“O For a Closer Walk with God”

"…Walk before God in the light of the living" (Ps. 56.13)

     INTRO.: A hymn which urges us to walk before God in the light of the living is "O For A Closer Walk With Thee" (#597 in Hymns for Worship Revised, and #178 in Sacred Selections). The text was written by William Cowper (1731-1800). The famous English poet produced the words on Dec. 9, 1769, during the illness of his good friend, Mrs. Mary Unwin. The poem was first published in Richard Conyer’s 1772 Collection of Psalms and Hymns from Various Authors, 2nd Edition. The present version, with alterations made by Cowper himself, first appeared under the title "Walking With God" in the 1779 Olney Hymns, Book One, which he coedited with John Newton (1725-1807).

     The tune (Beatitudo) most often used with this hymn was composed by John Bacchus Dykes, who was born at Kingston-upon-Hull, England, on Mar. 10, 1823. The son of a banker, he revealed his unusual musical abilities at an early age. When just ten, he began playing the organ. Receiving his early education at Wakefield, he graduated from St. Catherine’s College at Cambridge in 1847, and became a minister with the Anglican Church at Walton in Yorkshire. Two years later he moved to Durham Cathedral. In 1861 he received a doctorate from Durham University and the next year became minister at St. Oswald’s Church in Durham. Here he remained until his death.

     A prolific hymn-tune composer, Dykes published around 300, most of which appeared in Hymns Ancient and Modern beginning in 1861 and in RIchard Chope’s Congregational Hymn and Tune Book. This one was originally intended for the hymn "How bright those glorious spirits shine," and was published in the 1875 edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern. Other well-known tunes by Dykes include those used for "Holy, Holy, Holy" by Reginald Heber, "Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee" attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux, and "Father, Hear the Prayer We Offer" by Love M. Willis. Recognized as one of the greatest of the Victorian hymn-tune composers of eighteenth-century England, Dykes died at Ticehurst in Sussex, England, on Jan. 22, 1876.

     Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, the song appeared in the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 edited by E. L. Jorgenson; the 1959 Majestic Hymnal No. 2 and the 1978 Hymns of Praise both edited Reuel Lemmons; the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater; and the 1965 Great Christian Hymnal No. 2 edited by Tillit S. Teddlie. Today it may be found in the 1971 Songs of the Church, the 1990 Songs of the Church 21st C. Ed., and the 1994 Songs of Faith and Praise all edited by Alton H. Howard; the 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forrest M. McCann; and the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; in addition to Hymns for Worship (not in the original edition), Sacred Selections, and the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church (the latter two of which use the tune "Orntonville" by Thomas Hastings which in most of our books is associated with John Newton’s "How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds").

     The hymn asks God for His help in walking more closely to Him.

I. In stanza 1, we are told that whatever the circumstances in life we need to walk with God
"O for a closer walk with God, A calm and heavenly frame,
A light to shine upon the road That leads me to the Lamb."
 A. Even in a world of great evil and sorrow, we must follow the example of Enoch and seek to walk with God: Gen. 5.24
 B. When we have this desire, God will give us a light to shine upon the road: Ps. 119.105
 C. Such a road will lead us to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world: Jn. 1.29

II. In stanza 2, we are told to think back to the time when we first knew the Lord
"Where is the blessedness I knew When I first saw the Lord?
Where is the soul-refreshing view Of Jesus and His word?"
 A. In times of anxiety and dread, we should remember other blessed times when the Lord delivered us: Ps. 56.13
 B. Especially if we stray from the right path, we should remember our first love when we first saw the Lord: Rev. 2.4-5
 C. Remembering these things will help us look to Jesus and the word of His grace to build us up: Acts 20.32

III. In stanza 3, we are told to continue looking back to past blessings from God
"What peaceful hours I once enjoyed! How sweet their memory still!
But they have left an aching void The world can never fill."
 A. Again, our problems should focus our attention on what God has already done for us: Ps. 63:6-8
 B. God has given us the blessing of memory to utter His goodness and sing of His righteousness: Ps. 145.7
 C. Once we have experienced such joys, they can leave an aching void that the world can never fill because it is at enmity with God: Jas. 4.4

IV. In stanza 4, we are told to seek the influence of the Holy Spirit in our lives
"Return, O holy Dove, return, Sweet messenger of rest!
I hate the sins that made Thee mourn And drove Thee from my breast."
 A. The "holy Dove" obviously refers to the Holy Spirit, who came in the manner of a dove on Jesus: Matt. 3.16
 B. While we certainly cannot expect the Spirit to come down upon us in the same way or to the same degree as He did on Jesus, we still must seek to be filled with the Spirit in our hearts and lives: Eph. 5.18
 C. Therefore, we will hate all sins, repenting of them and confessing them, which grieve the Spirit and drive His influence from our lives: Eph. 4.30

V. In stanza 5, we are told not to allow anything in our hearts that would hinder a closer walk with God
"The dearest idol I have know, Whate’er that idol be,
Help me to tear it from Thy throne, And worship only Thee."
 A. Even if we do not worship images of stone, wood, or metal, there are still many idols which we may allow in our hearts: Ezek. 14.1-3
 B. Therefore, we must walk according to the Spirit and tearing them from our hearts not allow the idols of the flesh to separate us from God: Gal. 5.16-25
 C. Rather, we must worship only God both in action and in thought: Matt. 4.10

VI. In stanza 6, we are that our desire for a walk with God can become a definite assurance
"So shall my walk be close to God, Calm and serene my frame;
So purer light shall mark the road That leads me to the Lamb."
 A. God has always wanted His people to walk close to Him: Mic. 6.8
 B. He will give us light so that if we walk in it we can have confidence of being in fellowship with Him: 1 Jn. 1.7-9
 C. Such a road will surely lead us to the Lamb as He stands on Mt. Zion: Rev. 14.1

     CONCL.: This hymn is largely autobiographical. Cowper’s fretfulness over Mrs. Unwin’s condition seemed to bring back memories of his own earlier mental collapse from which he was led by his brother’s sharing with him the gospel, as well as the recognition that he had to turn away from the idols of his heart that had brought about his decline, ending with faith’s beautiful return to the former blessedness. In like manner, it should be the expressed desire of every Christian to tell the Lord, "O For A Closer Walk With God."


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