John the Baptist is a key figure in the Advent period, with his message of preparation for the greater one who is to follow him. It is astonishing to record that Latin hymns for the daily services of the Church have been written from the fourth century onward, and that some of the best were written by Charles Coffin, Rector of the University of Paris from 1718. These were taken up a hundred years later by those who, like John Chandler, the Vicar of Witley in Oxfordshire, were eagerly searching for a calmer, less emotional hymnody after what they saw as the excesses of the Evangelical Revival. The hymn moves strongly from John’s call to our response, as we recognize our need.
The tune is the descendant through many mutations of a melody in a Hamburg tune book of 1690, and in one of its manifestations collected its name from George Whitfield in 1754.
from notes by Alan Luff © 2002