hymns have become great favorites everywhere, and are found in the most of the modern Compilations. “Come, ye sinners! poor and wretched,” etc., has done good service, everywhere, especially in revivals of religion. The passion hymn, the eighth stanza of which begins with “Many woes had Christ endured,” has the ring of the mediaeval Latin hymns, full of penitence, faith, and holy trust in the bleeding Lamb of God. It has twenty-three stanzas in the original. “Come, Holy Spirit! come,” etc., (nine stanzas in the original) was, doubtless, suggested by “Veni, Sancti Spiritus,” etc. …
Soon after the publication of his Hymns, and because of it, he was sought out by the Rev. Andrew Kinsman, of Plymouth, and urged, though in his forty-eighth year, to undertake the work of the ministry. He complied, and preached his first sermon, in “the Old Meeting-House,” St. John's Court, Bermondsey, London. Early in 1760, the old wooden meeting-house in Jewin Street, originally built (1672) for the celebrated William Jenkyn, was procured by his friends, and a church gathered there, to which he ministered for the next eight years, crowds gathering to hear his fervid and eloquent discourses. Here God gave him many seals to his ministry.
His last years were attended with considerable physical suffering. He died, in the midst of his labors and successes, May 24, 1768, in his fifty-sixth year. At his burial in Bunhill Fields, about 20,000 people are said to have been present. He left a wife and six children. One of his sons, who at his marriage had changed his name to inherit property, became a successful barrister, was made a baronet by George IV, and was appointed Lord Chancellor of Ireland.
by Edwin Hatfield
The Poets of the Church (1884)
Joseph Hart, Hymns, &c. (1759), p. v.
Joseph Hart, Hymns, &c. (1759), pp. vii-viii.
Joseph Hart, Hymns, &c., 13th ed. (1796), pp. iii.
Collections of Hymns:
Hymns, &c. Composed on Various Subjects
1st ed. (1759): PDF
2nd ed. (1762) with supplement
3rd ed. (1763) with supplement: PDF
4th ed. (1765) with supplement and appendix
5th ed. (1767) with supplement and appendix: PDF
6th ed. (1769) with supplement and appendix: PDF
Joseph Hart, The Unreasonableness of Religion. Being Remarks and Animadversions on Mr. John Wesley’s Sermon on Romans viii. 32 (1741): PDF
John Hughes, The Christian Warrior Finishing His Course. A Sermon Occasioned by the Death of the Rev. Mr. Joseph Hart, Preached in Jewin-Street, June 5, 1768 (London: J. Millan, 1768): PDF
R.W., An Elegy on the Death of the Rev. Mr. Joseph Hart (1768).
Joseph Hart, Hymns Composed on Various Subjects, with … a Memoir of the Author (Brighton: J. Tyler, 1841): WorldCat
John Gadsby, “Joseph Hart,” Memoirs of the Principal Hymn-Writers & Compilers of the 17th, 18th, & 19th Centuries, 4th ed. (London, J. Gadsby, 1870), pp. 63-65: HathiTrust
Memorial to Mr. Joseph Hart, Minister of the Gospel and Author of Hymns (London: J. Gadsby, 1877): WorldCat
Edwin Hatfield, “Joseph Hart,” The Poets of the Church (NY: Anson D.F. Randolph & Co., 1884), pp. 274-279: Archive.org
John Julian, “Joseph Hart,” A Dictionary of Hymnology (London: J. Murray, 1892), pp. 492-493: Google Books
Thomas Wright, Joseph Hart (London: Farncombe & Son, 1910): Archive.org
Peter C. Rae, “Joseph Hart and his hymns,” Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology, vol. 6 (Spring 1988), pp. 20-39.
Brian Golez Najapfour, “The Piety of Joseph Hart as reflected in his life, ministry, and hymns,” Puritan Reformed Journal, vol. 4, no. 1 (2012), pp. 201-222.
Joseph Hart, Hymnary.org:
J.R. Watson, “Joseph Hart,” Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology:
J. M. Rigg & John S. Andrews, “Joseph Hart,” Oxford Dictionary National Biography: