O Word of God Incarnate

Full Text

1 O Word of God incarnate,
O Wisdom from on high,
O Truth, unchanged, unchanging,
O Light of our dark sky!
We praise Thee for the radiance
That from the hallow'd page,
A lantern to our footsteps,
Shines on from age to age.

2 The Church from her dear Master
Received the gift divine,
And still that light she lifteth
O'er all the earth to shine.
It is the golden casket
Where gems of truth are stored,
It is the heaven-drawn picture
Of Christ, the living Word.

3 It floateth like a banner
Before God's host unfurl'd;
It shineth like a beacon
Above the darkling world;
It is the chart and compass
That o'er life's surging sea,
Mid mists and rocks and quicksands,
Still guides, O Christ, to Thee.

4 O make Thy Church, dear Saviour,
A lamp of burnish'd gold,
To bear before the nations
Thy true light as of old;
O teach Thy wandering pilgrims
By this, their path to trace,
Till, clouds and darkness ended,
They see Thee face to face.

Hymnal: according to the use of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, 1871

Author: William Walsham How

How, William Walsham, D.D., son of William Wybergh How, Solicitor, Shrewsbury, was born Dec. 13, 1823, at Shrewsbury, and educated at Shrewsbury School and Wadham College, Oxford (B.A. 1845). Taking Holy Orders in 1846, he became successively Curate of St. George's, Kidderminster, 1846; and of Holy Cross, Shrewsbury, 1848. In 1851 he was preferred to the Rectory of Whittington, Diocese of St. Asaph, becoming Rural Dean in 1853, and Hon. Canon of the Cathedral in 1860. In 1879 he was appointed Rector of St. Andrew's Undershaft, London, and was consecrated Suffragan Bishop for East London, under the title of the Bishop of Bedford, and in 1888 Bishop of Wakefield. Bishop How is the author of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge Commen… Go to person page >


Scripture References:
st. 1 = Ps. 119:105, 130, John 1:1-14
st. 2 = 2 Tim. 3:15-17
st. 3 = Matt. 5:14-16, 1 Cor. 13:12

The prevalent image in this hymn is light: God is the Light; his Word is a light for our path; and we, the church, must be a light for the nations. The author, William W. How (b. Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England, 1823; d. Leenane, County Mayo, Ireland, 1897), first published it with a subhead quotation from Proverbs 6:23: "For the commandment is a lamp: and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life" (KJV). Some hymnodists have stated that the song is based on Psalm 119:105, which contains nearly the same imagery: "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path." Using intriguing word play, the hymn praises Christ as the "Word of God incarnate" and as the "Light" who has given us Scripture (often referred to as God's Word) as a "light" ("lantern") to guide the church (st. 1-2) and to inspire it to be a "lamp" for shining God's "light" to all the world (st. 2-3). The text also includes travel imagery: "footsteps" (st. 1), "chart and compass," "voyage" (st. 2), and "pilgrims" (st. 3).

Singing this text, we pray that the church, the people of God, will always be led by the Scriptures to seek Christ, to whom the Scriptures point, and to bring the good news of his Word to the nations. This text was first published in the 1867 addition to Psalms and Hymns (1854), a supplementary collection How edited with Thomas B. Morrell.

How studied at Wadham College, Oxford, and Durham University and was ordained in the Church of England in 1847. He served various congregations and became Suffragan Bishop in east London in 1879 and Bishop of Wakefield in 1888. Called both the "poor man's bishop" and "the children's bishop," How was known for his work among the destitute in the London slums and among the factory workers in west Yorkshire. He wrote a number of theological works about controversies surrounding the Oxford Movement and attempted to reconcile biblical creation with the theory of evolution. He was joint editor of Psalms and Hymns (1854) and Church Hymns (1871). While rector in Whittington, How wrote some sixty hymns, including many for children. His collected Poems and Hymns were published in 1886.

Liturgical Use:
As a sung prayer for illumination and for the preservation and mission of the church.

--Psalter Hymnal Handbook

O Word of God Incarnate. Bishop W. W. How. [Holy Scriptures.] Written for and first published in the 1867 Supplement to Morrell and How's Psalms & Hymns. It has been repeated in a large number of hymn-books in Great Britain and America, and is one of the author's most popular hymns. It is usually given unaltered and unabridged as in Church Hymns, 1871.

--John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology (1907)


MUNICH (Mendelssohn)

MUNICH has a colorful history. Traces of it run as far back as 1593 in the Dresden, Germany, Gesangbuch in conjunction with the text 'Wir Christenleut." A version from a Meiningen Gesangbuch (1693) is still used in Lutheranism for "O Gott, du frommer Gott." Felix Mendelssohn's adaptation of that tun…

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CHENIES (Matthews)



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