Posted by: rcottrill | December 20, 2013

Walk in the Light

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Words: Bernard Barton (b. Jan. 31, 1784; d. Feb. 19, 1849)
Music: Manoah, published by Henry Wellington Greatorex (b. Dec. 24, 1813; d. Sept. 10, 1858)

Wordwise Hymns (Bernard Barton)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: The hymn was written in 1826. In most versions now CH-2 (which seems to imply the achievement of sinless perfection in this life) is omitted. It says:

CH-2) Walk in the light: and sin abhorred
Shall ne’er defile again;
The blood of Jesus Christ, thy Lord,
Shall cleanse from every stain.

The tune Manoah was published in Greatorex’s Collection of Church Music, in 1851. It’s origin is debated. Some suggest it is based on a theme from classical composers Rossini or Haydn, but no certain source has been identified as yet. (Manoah was the father of Samson.)

Bernard 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 Walter Scott, Lord Byron, and Sir John Bowring. His style was critiqued in a periodical of the time as follows:

Mr. Barton’s style is well suited to devotional poetry. It has great sweetness and pathos, accompanied with no small degree of power, which well qualify it for the experience of the higher and purer feelings of the heart.

Mr. Barton was a Quaker, and evangelicals would disagree with him on the Quaker notion of “the inner light.” They teach that in every human being God has implanted an element of His own “spirit” or energy, and that God is in everyone. Quakers do not believe that the natural man is separated from God by sin, calling the concept of the sin nature in man “an invented and unscriptural barbarism.”

The inner light teaching is based on a misinterpretation of John 1:9, in which Christ is described as “the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world.” That statement does not mean that everyone has received knowledge of Christ, or has had some spiritually illuminating experience. Rather, “everyone” means all without distinction. John is saying that the Light is provided for all, regardless of national or ethnic background, gender or social standing.

Even so, “He came to His own and His own did not receive Him” (vs. 11). “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (Jn. 3:19). And those evil deeds arise out of sin-darkened hearts (Mk. 7:21-23). “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9; cf. Rom. 3:10-18). In that fallen condition, “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Cor. 2:14).

All human beings (apart from the incarnate Son of God) are sinners (Rom. 3:23) and, as such, are “without strength” (Rom. 5:6), enemies of God (Rom. 5:10),“dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). There is no inner light, only darkness for unregenerate men and women. This is not “invented and unscriptural barbarism.” It is the clear teaching of the Word of God that our sin separates us from God (Isa. 59:2). The sinner is “without Christ,” “without God,” and “without hope” (Eph. 2:12).

However, having said this, the hymn is still found in orthodox Christian hymnals. The reason is that the “light” spoken of need not be thought of as coming from within the sin-darkened heart. It can legitimately refer to the born again believer. When an individual trusts Christ as Saviour, the Spirit of God comes to live within. The indwelling Holy Spirit becomes the believer’s Teacher and Guide, illuminating his understanding of the Word of God (Jn. 16:13; Rom. 8:14; I Cor. 2:9-10; I Jn. 3:24). The Spirit is also his source of power to apply and obey that Word to life (II Cor. 3:18; Gal. 5:22-23).

In Bible a verse that provides Barton’s opening line, we read, “ if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us [continues to cleanse us] from all sin” (I Jn. 1:7). Walking in the light involves born again believers living in daily obedience to God’s Word (cf. Ps. 119:105). When we sin, we step away from the Lord into darkness. Not that we lose our salvation, but we are out of fellowship with Him, and need to confess our sin and claim His forgiveness (I Jn. 1:9).

CH-1) Walk in the light: so shalt thou know
That fellowship of love
His Spirit only can bestow
Who reigns in light above.

CH-6) Walk in the light: and thine shall be
A path, though thorny, bright;
For God, by grace, shall dwell in thee,
And God Himself is light.

1) The symbolism of light is applied to several different things in the Bible. Can you name a few?

2) What does Mr. Barton mean by saying that the believer’s path may be thorny, though bright?

Wordwise Hymns (Bernard Barton)
The Cyber Hymnal


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