"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
Copyright: leonidtit / 123RF Stock Photo
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me" (John 14:6).
This article is the fifth and final article in the series on the topic, “About the Way.”
Consider. The eternal Jesus Christ is the road, the path, the journey to the Father, and to the Father's dwelling place, heaven.
Immediately before Jesus said "I am the way" (John 14:6), Jesus told 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" (John 14:2).
Jesus is eternal. Jesus Christ is the same "I AM" that appeared to Moses in the burning bush (John 8:58; Exodus 3:6; Exodus 3:14).
"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" (Hebrews 13:8).
Jesus is the way. Jesus invites us to follow him to the destination. Jesus is the road, and the journey to the destination.
The Greek word for "follow" is akoloutheó. Akoloutheó means to be in the same way with, that is, to accompany as a disciple (Ref. 1).
The rich young ruler asked Jesus what he could do to inherit eternal life (Mark 10:17). Mark 10:21 describes Jesus' invitation to the young man to follow Jesus. "Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, 'One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.' " The young man refused Jesus' invitation to accompany Jesus as a disciple. Mark tells us the young man "was saddened, and he went away grieving" (Mark 10:22).
Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father, to the Father's dwelling place, heaven. Jesus is the only way to the Father because only Jesus has paid the penalty for our sin.
"Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, ... let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water" (Hebrews 10:19-20, 22).
"But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).
"Unless you believe that I AM, you’ll die in your sins” (John 8:24).
Copyright: halfpoint / 123RF Stock Photo
Our Response to Jesus
What is your response to Jesus? Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me" (John 14:6). Are you ready to believe in him? Are you willing to follow Jesus to our heavenly destination?
If you do not already trust in Jesus, then I encourage you to pray through these steps in your own words.
Believe in Jesus.
"My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me" (John 10:27).
"Teach me your ways, O Lord; make them known to me. Teach me to live according to your truth, for you are my God, who saves me. I always trust in you" (Psalm 25:4-5).
Now that you have put your trust in Jesus, I encourage you to:
To learn more about the following topics, please visit the About the Way page or the previous posts with dates noted:
Daily Bible Verse (click)
Mr. Whitney V. Myers. Christian. For more information, please visit the Author Page.
I plan to provide postings every two weeks on Sunday evenings at 9 pm eastern U.S. time.
June 2, 9pm - "God's Love for the World" (1 John 4:9-10, Romans 5:8)
(most recent three months)
1July18 - "There is a Balm in Gilead"