John the Baptist is our guide for the first part of Advent, and the lyrics of On Jordan's Bank continue his mission of preparing hearts for the coming of the Savior. The hymn was written in Latin (Jordanis Oras Prævia) by Charles Coffin, priest and rector of the great University of Paris at the time most of his hymns were published (1736). Coffin wrote over 100 hymns, including The Coming of Our God and the Christmas carol What Star Is This with Beams So Bright, both of which appear in many contemporary hymnals.
Coffin's output earned no accolades for poetic elegance, but the warmth of his poetry and their firm basis in Scripture did win recognition. The characteristic warmth (sometimes called “unction”) of his hymns is all the more remarkable since, as a Jansenist, Coffin would have held to a strict, rigorist interpretation of the faith and a rather pessimistic outlook on the possibility of salvation for all but the most ascetical of believers.
On Jordan's Bank is in Long Meter (8888), and while it fits any melody in that meter (even Veni Emmanuel), it is almost always sung to the melody known as Winchester New (which is going through my head at this moment).
Sister Anne Flanagan is a singer with the Daughters of St Paul Choir.
On Jordan's Bank
(Charles Coffin; trans. John Chandler)
On Jordan's bank the Baptist's cry
announces that the Lord is nigh;
awake and hearken, for he brings
glad tidings of the King of kings.
When cleansed be every breast from sin;
make straight the way for God within,
prepare we in our hearts a home
where such a mighty Guest may come.
For thou art our salvation, Lord,
our refuge and our great reward;
without thy grace we waste away
like flowers that wither and decay.
To heal the sick stretch out thine hand,
and bid the fallen sinner stand;
shine forth and let thy light restore
earth's own true loveliness once more.
All praise, eternal Son, to thee,
whose advent doth thy people free;
whom with the Father we adore
and Holy Ghost for evermore.