John Cennick was born in early December 1718 to Anglican parents in Berkshire, England. His mother was deeply religious and had her son regularly read hymns, which he hated. As he came to maturity, he rebelled against the instruction of his youth and embraced a libertine lifestyle. And yet, he felt great guilt in his disobedience and willful rush into sin, even coming to fear sleep with the possibility of death awaiting him. Cennick was unsuccessful in finding work, and he even was unable to build a business that his mother began for him. He knew that there was something he needed, and he sought that solace in friends, entertainment, and even a monastery, but it all was for naught. He fell into despair, knowing neither the hope of the Gospel nor peace.
At the end of himself, and on the brink of death and hell, he finally sought the mercy of God around the age of 19, seeking His forgiveness, knowing his own insufficiency and that the Lord would deliver him from his sin and despair. He began reading the works of Whitfield and later met that author as well as the Wesleys, who led him to join the Methodists. Afterward, he joined the Calvinists. Around five years later, he converted to the Moravians and left to study abroad in Germany.
During all this time, he wrote a great number of hymns and published several hymnals and collections of sermons. He also took on the mantle of evangelist and planted at least two score churches. One of his lesser-known hymns is “Be Present at Our Table, Lord,” a hymn for children. Its tune is OLD HUNDREDTH, recognized best from the Doxology. In addition to the many hymns he wrote, he also served the youth as Chaplain of Kingswood School for miners’ children. He married and had two children, and his son-in-law later collected and published some of Cennick’s hymns.
Sadly, like many prolific writers of his day, his life ended young, and he died at only 36 years old. While he despised the instruction of his youth, his mother’s diligence was worth the effort, and the Holy Spirit worked in his heart. Before too long, he found peace in the Gosepl. We should also take comfort in this and take note, for he did not depart far from what he learned when he was young. Thus, we too should teach our children good doctrine, faithfully impressing on them the Scriptures through reading and singing hymns, such as this simple one by John Cennick, that they too might not depart from the truth when they are old.
Be present at our table, Lord;
Be here and ev’rywhere adored;
Thy creatures bless, and grant that we
May feast in paradise with Thee.
This simple, one verse hymn is actually a little prayer, one that is perfect both for before a meal and before taking communion. Where the Doxology praises God, from whom all our blessings come, this hymn is a petition to our Lord. Here, we ask the Lord to be present in many places: while we eat what He has provided us and before the table of the Divine Service (Psa. 145:15-16, Pro. 30:7-9, Matt. 26:26-29). We then ask that we might revere Him wherever we may be, a task we daily need His help with. Then in an echo of the Benediction, we ask that we – along with all of creation – be blessed and kept until the day of His return (Deut. 6:24-26, Matt. 25:34-40). Again, we are brought back to the first line, for this feast we are before is not just earthly food, preserving us for this life. Instead, this is also the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, which strengthens and preserves us for Life everlasting. And now that we have been given living water to drink, we look forward to the feast with the Lamb in Paradise, adoring our God and Savior forevermore (Isa. 25:6-9, Rev. 19:9). So we sing this little hymn, a little prayer, to remind us to seek the Lord’s presence, to adore Him as Lord, and to trust in God’s promise until the Day that we are with Him.
Blessings to you and yours,
~Madelyn Rose Craig
“775. Be Present at Our Table, Lord.” The Lutheran Service Book. 2006.
“John Cennick.” Hymnary.org.
McKeown, WIlliam. “The conversion of John Cennick.” Evangelical Times. Dec. 1997.
“Rev John Cennick (1718-1755)” – Find A Grave. Findagrave.Com. 2021.