Posted by: rcottrill | July 4, 2011

Lamp of Our Feet

Words: Bernard Barton (b. Jan. 31, 1784; d. Feb. 19, 1849)
Music: Beatitudo, by John Bacchus Dykes (b. Mar. 10:1823; d. Jan. 22, 1876)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Bernard Barton was an Englishman. I wonder if that’s part of the reason his hymn is so little known and used on this side of the Atlantic. I did a quick check of ten hymnals published in North America, and only one contained it. Too bad. It is one of the finest hymns on the Word of God that we have. Every line is a lesson, worthy of study and meditation. And John Dykes’s beautiful tune Beatitudo is a worthy setting for the text.

Mr. Barton’s original poem (called simply “Holy Scriptures”) had eleven stanzas. Not all poetry makes good hymnody, of course. And several of the unused stanzas would be awkward or odd to sing. For example, I can’t see many congregations wading through:

Pure oracles of truth divine,
Unlike each fabled dream
Giv’n forth from Delphos’ mystic shrine
Or groves of Academe!

However, here are a couple of stanzas not included in the Cyber Hymnal version (coming after CH-3) that have some merit:

Riches in poverty, our aid
In every needful hour,
Unshaken rock, the pilgrim’s shade,
The soldier’s fortress tower!

Our shield and buckler in the fight,
Vict’ry’s triumphant palm,
Comfort in grief, in weakness, might,
In sickness, Gilead’s balm!

To be blessed by the many word pictures in this hymn, I suggest that you study it, line by line, Bible in hand. In CH-1, for example, we see God’s Word as the “lamp of our feet” (cf. Ps. 119:105), and as a refreshing and reviving stream (cf. Ps. 1:2-3). In CH-2, the Scriptures are spiritual manna, food for our souls (Deut. 8:3; Jer. 15:16), and they are our guide and chart. “Direct my steps by Your word,” prays the psalmist (Ps. 119:133; cf. vs. 9-11). The Bible acts as did the pillar of cloud and fire, that guided the nation of Israel through the wilderness (CH-3; cf. Exod. 13:21-22).

In CH-4, Barton asks: How can we live our lives, profitably, effectively, without the revelation of the will of the Lord found in His Word? And how can we ever reach heaven, without an understanding of God’s plan of salvation found there?

Word of the ever living God,
Will of His glorious Son;
Without thee, how could earth be trod
Or heav’n itself be won?

And finally, in CH-5, we have a reminder that it is the Spirit of God who illuminates the pages of God’s Word, giving us understanding (Jn. 15:26; 16:13; I Cor. 10, 12). Then, in CH-6, there is a prayer that’s fitting for each of us.

Lord, grant us all aright to learn
The wisdom it imparts
And to its heavenly teaching turn
With simple, childlike hearts.

Introduce this great hymn to your congregation, if it is unknown to them, and sing it often. Invite them to answer the questions below.

1) How is the Bible like: a lamp, a stream, bread, a chart (map), an anchor? Can you think of other word pictures that might illustrate what the Bible means to us?

2) What does the author mean by asking, “Without thee, how could earth be trod, or heaven itself be won?” And what is the answer to his question?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


  1. Do you also know Barton’s hymn, Walk in the Light?

    • Yes, I know Walk in the Light, another fine hymn. I make reference to it on my Almanac page, here. At a rough guess, and Lord willing, I’ll get around to commenting on it in detail in about two-and-a-half years. Stay tuned! 🙂

  2. […] Barton also gave us the beautiful hymn about the Word of God, Lamp of Our Feet. He was a friend of many of the literary luminaries of his time, Charles Lamb, Robert Southey, Sir […]


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