AS WITH GLADNESS, MEN OF OLD
When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy (Matthew 2:10)
INTRO.: A hymn which draws lessons from the visit of the Wise Men to see the child Jesus is As with Gladness, Men of Old. The text was written by William Chatterton Dix (1837-1898). He produced this hymn in January of 1860, while he lay sick in bed, and it was first published in his Hymns of Love and Joy. Dix is perhaps best known among us for the hymn Alleluia! Sing to Jesus!, and another hymn of his, Come unto Me, Ye Weary has sometimes been used. The traditional tune (Dix or Stimmen aus dem Reiche Gottes) to which As with Gladness, Men of Old has been sung, and for which it may have been written, had been composed in 1838 by Konrad Kocher for his cantata Stimmen aus dem Reiche Gottes.
However, Kochers tune has been used with many other hymns, the best known of which are probably Folliet Sanford Pierpoints For the Beauty of the Earth, and in many of our books George W. Conders All Things Praise Thee. Another tune (Ratisbon) which fits Dixs words well was composed by Johann Gottlob Werner who was born in 1777 at Hayn near Leipzig, Germany. Very little information is available on Werner. He was organist at Frohburg in 1798 and assistant to song director Christian Tag at Hohenstein in Sachsen or Saxony in 1808. This tune dates from his Choralbuch zu den neuen protestantischen Gesangbüchern published at Leipzig in 1815. In 1819 he became organist and choral director in Merseburg in 1819, where he died on July 19, 1822. The tune was harmonized by William Henry Havergal in 1861.
The hymn takes the scriptural account of the visit of the wise men and applies it to us.
I. Stanza 1 refers to the star that the wise men followed
As with gladness, men of old
Did the guiding star behold
As with joy they hailed its light
Leading onward, beaming bright
So, most glorious Lord, may we
Evermore be led to Thee.
A. There was a star heralding the birth of the King of the Jews which the wise men followed: Matt. 2:2
B. As they hailed its light, it led them onward toward the place where the new king was born: Matt. 2:1
C. This is used to symbolize the fact that God today leads us through the light of His word: Ps. 119:105
II. Stanza 2 refers to the worship which the wise men offered Christ
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 Thy mercy seat.
A. Here Dix departs somewhat from the scriptural narrative, because He has the wise men coming to that lowly manger bed whereas the Bible says they came to a house: Matt. 2:9-11a (we might sing, To that infants lowly bed)
B. When they found Him, they fell down before Him and worshipped Him: Matt. 2:11b
C. This symbolizes the fact that we too are to acknowledge Jesus as the divine Son of God in our worship because He is worthy: Rev. 5:8-10
III. Stanza 3 refers to the gifts that the wise men gave to Jesus
As they offered gifts most rare
At that manger rude and bare;
So may we with holy joy,
Pure and free from sins alloy,
All our costliest treasures bring,
Christ, to Thee, our heavenly King.
A. The wise men offered Christ gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh: Matt. 2:11c (again, Dix mentions the manger; we could sing, To the holy Child so fair)
B. As the coming of Christ brought the wise men to see Him, so should it fill our hearts with great joy: Lk. 2:10-11
C. Like the wise men, we also should bring our costliest treasures to our King, first giving our own selves to Him: 2 Cor. 8:5
IV. Stanza refers to the Savior before whom the wise men fell
Holy Jesus, every day
Keep us in the narrow way;
And, when earthly things are past,
Bring our ransomed souls at last
Where they need no star to guide,
Where no clouds Thy glory hide.
A. Because Jesus is the Savior, we should look to Him to keep us in the narrow way: Matt. 7:13-14
B. He is the one who gave His life to ransom our souls: Matt. 20:28
C. And if we follow Him, He will take us to that land where there will be no star to guide because He Himself is the light: Rev. 21:23
V. Stanza 5 refers to the ultimate goal that awaits all truly wise men
In the heavenly country bright,
Need they 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!
A. This ultimate goal is the heavenly country bright: Heb. 11:16
B. There God will give the redeemed light as they reign forever with Him: Rev. 22:5
C. And they will forever sing the new song of Moses and the Lamb: Rev. 15:3-4
CONCL.: Other than the reference to the manger, Dix does not depart from the scriptural account of the wise mens visit. It is especially noteworthy that, since the Bible does not tell us how many wise men there were, he does not refer to any number such as three, which many have assumed simply because there were three types of gifts mentioned. Some among us might not care for this song because they would assume that it would be misused as a Christmas song. However, like the birth of Christ itself, the visit of the wise men is recorded in the Bible and there are lessons that we can learn from it. Therefore, we should be able to sing about it As With Gladness Men of Old.