Reflections on the Life of Thomas Kelly – “Ireland’s Most Prolific Hymn Writer” (Born July 13th 1769 – Died May 14th 1855)

 

As we read through the gospels which are dedicated to the wonderful life of Jesus here on earth, it is interesting to note that “the common people heard him gladly.” (Mark 12v37) On the other hand the scribes and Pharisees were constantly “laying wait for him, and seeking to catch something out of his mouth, that they might accuse him.” (Luke 11v54) When He healed on the Sabbath day, or when He taught in the synagogue, immediately they were His accusers. “By what authority doest thou these things? Or who is he that gave thee this authority?” they asked. (Luke 20v2) In Mark 15v1 we read that it was the chief priests and scribes who “bound Jesus, and carried him away, and delivered him to Pilate.”

Today, as then, we have our scribes, Pharisees and lawyers – and today, as then, they “love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats at synagogues (or churches) And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.” (Matthew 23v6&7) Jesus said: “Woe unto you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye are as graves which appear not and the men that walk over them are not aware of them.” (Luke 11v44)

Of course it was the same in Thomas Kelly’s day. Thomas Kelly was the only son of a judge, Thomas Kelly of Kellyville, Co. Laois – which was then known as ‘Queen’s County.’ His father wanted Thomas to follow in his footsteps, which he did for a time, for he graduated from Trinity College Dublin and moved to London to further his career. It was there that he came under conviction of sin and subsequently put his trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation.

After this life-changing experience he left his original choice of career to return to Ireland, where he was ordained a minister in the established church. However, because his heart was in the right place, Thomas could not but preach the truth in all its fullness, which in turn made him unpopular with the hierarchy of the church. In those days he suffered immense persecution from his superiors in the church but it was perhaps the opposition from his own family which hurt him the most.

Eventually, having been cast out from the church and barred from all ‘consecrated buildings,’ he found his place amongst the ordinary people, relentless in his preaching of the gospel to hungry souls. Those were days of both spiritual and physical hunger, with the result that Thomas was greatly loved by the poor of Ireland, especially during the potato famine of the 1840’s.

And so, we can see that just as many of the common people heard Jesus gladly, very often they will hear His followers gladly. Those who come to know the Saviour may find that their greatest enemies are those of their own households, while the hierarchy that they once held in esteem within the established churches are not so sympathetic to the simple message of the gospel either.

But Jesus loved those scribes and Pharisees! Although He could see their faults and hypocrisies, He loved them enough to die for them and some of them were even won by Him. Nicodemus, a man of the Pharisees, (St. John 3) could see clearly that “no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.” (Verse2) And Nicodemus came to love Jesus, for we read how he came to take care of His body after the crucifixion, along with Joseph of Arimathaea. (John 19v39) Therefore if we are followers of Christ, let us in the words of 1John 3v18… “not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.”

In Hebrews 11v24-26, we read: “By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward.” Moses could have chosen to remain in the Egyptian royal family – but what of his eternal welfare? If Thomas Kelly had remained within the established church, diluting his sermons to please the hierarchy and if he had put his family before God, surely we would have been denied the rich legacy of his hymns today? Such lovely compositions clearly stemmed from Thomas’s own personal sufferings. Above all, if Jesus had called on the angels to deliver Him from the cross, what hope would there be for humanity today?

In Romans 8v18 we read: “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Today, I believe that Thomas Kelly is rejoicing in glory with many brothers and sisters in Christ who “esteemed the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt…” If you have never fully trusted the Saviour for salvation, remember that the pleasures of sin are indeed but “for a season.” Just as Moses “by faith forsook Egypt,” you can by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, forsake sin. John the Baptist said: “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of world.” (John 1v29) He came, not to give us a licence to sin, but to take away our sin. “Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous.” (1John 3v7) Whatever our spiritual standing – He knows us better than we know ourselves. Why not come to Him today, just as you are, and in the quietness of your heart trust Him to meet you at the point of your need?

Remember the words of Mark 8v36&37: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”

“That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:” (1Pet.1v7)  Praise His Name.

Link to Thomas Kelly’s hymns: http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/s/t/stricken.htm

© Elizabeth Burke 2007

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5 Responses to “Reflections on the Life of Thomas Kelly – “Ireland’s Most Prolific Hymn Writer” (Born July 13th 1769 – Died May 14th 1855)”

  1. Joe Kelly Says:

    Do you have any documentation that the Rev,actually helped the poor of Dublin.

  2. readywriterpublications Says:

    Hello Joe, my comment that “Thomas was greatly loved by the poor of Ireland, especially during the potato famine of the 1840’s…” is based on a well researched book “Hymns and their Writers” by Jack Strahan. (Publisher: Gospel Tract Publications, Glasgow, Scotland, October 1989). In the book he is referred to as being “a friend of good men” and “an advocate of every worthy cause.” Other sources have referred to his “charity work” and it is widely accepted that he was well loved by the poor of Dublin city in that era, caring as he did, for their spiritual and physical welfare. However, with regard to your comment about Dublin specifically, I would certainly like to do my own research into his life there. I have also spoken to someone recently who has been in touch with direct descendants of Thomas Kelly.

    • Joe Kelly Says:

      Thanks for getting back to me.
      It’s thought Rev Thomas had no male heirs, and as I live in Dublin I wonder if it would be possible to speak with his direct descendants. I understand his Kelly line was originally from the West of Ireland.

      Joe

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