Posted by: rcottrill | March 16, 2015

Sleep, Holy Babe

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Words: Edward Caswall (b. July 15, 1814; d. Jan. 2, 1878)
Music: John Bacchus Dykes (b. Mar. 10, 1823; d. Jan. 22, 1876)

Wordwise Hymns (Edward Caswall)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: This gentle carol, a kind of lullaby, sometimes called Sleep, Jesus, Sleep, was published by Caswall in 1850. Though he wrote some texts of his own, he is best know for his translation of hymns from other languages. (When Morning Guilds the Skies, and Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee are two examples of his translation work.) His carol, Sleep, Holy Babe, was an original poem from his pen.

I’ve been unable to find a specific name for Dykes’s tune (other than “Sleep Holy Babe”) which is unusual. If you spot one, please let me know.

CH-1) Sleep! Holy Babe! upon Thy mother’s breast;
Great Lord of earth and sea and sky,
How sweet it is to see Thee lie
In such a place of rest, in such a place of rest.

CH-2) Sleep! Holy Babe! Thine angels watch around,
All bending low with folded wings,
Before th’incarnate King of kings,
In reverent awe profound, in reverent awe profound.

Great oaks from little acorns grow, they say. That’s been a proverbial expression for at least six centuries, describing how great things can come from relatively small beginnings.

Since the discoveries that have been made in genetics, we can offer even more dramatic comparisons. Microscopic DNA molecules store all the necessary information to reproduce a particular plant or animal, or a human being. When an acorn is produced, or a baby is conceived, each contains the recipe for what it will one day become. They are bundles of potentiality yet to be realized.

One wonders what potential was imagined in the baby Jesus by those who first saw Him. Some, of course, were aided in their understanding by supernatural revelations. Both Mary (Lk. 1:34-35) and Joseph (Matt. 1:20) learned in that way that the conception of Christ would be the result of a unique miracle. To the shepherds keeping watch near Bethlehem, it was revealed that the Babe was born to be both the Saviour and the Christ–meaning Messiah (Lk. 2:11). And both Mary and the wise men also learned that He was born to be King of the Jews (Lk. 1:31-33; Matt. 2:1-2, 11).

Yet, in spite of this information being given, it was only gradually that most, even people of faith, came to realize who Christ was and is–that He is God the Son incarnate, not only fully Man, but fully God. When the Lord calmed the stormy Sea of Galilee with a word, the disciples responded, “Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” (Matt. 8:27). The Pharisees, rightly understanding that it was God’s prerogative to forgive sins, accused Christ of blasphemy when He did so (Lk. 5:20-21). People wondered at the unique authority with which He spoke (Matt. 7:29; Jn. 7:46).

Only after His resurrection from the dead did Thomas bow before the Saviour addressing Him as “My Lord and my God!” (Jn. 20:28). About thirty years later, the Apostle Paul wrote that “in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9). And further on, when John wrote his Gospel, He declared that Christ (whom he calls “the Word) “was with God, and the Word was God,” and He lived among us, revealing the Father’s glory (Jn. 1:1:14). The unidentified author of Hebrews quotes God the Father saying, “Let all the angels of God worship Him,” and “to the Son He says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever’” (Heb. 1:6, 8).

In 1850, Edward Caswell published this Christmas carol that describes something of the dramatic contrast between the sleeping Infant and who He is. It captures in a few words the identity of the slumbering Baby. Notice, “Thine angels” (CH-2). The hosts of heaven are His to command. We are told that at the second coming, “the Son of Man [Christ] will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend” (Matt. 13:41). Truly He is Lord of all in heaven and earth. In the Babe of Bethlehem resided a bundle of infinite potential that will continue being revealed to the saints throughout eternity.

CH-3) Sleep! Holy Babe! while I with Mary gaze
In joy upon that face awhile,
Upon the loving infant smile
Which there divinely plays, which there divinely plays.

CH-4) Sleep! Holy Babe! ah! take Thy brief repose;
Too quickly will Thy slumbers break,
And Thou to lengthened pains awake
That death alone shall close, that death alone shall close.

1) For what reason(s) did the “Lord of earth and sea and sky” come to this earth?

2) In Your opinion, what carols most clearly tell who He is, and why He came?

Wordwise Hymns (Edward Caswall)
The Cyber Hymnal


  1. I sang this carol eighty years ago, but I can’t explain why I found myself singing it a couple of days ago. But I can’t find the music in any of my carol books it’s so frustrating

    • Words and music are on the Cyber Hymnal (click on the little keyboard icon–though you may have to have a program called Noteworthy Composer to see this).

      Also lots of copies of the hymn on

      For the latter, you have to copy the music page and print it in Word, or WordPerfect as if it were a photo.

      That may be more confusing than helpful , but it’s a beautiful carol. We should sing it more. Here’s a YouTube version of it…

      God bless.



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