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It is a significant fact that many of the greatest hymns of the Church have been written by pastors who have been noted for their zeal in winning souls. Their hymns have been a part of their spiritual stratagem to draw the wayward and erring into the gospel net. Bishop William Walsham How, one of the more recent hymnists of England, is a shining example of true devotion in a Christian shepherd.

Bishop How once gave a striking description of the characteristics which he believed should be found in an ideal minister of the gospel. “Such a minister,” he said, “should be a man pure, holy, and spotless in his life; a man of much prayer; in character meek, lowly, and infinitely compassionate; of tenderest love to all; full of sympathy for every pain and sorrow, and devoting his days and nights to lightening the burdens of humanity; utterly patient of insult and enmity; utterly fearless in speaking the truth and rebuking sin; ever ready to answer every call, to go wherever bidden, in order to do good; wholly without thought of self; making himself the servant of all; patient, gentle, and untiring in dealing with the souls he would save; bearing with ignorance, wilfulness, slowness, cowardice, in those of whom he expects most; sacrificing all, even life itself, if need be, to save some.”

Those who knew How best said it was almost a perfect description of his own life and character.

When Queen Victoria, in 1879, made him Bishop of Bedford, with East London as his diocese, he was tireless in his 338 efforts to alleviate conditions in that poverty-stricken district. When he first began his work in the slums, people would point to him and say, “There goes a bishop.” But as they came to know him better, they said, “There goes the bishop.” And finally, when they learned to love him, they exclaimed, “There goes our bishop.”

Bishop How’s most celebrated hymn is “O Jesus, Thou art standing.” It is based on the impressive words of the Saviour in the Book of Revelation, “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: If any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.”

Though the language of the hymn is commonplace, there are striking expressions here, as in How’s other hymns, that arrest the attention of the worshiper. In the first stanza we are reminded that there are many nominal Christians bearing “His Name and sign” who yet are keeping the waiting, patient Saviour outside a “fast-closed door.” In the succeeding verse we are told that it is sin that bars the gate. Then there is the concluding stanza with its gripping appeal, picturing the surrender of the human heart to the pleading Christ.

The imagery in the hymn was, no doubt, suggested by Holman Hunt’s celebrated painting, “The Light of the World.” This was executed by Hunt in 1855, while the hymn by How was written twelve years later. Those who are familiar with the Hunt masterpiece will remember how it pictures the Saviour standing patiently and knocking earnestly at a fast-closed door. The high weeds, the tangled growth of vines, as well as the unpicked fruit lying on the ground before the door, suggest that it has not been opened for a long time. A bat is hovering in the vines overhead.


Ruskin tells us that the white robe worn by the heavenly Stranger shows us that He is a Prophet, the jeweled robe and breastplate indicate a Priest, and the crown of gold a King. The crown of thorns is now bearing leaves “for the healing of the nations.” In His scarred hand He carries a lighted lantern, signifying “the Light of the world.”

When Holman Hunt’s picture was first exhibited, it excited considerable comment. Some one, however, ventured the criticism that there was a fault in the painting inasmuch as Hunt had forgotten to indicate a latch on the door.

“There is no mistake,” said the great artist. “I did not put a latch on the outside of the door because it can only be opened from within. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself cannot enter an unwilling heart; it must be opened to Him. He must be invited to enter.”

Bishop How’s hymn pictures in language what Holman Hunt put into his celebrated canvass.

“O Jesus, Thou art standing” is not the only famous hymn written by Bishop How. His lovely New Year’s hymn, “Jesus, Name of wondrous love,” and his All Saints’ hymn, “For all the saints who from their labors rest,” have won a place forever in English hymnody. “O Word of God Incarnate,” “We give Thee but Thine own” and “Summer suns are glowing” also have found their way into a large number of the standard hymn-books.

The talented bishop died in the year 1897, mourned not only by those who had learned to love him because of his noble Christian character, but also by those who had come to know him through his beautiful hymns. With the passing of only three decades since his death, there is increasing evidence that Bishop How will be numbered among the great hymn-writers of the Christian Church.

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