“Walk in the Light”

"If we walk in the light, as He is in the light…" (1 Jn. 1:7)

     INTRO.: A hymn which encourages us to walk in the light as God is in the light is "Walk in the Light" (#551 in Hymns for Worship Revised, #181 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written by Bernard Barton, who was born in London (some sources say Carlisle in Cumberland), England, on Jan. 31, 1784. Educated at a Quaker school at Ipswich, he was apprenticed at the age of twelve to a shopkeeper named Mr. S. Jesup at Halstead in Essex, and ten years later, in 1806, joined his brother in the corn and coal business at Woodbridge in Suffolk.  After the death of his wife, to whom he had been married only a year, he went to Liverpool where he spent a year as a tutor. In 1810 he returned to Woodbridge where he served as a clerk in a local bank for the rest of his life, almost forty years.

     During this time, Barton enjoyed the friendship of such giants of English literature as Walter Scott, Robert Southey, Charles Lamb, George Byron, and Percy Shelley. Becoming known as England’s "Quaker poet," he published ten books of poems, beginning with Metrical Effusions in 1812.  From these some twenty hymns came into usage. "Walk in the Light" first appeared with six stanzas in his Devotional Verses, Founded on Select Texts of Scripture, published at London in 1826. His last volume was Household Verses in 1849. Through the efforts of Sir Robert Peel, his poems won for him a state pension of $500 which he received for several years until his death at Woodbridge on Feb. 18, 1849.

     A number of different tunes have been found with this hymn. Many books use one (Manoah) which is taken from the Collection of Church Music compiled in 1851 by Henry Wellington Greatorex (1813-1858). It is sometimes attributed to either Franz Josef Haydn or Gioachino A. Rossini. In several of our books, Samuel Stennett’s 1787 hymn "Majestic Sweetness Sits Enthroned" has been set to it. Some books use another tune (Campmeeting) which is an American folk melody that has been found with several of Charles Wesley’s hymns and the chorus beginning "I do believe, I now believe That Jesus died for me" and also James Montgomery’s hymn "Prayer Is the Heart’s Sincere Desire."  Cyberhymnal suggests a tune (Richmond, Chesterfield, or Haweis) composed by Thomas Haweis that is most often associated with Isaac Watts’s hymn "Come, Let Join Our Cheerful Songs." Still another tune was composed in 1886 by Anthony Johnson Showalter (1858-1924).

     Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, the song appeared with the Showalter tune in the 1940 Complete Christian Hymnal edited by Marion Davis; and with the Greatorex tune in the 1952 Hymns of Praise and Devotion edited by Will W. Slater. Today it appears, with the Greatorex tune, in both the 1977 Special Sacred Selections edited by Ellis J. Crum; and the 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forrest M. McCann; as well as Hymns for Worship Revised, with the Greatorex tune (one of the editions had words only with a note to use the tune for "Am I a Soldier of the Cross?"), and Sacred Selections, with the Showalter tune.

     The hymn urges us to make walking in God’s light our daily aim.

I. From stanza 1 we learn that walking in the light brings us into fellowship with God
"Walk in the light: so shalt thou know That fellowship of love
His Spirit only can bestow Who reigns in light above."
 A. Both the Father and the Son want us to be in fellowship with them through that which the apostles declared: 1 Jn. 1:3
 B. This is made possible by the Spirit who guided the apostles into all truth: Jn. 16:13
 C. What a joy it is to be in fellowship with Him who reigns above: Rev. 19:6

II. From stanza 2 we learn that walking in the light enables us to have cleansing from sin
"Walk in the light: and sin abhorred Shall ne’er defile again;
The blood of Jesus Christ, thy Lord, Shall cleanse from every stain."
 A. "Sin abhorred" would indicate that to have this cleansing, we must repent of sin: 2 Cor. 7:10
 B. God’s remedy for the problem of sin is the blood of Jesus Christ to provide redemption or forgiveness: Eph. 1:7
 C. Thus, by meeting God’s conditions, which brings into the light, we have cleansing from sin: Eph. 5:26

III. From stanza 3 we learn that walking in the light makes our hearts belong to Christ
"Walk in the light: and thou shalt find Thy heart made truly His,
Who dwells in cloudless light enshrined In Whom no darkness is."
 A. The Lord wants us to give Him our hearts so that He may dwell in them by faith: Eph. 3:17
 B. He dwells in cloudless light: 1 Tim. 6:15-16
 C. And with Him is no darkness: 1 Jn. 1:5

IV. From stanza 4 we learn that walking in the light removes darkness from our lives
"Walk in the light: and thou shalt own Thy darkness passed away,
Because that light hath on thee shone In which is perfect day."
 A. Darkness often is used in scripture to represent sin: Jn. 3:19-21
 B. However, Jesus is the light of the world: Jn. 8:12
 C. If we will walk in His light, He will shine more and more unto the perfect day: Prov. 4:18

V. From stanza 5 we learn that walking in the light chases away the fear of death
"Walk in the light: and e’en the tomb No fearful shade shall wear;
Glory shall chase away its gloom, For Christ has conquered there."
 A. The tomb represents the fact that it is appointed for men to die once: Heb. 9:27
 B. However, Christ chases away its gloom because He has delivered us from the fear of death: Heb. 2:14-15
 C. He is the one who Himself conquered death and brings life and immortality to light: 2 Tim. 1:10

VI. From stanza 6 we learn that walking in the light brings the brightness of joy to our lives
"Walk in the light: and thine shall be A path, though thorny, bright;
For God, by grace, shall dwell in thee, And God Himself is light."
(Showalter’s versions read, "And thou shalt see Thy path…;"
others have, "Thy path shall be A path…," probably to fit the music better)
 A. Even though our path is sometimes thorny, when we walk in the light we can drink from the fountain of God’s pleasures: Ps. 36:8-9
 B. The reason is that God extends His grace to those who obey Him: Eph. 2:8-9
 C. And this grace provides the light of the gospel by which we can know that we are pleasing to the Lord: 2 Cor. 4:6

     CONCL.: The chorus, based on Ps. 56:13 and probably added by Showalter, continues to stress the importance of walking in the light.
"Walk in the light of the living, Walk in the light of God;
Walk in the light of the living, Walk in the light of God."
As a Quaker, Barton wrote his poems with the archaic pronouns, "thee," "thy," and "thine," drawn from the Elizabethan English of the King James Bible, as did many other hymn writers. Many books have made alterations in an attempt to "update" or "modernize" the language and eliminate the older terminology. For example, here is stanza 6 in "today’s lingo":
"Walk in the light: and you shall share Your path, though thorny, bright;
For God in grace walks with you there, And God Himself is light."
One may debate the advisability of such changes to classic hymns, but regardless of that, we should certainly want to sing songs like this which exhort us about the need to "Walk in the Light."


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