b Tiverton, Devon 1766, d 1843. Born of ‘poor, but pious and industrious parents’ who valued the ministry of Samuel Lavington, who baptized John, he worked as a shipwright in the royal dockyard, now Devonport, and was largely self-taught. His hymns, long kept private, were first published in 1799 in a collection compiled by Samuel Reed, since when he wrote hundreds more, most of them sounding a strongly Reformed note. In 1803 his Collection of Original Gospel Hymns appeared; its 10th edn added his testimony, also in verse, other poems (some allegorical, not without wit), and a somewhat devotional and didactic memoir of the author, by his son. From around 1825 his eyesight deteriorated and in 1838 he suffered a first stroke. His grandson then became his amanuensis; but after being bereaved suddenly of his wife and then a daughter, he lived until he was 77, dying in peace but after a painfully extended illness.
Like others of his time, Kent treats the OT in a heavily typological way; each character or event is used to illustrate the individual spiritual life. Cliff Knight, following Julian (who calls the hymns ‘very earnest and simple’) judged that his Calvinism has limited their acceptability; 5 were included in GH.. One popular but usually shortened hymn began ‘Jehovah in counsel resolv’d to fulfil/ the scheme from eternity laid in his will’, and goes on ‘When Adam to eat of the fruit was inclin’d/ it answered the end which Jehovah design’d;/ no purpose of wisdom was alter’d thereby,/ ’twas all for the lifting of Jesus on high./ Here Satan was nonplussed by what he had done…’ etc.. Kent himself would hardly have been nonplussed to find that his best-known texts have appeared only in evangelical collections; he was well represented in books such as [David] Denham’s Selection, or The Saints’ Melody (1837); Spurgeon’s Our Own Hymn Book (1866); Snepp’s Songs of Grace and Glory (1872), see under F R Havergal; (Samuel) Gray’s Hymnal (Brighton, 1895, where hymn-singing is styled ‘holy canticle, melodiously pronounced’); and John Stevens’ A Selection of Hymns (the 1896 edn has at least 64). His metres include several 6565D’s; his doctrine is clear enough for insiders who understand the code: ‘Triumphant grace, and man’s free will,/ shall not divide the throne,/ for man’s a fallen sinner still,/ and Christ shall reign alone’. Sometimes like Toplady he teeters dangerously on the brink of an unattractive self-congratulation, or even topples over into it: ‘Blest with the pardon of her sin,/ my soul beneath thy shade would lie,/ and sing the love that took me in,/ and others left in sin to die.’ He loved to bracket Mary [Magdalen] and Manasseh as signal trophies of grace, the ‘shalls and wills’ of divine omnipotence, and the ‘jots and tittles’ of an infallible Scripture. But like Newton and other 18th-c writers, perhaps consciously following in the footsteps of Watts (cf 312), he loved to dwell on the Scriptural names and titles of Christ, which lifted his texts from the ‘lecture’ mode which sometimes sank them. No.671, 967.