On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry
announces that the Lord is nigh.
Awake and harken, for he brings
glad tidings of the King of kings!
Then cleansed be every life from sin:
make straight the way for God within,
and let us all our hearts prepare
for Christ to come and enter there.
We hail you as our Savior, Lord,
our refuge and our great reward.
Without your grace we waste away
like flowers that wither and decay.
Stretch forth your hand, our health restore,
and make us rise to fall no more.
O let your face upon us shine
and fill the world with love divine.
All praise to you, eternal Son,
whose advent has our freedom won,
whom with the Father we adore,
and Holy Spirit, evermore.
An excellent choice for the “John the Baptist” Sundays in Advent, this hymn was written in the early 18th century by Charles Coffin, Catholic rector of the University of Paris. The lyrics were originally composed in Latin.
For those interested such things, elements in the Catholic Church at the time suspected Coffin of belonging to a heretical movement known as Jansenism. The Jansenist controversy mirrored some of the same theological issues in dispute between Calvinists and Arminians in the Reformed branch of Protestantism. Issues included free will and the power of grace, the human ability to keep God’s commands, and the scope of Christ’s redemptive act. The controversy persisted for decades in France, where it was as much a matter of popular piety as it was one of theology.
Coffin resisted complying with papal decrees on the Jansenist controversy, and his enemies saw Jansenist themes in his hymns. At his death, the church denied Coffin last rights because he could not produce documentation proving that he had rejected Jansenism. Riots ensued.
Jansenist or not – Coffin’s hymn is a beautiful expression of Christian truth, one which this Wesleyan-Arminian can fully affirm.