"Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child" (Luke 2:4).
This article explores the story behind and the scripture allusions in the hymn, "Once in Royal David's City."
Hymn Text Writer
Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895) was an Anglo-Irish hymnodist and poet. Mrs. Alexander's hymns and poems though her lifetime number nearly 400 (Ref. 2). She is best known for her hymns, "All Things Bright and Beautiful," There is a Green Hill Far Away," and the Christmas carol, "Once in Royal David's City" (Ref. 3).
As an adult, Cecil Frances Alexander wrote primarily for children. She felt that the truths of Christianity could best be taught through hymns (Ref. 4 below). In 1848, Cecil Frances Humphreys (her name before she married) wrote a series of hymns to teach children about the Apostles Creed (Ref. 4, Ref. 5). She wrote "Once in Royal David's City" to explain to children the phrase from the Apostle's Creed that Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary (Luke 1:34-35 KJV, Ref. 4, Ref. 5).
Hymn Tune Composer
Henry John Gauntlett (1805-1876) was an English organist and songwriter (Ref. 6). He was also, in turn, a lawyer, author, organ designer, and organ recitalist (Ref. 7). He composed over 1,000 hymn tunes. His most famous tune is "Irby," the tune to which we sing the Christmas carol, "Once in Royal David's City" (Ref. 6).
I suggest that you refer to the attached hymn sheet music (Ref. 8) for the following discussion of Scripture and the four verses of hymn text.
"Once in royal David's city" (hymn, verse 1). In the Bible, the words, "city of David," refer to two locations. In the Old Testament, the city of David referred to the area of Jerusalem that David captured as described in 1 Chronicles 11:4-8. David built houses there and lived there (1 Chronicles 15:1). David was buried in the city of David (1 Kings 2:10).
In the New Testament, Luke refers to David's ancestral home, Bethlehem, as the city of David (Luke 2:4, 1 Samuel 17:12). Luke also tells what the angel said when the angel appeared to the shepherds and announced Jesus' birth. "For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:11). After the angel had spoken to the shepherds, the shepherds were clear that the location they were to go visit was in Bethlehem (Luke 2:15).
"He came down to earth from heaven who is God and Lord of all" (hymn, verse 2). The words, "He came down to earth from heaven" refer to the incarnation of Christ. The Gospel of John says, "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).
"He feels for all our sadness, and he shares in all our gladness" (hymn, verse 3). Jesus was fully God and fully human (John 1:1, John 1:14, Colossians 2:9, Ref. 9). As a human being, Jesus experienced the full range of human emotions, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15-16). For example, Jesus knew grief and sorrow (Isaiah 53:3, John 11:33-35). Jesus knew joy (Hebrews 12:2).
"He leads his children on to the place where he has gone" (hymn, verse 4). Jesus said, "Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all" (Luke 18:17). The Gospel of John tells us, "But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God" (John 1:12).
The hymn's words, "He leads his children," speak to me both of Jesus leading and we who believe in Jesus Christ following him (Ref. 10). Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me" (John 14:6). We know that Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us in heaven (John 14:2-3). Once we put our trust in Jesus Christ, he leads us and we follow him through life to his eternal home.
Listen and watch The Choir of King's College, Cambridge, UK sing "Once in Royal David's City." Click here for the YouTube link - Ref. 11. To see and follow the lyrics for the six verses sung in the video, click here - Ref. 12.
Thank you, Jesus, for coming down from heaven to earth to become a human being. Thank you, Jesus, that you know our emotions and that you strengthen us when we are weak. Thank you, Jesus, that when we believe in and accept you, you lead us through life to your eternal home.
4. Robert K. Brown, Mark R. Norton, "The One Year Book of Hymns," Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1995
12. (the link begins on the next line) https://www.hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com/Hymns_and_Carols/once_in_royal_davids_city.htm
"Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear." (Ephesians 4:29)
This article is the second in the series, "Biblical Principles of Sound Speech." Today's lesson focuses on the attributes of sound speech, that is, the essential characteristics that our speech should have.
Consider. Think for a moment. What do you think the positive qualities of speech should be? If someone asked you to describe what the Bible says our speech should be like, what would you say in reply?
Today's lesson describes the four characteristics of sound speech in Ephesians 4:29. Today's verse is part of the Apostle Paul's letter to Christian believers at the church in Ephesus (Ephesians 1:1).
Wholesome. The first characteristic of sound speech in Ephesians 4:29 is that it should be wholesome. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines wholesome as promoting health and well being, sound in mind and morals, prudent, and safe (Ref. 3). Our wholesome speech should promote the well-being of others, as we will see in the discussion below.
Paul begins Ephesians 4:29 with the phrase, "Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth." The Greek word for unwholesome is sapros. Sapros means rotten, worthless, bad, corrupt and is applied to putrid vegetable or animal substances (Ref. 4, Ref. 5 below, Ref. 6). Matthew 7:17-18 use the same word. Jesus said, "Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt [sapros] tree bringeth forth evil fruit" (Matthew 7:17, brackets added).
In Ephesians 4:29, Paul instructs us to restrain our mouths so we do not let any unwholesome (bad, rotten, corrupt) words go forth. Bad language not only reflects the corruptness of the "heart of a speaker" but also tends "to corrupt the minds or manners of hearers" (Ref. 7).
If you would like to read more on what the Bible says about avoiding cursing and profanity, please go to the page, "Bible Verses About Sound Speech" and read the last section (Ref. 8).
Good for Edification. The second characteristic of sound speech in Ephesians 4:29 is that our speech should be good for edification. That is, our speech should build others up, not tear them down. The Greek word for edification is oikodomé. The short definition of oikodomé is a building or edifice (Ref. 9). However, edification of people means more than building an architectural structure. Thayer's Greek Lexicon defines oikodomé as "the act of one who promotes another's growth in Christian wisdom, piety, holiness, happiness" (Ref. 9).
According to the need of the moment. The third characteristic of sound speech in Ephesians 4:29 is that our speech should be according to the need and that it should be timely. The Greek word for need is chreia, which means need, necessity, business, occasion (Ref. 10). The English Standard Version (ESV) translates this phrase, "as fits the occasion" (Ref. 11). Our speech should edify (build up) our hearers according to the particular need of their spiritual state (Ref. 12).
The phrase, "According to the need of the moment," suggests to me that in our roles (for example, authors, teachers, parents, spouses, co-workers, team members, friends) we need always to pray and seek the Holy Spirit's guidance about what to say to our hearers and when to speak. Sometimes when we have a good idea, it may not be the right occasion or the right time to blurt it out. Our hearers will "hear" better when the Holy Spirit has prepared them to receive what we have to say. We should pray about when we should share our idea, inspiration, request, or constructive criticism. As an example from Scripture, God provided the occasion for Nehemiah to speak his request to King Artaxerses approximately four months after Nehemiah had prayed to God about the condition of Jerusalem's wall (Nehemiah 1:1, Nehemiah 1:11, Nehemiah 2:1, Nehemiah 2:4).
King Solomon addressed the importance of timeliness in Proverbs 25:11. "Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances." Our speech not only should be sensitive to the circumstances, but also should be spoken at the right time. We should look to God to guide as to when that time will be.
Grace-giving. The fourth characteristic of sound speech in Ephesians 4:29 is that our speech should "give grace to those who hear." The Greek word for grace is charis, which means grace, kindness, favor, and especially, God's divine influence upon the heart (Ref. 13, Ref. 5 below). Our speech should minister the grace of God to others.
"Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouths: but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers" (Ephesians 4:29 - 1599 Geneva Bible).
Summary. As Christians, and as instructed by the Bible in Ephesians 4:29, our speech should exhibit four essential qualities. Our speech should be wholesome, good for edification (building up others), appropriate for the occasion and timely, and grace-giving.
To see additional attributes of sound speech from the Bible, please refer to the separate page, "Bible Verses About Sound Speech" (Ref. 8).
Apply. I suggest that you memorize Ephesians 4:29 so you will always have this verse and these four essential qualities of sound speech in mind. If you would like to see this verse in other translations, please click on the link to Ephesians 4:29 on biblegateway.com and then select the translation of your choice.
5. James Strong, "The New Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible," Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995
"In all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, sound in speech which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us." (Titus 2:7-8)
Consider. Why is it important that we as Christians exemplify sound speech? What is the effect on hearers when our speech is "unsound"? How does sound (or unsound) speech (and what we say on social media) affect our witness for Christ?
Today's lesson is the first in a series on "Biblical Principles of Sound Speech." Today's lesson focuses on Paul's instructions to Titus in Titus 2:7-8.
Who was Titus? Titus was one of the Apostle Paul’s converts to the Christian faith. Paul refers to Titus as "my true child in a common faith" (Titus 1:4). However, Titus was not a new convert. Titus had accompanied Paul to the Council at Jerusalem described in Galatians 2:1. When Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, he said, "As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker among you" (2 Corinthians 8:23). Titus was a godly, Christian teacher (Titus 2:1-8). Paul also commissioned Titus to appoint elders in each city in Crete (Titus 1:5).
"Considering the assignments given him, he [Titus] obviously was a capable and resourceful leader" (Ref. 1).
"Show yourself to be an example of good deeds" (Titus 2:7). Let's unpack the Greek word definitions to better understand what Paul is saying. The Greek for the word, example, is tupos. Tupos means a proper pattern or model for others to follow (Ref. 2). The Greek word for good is kalos. The short definition of kalos is beautiful (Strong's Concordance, Ref. 3). Helps WORD-Studies defines kalos as attractively good; good that inspires (motivates) others to embrace what is lovely (beautiful, praiseworthy) (Ref. 3). Thus, Paul instructs Titus to be an example (pattern) of good (beautiful) works that others may follow and embrace what is praiseworthy.
Paul's instructions to Titus also apply to us. As Christians, we are to lead others by being a good example. Jesus said, "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16). Paul wrote to Timothy. "Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe" (1 Timothy 4:12). The Apostle Peter wrote, "Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation (1 Peter 2:12).
Keep in mind that as Christians we do not do good works in order to earn or keep our salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9). However, we are to be good examples so others will praise (rather than slander) Christ. Our good example should attract others to know and follow the Lord Jesus.
Teach with pure, uncorrupt motives. In Titus 2:7, the English words, "In all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds" are followed by "with purity in doctrine." The two key words are purity and doctrine. The Greek word for purity is aphtharsia, which means incorruptibility, unable to experience deterioration (Ref. 4). The Greek word for doctrine is didaskalia, which means instruction, teaching (Ref. 5). Didaskalia refers both to the function of teaching as well as to the information which is taught (Ref. 5).
Paul instructs Titus not only that the content of his teaching must be incorruptible, but also that his bearing and behavior as a teacher must be incorruptible (Ref. 6). As Christians, we must be free from corruption (Ref. 7) and free from lower motives such as seeking popular applause (Ref. 8).
Exemplify sound speech that is beyond reproach so that the opponent will have nothing bad to say about us. Paul's instruction is clear. As Christians, our speech should be sound and beyond reproach. The Greek word for sound is hugiés, which means healthy, well (in body), true (in doctrine) (Strong's Concordance, Ref. 9).
Paul uses the Greek word logos for speech in Titus 2:8. Logos means something said. Logos also can refer to a topic (subject of discourse), the mental faculty of reasoning, and motives (Strong's Concordance, Ref. 10 below).
In summary, as followers of Christ, we are to have healthy reasoning and healthy speech. Our speaking, reasoning, teaching, motives, and doctrine should be healthy, uncorrupt, and true.
Apply. As a Christian, do you exemplify sound speech that is beyond reproach so that others will have nothing bad to say about you? How is your speech helping or hindering your witness for Christ?
10. James Strong, "The New Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible," Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995
The next lesson in this series will provide additional, Biblical attributes of sound speech.
"Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life." (John 6:47 NASB)
"Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life." (John 6:47 KJV)
"Amen, amen I say unto you: He that believeth in me, hath everlasting life." (John 6:47 Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition (DRA))
"Whenever we read in the text of Scripture our Lord giving a statement that is prefaced by the double 'amen,' it is a time to pay close attention." -- R.C. Sproul (Ref. 1)
Consider. When Jesus Christ, the Son of God, began a statement with "Truly, truly," what did he mean? What is special about the expression, "Truly, truly" or "Verily, verily"?
As we will see towards the end of the lesson, when Jesus introduced a statement with "Truly, truly," he was calling attention to the importance of the words which follow.
Definition. The English words truly, truly are translated from the Greek words amén amén (Ref. 2). American theologian R.C. Sproul referred to these words as the "double amen" (Ref. 1, Ref. 3). The Greek word amén means truly, and is also translated as verily, most assuredly, and so be it (Ref. 2).
In modern usage, the word amen is typically used at the end of a prayer (Ref. 4). In the New Testament, the writers frequently closed their letters with Amén (Romans 16:27, 2 Timothy 4:22 KJV, 1 Peter 5:14 KJV, 1 John 5:21 KJV, Jude 24-25, Revelation 22:21). "Placing the word amen at the end of a statement is a way of accepting, agreeing, or endorsing what came before" (Ref. 4).
Jesus frequently said "Amen" ("Truly") to preface a statement (as compared to saying "Amen" at the end). "Leading off with amen not only implies that what follows is true but also that the person making the statement has firsthand knowledge and authority about it" (Ref. 4, italics added).
In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus used a single Amen (Truly, Verily) to introduce over 50 statements of truth (Ref. 5 below, Strong's Exhaustive Concordance). Consider these references: Matthew 5:18, Matthew 18:12-13, Matthew 25:11-12, Mark 9:41, Mark 11:23, Luke 18:17. To the criminal on the cross who asked Jesus to remember him, Jesus said, "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43).
When Jesus says "Truly, Truly" (double Amen) at the beginning of a statement, he is telling us that the following words are extremely important. When Jesus begins a teaching and says, "Amen, amen, I say to you," our listening ears should be fine-tuned to take note instantly of what our Lord is going to say, for it is of the utmost importance (Ref. 1).
Consider the importance of these examples where Jesus introduced his statements with "Truly, truly" (double Amen):
John 3:5 - Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
John 5:24 - "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life."
John 6:47 - "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life."
The "Truly, truly" (double Amen) expressions of Jesus occur only in the Gospel of John. In John, Jesus provides 25 statements that begin with "Truly, truly." Click here to see all 25 of Jesus' "Truly, truly" statements.
"Whenever we read in the text of Scripture our Lord giving a statement that is prefaced by the double 'amen,' it is a time to pay close attention and be ready to give our response with a double amen to it. He says "amen" to indicate truth; we say it to receive truth and to submit to it." -- R.C. Sproul (Ref. 1)
Apply. I encourage you to read (re-read) the 25 "Truly, Truly" Statements of Jesus. For which statements are you most thankful? Which statements are the most challenging? Thank Jesus for his words of truth.
5. James Strong, "The New Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible," Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995 - note, based on the King James Version of the Bible
"This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent." (John 17:3)
"Life eternal, then, is not mere conscious and unending existence, but a life of acquaintance with God in Christ." (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary, Ref. 1)
This lesson describes the biblical definition of eternal life. This lesson primarily uses the Scriptures about eternal life in the Gospel of John. In the next lesson in the series, we will focus on who receives eternal life and how to receive eternal life.
Consider. Think for a moment. How would you define eternal life? How would you explain eternal life to an inquisitive unbeliever, or to a new Christian? For believers in Christ, eternal life certainly includes living with God after our physical death (John 11:25-26). However, the Bible has much more to say about the characteristics of eternal life.
Eternal life is a free gift of God to believers in Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul states, "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23). In this verse, the Greek word for gift is charisma. Charisma means a gift of grace, an undeserved favor (Ref. 2). Thus, eternal life is not something we deserve or earn. Eternal life is an undeserved gift of God's grace and favor. "In spite of your sanctification as Christians, still you will not have earned eternal life; it is the gift of God’s grace" (Ref. 3).
Jesus said, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand" (John 10:27-28).
For the believer, eternal life begins in the present, the here and now. Jesus described eternal life in the present tense. Thus, eternal life is not just in the future, but is a present possession of the believer which continues into the future.
John 3:36 - "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."
John 5:24 - "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.
John 6:47 - "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life."
In John 5:24, note the importance of hearing Jesus' words. Jesus said, "He who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life."
For believers in Christ, eternal life continues with God after our physical death. Jesus said to Martha, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?" (John 11:25-26).
To the thief on the cross who asked Jesus to remember him, Jesus said, "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise" (Luke 23:42-43).
Jesus said to his disciples, "In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also" (John 14:2-3).
Jesus defined eternal life as knowing God experientially. "Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, 'Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life. This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent" (John 17:1-3).
In John 17:3, the Greek word for know is ginóskó. Ginóskó means to know, especially through personal experience (first-hand acquaintance) (HELPS Word-studies, Ref. 4). Knowing God experientially requires knowing Jesus who is the truth (John 14:6), as well as knowing and living the Word of God on a daily and life-long basis. "This life eternal, then, is not mere conscious and unending existence, but a life of acquaintance with God in Christ" (Ref. 1).
Eternal life is a quality of life, not just the duration of life. The Greek word for eternal is aiónios, which means perpetual, unending, age-long (Strong's Concordance, Ref. 5). Aiónios includes the character of that which lasts for an age, as contrasted with that which is brief and fleeting (Ref. 5). "Aiónios does not focus on the future per se, but rather on the quality of the age it relates to. Thus, believers live in eternal life right now, experiencing this quality of God's life now as a present possession" (Helps Word-studies, Ref. 5).
Summary. Eternal life is a free gift of God to those who believe in Jesus Christ. Eternal life begins when we put our faith in Jesus. As believers in Christ, eternal life continues with God after our physical death. Eternal life is the quality of life that results when we know Jesus Christ by experience, on a first-hand basis.
Apply. Think for a moment. In your own words, how would you describe eternal life? Write down your description of eternal life in a few sentences. What Scripture verse would be your key reference?
Mr. Whitney V. Myers. Christian. For more information, please visit the Author Page.
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12Nov18 - "Bible Verses About Sound Speech"
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