“let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him” (1 Corinthians 7:17).
William Chatterton Dix (1837-1898) was a son of Bristol, and a great example of the truth that it is not only the clergy who are called by God. One of the great insights of the Reformation was that the calling of God extends to all parts of life. The carpenter is called to be a Christian carpenter as much as the local vicar is called to be a vicar. Think of the Christian faith which undergirded Cadbury’s, or even Guinness (more of Guinness next week).
Dix was educated at the Grammar School in Bristol and entered into the life of commerce, working for a marine insurance company in Glasgow. There was no sacred/secular divide in his life and his faith would help him to understand the world around him and his own circumstance.
Some of his best known hymns come out of periods of suffering when he would have been thrown back on his faith. As with gladness men of old was written when Dix was recovering from a serious illness, and was reading the second chapter of Matthew’s Gospel where we find the account of the visit of the wise men. As he was pondering over the lessons this ‘men of old’ might hold for us, the lines of the hymn came to mind.
Come unto Me, ye weary come out of another period of illness and weakness. He wrote: “it was almost to idle away the hours that I wrote the hymn. I had been ill for many weeks, and felt weary and faint, and the hymn really expresses the languidness of body from which I was suffering at the time.”
He was prolific, and we still sing many of his hymns. To those mentioned above we might add Alleluia, Sing To Jesus as well as well as To Thee, O Lord, Our Hearts We Raise. A great lesson of his life, though, is that we shouldn’t leave the Christian calling to the clergy. We are all called to live our lives in the light of Christ.
As with gladness men of old
Did the guiding star behold
As with joy they hailed its light
Leading onward, beaming bright
So, most gracious God, may we
Evermore be led to Thee
As with joyful steps they sped
To that lowly manger bed
There to bend the knee before
Thee whom heaven and earth adore
So may we with willing feet
Ever seek Thy mercy-seat
As they offered gifts most rare
At that manger rude and bare
So may we with holy joy
Pure, and free from sin's alloy
All our costliest treasures bring
Christ, to Thee, our heavenly King
Holy Jesus, every day
Keep us in the narrow way
And, when earthly things are past
Bring our ransomed souls at last
Where they need no star to guide
Where no clouds Thy glory hide.
In the heavenly country bright
Need they no created light
Thou its light, its joy, its crown
Thou its sun, which goes not down.
There forever may we sing
Hallelujahs to our King