Home History of Hymns: "What Does the Lord Require"

History of Hymns: "What Does the Lord Require"

"What Does the Lord Require"
Albert F. Bayly
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 441

What does the Lord require
for praise and offering?
What sacrifice, desire,
or tribute bid you bring?
Do justly;
love mercy;
walk humbly with your God.*

The 20th century fostered a new birth in hymn writing centered in the United Kingdom and led by many well-known composers such as Fred Pratt Green, Fred Kaan, Brian Wren and Albert Bayly.

In his article “The Twentieth-Century Hymn Explosion: Where the Fuse Was Lit,” hymnologist and clergyman Alan Luff refers to Bayly as “very much a father of the new hymnody.”

Albert Frederick Bayly was born Sept. 6, 1901, on the coast of England in Sussex. At the age of 15, Bayly studied to be a shipwright at the Royal Dockyard School in Portsmouth. After a few years of working in the shipyard, Bayly received his bachelor’s degree from London University. He was ordained in 1929 after studying ministry at Mansfield College, a Congregationalist theological college in Oxford, where he graduated the year before. He served as a Congregational minister from 1929 to 1972.

Following Bayly’s death in 1984, Green wrote that, “he lived to find himself honored as the pioneer of the remarkable revival of hymn writing in Britain in the 1960s and 1970s.” His hymns have been printed in many volumes, including his own publications Rejoice, O People, Again I say Rejoice, Rejoice Always and Rejoice in God.

Bayly’s best-known hymn, “What Does the Lord Require?” was written in January 1949. The hymn was based on the text from Micah 6:6-8 and was published in Rejoice, O God (1950) along with 16 other hymns representing prophets from the Old Testament. The tune mostly associated with Bayly’s hymn is SHARPTHORNE by Erik Routley.

This hymn’s first appearance was in an Episcopal publication, More Hymns and Spiritual Songs, and contained three of the five stanzas. United Methodist Hymnal editor Carlton Young says “it is one of two of Bayly’s hymns that were at the front of the British hymnic explosion . . . and mark the transition in English language hymnody to a resurgence of the social gospel hymn and hymns embodying space-age imagery and warnings of nuclear destruction.”

This hymn originally contains five stanzas, four of which are in The UM Hymnal. The first four stanzas conclude with the same refrain: “Do justly; love mercy; walk humbly with your God.”

Bayly draws upon the prophet Micah’s question “With what shall I come before the Lord?” and opens with questions: “What does the Lord require for praise and offering?” and “What sacrifice, desire, or tribute bid you bring?” Following the two questions is the refrain.

In the second stanza the tone shifts, posing the reproachful question, “Will God your pleading hear, while crime and cruelty grow?” The third stanza, Bayly notes, “seems to embody part of Micah’s message still relevant today.” The words “greed” and “wealth” are in antithesis to the refrain with words like “justly,” “mercy,” and “humbly.”

The fourth stanza, which is omitted in The UM Hymnal, is “included to complete Micah’s indictment and challenge to the powerful,” said Dr. Young.

The fifth stanza closes with the question “How shall our life fulfill God’s law so hard and high?” While responding to the questions of the fifth stanza, the final refrain remains similar to the other stanzas creating cohesion.

The text’s shortness and simplicity are by design. In an article “Writing Hymns for Our Times,” Bayly once wrote that “hymns may deal with the most profound ideas, but unless these are expressed in the simplest and clearest possible way they can be nothing but words to many of those who sing them.”

*©1949 by Albert F. Bayly. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Mr. Waters is a student of Dr. Michael Hawn in the master of sacred music program at Perkins School of Theology, SMU.

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