Dawson Burns was born on January 22, 1828, at Southwark. His life was evidence of the impact of his father, Jabez Burns, who was a Baptist preacher for forty-one years, a writer, and a temperance advocate. When Burns was 12, he took the temperance pledge and addressed the young people of his father’s congregation on the subject. Also at age 12 he wrote ‘A Plea for Youths’ Temperance Societies,’ held a public discussion, and contributed articles to several journals. He studied at General Baptist College from 1847 to 1850 and commenced public work in Manchester. Before long, he became an assistant, then minister at his father’s church in London.
In 1881, he resigned to devote himself to temperance work. He published the “Temperance Bible Commentary,” “Bases of Temperance Reform,” “Christendom and the Drink Curse,” “Temperance Ballads,” and many articles over the years. Lee said of Burns, “He was active in promoting temperance legislation, holding that the law should protect the public and not the liquor trade.” He was involved in the centennial conference in America in 1880, he became the secretary to the Temperance Hospital, and was the president of the Association of General Baptists. He also wrote letters to ‘The Times’ about the National Drink Bill and was a director of the Liberator Building Society. He married Cecile Balfour on December 22, 1853, and they had five children – of these, only two sons survived their parents.
Throughout his life, he wrote poetry. He published a collection of hymns and poems called “Rays of Sacred Song” in 1881. One of his hymns was “God Most High, in Might Excelling.
All creation’s Lord art thou;
Countless worlds thy praise are swelling,
Countless saints in homage bow:
Bending here before thy throne,
Thee we worship, thee alone.
Light supreme, thy beams descending,
Fill with lustre ev’ry star;
Flaming meteors, far wending,
Streams of thine effulgence are;
Though these lights of time may wane,
Changeless shall thy light remain.
Spring of life, for ever flowing,
All the living live in thee;
Tides of life from thee outgoing,
Rise and ebb by thy decree:
Life eternal, Lord, thou art;
Unto us thy life impart.
Love divine, thy mercy tending
All the creatures thou hast made,
And our sinful race befriending,
Has thine inmost heart displayed:
Beauteous is thine image, formed
In the hearts by love transformed.
God most high, in might excelling –
Light supreme, that lightest all –
Spring of life, with life o’erwelling –
Love divine, enriching all –
Give us strength, our glory be,
Life and love are found in thee!
Burrage, Henry S. Baptist Hymn Writers and Their Hymns. Kessinger Pub., 1888.
Lee, Sidney, and George Smith. The Dictionary of National Biography. London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1912.