Commemorated on 27 December
The author of the Gospel of John does not identify himself by name, but only as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. Most Christians believe that St John’s Gospel was written by the Apostle John. He is thought to have been born about 15AD and therefore to be the youngest of The Twelve. He was the only one of the Apostles not to die for his faith and is believed to have lived until about the year 100. The words of the hymn mention “Thy belov’d, thy latest born” and “Latest he, the warfare leaving”.
There are more scriptural references in the hymn. Verse 7 of Psalm 81: “Thou calledst in trouble, and I delivered thee: I answered thee in the secret place of thunder: I proved thee at the waters of Meribah“. The psalmist is referring to the long journey of the Israelites out of Egypt. Exodus 16 tells us that Meribah was where Moses struck the rock and water gushed forth and in Exodus 19 we read how Moses went up Mount Sinai in the thunderclouds to hear the voice of God, while the people below only heard the thunder. In Chapter 12 of his Gospel, John describes how the crowds flocked to see Jesus as He was coming to Jerusalem for the Passover just after the raising of Lazarus: “And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified…. Father, glorify thy name. Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again. The people therefore, that stood by, and heard it, said that it thundered: others said, An angel spake to him… Then Jesus said unto them, Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth. While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light.“
The words of the hymn were written by Revd John Keble (1792-1866).
Word supreme, before creation
Born of God eternally
Who didst will for our salvation
To be born on earth, and die;
Well thy saints have kept their station,
Watching till thine hour drew nigh.
Now ’tis come, and faith espies thee:
Like an eagle in the morn,
John in steadfast worship eyes thee,
Thy belov’d, thy latest born:
In thy glory he descries thee
Reigning from the tree of scorn.
He first hoping and believing
Did beside the grave adore;
Latest he, the warfare leaving,
Landed on the eternal shore;
And his witness we receiving
Own thee Lord for evermore.
Much he asked in loving wonder,
On thy bosom leaning, Lord!
In that secret place of thunder,
Answer kind didst thou accord,
Wisdom for thy Church to ponder
Till the day of dread award.
Thee, the Almighty King eternal,
Father of the eternal Word;
Thee, the Father’s Word supernal,
Thee, of both, the Breath adored;
Heaven, and earth, and realms infernal
Own, one glorious God and Lord. Amen.