“As With Gladness Men of Old” was written by William Chatterton Dix. He wrote it on the day of the Epiphany in 1858, while sick in bed. During this time, he read the story of the wise men in the Bible and pondered how he could give the story meaning in his own life. For a living, Dix managed a maritime insurance company in Glasgow, Scotland, but his passion was in poetry and writing song lyrics. He thought about the Magi’s long journey to see the Christ child. Dix knew well about the dangers of travel in his own time, and knew that such a trip for the Magi would be fraught with peril. But instead of focusing on the journey, he focused on the destination, and the joy of giving gifts.
The hymn was first published in Dix’s Hymns of Love and Joy in 1861. It was set to music by Conrad Kocher, another man intimately familiar with travel, and who had established the School of Sacred Music in Struttgart, Germany in 1821. The tune is the same as the one used in “For the Beauty of the Earth.”
As with gladness, men of old
Did the guiding star behold
As with joy they hailed its light
Leading onward, beaming bright
So, most glorious Lord, may we
Evermore be led to Thee.
As with joyful steps they sped
To that lowly manger bed
There to bend the knee before
Him Whom Heaven and earth adore;
So may we with willing feet
Ever seek Thy mercy seat.
As they offered gifts most rare
At that manger rude and bare;
So may we with holy joy,
Pure and free from sin’s alloy,
All our costliest treasures bring,
Christ, to Thee, our heavenly King.
Holy Jesus, every day
Keep us in the narrow way;
And, when earthly things are past,
Bring our ransomed souls at last
Where they need no star to guide,
Where no clouds Thy glory hide.
In the heavenly country bright,
Need they no created light;
Thou its Light, its Joy, its Crown,
Thou its Sun which goes not down;
There forever may we sing
Alleluias to our King!