Hart, Joseph


b London 1712, d London 1768. He had an evangelical nonconformist upbringing and showed early promise in Heb, Gk, Lat and French. He loved to read and translate classical poetry and soon became a classics teacher. But for some 7 years he struggled with his conscience; 1740 brought a spiritual and personal crisis but did not permanently resolve the issue. He joined the ‘free grace’ debate on Whitefield’s side against Wesley, but fell into an antinomian laxity towards sin leading to a delight in it. He proceeded to lead a racy and unholy social life, while experiencing occasional spasms of remorse and regret. From his marriage in 1751 he began a mode of reformation and prayer. Following his now elderly parents’ example, he began in 1755 to hear George Whitefield preach at the Moorfields Tabernacle, which brought him new conviction, even hope, but no assurance. Finally, after a service at the Fetter Lane Moravian Chapel in 1757, he came home and on his knees before God was truly born again.

For the next two years he wrote several hymns, in which Gethsemane and the cross are major themes. In 1760 he became minister of an Independent congregation in Jewin St in the City of London, meeting in a large and recently-vacated chapel. (He was succeeded by the Baptist Jn Hughes, and the church divided.) In that year he published his Hymns, etc, composed on various subjects, with a Preface containing a brief and summary account of the Author’s experience (etc). A supplement and an appendix were added in the 1760s; by 1767 the book had reached its 5th edn, and apparently by popular demand (‘earnest and repeated enquiries’) it had become the custom to preface the hymns with his autobiography, to glorify God and to enable readers ‘to see by it the riches of his free grace to the worst of men’. After much family sadness, he was himself taken ill and died at home at the age of 56. It is said that 20,000 people attended his funeral, and the burial at Bunhill Fields. Hart’s Hymns, as his collection became known, remained in print for many years, while Gadsby and other Reformed Baptist editors selected many of them for their own books. 9 of his hymns are in GH, and 7 in both edns of CH. His best hymns, particularly on the crucifixion, are very fine; while Gethsemane is a favourite theme and the opening text in his book, Come, all ye chosen saints of God, is a classic (‘On the Passion’); so is one with a far more striking opening, Now from the garden to the cross. His treatment of Eph 6 in Gird thy loins up, Christian soldier is Wesleyan as much as Pauline; 7 doxologies are included on the Watts model, and the collection ends with a metrical ‘Lord’s Prayer’. Some hymns collapse into quaintness (‘Mistaken men may bawl against the grace of God’; ‘Lord, my heart, a desert vast, thy manuring hand requires’; ‘Ye drunkards, ye swearers, ye muckworms of earth’; ‘Shun the shame of foully falling, cumber’d captives clogged with clay’). The more didactic hymns read like versified and sometimes witty sermons (‘Dear friends…My dear friends…’) and the more personal ones like testimonies (‘with swine a beastly life I led’). This is the kind of language which the more sophisticated Victorians, in particular, found intolerable; but at least the hymns are both realistic and picturesque, their rhymes are often ingenious and none of them is dull. No.307, 788.

Hymns and songs by Hart, Joseph

Number Hymn Name
307 How wonderful the works of God
788 How good is the God we adore