The Story Behind: What Child Is This?

What Child Is This
CLICK TO LISTEN: What Child Is This CLICK TO LISTEN: This Is Christ the King

By Taylor Brantley

Too often do we look at our current situation and think God can’t use us where we are. After all, what impact could we make with our ordinary life? Paul was a missionary, Martin Luther was a monk, most hymns were written by ministers… does God only use those who live in the mission field?

William Chatterton Dix was born to John and Sussanah Dix in Bristol, England, 1837. Childhood passed without any noteworthy events for William, which is perhaps exactly how a childhood should be. His father was a surgeon for money and a writer for joy, and while William followed in his father’s footsteps on the latter, he went a different way for his profession. William became the manager of an insurance company in Glasgow, and was quite happy to keep to an average life; quite happy for his greatest achievements to be closing on big insurance deals. But he was meant for more, and God was about to show William just that.

At the age of 29, William was struck with a severe illness. This brought his life to a screeching halt, and he was forced to spend day after day in bed as his body fought to survive. When the worst of it was done, William still had a considerable amount of recovery time to go through, and this is when depression struck. Physical sickness revealed to William the sickness of his own soul, and it sent him on a quest for true purpose. Thankfully, answers were sought in the right place, and William became an avid reader of the Bible. This produced a spiritual awakening, and when William was physically well he began living his life for God. So, how did William live for God? Did he become a minister? A missionary? A monk? No, he returned to his life as an insurance manager, trusting God to use him exactly where he was.

While William continued to work in insurance, he used his love of writing as a form of worship. William’s favorite form of writing was poetry, and while most of his poems stayed hidden within a writing desk at home, there was one poem that William wanted to share beyond his desk drawer. The poem was called “What Child Is This?” Not being musically inclined, William searched for an established melody to pair with his poem. There was one such melody that gave the poem of sense of granduer and significance, a classic melody already beloved within the Christmas season: Greensleeves. Slowly, the combined poem and melody began to spread from church to church as Christmas seasons came and went. Six years after its origin, “What Child Is This?” was published in a collection called “Christmas Carols Old and New.” With time, the humble little poem from a humble insurance salesman became the most well-known use of Greensleeves’ haunting sound.

Wherever you are in life – whatever your profession may be – never believe the lies that God only uses those in the missions field. Just look at William Chatterton Dix, an insurance salesman whose poem of praise echoes on to this day.

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