Posted by: rcottrill | July 26, 2013

O Jesus, Thou Art Standing

Words: William Walsham How (b. Dec. 13, 1823; d. Aug. 10, 1897)
Music: St. Hilda (sometimes called St. Edith), by Justin Heinrich Knecht (b. Sept. 30, 1752; d. Dec. 1, 1817), and Edward Husband (b. circa May ___, 1843; d. circa Feb. ___, 1908)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: As to the melody, Edward Husband took the first couple of lines of a 1799 tune by Justin Knecht, and added his own ending, creating the present tune in 1871.

Concerning the text, this beautiful and insightful hymn was written in 1867. Dr. How seems to have had a couple of inspirations for it. Poetess Jean Ingelow heard a sermon in an English fishing village on Revelation 3:20, leading her to create the poem picturing the scene. It says, in part:

The parson knew that he had lost the eyes
And ears of those before him for he made
A pause… Then with a sigh
Fronted the folk, lifted his grand gray head,
And said, as one that pondered on with new surprise,
And found fresh marvel in their sound, “Behold!
Behold!” saith He, “I stand at the door and knock.”
Then said the parson, “What! And shall He wait,
And must He wait?
Open the door with shame if ye have sinned…
And take Him in that comes to sup with thee.

William How read Jean Ingelow’s poem and was deeply touched by it. He may also have seen Holman Hunt’s famous painting, which appeared in 1854, picturing Christ standing at the door. Together, these depictions led him to write the hymn.

The song is based on the words of Revelation 3:20, where the glorified Lord Jesus says:

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” Other versions have: “I will be his guest and feast with him, and he with Me” (Williams New Testament); “We will share a meal as friends” (New Living Translation); “I will come in and fellowship with him, and he with Me” (Living Bible).

Though that verse is sometimes used as an invitation to the sinner to come to Christ for salvation, in the context of Revelation it follows Christ’s admonition to the church at Laodicea. Bishop How may have it right, calling at least some of them, though backslidden, “Christian brethren” (CH-1).

The people attending of this ancient church in Asia Minor was extremely affluent and self-satisfied. They believed they had no real needs. But in the Lord’s sight they were spiritually impoverished and lukewarm about the things of God (vs. 15, 17). Most sadly of all, they had shut Christ out. They may have had rituals in His honour, or sang hymns about Him, but there was no heart relationship with the living Christ.

In how many churches today is that the case? Christ is represented by artwork and liturgy, but there is no fellowship with Him as living, gracious presence. In fact, the door is “fast closed” against Him. “Shame on us!” if that is true of our own church.

CH-1) O Jesus, Thou art standing, outside the fast closed door,
In lowly patience waiting to pass the threshold o’er:
Shame on us, Christian brethren, His name and sign who bear,
O shame, thrice shame upon us, to keep Him standing there!

The Lord not only stands without, but knocks, in love and patience, hoping there is someone who will open the door and welcome Him in. How’s hymn pictures Christ with the marks of Calvary upon Him, emphasizing “the sin that hath no equal” of turning Him away.

CH-2) O Jesus, Thou art knocking; and lo, that hand is scarred,
And thorns Thy brow encircle, and tears Thy face have marred:
O love that passeth knowledge, so patiently to wait!
O sin that hath no equal, so fast to bar the gate!

The Lord Jesus stands (CH-1), and knocks (CH-2), and pleads “in accents meek and low” (CH-3). That this is something He does graciously, for an extended period of time, is suggested by the verb tense. In Greek, it represents an action that has lingering results or continuing effects, as though it reads: “Behold I have taken a stand, and am still standing at the door.”

The worldly congregation must not presume He will keep on knocking. The day of grace for them may suddenly come to an end. But for now, the invitation is open.

CH-3) O Jesus, Thou art pleading in accents meek and low,
“I died for you, My children, and will you treat Me so?”
O Lord, with shame and sorrow we open now the door;
Dear Saviour, enter, enter, and leave us nevermore.

1) Do you know of a congregation that can be described as the Word of God describes the one in Laodicea (Rev. 3:14-18)?

2) What is the remedy (vs. 19-20)? Can this begin even with one person in the church, or just a few? (Explain.)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


  1. I haven’t had a chance to read through, but I already bookmarked your page. The old hymn writers and preachers had an understanding of the heart of God, and of his people, who were grasping the wonderful salvation we have been provided. God Bless

    • Agreed. Drop by any time. 🙂


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