Jesus, good above all other,
Gentle Child of gentle mother,
In a stable born our brother,
Give us grace to persevere.
Jesus, cradled in a manger,
For us facing every danger,
Living as a homeless stranger,
Make we thee our King most dear.
Jesus, for thy people dying,
Risen Master, death defying,
Lord in heaven, thy grace supplying,
Keep us to thy presence near.
Jesus, who our sorrows bearest,
All our thoughts and hopes thou sharest,
Thou to man the truth declarest;
Help us all thy truth to hear.
Lord, in all our doings guide us;
Pride and hate shall ne’er divide us;
We’ll go on with thee beside us,
And with joy we’ll persevere.
John Mason Neale (1818-1866)
It is intriguing to find that such a simple hymn as this has a quite complicated history. It starts with the great hymn writer Adam of St Victor who lived in the 12th century. J M Neale, to whom we are indebted for many translations from Latin and Greek, translated a sequence by him, and published it in 1863. When preparing English Hymnal (1906) Percy Dearmer was looking for words to sing to the German carol tune ‘Quem Pastores’, and found that these words were in the right metre. So he adapted and expanded them to make a children’s hymn, that begins with the Christmas story and moves on to the Crucifixion and to a prayer for the child’s own Christian life.
‘Quem pastores laudavere’ (The one whom the shepherds praised) is the opening of a Latin carol evoking the worship of the shepherds and wise men. It can be traced to a manuscript of 1410 at Hohenfuhrt Abbey in Germany, but is a timeless melody, a kind of gentle dance.