William Chatterton Dix was an insurance man by trade — but he was a poet at heart. Chances are, however, that we might never have heard of this man nor of any of his poems had it not been for a near-fatal illness that struck him while relatively young in life. As his strength was robbed of him and he was confined to bed for many months, laying near death, he often reflected on his faith. Reading his Bible and studying the works of respected theologians, William Dix reaffirmed his belief in not only Christ as Savior but in the power of God to move in his own life. Not long after regaining his strength, Dix produced some of the wonderful songs we sing still to this day.
While many around him ignored Christmas altogether, William Dix set out during Christmas of 1865 to write of the first Christmas. At first, he did not share his poem with his friends and family – a poem which was quickly written in a single session. His original title was “The Manger Throne,” and the song’s words presented a unique view of the birth of Christ.
While the baby was the focal point of the song, the viewpoint of the writer seemed to be that of an almost confused observer. In a stroke of brilliance, Dix imagined visitors to the humble manger wondering who the child was that lay before them. Employing this special perspective, the author wove a story of the child’s birth, life, death, and resurrection – each verse answering with a triumphant declaration of the Infant’s divine nature.
However, it was not until an unknown Englishman took Dix’s poem and combined them with the melody Greensleves (dating back to the 1500’s) that the song became immensely popular in both England and America. William Chatterton Dix died in 1898, but he lived long enough to see his poem “The Manger Throne,” become the much beloved Christmas carol “What Child is This?”
“What Child is This?” That is a question that should be echoing throughout society this time of year. Instead there is a truly mixed-up understanding of Christmas. One preacher put it this way:
- Santa has replaced the Savior
- Rudolph has replaced the Redeemer
- Feasting has replaced faith
- Toys have replaced truth
- Glittering lights have replaced God’s love