“O Word of God Incarnate”

"For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life" (Prov. 6.23)

     INTRO.: A hymn which praises the Lord for the word which contains His commandment, law, and instruction is "O Word of God Incarnate." The text was written by William Walsham How (1823-1897). Penned about 1866, it first appeared in the 1867 Supplement to Psalms and Hymns, compiled by How and Thomas Baker Morrell. The tune (Munich, Meiningen, Konigsberg, or Elijah) seems to have been made up from certain lines of a melody by Hieronymus Gradenthaler published in the 1675 psalter Lust und Arztneigarten by Wok Helhard in Regensburg, and was used in the Neuvermehrtes Meiningisches Gesanbuch of 1693 published by Niclaus Hassert in Meiningen with the chorale "O Gott, du frommer Gott." The arrangement was made by Felix Bartholdy Mendelssohn (1809-1847). It is based on his adaptation of the melody for the aria "Cast thy burden on the Lord" in his 1847 oratio Elijah.

     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 1975 Supplement to the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 originally edited by E. L. Jorgenson. The tune appeared with the text "O Jesus, Thou Art Standing" also by How in the 1922 Supplement to the 1921 Great Songs of the Church (No. 1) edited by Jorgenson. The text appeared with a tune (Petition) attributed to Franz Joseph Haydn or his brother Johann Michael Haydn also used with "Sometimes A Light Surprises" by William Cowper in the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater. Today, the song is found in the 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forrest M. McCann; and the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand.

     The song addressed to Christ the Incarnate Word praises Him for the divine gift of the hallowed page.

I. Stanza 1 points to Jesus as the Word of God Incarnate
"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 hallowed page,
A lantern to our footsteps, Shines on from age to age."
 A. Jesus Christ is the Word Incarnate, or in other words, that became flesh: Jn. 1.1, 14
 B. The light of Jesus Christ is radiated from the hallowed page of the gospel: 2 Cor. 4.4
 C. Thus, because of what the Incarnate Word has made known, we can look to the hallowed page as a lamp to our feet and a light to our pathway: Ps. 119.105

II. Stanza 2 points to the church as the body which proclaims the word
"The church from Thee, her Master, Received the gift divine,
And still that light she lifteth O’er all the earth to shine:
It is the sacred body Where Life and Truth are stored;
It is the heaven-drawn picture Of Thee, the living Word."
 A. The same Incarnate Word who revealed the hallowed page also promised to build the church: Matt. 16.18
 B. One function of the church is to lift the light of God’s word over all the earth because it is the pillar and ground of the truth: 1 Tim.
 C. Therefore, the church is the sacred body of Christ: Eph. 1.22-23

III. Stanza 3 points to the written word as a beacon
"It floateth like a banner Before God’s host unfurled;
It shineth like a beacon Above a 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."
 A. God has given us the scriptures just as an ancient army needed a banner by which to know its way: Ps. 60.4
 B. This banner shines like a beacon of light above the darkness of this world: Ps. 119.129-130
 C. Thus, the scriptures, like a chart and compass to a ship, contains everything that we need to guide us in this life: 2 Tim. 3.16-17

IV. Stanza 4 points to Christians as those who are to follow the word
"O make Thy church, dear Savior, A lamp of purest 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."
 A. The church is made up of Christians who are to order their lives by the law of the Lord which is to be desired more than gold: Ps. 19.7-14
 B. In following God’s word, these Christians bear before the nations the true light because they are the light of the world who shine forth: Matt. 5.14-16, Phil. 2.14-16
 C. Indeed, this is the only way that wandering pilgrims can trace the strait and narrow path that will lead to life eternal: Matt. 7.13-14

     CONCL.: How, who also produced "We Give Thee But Thine Own" and "For All The Saints" that have been used in many of our books, was, unfortunately, among the champions of liberalism in the Church of England of his day. However, as Kenneth Osbeck noted, "Yet, despite his theological views regarding evolution and higher criticism, his hymns contain a strong evangelical message." Because we firmly believe that God has given us His written word through His Son, we can express thanks for the hallowed page by offering our praise to Jesus Christ and addressing Him as, "O Word of God, Incarnate."


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