The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Blessed Night, When First That Plain

The Shepherds' Plain

"Dum servant oves invenerunt Agnum Dei." — Jerome.

For Christmas

Compare: Blessed Night, When Bethlehem's Plain
And See: Blessed Night, When First That-Medley

Words: Rev. Horatius Bonar

Music: None

Source: Horatius Bonar, Hymns of Faith and Hope, First Series, 1857, pp. 240-245.

Blessed night, when first that plain
Echoed with the joyful strain,—
"Peace has come to earth again."

Blessed hills, that heard the song
Of the glorious angel-throng,
Swelling all your slopes along.

Happy shepherds, on whose ear
Fell the tidings glad and dear,—
"God to man is drawing near."

Happy shepherds, on whose eye
Shone the glory from on high,
Of the heavenly Majesty.

Happy, happy Bethlehem,
Judah's least but brightest gem,
Where the rod from Jesse's stem,

Scion of a princely race,
Sprang in heaven's own perfect grace,
Yet in feeble lowliness.

This, the woman's promised seed
Abram's mighty son indeed;
Succourer of earth's great need.

This the victor in our war,
This the glory seen afar,
This the light of Jacob's star!

Happy Judith, rise and own
Him, the heir of David's throne,
David's Lord, and David's Son.

Babe of promise, born at last.
After weary ages past,
When our hopes were overcast.

Babe of weakness, can it be,
That earth's last great victory
Is to be achieved by thee?

Child of meekness, can it be,
That the proud rebellious knee
Of this world shall bend to thee?

Child of poverty, art thou
He to whom all heaven shall bow,
And all earth shall pay the vow?

Can that feeble head alone
Bear the weight of such a crown
As belongs to David's Son?

Can these helpless hands of thine
Wield a sceptre so divine,
As belongs to Jesse's line?

Heir of pain and toil, whom none
In this evil day will own,
Art thou the Eternal One?

Thou, o'er whom the sword and rod
Wave, in haste to drink thy blood,
Art thou very Son of God?

Thus revealed to shepherds' eyes,
Hidden from the great and wise,
Entering earth in lowly guise,

Entering by this narrow door,
Laid upon this rocky floor,
Placed in yonder manger poor.

We adore thee as our King,
And to thee our song we sing;
Our best off'ring to thee bring.

Guarded by the shepherds' rod,
'Mid their flock thy poor abode,
Thus we own thee, Lamb of God.

Lamb of God, thy lowly name,
King of kings, we thee proclaim;
Heaven and earth shall hear its fame.

Bearer of our sins' sad load,
Wielder of the iron rod,
Judah's Lion, Lamb of God!

Mighty King of righteousness,
King of glory, king of peace,
Never shall thy kingdom cease!

Thee, earth's heir and Lord, we own;
Raise again its fallen throne,
Take its everlasting crown.

Blessed Babe of Bethlehem,
Owner of earth's diadem.
Claim, and wear the radiant gem.

Scatter darkness with thy light,
End the sorrows of our night.
Speak the word, and all is bright.

Spoil the spoiler of the earth,
Bring creation's second birth,
Promised day of song and mirth

'Tis thine Israel's voice that calls,
Build again thy Salem's walls,
Dwell within her holy halls.

'Tis thy Church's voice that cries,
Rend these long unrended skies,
Bridegroom of the Church, arise.

Take to thee thy power and reign,
Purify this earth again;
Cleanse it from each curse and stain.

Sun of peace, no longer stay,
Let the shadows flee away,
And the long night end in day.

Let the dayspring from on high,
That arose in Judah's sky,
Cover earth eternally.

Babe of Bethlehem, to thee,
Infant of eternity,
Everlasting glory be!


Bonar gives us his translation of the line from Jerome "Dum servant oves, invenerunt Agnum Dei" in his The Land of Promise at p. 113: "While feeding their sheep, they found the Lamb of God." This same essay is also found in Bonar's Days and nights in the East; or, Illustrations of Bible Scenes (1866). Bonar places the same quotation from Jerome over another of his hymns, What The Shepherds Found.

As a side note, Bonar had been touring the Holy Land, and taking notes as he went. This hymn, "The Shepherds' Plain," reflect his feelings on visiting the plain where shepherds were keeping their sheep on the night when The Messenger of God announced the Good News!

Down the steep slope we went, on through a ploughed field to the Shepherd's Plain. In the middle of it are the ruins of a convent or church, surrounded by trees, chiefly olives. As this is the only plain in the neighbourhood, the district being very hilly, there is little doubt that this is the real plain where the shepherds fed their flocks when the angel appeared. They were " abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night" (Luke ii. 8), most likely in spring or summer, not in winter. To these believing men, lying on this green plain, the message came, concerning the wondrous birth. " While feeding their sheep, they found the Lamb of God" as Jerome remarks.

Honorius Bonar, The Land of Promise: Notes of a Spring-Journey (London: James Nisbet & Co,, 1858), pp. 112-113.

John Julian, ed., The Dictionary of Hymnology, p. 147:

Blessed night, when first that plain. H. Bonar. [Christmas.] Published in his Hymns of Faith & Hope. 1st series, 1857, in 34 stanzas of 3 1ines, and headed "The Shepherds' Plain." In the Irish Church Hymnal, 1873, two centos are given from this poem, (1) "Blessed night, when first that plain," and (2) "Mighty King of Righteousness "; and in Mrs. Brock's Children's Hymn Book, 1881, No. 72, a cento is given as "Blessed Night, When Bethlehem's Plain," with "Alleluia" as a refrain. No. 73, in the same Collection and in the same metre, "Hark, what music fills the sky," is attributed to Dr. Bonar in error. It forms a good companion hymn to "Blessed night, when first that plain."

The hymn "Hark, what music fills the sky" was written by Miss E. (Esther) Wiglesworth (1827-1907). These two hymns have been arranged as a medley; see: Blessed Night, When First That-Medley.

Sheet music "St. Eanswyth" by J. W. Sidebotham from Children's Hymn Book (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1881), #72, p. 73.

Blessed_Night-Bethlehem-no72-p73.jpg (57021 bytes)

Sheet Music from J. W. Sidebotham From Carol #81, Rev. Charles Lewis Hutchins, Carols Old and Carols New (Boston: Parish Choir, 1916)

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Another cento of Bonar's hymn occurs in the 1895 Hymnal from the Presbyterian Church in six verses:

1. Blessed night, when first that plain
Echo'd with the joyful strain,
"Peace has come to earth again."

2. Blessed hills that heard the song
Of the glorious angel throne
Swelling all your slopes along

3. Happy shepherds, on whose ear,
Fell the tidings glad and clear,
"God to man is drawing near."

4. Thus revealed to shepherds' eyes,
Hidden from the great and wise,
Entering earth in lowly guise—

5. Entering by the narrow door,
Laid upon this rocky floor,
Placed in yonder manger poor.

6. Blessed Babe of Bethlehem,
Owner of earth's diadem,
Claim and wear the radiant gem.

Sheet Music "Blessed Night" by William W. Gilchrist, 1895. From The Hymnal Published by Authority of The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (Philadelphia: The Presbyterian Board of Publication and Sabbath-School Work, 1895), #79.

179-Blessed Night-Hymnal-1895.jpg (42154 bytes)

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