Summary–During a bout with illness, William Chatterton Dix (1837-1898) wrote this Epiphany hymn on the 6th of January, 1859. Alongside “As With Gladness Men of Old”, he wrote and published his other famous hymn, “What Child Is This” in Hymns Ancient and Modern.
Dix did not follow his father’s footsteps into the ministry. Rather, he chose the business world to earn his living and chose poetry as his way of glorifying God. And what a glory this hymn is. In it, He mirrors the journey of the Magi with our own Christian pilgrimage through the repetitive technique, “as they, so must we”. When writing this Hymn, William wanted to tell this story more accurately than other hymns had previously done so. He omits the more traditional labeling of the Magi for the title, “men of old” since the Biblical account does not describe the visitors as being either Magi or wise men. In the third stanza, Dix does not name the gifts of the Magi, instead focusing on their sacrifice in taking the trouble to bring the expensive gifts on a long journey. The fourth stanza is a more direct petition, asking Jesus to keep us faithful to the journey begun in the first three stanzas. The fifth stanza, which is omitted in some hymnals (but is included in italics at the end of the full text), describes heaven – the destination of our journey.
Tune–This hymn is always sung to the tune DIX. Conrad Kocher, a German composer and church musician, originally wrote a longer version of this tune for a German chorale, “Treuer Heiland, wir sind hier,” which was published in 1838. William H. Monk omitted one phrase and altered a few notes of Kocher’s tune to fit “As With Gladness” for the 1861 edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern, which he was music editor for. Even though Dix did not like the choice of this tune, it goes so well with the text that it now bears his name.
Singing Application–This hymn fits best during Epiphany, but can also be sung at Christmas.
“As With Gladness” could be paired with another contemplative Christmas hymn, such as “Once in Royal David’s City,” or another hymn about the story of the Magi, such as “We Three Kings of Orient are.” It would do well as a prelude for a service on Epiphany Sunday.
1 As with gladness men of old
did the guiding star behold;
as with joy they hailed its light,
leading onward, beaming bright,
so, most gracious Lord, may we
evermore your splendor see.
2 As with joyful steps they sped
to that lowly manger bed,
there to bend the knee before
him whom heaven and earth adore,
so, may we with willing feet
ever seek the mercy seat.
3 As they offered gifts most rare
at that manger rude and bare,
so may we with holy joy,
pure and free from sin’s alloy,
all our costliest treasures bring,
Christ, to you, our heavenly King.
4 Holy Jesus, every day
keep us in the narrow way;
and when earthly things are past,
bring our ransomed lives at last
where they need no star to guide,
where no clouds thy glory hide.
5 In the heavenly country bright,
need the no created light;
Thou its light, its joy, its crown,
Thou its sun which goes not down;
There forever may we sing Alleluias to our King
Contributed by Mike Fenimore