On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry
announces that the Lord is nigh
Source: Singing the Faith: 182
Words: John Chandler
Music: “Winchester New” adapted from a chorale in Musikalisches Hand-Buch (1690) arr William Henry Havergal. Often attributed to Georg Wittwe (see More information)
Metre: 88.88. Long Metre
Ideas for use
There is a stately quality to the tune “Winchester New” that makes this hymn suitable for accompanying a procession. If children are available, it may be possible to re-enact the crowds walking down towards the river Jordan for baptism, with a suitably dressed John the Baptist leading the way.
You may have available a strong solo voice (male or female) who can sing the opening verse alone, recalling the solo voice of John the Baptist proclaiming God’s advent. (This would serve as a nice contrast to the frequent use of a treble solo to begin Once in royal David’s city.)
The final verse of the hymn can be used separately throughout Advent as a doxology (a short hymn of praise) – for example, in response to the Gospel reading or to conclude the service.
John the Baptist’s announcement “Prepare the way for the Lord” (Matthew 3:3, a quotation from the prophet Isaiah) provides the inspiration for this Advent hymn. (Traditionally, John the Baptist is remembered on the third Sunday of Advent, for example when lighting the Advent candles.)
This is a hymn which, though it is addressed to all people, begins by focussing on our personal relationship with God and then helps us to look outwards to the world around us.
The first two verses are a call to all people to “make straight the way for God within” – in other words to put ourselves in a frame of mind and heart that makes a fruitful relationship with God possible. To help this process, we confess our dependency on God’s grace (v.3) and pray for the needs of those around us (v.4). Verse 5 is a stand-alone hymn of praise. It acknowledges that only God can make our personal transformation, and the transformation of the world, possible.
Though attributed to John Chandler, the original version of this hymn was in fact written by Charles Coffin (1676 – 1749), a Roman Catholic scholar of Latin, who was born and lived in France. He wrote the text, in Latin, for the Paris Breviary, a famous Roman Catholic liturgical collection for which Coffin was partly responsible. John Chandler translated the first three verses of the hymn in 1837, mistakenly thinking that it was a medieval text.
Tune: Winchester New
The name of Georg Wittwe comes up frequently in connection with the tune Winchester New but no-one of that name existed. The tune that nowadays takes this name was first published in Hamburg in 1690 – perhaps in Musicalisch Handbuch der geistlichen Melodien à Cant. et Bass, published by Margarethe Rebenlein.
The Rebenlein family were printers to the Hamburg city council. Georg Rebenlein (b. 1634) became the main printer following his father Jakob’s death in 1662. Georg’s younger brother, also Jakob, died in 1678 and Georg’s wife Margarethe (née Trützen) evidently came into the business, as when Georg died in 1684 his widow carried on with his publications until 1692 using the titles ‘Georg Rebenleins Wittwe’ (Georg Rebenlein’s widow) or ‘Georg Rebenleins Erben’ (Georg Rebenlein’s heirs), as was common at the time.
No one knows, though, who actually wrote the tune. Even the name of the book in which the original version of Winchester New can be found varies considerably between different sources, but all agree that its place and date of publication were Hamburg, 1690.
The tune was set to Georg Neumark’s ‘Wer nun den lieben Gott läßt walten’, a hymn to which Neumark wrote a magnificent tune which is still used to this day (including in the 2002 German Methodist hymn book) – although compilers over the years, including Rebenlein in 1690 and Hymns and Psalms in 1982, have had other ideas!
John Wesley learnt the Rebenlein tune from the Moravians and shortened it to Charles Wesley’s favourite ‘six lines of eights’ metre, publishing it in the oddly-named ‘A Collection of Tunes, Set to Music, As they are commonly SUNG at the FOUNDERY’ (known as the Foundery Collection, 1742).
George Whitefield (Divine Musical Miscellany, 1754) was the first to give the tune the name Winchester New when he changed it into triple time. This version also appeared in Wesley’s Sacred Harmony.
William Henry Havergal (Old Church Psalmody, 1847) revised it to the version we are familiar with.