Watchman! Tell us of the night

Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. (2 Timothy 1: 8-9a)

A friend asked me about the Advent carol, “Watchman, tell us of the night,” and I ended up doing some research on this. It fits our text a bit, in that the poetry, by John Bowring, is a dialog between a traveler and a watchman, and the questions the traveler has are answered by the watchman, who (like Paul, the purported author of 2 Timothy) was unashamed to announce what he knew to be true.

Watchman! what of the Night?

Watchman! tell us of the night,
What its signs of promise are:
Traveler!  o’er yon mountain’s height,
See that glory beaming star!
Watchman! does its beauteous ray
Aught of joy or hope foretell?
Traveler! yes! it brings the day,
Promised day of Israel.

Watchman! tell us of the night;
Higher yet that star ascends.
Traveler! blessedness and light,
Peace and truth its course portends.
Watchman! will its beams alone
Gild the spot that gave them birth?
Traveler! ages are its own;
See, it bursts o’er all the earth.

Watchman! tell us of the night,
For the morning seems to dawn.
Traveler! darkness takes its flight,
Doubt and terror are withdrawn.
Watchman,! let thy wanderings cease;
Hie thee to thy quiet home.
Traveler! lo! the Prince of Peace,
Lo! the Son of God is come!

Lowell Mason wrote a tune which was published in his 1839 The Boston Handel and Haydn Society Collection of Church Music (His arrangement of Joy to the World! is the most famous tune from this book). Charles Ives used Mason’s tune as the last movement of his Fourth Symphony, slowing it down quite a bit; many hymnbooks use the slower version, I think. The text is often sung to Aberstwyth, as well.

Mason's Watchman

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