Feast of Bernard Barton (February 19)   Leave a comment

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Above:  Flag of England

Image in the Public Domain

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BERNARD BARTON (JANUARY 31, 1784-FEBRUARY 19, 1849)

English Quaker Poet and Hymn Writer

Bernard Barton, born into a Quaker home, attended Ipswich Quaker School.  As a young man, he apprenticed to a Halstead, Essex, shopkeeper from 1796 to 1806 then entered into the corn-and-coal business at Woodbridge, Suffolk, with a brother.  Barton married Lucy Jesup in 1807 yet lost her to death during childbirth the next year.  The widower worked briefly as a tutor at Liverpool before returning to Woodbridge, where, for four decades, he worked at a bank.

Barton was a published poet with a day job.  Thus he did not have to rely on his writing to support himself.  He also befriended Lord Byron and Sir Walter Scott, major literary figures.  And Barton’s son-in-law, husband of his daughter Lucy, was Edward FitzGerald, translator of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.  During his lifetime Barton published nine books, including Devotional Verses (1826).  A posthumously published memoir completed the list of volumes.

Barton had a good reputation.  People knew him to be punctual, methodical, gentle, and good-natured.  And, of course, they knew about the devotional poems he had published.

Among Barton’s poems which have become hymns are “Walk in Light! So Shalt Thou Know” (based on 1 John 1:7) and “Lamp of our Feet.”

Lamp of our feet, whereby we trace

Our path when  wont to stray;

Stream from the fount of heavenly grace,

Brook by the traveler’s way;

Bread of our souls, whereon we feed,

True manna from on high;

Our guide and chart, wherein we read

Of realms beyond the sky;

Word of the everliving God,

Will of His glorious Son;

Without thee how could earth be trod,

Or heaven itself be won?

Lord, grant us all aright to learn

The wisdom it imparts;

And to its heavenly teaching turn

With simple, childlike hearts.

1 John 1:7, as Barton knew it, read:

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.

Authorized Version

Barton’s hymn based on that verse follows:

Walk in the light! so shalt thou know

That fellowship of love

His Spirit only can bestow,

Who reigns in light above.

Walk in the light! and thou shalt find

Thy heart made truly his

Who dwells in cloudless light enshrined,

In whom no darkness is.

Walk in the light! and thou shalt own

Thy darkness pass’d away,

Because that light hath on thee shone

In which is perfect day.

Walk in the light! thy path shall be

A path, though thorny bright;

For God, by grace, shall dwell in thee,

And God himself is light.

Vocation can lead to a career in a field for which one  might become well-known or respected.  Or vocation can manifest itself in a hobby for which one might become well-known or respected.  Or vocation might lead to both.  Barton is here, on my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, because of his poetry, not his profession at a bank–honorable work, to be sure.  But his legacy of writing survives to today.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 16, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT, YEAR C

THE FEAST OF GUSTAV AULEN, SWEDISH LUTHERAN THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT ADELAIDE, HOLY ROMAN EMPRESS

THE FEAST OF MARIANNE WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY

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Eternal God, light of the world and Creator of all that is good and lovely:

We bless your name for inspiring Bernard Barton

and all those who with words and image have filled us with desire and love for you,

through Jesus Christ our Savior, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

1 Chronicles 29:14b-19

Psalm 90:14-17

2 Corinthians 3:1-3

John 21:15-17, 24-25

–Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 728

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Revised on December 2, 2016

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