The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

The Truth from Above

For Christmas

Words and Music: English Traditional.
"Melody and part of the text from Mr. W. Jenkins, Kings Pyon, Herfordshire."

Source: Percy Dearmer, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Martin Shaw, eds., The Oxford Book of Carols (Oxford University Press, 1928), #68 (pp. 150-153 in the 1964 edition). Two settings, both based on the tune collected by RVW.

This is the truth sent from above,
The truth of God, the God of love,
Therefore don't turn me from your door,
But hearken all both rich and poor.

The first thing which I do relate
Is that God did man create;
The next thing which to you I'll tell
Woman was made with man to dwell.

Thus we were heirs to endless woes,
Till God the Lord did interpose;
And so a promise soon did run
That he would redeem us by his Son

And at that season of the year
Our blest Redeemer did appear;
He here did live, and here did preach,
And many thousands he did teach.

Thus he in love to us behaved,
To show us how we must be saved;
And if you want to know the way,
Be pleased to hear what he did say.

Note from the Oxford Book of Carols:

Melody and part of the text from Mr. W. Jenkins, Kings Pyon, Herfordshire. Melody included by permission of Mrs. Leather. From Eight Traditional English Carols (Vaughan Williams), Stainer & Bell. For notes on the text and melody see the Journal of the Folk Song Society, iv. 17. For another tune and different version of text see Sharp, English-Folk Carols, xviii. The version in A Good Christmas Box has sixteen verses.

Editor's Note:

The two settings from the Oxford Book of Carols (hereinafter OBC) are not reproduced as they are under copyright. The lyrics, of course, are in the public domain.

The five verses in the OBC were not from the version collected by Mrs. Leather in Herefordshire in 1909, and printed by R. Vaughan Williams in Eight Traditional English Carols (1919); see: The Truth Sent From Above - RVM. They are verses 1, 2, 5, 6, and 7 from the sixteen verses found in A Good Christmas Box (1847); see The Truth Sent From Above.

In this version, there is an unfortunate juxtaposition of words in verses 2 and 3. Verse 2 ends with:

Woman was made with man to dwell.”

Verse 3 begins:

Thus we were heirs to endless woes.”

All joking aside, the woman was not the cause of the endless woes of mankind, rather, both sinned by disobeying the law set down by God in the Garden, and it was from that sin that our "endless woes" resulted.

Unfortunately, this version would be used in David Willcocks & John Rutter, eds., 100 Carols for Choirs (Oxford University Press, 1987), #87, p. 342.

Some prefer to avoid the matter of original sin altogether, and place the emphasis upon the salvation provided by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. I had the pleasure of having a discussion concerning this carol with a friend, Godfrey Rust, who, in the course of designing a carol service for Christmas, 2013, wrote:

"I had further thought about “the truth from above” and decided in the end to remove a verse rather than add one! That leaves me with just these four:

This is the truth sent from above, 
The truth of God, the God of love; 
Therefore don’t turn me from your door, 
But hearken all, both rich and poor.

For we were heirs to endless woes,
till God the Lord did interpose,
and so a promise soon did run
that He’d redeem us with a Son

And at this season of the year
our blest Redeemer did appear. 
He here did live, and here did preach, 
and many thousands He did teach.

Thus He in love to us behaved,
to show us how we must be saved
and if you want to know the way
be pleased to hear what He did say.

"changing “thus” to “for” at the beginning of the new verse 2. I prefer this, not only because it makes it simpler and shorter, but it avoids the “fall” story altogether. While there is no argument that people and the world mess up all the time, and no serious argument among Christians that Jesus came to fix things, there’s plenty of dissent about the fall, both historically and theologically, so I’m happy to be less contentious in this context!  It also fits better in the part of the service in which it appears. One of the problems with carols, as you well know, is that they often try to tell the whole story in one song, which doesn’t help when you’re trying to tell a story progressively through a service!"

Nicely done, in my opinion.

Sometime ago, someone said to Godfrey, “why does Eve always get all the blame?” Godfrey gave the matter some thought, and, in an attempt to redress some wrongs, has created a delightful poem concerning Eve ... and then added a few additional thoughts about Adam, too. I recommend both, and also his Christmas Readings from the UK by Godfrey Rust, which have been frequently used by others in creating their own Christmas services.

The Editors of the The New Oxford Book of Carols gave us ten verses, plus the English traditional tunes collected by Cecil Sharp in Shropshire and Mrs. Emma Leather in Herefordshire. Their notes:

The text is from the sixteen verses given in A Good Christmas Box (1847). Tune I was collected by Cecil Sharp at Donnington Wood, Shropshire, and published in his English Folk-Carols (1911). Tune II was collected from Mr. W. Jenkins of King's Pyon, Herfordshire (see Journal of the Folk-Song Society, vol. 4, no. 17). The setting was published in Vaughan Williams's Eight Traditional English Carols (1919).

Hugh Keyte and Andrew Parrott, The New Oxford Book of Carols (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), #150. pp. 519-521.

The sixteen verses in A Good Christmas Box (1847) are in this file, The Truth Sent From Above, which also contains the complete notes for this carol.

For the version by Cecil J. Sharp from English Folk-Carols (1911), see: The Truth Sent From Above.

For the version from Herefordshire printed in the JFSS (1910), and used by R. Vaughan Williams in Eight Traditional English Carols (1919), see: The Truth Sent From Above - R. Vaughan Williams.

For the texts from two Broadsides that I've found, see: This Is The Truth - Broadside Comparisons.

For a discussion of similar tunes, see The Truth Sent From Above - JFSS Update.

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