Singing through the Year: O for a Closer Walk with God

This coming Sunday, the church where I am organist will be celebrating its Scottish heritage, so we’ll be singing hymns with ties to Scotland.

“O for a Closer Walk with God” is a text by the English poet William Cowper (1731-1800). The tune CAITHNESS, however, comes from the 1635 edition of the Scottish Psalter.

This edition was the last of the Psalter originally printed in 1564. The 1635 edition included harmonizations of the tunes which were previously printed with only melody.

You can see a full scan of the 1635 Scottish Psalter here. The tune harmonizations are printed “open score”—a separate staff for each voice part—and the metricized texts are in the middle of the page while the Psalm texts are printed in the margins. This layout reflects a concern that even the best metrical setting might not convey the fullness of the biblical texts.

Here is a beautiful choral setting of the hymn by Charles Villiers Stanford, and a piano version if you would like to learn the version in the hymnal.

O for a Closer Walk with God

O for a closer walk with God,
a calm and heavenly frame,
a light to shine upon the road
that leads me to the Lamb!

Return, O holy Dove, return,
sweet messenger of rest!
I hate the sins that made thee mourn
and drove thee from my breast.

The dearest idol I have known,
whate’er that idol be,
help me to tear it from thy throne
and worship only thee.

So shall my walk be close with God,
calm and serene my frame;
so purer light shall mark the road
that leads me to the Lamb.

Singing through the Year is a weekly series of hymns related to upcoming Sundays’ lectionary readings. It features hymns that will be sung at the church where I am organist.