Cennick, John


(pronounced ‘Sennick’), b Reading, Berks 1718, d London 1755. Born of staunch Quaker stock, he nevertheless had an Anglican upbringing and trained as a land surveyor. As a young man he was careless and worldly rather than vicious, but when walking along the City of London’s Cheapside he experienced a deep conviction of his sin. For some 3 years this remained unresolved, but through reading George Whitefield’s Journal and hearing of Charles Kinchin’s witness at Oxford, he travelled there in 1739, found Kinchin at Trinity Coll and through him made contact with the Wesleys and Whitefield. His decisive conversion soon followed, and John W made him the first of his official lay preachers, appointing him a schoolmaster at Kingswood, Bristol, where he first preached in the open air. He came to lean more towards the Calvinism of Howell Harris and George Whitefield, opposing Wesley’s perfectionism, and partly for that reason suffered some harsh treatment in the latter’s published Journals. With no proper warning, Jn Wesley publicly expelled him from his ‘Society’ in 1741; Cennick did not go alone, but said later, ‘they saw me weep as I went out’. Unlike Wesley, Cennick accepted some share of the blame; he afterwards joined the Moravians and in 1749 was ordained to ministry as a Deacon in that church. He travelled widely as an evangelist in England, Ireland and Germany, bearing much persecution with the patience characteristic of the early Methodists and their associates. He was the first of them to be dubbed a ‘swaddler’ by an RC cleric who did not realise that ‘swaddling clothes’ was an phrase from the AV Bible.

Among several books he published Sacred Hymns for the Children of God in the Days of their Pilgrimage (1741–42) including his prose testimony and enjoying several edns, and Sacred Hymns for the Use of Religious Societies, generally composed in Dialogue (in 3 parts, 1743–45; the ‘dialogues’ coming mostly at the beginning, and Pt 2 being ‘another little Parcel of Hymns’); then came Hymns for the Honour of Jesus Christ (1754). The second of these included a CM Te Deum in 12 stzs, and O had my soul ten thousand tongues (CM) immediately following And can it be that I should prove the richness of our Saviour’s love (886 886). Better known is, or was, the table-grace, Be present at our table, Lord. His verses are often vivid, sometimes quaint, occasionally sliding from the pedestrian into crudeness or comedy, and usually require editing by later compilers; a short ‘dialogue’ text on ‘The Peace of Christianity’ starts, ‘Ho, pilgrims! (if ye pilgrims be)/ we want to join with you:/ poor Christian travellers are we,/ to Canaan’s land we go’. His italics indicate different voices. These hymns are usually in CM, with the pairs of lines sometimes divided dramatically between men and women; such is ‘Strife in Praise’ where each group rivals the other in claiming its prior duty to praise God! But other interesting, possibly unique, metres are here, and there are hymns for various groups—men, women, younger, older etc; one has stzs respectively for Elders; Labourers, Helpers and Teachers (‘Give them patience with the children dull’); Servants; Widows (not widowers); Married; Single Brethren; Single Sisters (‘who no husband have’); Little Boys and Girls; and Infants. Cennick has 5 entries in GH and 8 in CH; Stevens’ 19th-c Selection also featured at least 8. He wrote 2 introductory stzs to T Ken’s doxology; Routley describes his gifts as ‘those of a miniaturist’. Even today, or perhaps especially today, it is hard to distance oneself far from the man who writes (in Jesus! in thy transporting name), ‘Nor can I like that word, or work,/ that doctrine, book or theme,/ that takes no notice of my Lord/ or leaves out his dear name.’ Nos.511*, 965.

Hymns and songs by Cennick, John

Number Hymn Name
511 Lo! He comes with clouds descending
965 Children of the heavenly King