“Holy Baptism” by John Keble

by The Rev'd Dane E. Boston

In honor of my son’s baptism this past Sunday, I share the priest and poet John Keble’s words.

In the sixth stanza, Keble makes reference to “the young soldier duly sworn.” Though it is not included in the present rite, earlier editions of the Book of Common Prayer called for the following words at the moment when the newly baptized person is marked with the sign of the Cross:

“We receive this Child into the Congregation of Christ’s flock, and do sign him with the sign of the Cross, in token that hereafter he shall not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, and manfully to fight under his banner against sin, the world, and the devil, and to continue Christ’s faithful soldier and servant unto his life’s end. Amen.” 

I can only speculate as to the reasons why that prayer was dropped from the service. Probably discomfort with the martial imagery, and concerns about misunderstanding of the word “manfully.” But even so, I love the beautiful way it encompasses and encourages the whole of the Christian life from beginning to end. I pray it for both of my children, and for each person that I have the privilege to baptize.

Where is it mothers learn their love? –
In every Church a fountain springs
O’er which th’ Eternal Dove
Hovers out softest wings.

What sparkles in that lucid flood
Is water, by gross mortals eyed:
But seen by Faith, ’tis blood
Out of a dear Friend’s side.

A few calm words of faith and prayer,
A few bright drops of holy dew,
Shall work a wonder there
Earth’s charmers never knew.

O happy arms, where cradled lies,
And ready for the Lord’s embrace,
That precious sacrifice,
The darling of His grace!

Blest eyes, that see the smiling gleam
Upon the slumbering features glow,
When the life-giving stream
Touches the tender brow!

Or when the holy cross is signed,
And the young soldier duly sworn,
With true and fearless mind
To serve the Virgin-born.

But happiest ye, who sealed and blest
Back to your arms your treasure take,
With Jesus’ mark impressed
To nurse for Jesus’ sake:

To whom–as if in hallowed air
Ye knelt before some awful shrine –
His innocent gestures wear
A meaning half divine:

By whom Love’s daily touch is seen
In strengthening form and freshening hue,
In the fixed brow serene,
The deep yet eager view. –

Who taught thy pure and even breath
To come and go with such sweet grace?
Whence thy reposing Faith,
Though in our frail embrace?

O tender gem, and full of Heaven!
Not in the twilight stars on high,
Not in moist flowers at even
See we our God so nigh.

Sweet one, make haste and know Him too,
Thine own adopting Father love,
That like thine earliest dew
Thy dying sweets may prove.