Mason, John


b ?Irchester, nr Rushden, Northants, c1646, d Water Stratford, Bucks 1694. Strixton Sch, Northants; Clare Hall, Cambridge. Following ordination he became curate of Isham, nr Kettering, Northants; in 1668, Vicar of Stantonbury, nr Newport Pagnell, Bucks; and in 1673, Rector of Water-Stratford nr Buckingham. Here he completed the often ‘astonishing’ Spiritual Songs, or Songs of Praise to Almighty God upon Several Occasions, published in 1683 with 69 hymn texts and needing some 20 further edns. To the hymns he added a full metrical paraphrase of the Song of Songs, in CM rhyming abab. Congregational hymns were at that time neither usual nor legal in the CofE; whether or not these were sung at Isham, in which case they would be among the first to be so used, they were certainly appreciated by the Free Churches. Watts and the Wesleys admired them, while Baxter called him ‘the glory of the Church of England’. Following a vision he experienced c1690, or alternatively a month before his death, he preached an urgent sermon (which he published 1691), ‘The Midnight Cry’, on the parable of the wise and foolish virgins (Matt 25). This led many to suppose, with him, that the return of Christ was both imminent and local. Mason no longer held Communion services, and though the expected events did not take place the mood of expectation and the awe in which Mason was held continued for some years after his death. The hymn for which he is now best known, and placed at no.1 in his own collection, was not noticed in Julian (though Mason’s life and other works are outlined), and like most of his work was ‘hardly sung at all before the 20thc editors discovered him’ (Routley). Its recent popularity is largely due to its inclusion in EH in 1906, renewed afresh by Kenneth Naylor’s tune; see notes. Mason also wrote the earlier (1683) and similarly remarkable hymn My Lord, my Love, was crucified; also I’ve found the pearl of greatest price, Now from the altar of our hearts, The world can neither give nor take and There is a stream, which issues forth, all in CM. His texts are seldom less than arresting: ‘ 7 of them found a place in Spurgeon’s Our Own Hymn Book (1866): Minutes and mercies multiplied/ have made up all this day;/ minutes come quick, but mercies were/ more swift and free than they’. His Select Remains were published by Mason’s grandson, also John; this mixture of letters and practical counsels was highly regarded by Isaac Watts. It is a pity than his known humility, preaching and prayerfulness (‘a light in the pulpit and a pattern out of it’) should be overshadowed by the sensational close, and great anticlimax, of his life. No.247.

Hymns and songs by Mason, John

Number Hymn Name
247 How shall I sing that majesty