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On Jordan's Bank the Baptist's Cry

Scripture References

Further Reflections on Scripture References

John the Baptist's announcement "Prepare the way for the Lord" (Matt. 3:3, a quote from Isa. 40:3) is the primary basis for this Advent hymn. Stanzas 1 and 2 apply that message to people today; stanza 3 is a confession by God's people of their need for salvation; stanza 4 is a prayer for healing and love; stanza 5 is a doxology. This much-loved Advent text is laced with various scriptural phrases.
 
Psalter Hymnal Handbook

Confessions and Statements of Faith References

Further Reflections on Confessions and Statements of Faith References

What is notable about this song is that it concludes with a Trinitarian doxology, thus pointing to the truth that the coming of Christ was clearly a redeeming action involving all three members of the Trinity. Heidelberg Catechism captures the role of each member of the Trinity in Lord’s Day 12, Question and Answer 31 when it professes that Christ is called anointed, because he has been “ordained by God the Father and has been anointed with the Holy Spirit” to be our prophet, priest, and king.

Tune Information

Name
PUER NOBIS
Key
D Major
Meter
8.8.8.8

Musical Suggestion

The first two stanzas are directives, sung from one worshiper to another. The final three stanzas are prayers, offered by all the people to God. This change in the text's focus can be reflected by having the first two stanzas sung by a choir or soloist and the final three stanzas sung by the congregation.
 
The development of these five stanzas also parallels the form of many worship services. The first stanza calls God's people to give attention to the coming Christ. The second calls people to receive God's presence and God's cleansing from sin. The third is a profession of faith in Christ. The fourth is a prayer for God's continued grace in our lives and in our world—a response to God's redeeming Word. The fifth is a doxology of praise. Consider using the hymn as a unifying motif for your Advent worship, beginning each section of the worship service with a different stanza.
 
PUER NOBIS works well both in a stately cathedral tempo that captures the weight of the Advent message and in a lilting medieval tempo that reflects the practice in the historical period of its origin. The former would feel the quarter note as the pulse, perhaps at ♩=100. Such a tempo would be appropriate when using the hymn as a solemn processional. The latter would give the pulse to the dotted half (two beats per measure) at a tempo up to Dotted Half-note=100 and could be accompanied lightly by recorders or flutes. The melody may also be sung in canon, using the accompaniment found in My Praise to You, Eternal God, by Donald Busarow (Augsburg).
 
Several fine arrangements of this hymn are available for organ, perhaps used appropriately as a prelude in a service where this is the opening hymn. See arrangements by Thomas Gieschen (in Volume 2 of The Concordia Hymn Prelude Series—Concordia 97-5536), Paul Manz (in Ten Chorale Preludes, Volume 2—Concordia 97-4656—now published by Morning Star), and by Healey Willan ("Chorale Prelude no. 1"—Oxford University Press).
 
Fine alternate harmonizations and a descant are available in Sir David Will-cocks's arrangement of PUER NOBIS to the text "Come, Thou Redeemer of the Earth" (in Carols for Choirs II—Oxford University Press). See also the introduction and free accompaniment settings by John Ferguson (Hymn Harmonizations, Book I, Ludwig Music, O-05).
(from Reformed Worship, Issue 25)
— John Witvliet

Hymn Story/Background

John the Baptist's announcement "Prepare the way for the Lord" (Matt. 3:3, a quote from Isa. 40:3) is the primary basis for this Advent hymn. Stanzas 1 and 2 apply that message to people today; stanza 3 is a confession by God's people of their need for salvation; stanza 4 is a prayer for healing and love; stanza 5 is a doxology. This much-loved Advent text is laced with various scriptural phrases.
 
PUER NOBIS is a melody from a fifteenth-century manuscript from Trier. However, the tune probably dates from an earlier time and may even have folk roots. PUER NOBIS was altered in Spangenberg's Christliches Gesangbüchlein (1568), in Petri's famous Piae Cantiones (1582), and again in Praetorius's Musae Sioniae (Part VI, 1609), which is the basis for the triple-meter version of this tune. Another form of the tune in duple meter is usually called PUER NOBIS NASCITUR. The tune name is taken from the incipit of the original Latin Christmas text, which was translated into German by the mid-sixteenth century as "Uns ist geborn ein Kindelein," and later in English as "Unto Us a Boy Is Born." The harmonization is from the 1902 edition of George R. Woodward's Cowley Carol Book.
 
— Bert Polman

Author Information

Charles Coffin (b. Buzancy, Ardennes, France, 1676; d. Paris, France, 1749) wrote this text in Latin (“Jordanis oras praevia”) for the Paris Breviary (1736), a famous Roman Catholic liturgical collection of psalms, hymns, and prayers. Coffin was partially responsible for the compilation of that hymnbook. Latin remained the language of scholarship and of the Roman Catholic liturgy in the eighteenth century. Working in that tradition, Coffin was an accomplished Latin scholar and writer of Latin poems and hymns. Educated at Deplessis College of the University of Paris, he served on the faculty and was university rector at the College of Doirmans-Beauvais, the University of Paris. He collected a hundred of his hymns and published them in Hymni Sacri (1736); a number of these have found their way into English language hymnals, including this Advent hymn.
 
The English translation is a composite work based on a translation by John Chandler, who published it in Hymns of the Primitive Church (1837). (Chandler thought it was a medieval text!) Since 1837, various hymnal editors have revised the text in attempts to bring the translation closer to Coffin's original.
 

Composer Information

Born into a staunchly Lutheran family, Michael Praetorius (b. Creuzburg, Germany, February 15, 1571; d. Wolfenbüttel, Germany, February 15, 1621) was educated at the University of Frankfort-an-der-Oder. In 1595 he began a long association with Duke Heinrich Julius of Brunswick, when he was appoint­ed court organist and later music director and secretary. The duke resided in Wolfenbüttel, and Praetorius spent much of his time at the court there, eventually establishing his own residence in Wolfenbüttel as well. When the duke died, Praetorius officially retained his position, but he spent long periods of time engaged in various musical appointments in Dresden, Magdeburg, and Halle. Praetorius produced a prodigious amount of music and music theory. His church music consists of over one thousand titles, including the sixteen-volume Musae Sionae (1605-1612), which contains Lutheran hymns in settings ranging from two voices to multiple choirs. His Syntagma Musicum (1614-1619) is a veritable encyclopedia of music and includes valuable information about the musical instruments of his time.
 
 
— Bert Polman

Educated at Caius College in Cambridge, England, George R. Woodward (b. Birkenhead, Cheshire, England, 1848; d. Highgate, London, England, 1934) was ordained in the Church of England in 1874. He served in six parishes in London, Norfolk, and Suffolk. He was a gifted linguist and translator of a large number of hymns from Greek, Latin, and German. But Woodward's theory of translation was a rigid one–he held that the translation ought to reproduce the meter and rhyme scheme of the original as well as its contents. This practice did not always produce singable hymns; his translations are therefore used more often today as valuable resources than as congregational hymns. With Charles Wood he published three series of The Cowley Carol Book (1901, 1902, 1919), two editions of Songs of Syon (1904, 1910), An Italian Carol Book (1920), and the Cambridge Carol Book (1924). Much of the unfamiliar music introduced in The English Hymnal (1906) resulted from Woodward's research. He also produced an edition of the Piae Cantiones of 1582 (1910) and published a number of his translations in Hymns of the Greek Church (1922).
— Bert Polman

Song Notes

In The Message, Eugene Peterson paraphrases Matthew 3:3 in these words: “Thunder in the desert! Prepare for God’s arrival! Make the road smooth and straight!” In the New International Version, this first line is written, “A voice of one calling in the wilderness.” Why does Peterson use “thunder” instead of “voice”? It’s possible he’s trying to evoke the imagination, or startle us into being aware and ready for Christ in a way that a normal voice couldn’t do. Peterson uses this tactic again in Revelation 2-3, where, at the end of each letter to the churches, it is written, “Are your ears awake? Listen. Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches.” In preparation of Christ’s birth, and in preparation of his second coming, we are instructed to listen. Before we can prepare our hearts, we must know why and how we would do so. We must listen to the cry of the Holy Spirit with all of the rapt attention with which we listen to great peals of thunder and rustling winds. We must sharpen our senses so they are alive to the voice of God in our lives. As the hymnist writes, we must “awake and harken!”
 
— Laura de Jong