Our new hymn for the month of January comes from Joseph Swain (1761-1796), a poet who, after his conversion, began to write hymns for his own devotional use, until he was “discovered” by a bystander who heard Joseph singing one of his own hymns. His hymn, “O Thou in Whose Presence” originally contained 18 verses, with Biblical quotes or allusions in every line. The hymn begins with imagery taken from the Song of Solomon, then takes an unexpected turn to consider that this One Who is love is also the righteous, sovereign Judge.
Here is the glorious hymn, in its full, original form.
O Thou in Whose Presence
O Thou in Whose presence my soul takes delight,
On Whom in affliction I call;
My comfort by day, and my song in the night,
My hope, my salvation, my all!
Where dost Thou at noontide resort with Thy sheep,
To feed on the pasture of love?
For why in the valley of death should I weep,
Or lone through the wilderness rove?
O why should I wander an alien from thee,
And cry in the desert for bread?
Thy foes will rejoice when my sorrows they see,
And smile at the tears I have shed.
Ye daughters of Zion, declare, have ye seen
The Star that on Israel shone?
Say if in your tents my beloved has been,
And where with his flocks he is gone?
This is my Beloved, His form is divine,
His vestments shed odors around;
The locks of His head are as grapes on the vine,
When autumn with plenty is crowned.
The roses of Sharon, the lilies that grow
In vales, on the banks of the streams,
On His cheeks in the beauty of exc’llence blow;
His eyes are as quivers of beams!
His voice, as the sound of the dulcimer sweet,
Is heard through the shadows of death;
The cedars of Lebanon bow at His feet;
The air is perfumed with His breath.
His lips as a fountain of righteousness flow,
That waters the garden of grace;
From which their salvation the Gentiles shall know,
And bask in the smiles of His face.
Love sits in His eyelids, and scatters delight
Through all the bright mansions on high;
Their faces the cherubims veil in His sight,