WHAT CHILD IS THIS?
William C. Dix, 1837–1898
When they had seen Him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child … (Luke 2:17)
The question asked in this well-loved carol must have been uppermost in the minds of those present at Jesus’ birth. We can almost hear the question being asked from one to another as they gazed into the humble manger. How difficult it must have been for them to understand that the babe who lay in “such mean estate” was truly the promised Messiah. And through the centuries men have continued to ponder who Christ really is—how can He be fully God and still fully man? Only through divine faith comes the revealed answer.
He who is the Bread of Life began His ministry hungering. He who is the Water of Life ended His ministry thirsty. Christ hungered as man, yet fed the multitudes as God. He was weary, yet He is our rest. He prayed, yet He hears prayers. He was sold for 30 pieces of silver, yet He redeems sinners. He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, yet He is the Good Shepherd. He died, and by dying destroyed death.
How beautifully the triumphant answer to this imposing question bursts forth in the refrain—“This, this is Christ the King.”
This thoughtful text was written by William Dix, one of our finest lay hymn writers. While a successful insurance salesman in Glasgow, Scotland, he was stricken with a sudden serious illness at the age of 29. Dix was confined to bed for an extended period and suffered deep depression until he called out to God and “met Him in a new and real way.” Out of this spiritual experience came many artistic and distinctive hymns, including this delightful carol. It was taken from a longer Christmas poem, “The Manger Throne,” written by William Dix about 1865. The melody “Green Sleeves” is a traditional English folk tune.
What Child is this, who, laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping? Whom angels greet with anthems sweet, while shepherds watch are keeping?
Why lies He in such mean estate where ox and ass are feeding? Good Christian, fear—for sinners here the silent Word is pleading.
So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh—come, rich and poor, to own Him; the King of kings salvation brings—let loving hearts enthrone Him.
Refrain: This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing: Haste, haste to bring Him laud—the Babe, the Son of Mary.
For Today: Matthew 2:1–12; Luke 1:26–28; 2:6–20
As you read and study the gospel account about Christ, begin a study of both His claims and demonstrations that prove that He was truly God—truly deity, the Messiah sent from heaven. Sing this musical truth as you go—