The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

The Truth Sent From Above

For Christmas

Words and Music: English Traditional

Compare: The Truth Sent From Above (Cecil J. Sharp, English Folk-Carols)

Source: G. Walters, A Good Christmas Box (Dudley: G. Walters, 1847), pp. 13-14.

1. 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.

2. The first thing that I will relate,
That God at first did man create
The next thing which to you I tell,
Woman was made with him to dwell.

3. Then after that, ‘twas God’s own choice
To place them both in Paradise,
There to remain from evil free
Except they ate of such a tree.

4. But they did eat, which was a sin,
And then their ruin did begin —
Ruin'd themselves, both you and me,
And all of our posterity.

5. Thus we were heirs to endless woes,
Till God the Lord did interpose
For so a promise soon did run
That he’d redeem us with a Son.

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

7. Thus He in love to us behav'd,
To show us how we might be saved
And if you want to know the way
Be pleased to hear what he did say.

8. Go preach the Gospel now he said,
To all the nations that are made
And he that does believe on me,
From all his sins I’ll set him free.

9. If he believes and does obey,
I'll raise him up at the last day,
And now as sure as he does live,
Eternal life to him I'll give.

10. But he that wont believe in me,
Eternal life shall never see,
If he will still in sin remain,
I'll give him everlasting pain.

11. Now prove yourselves the teacher saith,
Examine if you've any faith,
And if you search and can't this see,
Then beg of God to give it thee.

12. For he is merciful and kind,
And bids you seek and you shall find,
Your danger's great, make no delay,
For without faith you can't him see.

13. O seek it now while life does last,
For death is coming very fast,
And if he finds thee void of this,
The wrath of God you cannot miss.

14. O seek! O seek! of God above,
That saving faith that works by love,
And if he's pleased to grant thee this,
Thou'rt sure to have eternal bliss.

15. For when by death he'll close thy eyes,
To be with Christ above the skies,
And there remain for ever bless'd,
With joys that cannot be expressed.

16. God grant to all within this place
True saving faith—that special grace,
Which to His people doth belong—
And thus I close my Christmas song.

Notes:

The earliest appearances of this carol that I've seen are on a pair of Broadsides printed in Birmingham in the early 1800s. Both had 8 eight-line verses, which were later printed as 16 four-line verses.

 

T. Bloomer, Printer, 53, Edgbaston-street, Birmingham, between 1822 and 1827.

8 eight-line verses, with two small illustrations. Copy at Douce adds. 137(38)

Title: The truth Sent From Above ( First Line: "This is the truth sent from above ...")

Roud Number 210 at the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library (15 records for this title).

D. Wrighton, Printer, Snow-Hill, Birmingham between 1811-1813, as per Birmingham Ballad Printers, Part Four: V - W.

8 eight-line verses, with two small illustrations (top and bottom).

Copy at Douce adds. 137(62)

Title: A Carol For Christmas-Day; first line: This is the truth sent from above.

Douce adds. 137(38)-14966-Crop.jpg (394908 bytes)

Douce_adds_137(62)-14990-Crop.jpg (451116 bytes)

Both of these Broadsides have a number of different texts from the version above. For the texts from the two Broadsides, see: This Is The Truth - Broadside Comparisons.

Three other broadsides that I've found references to include:

The next appearance was the publication of 16 4-line verses in A Good Christmas Box (Dudley: G. Walters, 1847), Carol #7, pp. 13-14. By the end of the 19th century, two versions were collected in the West Midlands region of England in the adjoining regions of Shropshire (The Truth Sent From Above by Sharp) and Herefordshire (The Truth Sent From Above by Mrs. E. M. Leather who would convey this version to Dr. Ralph Vaughan Williams).

Cecil Sharp collected his version from two singers, Mr. Seth Vandrell and Mr. Samuel Bradley in Lilleshall, Shropshire, and printed the results in his English Folk-Carols (London: Novello & Co., Ltd., 1911), Carol #18 (Shopshire), pp. 46-7.

Sheet Music From Sharp, English Folk-Carols (1911)
MIDI / NWC / PDF

See: The Truth Sent From Above. Concerning this carol, he wrote:

This carol was sung to me by the two singers in unison, Mr. Vandrell refreshing his memory by referring to a small book of carols, printed locally, from which the words in the text have been transcribed. I have, however, omitted seven stanzas between the eighth and the last. "The Truth" is printed in A Good Christmas Box, and is included in Hone’s list, [Christmas Carols now annually Printed, 1823].

A version of this carol to a different tune and with four stanzas only of the words, noted by Dr. Vaughan Williams at King’s Pyon, is printed in The Folk-Song Society’s Journal (IV, p. 17). For a variant of the tune see "There is a Fountain" in the same publication (IV, p. 21).

We are fortunate enough to have the original collection notes, which were saved in the Cecil Sharp Manuscript Collection at Clare College, Cambridge. This copy was retrieved from the English Folk Dance and Song Society web site (Roud No: 2109); and see the records at Cecil Sharp House.

SHA-01-2710.jpg (126564 bytes)

The record states that the performers were Samuel Bradley and Seth Vandrell,
and that the song was collected at Lilleshall, Shropshire  on 27 Oct 1911.

An avid local collector – a so-called “County Collector” – Mrs. Emma Mary Leather, collected five verses and a different tune (at an unknown date) from Mr. W. Jenkins of King's Pyon, Herefordshire, and, for this reason is sometimes referred to as the Herefordshire Carol.

Then, in July, 1909, Dr. Ralph Vaughan Williams obtained the tune and lyrics from her. The carol would be included in an article, “Carols from Herefordshire,” in the Journal of the Folk-Song Society, Vol. 4 (June, 1910).

Sheet Music from the Journal of the Folk-Song Society, Vol. 4, No. 14 (June, 1910), pp. 17-18.

JFSS-IV-14-17.gif (33920 bytes) JFSS-IV-14-18.gif (35183 bytes)

Note that other sources have stated that four verses that was collected from Mr. Jenkins. However, the notes from the JFSS and from Dr. Williams show that it was five verses, which correlate to the first five verses in A Good Christmas Box; I don't know how to explain this discrepancy. The notes were saved in the Ralph Vaughan Williams Manuscript Collection at British Library; these copies were retrieved from the English Folk Dance and Song Society; and see the records contained in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library.

add_ms_54189_f161v.jpg (187980 bytes)

(sheet music noted)

add_ms_54189_f162r.jpg (209132 bytes)

(lyrics noted)

We also have this notation of the tune that are a part of the Lucy E. Broadwood Manuscript Collection at the EFDSS, which can be searched via the The Full English Digital Archive (includes the records of over a dozen major English collectors).

BRO-05-427.jpg (225177 bytes)

For a variant of the tune see "There is a Fountain" in the JFSS IV, pp. 21-22.

JFSS-IV-14-21.gif (33271 bytes) JFSS-IV-14-22.gif (35376 bytes)

It was noted that although this song is about the Crucifixion, it was a favorite of Herefordshire singers during the Christmas-tide. See: There Is A Fountain Filled With Blood-Cowper.

There was a lengthy discussion of similar tunes in the JFSS article.
See: The Truth Sent From Above - JFSS Update.

Dr. Williams would next include the tune and some of the lyrics in his “Fantasia on Christmas Carols,” first performed during the Three Choirs Festival at Hereford Cathedral in 1912 and published by Messrs Stainer & Bell, London. In 1919 Dr. Williams would include it in his Eight Traditional English Carols, noting “Harmonization adapted [from "Fantasia"] from by kind permission of the publishers, Messrs Stainer & Bell.”

Sheet Music from Williams, Eight Traditional English Carols (1919)

Truth_Sent_From_Above-RVW-8_Trad_Eng_Crls-6_22-1919.jpg (104490 bytes) Truth_Sent_From_Above-RVW-8_Trad_Eng_Crls-6_23-1919.jpg (122762 bytes)

Source: Eight Traditional English Carols (London: Stainer & Bell, 1919), #6, The Truth Sent From Above, pp. 22-23.

Note: The "Fantasia" score by Ralph Vaughan Williams is available from the International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP)-Petrucci Music Library: Fantasia on Christmas Carols (Vaughan Williams, Ralph) (London: Stainer & Bell, n.d. (1924). It contains 1 full score, 14 parts for individual instruments, and 1 vocal score; it was reprinted by Dover Publications, 1999.

 

The next year, Dr. Williams would collaborate with Mrs. Leather on Twelve Traditional Carols from Herefordshire (London: Stainer & Bell, 1920).

The carol would be included in the 1928 Oxford Book of Carols (hereinafter OBC), who wrote that:

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.

Note: The two settings from the Oxford Book of Carols are not reproduced as they are under copyright. The lyrics, of course, are in the public domain.

However, the five verses in the OBC were not from the version 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 the OBC 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 willing 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 Christmas Readings from the UK by Godfrey Rust, which has 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 from the sixteen verses given in A Good Christmas Box (1847). The first tune was collected by Cecil Sharp at Donnington Wood, Shropshire, and published in his English Folk-Carols (1911). The second tune was collected from Mr. W. Jenkins of King's Pyon, Herfordshire (see Journal of the Folk-Song Society, vol. 4, no. 17). They also noted that the setting was published in Vaughan Williams's Eight Traditional English Carols (1919). The two settings are not reproduced here as they are under copyright. See: Hugh Keyte and Andrew Parrott, The New Oxford Book of Carols (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), #150. pp. 519-521.

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

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

There is another version, consisting of five verses, which appeared in the Oxford Book of Carols, and was later incorporated into 100 Carols for Choirs. See: The Truth from Above - Oxford Book of Carols.

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

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