Posted by: rcottrill | January 2, 2012

One Day

Words: John Wilbur Chapman (b. June 17, 1859; d. Dec. 25, 1918)
Music: Chapman, by Charles Howard Marsh (b. Apr. 8, 1886; d. Apr. 12, 1956)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: We have no information about the inspiration for this hymn. Perhaps it was a sermon the author was working on. While he was guest preacher at Stony Brook Bible Conference around 1908, Dr. Chapman gave the text to his organist, Charles Marsh, who provided the tune. Given that he begins his story about Christ being “born of a virgin,” it’s ironic that the author passed from this earthly scene into the presence of his Saviour on the very day we celebrate the birth of Christ.

If you were called upon to mark the most significant days in someone’s life, I wonder what you’d choose. The day of his birth would seem a good place to begin. And if the person were a Christian, the day of his conversion would be important. If his job, or his career achievements were notable, you’d want to add that. Also, the date of his marriage and, of course, the day of his death, if he has passed away.

In contemplating the eternal history of God the Son, Wilbur Chapman chose four key events to highlight in his hymn.

CH-1 deals with the incarnation. The author makes it clear that Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem (in about 5 BC) was not really the beginning of his story. As the second Person of the Trinity, Christ has existed from all eternity (Mic. 5:2). From all eternity, “heaven was filled with His praises.” This means His coming to earth, as Man, was a step of infinite condescension (cf. Phil. 2:6-8).

This would be a good place to take note of the refrain of the hymn as well. Unlike some, that are simply a repetition of a key phrase in the song, this one is loaded with important doctrine. And it actually recapitulates the main points of the hymn, about Christ’s earthly life, His death and burial, His resurrection, and His second coming.

CH-1) One day when heaven was filled with His praises,
One day when sin was as black as could be,
Jesus came forth to be born of a virgin,
Dwelt among men, my example is He!

Living, He loved me; dying, He saved me;
Buried, He carried my sins far away;
Rising, He justified freely forever;
One day He’s coming—O glorious day!

CH-2 deals with the death of Christ on the cross of Calvary. Though despised and rejected, His loving purpose was “bearing our sins.” CH-3 focuses on His burial, and His days in the tomb.

I declare to you the gospel…that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (I Cor. 15:1-4).

CH-4 celebrates the resurrection of Christ when “over death He had conquered.” In fact, “the grave could conceal Him no longer.” It was impossible for Christ to remain dead and buried, because He is the eternal Son of God. And it was essential that He be a living Saviour. “His soul was not left in Hades [the abode of the dead], nor did His flesh see corruption” (Acts 2:31). In fact, He is the only human being who was able to say that He had power to lay down His life, and power to take it again (Jn. 10:17-18).

Finally, in CH-5, there is the triumphant prospect of Christ’s return. “One day the trumpet will sound for His coming.” The Scriptures describe the rapture of the church, when the Lord will descend in the air, with the saints who have died, to snatch away the living believers:

“The Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (I Thess. 4:16-17).

CH-5) One day the trumpet will sound for His coming,
One day the skies with His glories will shine;
Wonderful day, my belovèd ones bringing;
Glorious Saviour, this Jesus is mine!

1) Wilbur Chapman has certainly covered key events in the life of Christ. If you could add another stanza to his hymn, what might you include that he makes no mention of?

2) Note that the “gospel” that Paul wrote about (I Cor. 15:1-4), and that Wilbur Chapman presents in his song, focuses on actual historical events. Why is this important?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


  1. I’ve been thinking about this hymn, “One Day,” plus three others, all of which tell the whole story of the life of Jesus. The other three are
    — Tell Me the Story of Jesus
    — Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne
    — Who Is He in Yonder Stall?
    I love all of these because they tell the “complete story,” beginning with the birth of Christ, then including His death for our sins, His burial, and His Resurrection. But what is interesting to me is that the last two are considered to be Christmas carols, but the first two are not. I don’t see anything significant that would support this delineation. Thoughts? And are there any other hymns that I have not named that tell the whole story of Jesus?
    BTW, I *love* “Thou Didst Leave . . .” and “Who Is He . . .” — neither of which is well known, and neither of which have I sung in a long time. I lament this lack!
    (I hope that because I am commenting on an “old” post that my comment will not be “missed.”)

    • No problem commenting on “old posts.” Because of the indexing and the subject matter, I can get comments on any of the over a thousand hymns I’ve blogged about since May of 2009. I try to respond to pretty well all of them–unless they’re spam, or totally dumb.

      As to your question, I’m not sure why some songs about the birth of Christ didn’t end up being called carols. The list of older traditional carols is pretty well established. But there are newer ones too, such as “Come on, Ring Those Bells” (1976), and “Mary, Did You Know?” (1984).

      In my book, Discovering the Songs of Christmas, I avoided the word “carols” in the title because I wanted to deal with the kind of hymns you’re talking about, ones that deal with Christmas in the context of the broader life of Christ. Each of the ones you’ve mentioned is in my book: One Day; Tell Me the Story of Jesus; Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne; and Who Is He in Yonder Stall. Songs such as “That Beautiful Name,” and Benson’s “O Sing a Song of Bethlehem” also go beyond the incarnation to talk about the cross and more.

      Thanks for writing. God bless.

  2. […] Cottrill recently featured the song One Day/Glorious Day on his Wordwise Hymns blog. A rousing gospel song. Head over there and let Robert tell you all about it. Took me back over […]

  3. This hymn is a favorite of my husband’s as it sums up the whole story in one hymn or even yet, the chorus of the song. As a pianist, I think it interesting that the author handed his text to the organist who then wrote a tune for it. Fascinating. I’ve written about this hymn on my blog today and have linked back to your post here. Thanks so much for your ministry. It is greatly appreciated.

    • Thank you Abby for your kind words. As to the hymn, there are a number that cover many key events in the life of Christ, as One Day does. (Wounded for Me is another.) I suspect that many churches that still use hymns and hymn books (bless them!) will sing Dr. Chapman’s hymn this week. God bless, and all the joys of Easter to you and your husband.


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