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Jesus, the Light of the World

Scripture References

Thematically related:

Confessions and Statements of Faith References

Further Reflections on Confessions and Statements of Faith References

In stanza 2 of “Jesus, the Light of the World,” “the nations” rise to joyfully praise Jesus and come to his light. Our World Belongs to God, paragraph 21, leads us to profess that the Lord promised to be God to Abraham and Sarah and their children, “blessing the nations through them” and shaping them to be a people who will be “a light to the nations.” In these words we catch a glimpse of what Heidelberg Catechism teaches us in Lord’s Day 21, Question and Answer 54, that Christ “through his Spirit and Word”…will gather a church “from the entire human race.”
 
In stanza 4, Jesus is proclaimed as the “heaven-born Prince of Peace.” We also hear Our World Belongs to God, paragraph 54 identifying him as the “Prince of Peace,” and calling us all to be “peacemakers,” walking in the ways of peace and calling on our governments to work for peace.

Words of Praise

Optional acclamation
 
By the power of your Spirit, we’ll walk in the light, beautiful light.
In times of joy and gladness, we’ll walk in the light, beautiful light.
In times of sorrow and despair, we’ll walk in the light, beautiful light.
Grateful for the light of your Word, we’ll walk in the light, beautiful light.
Grateful for the gift of your church, we’ll walk in the light, beautiful light.
Called to witness to your love, we’ll walk in the light, beautiful light.
 
[Add other phrases as appropriate. The words for the congregation can be spoken or sung to the first four measures of the refrain above, which can be repeated like a vamp. Conclude by singing the entire refrain or entire hymn. ]

Tune Information

Name
WE'LL WALK IN THE LIGHT
Key
E♭ Major
Meter
7.7.7.7 refrain 5.4.10.11.7

Recordings

Musical Suggestion

You may want to go straight from “Jesus, Jesus, Oh What a Wonderful Child” into “Jesus, the Light of the World.” A transition for doing just that was written by Diane Dykgraaf, assistant to the editor for Lift Up Your Hearts hymnal.
 
“Jesus, the Light of the World” is a great blending of a traditional carol with a little soul. Words from Charles Wesley’s well-known carol “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” are interspersed with the refrain “Jesus, the light of the world.” The song concludes with the chorus, “We’ll walk in the light, beautiful light. . . .” The resulting message is that the Christmas story isn’t so much about a baby as about the difference that baby makes in the world around us and, indeed, the beauty of his mercy in our own lives. Textually it complements the message of “Jesus, Jesus, Oh What a Wonderful Child,” which speaks of the new hope and life we have in Christ.
 
Charles Wesley’s text was originally ten stanzas long, and went through many iterations to become what we now know as “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” This arrangement includes only the first stanza and the first half of the second and third—thus missing some of the incarnational imagery that is so strong in the traditional carol, but filling that hole with the message of Jesus as the light. While this song is appropriate for Christmas, it is equally appropriate for Epiphany or any other time when the focus is on Jesus as the light.
(from Reformed Worship, Issue 105)
— Joyce Borger

Hymn Story/Background

The song combines a beloved English Christmas text with interjections and a refrain, all to a new tune in the African American gospel tradition. The original text by Charles Wesley first appeared in 1739 with the title “Hymn for Christmas Day,” with a first line that read “Hark, how all the welkin rings.” Then started a series of alterations already by 1753 to the version now found in most hymnals. That version was then expanded in 1890 by George D. Elderkin, also following a long tradition of African American adaptations of traditional hymns. 
— Emily Brink

Author Information

Several members of the Wesley family are significant figures in the history of English hymnody, and none more so than Charles Wesley (b. Epworth, Lincolnshire, England, 1707; d. Marylebone, London, England, 1788). Charles was the eighteenth child of Samuel and Susanna Wesley, who educated him when he was young. After attending Westminster School, he studied at Christ Church College, Oxford. It was there that he and George Whitefield formed the Oxford "Holy Club," which Wesley's brother John soon joined. Their purpose was to study the Bible in a disciplined manner, to improve Christian worship and the celebration of the Lord's Supper, and to help the needy. Because of their methods for observing the Christian life, they earned the name “Methodists.”
 
Charles Wesley was ordained a minister in the Church of England in 1735 but found spiritual conditions in the church deplorable. Charles and John served briefly as missionaries to the British colony in Georgia. Enroute they came upon a group of Moravian missionaries, whose spirituality impressed the Wesleys. They returned to England, and, strongly influenced by the ministry of the Moravians, both Charles and John had conversion experiences in 1738. The brothers began preaching at revival meetings, often outdoors. These meetings were pivotal in the mid-eighteenth-century "Great Awakening" in England.
 
Though neither Charles nor John Wesley ever left the Church of England them­selves, they are the founders of Methodism. Charles wrote some sixty-five hundred hymns, which were published in sixty-four volumes during his lifetime; these include Collection of Psalms and Hymns (1741), Hymns on the Lord's Supper ( 1 745), Hymns and Spiritual Songs (1753), and Collection of Hymns for the Use of the People called Methodists (1780). Charles's hymns are famous for their frequent quotations and allusions from the Bible, for their creedal orthodoxy and their subjective expression of Christian living, and for their use of some forty-five different meters, which inspired new hymn tunes in England. Numerous hymn texts by Wesley are standard entries in most modern hymnals; fourteen are included in the Psalter Hymnal, 1987.
 
Charles's elder brother John also studied at Christ Church College, Oxford, and was ordained a priest in the Church of England in 1728. A tutor at Lincoln College in Oxford from 1729 to 1735, Wesley became the leader of the Oxford "Holy Club" mentioned above. After his contact with the Moravian missionaries, Wesley began translating Moravian hymns from German and published his first hymnal, Collection of Psalms and Hymns, in Charleston, South Carolina (1737); this hymnal was the first English hymnal ever published for use in worship. Upon his return to England in 1738 Wesley "felt his heart strangely warmed" at a meeting on Aldersgate Street, London, when Peter Bohler, a Moravian, read from Martin Luther's preface to his commentary on the epistle to the Romans. It was at that meeting that John received the assurance that Christ had truly taken away his sins. That conversion experience (followed a few days later by a similar experience by his brother Charles) led to his becoming the great itinerant evangelist and administrator of the Methodist "societies," which would eventually become the Methodist Church. An Anglican all his life, John Wesley wished to reform the Church of England and regretted the need to found a new denomina­tion. Most of the hymnals he prepared with his brother Charles were intended for Christians in all denominations; their Collection of Hymns for the Use of the People called Methodists (1780) is one of the few specifically so designated. John was not only a great preacher and organizer, he was also a prolific author, editor, and translator. He translat­ed many classic texts, wrote grammars and dictionaries, and edited the works of John Bunyan and Richard Baxter. In hymnody he is best known for his translation of selec­tions from the German hymnals of Johann Cruger ('Jesus, thy boundless love to me"), Freylinghausen, and von Zinzendorf ('Jesus, thy blood and righteousness"), and for his famous "Directions for Singing," which are still printed in Methodist hymnals. Most significant, however, is his well-known strong hand in editing and often strengthening his brother Charles's hymn texts before they copublished them in their numerous hymnals.
— Bert Polman

Composer Information

A native of Philadelphia, Evelyn Simpson-Curenton (b. 1953) began playing the piano at the age of two and began her studies at the age of five. By the time she was nine, she was accompanying her renowned musical family, The Singing Simpsons of Philadelphia, in public performances. She graduated from Temple University where she earned a Bachelor's Degree in Music Education and Voice and was recently honored with an award and recognition for her distinguished career and contributions in the field of music.
 
Curenton has worked with some of the music industry's best. She was commissioned to do arrangements for the Carnegie Hall concert featuring Kathleen Battle, Jessye Norman and the Chorus and Orchestra of New York's acclaimed Metropolitan Opera. Several orchestras and ensembles have performed her works such as the Philadelphia Orchestra, The National Symphony, The Baltimore Symphony, The Minnesota Orchestra, and The U.S. Marine Band. Distinguished musicians like the late Duke Ellington, George Shirley, her late sister and Naumberg winner Joy Simpson, Hubert Laws, Denyce Graves, John Blake, Angela Brown of the Metropolitan Opera, Janice Chandler-Eteme, and David Murray have also performed her works. Her music can be found on several recordings, including her own. "Reflections" is her most recent studio recording.
 
Curenton contributed several of her hymn arrangements to the acclaimed "African American Heritage Hymnal," with songs ranging from pre-Civil War music to contemporary music. She can be heard regularly at the Third Street Church of God or Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington, DC.

Author and Composer Information

Almost nothing is known about George D. Elderkin (b. 1845; d. 1928). There was a George D. Elderkin Publishing Company in Chicago which published four collections of gospel hymns entitled The Finest of the Wheat. Book Three (1904) includes 259 songs, including music by both George D. and George W. Elderkin, “for prayer and evangelistic meetings, church and missionary services, Sunday schools and young people’s societies,” and was edited by Geo. D. Elderkin, C. C. McCabe, Wm. J. Kirkpatrick, H. L. Gilmour, G. W. Elderikn, and F. A. Hardon.” It was hardbound, and sold for 30 cents per copy, postpaid. 
— Emily Brink
Hymnary.org does not have a score for this hymn.