Saturday, 9 July 2016

An anniversary you may not have heard about by Ros Bayes

2016 is a notable year for literary anniversaries. April marked 200 years since the birth of Charlotte Brontë (21st) and 400 years since the death of William Shakespeare (23rd). July 28th is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Beatrix Potter. This summer also marks 200 years since the eighteen-year-old Mary Shelley dreamed up Frankenstein and his unruly creation, and September 13th is the 100th anniversary of Roald Dahl’s birth.

But there is another literary figure with an anniversary this year, one whom perhaps few of us have heard of, but I guarantee we are all familiar with some of the words he wrote. February 13th 2016 marked the 200th anniversary of the birth of John Ernest Bode.

Bode was born into a well-to-do family, and was educated at Eton, Charterhouse and Oxford before being ordained, serving as a vicar in both Oxfordshire and Cambridgeshire. He wrote a number of books of poetry, and was in fact beaten to the post of Professor of Poetry at Oxford by Matthew Arnold.

 In addition, Bode wrote some collections of hymns, particularly his principal manuscript of  “Hymns from the Gospel of the Day for each Sunday and Festivals of our Lord”. Much of what he wrote has fallen into obscurity, and the Bampton lectures which he gave in 1855, at a time when John Henry Newman’s conversion to Roman Catholicism and support for the Anglo-Catholic Oxford Movement was giving consternation to the more Evangelical wing of the Anglican church, would probably sound strange in our era of ecumenism.

But 150 years ago, when John Bode was fifty years old, he wrote a hymn for the confirmation of his daughter and two sons, and it is principally for this hymn that he is remembered today. The hymn takes its inspiration from John 12, the passage in which Jesus said, “If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be.”

It is said that at one time the Anglican Bishops were so bored of hearing this hymn sung at every confirmation that they tried to discourage its use!  But the fact that it is still so well known is a testament to the enduring encouragement of its message to give our all to the lifelong commitment to follow Jesus. There are at least four tunes to which it is still commonly sung, evidence that hymn music composers have continued to be inspired by its message. It is, of course, the hymn “O Jesus, I have promised”. I will reproduce it here without further comment, and encourage you to read it and meditate on its words.

O Jesus, I have promised to serve Thee to the end;
Be Thou forever near me, my master and my friend;
I shall not fear the battle if Thou art by my side,
Nor wander from the pathway if Thou wilt be my guide.

O let me feel Thee near me! The world is ever near;
I see the sights that dazzle, the tempting sounds I hear;
My foes are ever near me, around me and within;
But Jesus, draw Thou nearer, and shield my soul from sin.

O let me hear Thee speaking in accents clear and still,
Above the storms of passion, the murmurs of self will.
O speak to reassure me, to hasten or control;
O speak, and make me listen, Thou guardian of my soul.

O Jesus, Thou hast promised to all who follow Thee
That where Thou art in glory there shall Thy servant be.
And Jesus, I have promised to serve Thee to the end;
O give me grace to follow, my master and my friend.

O let me see thy features, the look that once could make
So many a true disciple leave all things for Thy sake;
The look that beam’d on Peter when he Thy name denied;
The look that draws thy loved ones close by the pierced side.

O let me see Thy footprints, and in them plant mine own;
My hope to follow duly is in Thy strength alone.
O guide me, call me, draw me, uphold me to the end;
And then in Heaven receive me, my Saviour and my friend.

Ros Bayes has 8 published and 4 self-published books, as well as some 3 dozen magazine articles. She is the mother of 3 daughters, one of whom has multiple complex disabilities, and she currently works for Through the Roof ( as their Training Resources Developer, and loves getting paid to write about disability all day. You can find her blog at and her author page at Follow her on Twitter: @rosbwriting.


  1. What an interesting post. Thanks for this.

  2. I love the fifth verse, which I'd not seen before. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Yes, I have no idea why the 5th verse hasn't reached our hymn books. Although it's not an uncommon phenomenon. Apparently the original of Amazing Grace has 25 stanzas!

  4. For those who aren't Anglicans, this is often sung at believer's baptisms too! I had it at mine, aged 16, in 1969, and memorized the words afterwards - although I confess I often find myself singing 'I see the sounds that dazzle, The tempting sights I hear'!!

  5. We often sang it in assembly at school and I'm sorry to report that whenever we sang the line "My hope to follow duly" we all turned round and poked an unfortunate classmate called Julie!

  6. Lovely post. Reading that hymn again after so many years brought tears to my eyes. The words are beautiful. Thank you Ros.

  7. Yes it was a favourite hymn choice for whoever chose the hymns at my school as well. I'm afraid I used to look consider the classmates who'd loudly proclaimed their atheism and think, But they did not promise! The Vicar at the church I went to until recently always made sure we had this hymn at (infant) baptisms.