John Keble: Saint John’s Day

Today is the feast day of Saint John the Evangelist, when we remember and reflect upon the life of the beloved disciple, the one who lay closest to our Lord at the Last Supper, and whose Gospel and Epistles contain some of the most sublime meditations on divine love ever written. It is this quality of love that John Keble focuses on in his poem for Saint John’s Day (found in his collection The Christian Year). This poem is a reflection on Jesus’ response to Saint Peter’s questioning about the future of Saint John, which he concludes with ‘Follow me!’ (c.f.; John 21:21-22).

Jesus, having previously asked Peter three times how much he loved Him, and then giving him the pastoral directions through which he could live out this love, is now told simply to follow our Lord. The implication here is that, if we truly love Christ, we will (like Saint John the Evangelist) follow Him wherever He leads us; we will trust Him amidst all of life’s trials and blessings. As we remember Saint John today, let us remember then this quality of his love, and reflect on how we can enter more deeply into the community of love so vividly described by Jesus in the farewell discourses of Saint John’s Gospel. Keble states it thus:

“Lord, and what shall this man do?”

Ask’st thou, Christian, for thy friend?

If his love for Christ be true,

Christ hath told thee of his end:

This is he whom God approves,

This is he whom Jesus loves.

 

Ask not of him more than this,

Leave it in his Saviour’s breast,

Whether, early called to bliss,

He in youth shall find his rest,

Or armèd in his station wait

Till his Lord be at the gate:

 

Whether in his lonely course

(Lonely, not forlorn) he stay,

Or with Love’s supporting force

Cheat the toil, and cheer the way:

Leave it all in His high hand,

Who doth hearts as streams command.

 

Gales from Heaven, if so He will,

Sweeter melodies can wake

On the lonely mountain rill

Than the meeting waters make.

Who hath the Father and the Son,

May be left, but not alone.

 

Sick or healthful, slave or free,

Wealthy, or despised and poor—

What is that to him or thee,

So his love to Christ endure?

When the shore is won at last,

Who will count the billows past?

 

Only, since our souls will shrink

At the touch of natural grief,

When our earthly loved ones sink,

Lend us, Lord, Thy sure relief;

Patient hearts, their pain to see,

And Thy grace, to follow Thee.

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