O HAPPY DAY
The name Philip Doddridge may not mean anything to you unless you are one who pays attention to the authors of spiritual songs as they are identified in our song books. Philip Doddridge was born on June 26, 1702. He was the twentieth child born to his mother, Monica Doddridge. However, only one of his siblings lived to see his introduction into this world. All but one before him had died in infancy. Even at Philip's birth he was thought to be stillborn. But while being laid aside, thinking him to have no life in him, he cried out.
His mother, grateful for this life that had been given into her trust, determined to raise him for the Lord. As a child, she would hold him on her lap in front of the fireplace which was lined with Delft tiles illustrating the stories of the bible's history and she would teach him those marvelous stories. It was there that the beginnings of his faith was molded and he learned to appreciate the truths of God's word.
When his mother died he became an orphan whose faith buoyed him beyond his loss. In his diary he wrote, "God is an immortal Father, my soul rejoices in Him; He hath hitherto helped me and provided for me; may it be my study to approve myself a more affectionate, grateful, and dutiful child." In the sentiment of those words he would eventually dedicate his life to serve God and became a writer and author of over 400 spiritual songs, some of which remain popular even now.
Famous among those songs is "O Happy Day", whose lyrics reflect his joy in spite of having been orphaned early in his life, living in deep poverty, suffering ill health from a young age, and yet having fixed his choice on the Savior. This joy carried him though his life to the day of his death on October 26, 1751.
O happy day that fixed my choice
On Thee, my Savior and my God!
Well may this glowing heart rejoice,
And tell its raptures all abroad!
Tis done, the great transaction's done;
I am my Lord's, and He is mine!
He drew me, and I followed on,
Charmed to confess the voice divine.
Happy day, happy day,
When Jesus washed my sins away.
He taught me how to watch and pray,
And live rejoicing every day;
Happy day, happy day,
When Jesus washed my sins away.
Everyone who has ever put on Christ in baptism for the remission of their sins can relate to the appropriateness of the words of this song. They proclaim the joys of a special moment in time that is to define the rest of their life. David wrote of such blessings that are worthy of our joy and our praise to the Lord, saying that "He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us." (Psm. 103:10-12) It is a joy like none other, when one's past is forever removed from the divine record and they are allowed to start all over, beginning with a clean slate upon which to write all the days of their new life in Christ.
Saul, who would become the apostle Paul, experienced that joy three days after his frightful encounter on the road to Damascus and his immediate humility that drove him to ask Jesus, "Lord, what do you want me to do?" (Acts 9:6) Then, after those three days of prayer and fasting in the dark of his blindness (vs. 9), Ananias came to him and laid his hands on Saul and his sight was restored. (vss. 17-18) It was after this that Ananias said to him, And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord." (Acts 22:16)
Paul would share in that same joy with a jailer and his family in the city of Phillipi, but not before having been beaten with rods and then put in stocks in the deepest confines of the prison by this same jailer. Their unpleasant encounter with each other eventually led to Paul's release from prison and the jailer asking, "What must I do to be saved?" (Acts 16:30) Paul and Silas on that occasion "...spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized." (vss. 32-33) The reaction of this jailer was a familiar one; "...he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household." (vs. 34)
When we read of the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch we see this same response. Philip "...preached Jesus to him. Now as they went down the road, they came to some water, and the eunuch said, 'See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?' Then Philip said, 'If you believe with all your heart, you may.' And he answered and said, 'I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.' So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing." (Acts 8:35-39)
That joy is not intended to be but for a little while. As the song says, "He drew me, and I followed on." Let us all remember that "As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving." (Col. 2:6-7)
- Gary V. Womack - July 2005