Thomas Kelly's Fervent Faith

Dan Graves, MSL

Thomas Kelly's Fervent Faith

When Thomas Kelly began to preach justification by faith in fervent, evangelical sermons, the leaders of Ireland's established church, in which he was ordained, wanted nothing to do with it. Dr. Fowler, the archbishop of Dublin, forbade Thomas Kelly and Rowland Hill (another evangelical with whom he was associated) from preaching in any church in his diocese.

Kelly was not about to be silenced. He established his own "dissenter" chapels at Athy, Blackrock and Portarlington, Ireland. Those who attended were known as Kellyites.

Born on this day, July 13, 1769, in County Queens, Ireland, Kelly was not always so fervent in his Christian views. In fact, he was studying to become a lawyer when he abandoned law for the church. Reading evangelical works changed his plans. At first he tried to win salvation by ascetic practices (which nearly undermined his health), but eventually his eyes were opened to the message of justification by faith and he redirected his zeal along scriptural lines. Justification is that process by which God in His grace declares a sinner righteous apart from any work the person has done, on the basis that the person looks to Christ in faith for salvation.

From this liberating teaching Kelly never departed. As he was dying, someone remarked, "The Lord is my shepherd." Kelly responded, "The Lord is my everything."

Although accused of being an enthusiast, Kelly was a thorough student of God's word, learning Hebrew and other languages so he could get as near the original meaning of the Bible as possible. It is not for his scholarship that he is known, however. Those who remember Kelly today usually do so because of one or another of his 760 hymns--those hymns that make him the Wesley of Ireland. Perhaps the best-loved is "Praise the Savior, Ye Who Know Him."

Praise the Savior, ye who know Him!
Who can tell how much we owe Him?
Gladly let us render to Him
All we are and have.

Bibliography:

  1. Duffield, Samuel Willoughby. English Hymns: their authors and history. New York, London, Funk & Wagnalls, 1886, especially pp. 206ff
  2. "Religious Diversity." Athy Heritage Centre. http://kildare.ie/hospitality/historyandheritage/AthyHeritage/ ReligiousDiversity.htm
  3. "Thomas Kelly." www.cyberhymnal.org.
  4. Wells, Amos R. A Treasure of Hymns; Brief biographies of 120 leading hymn- writers and Their best hymns. Boston: W. A. Wilde company, 1945.
  5. Various other internet articles.

Last updated June 2007

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