The anthem was written at the request of William Laud, who was President of St John's College, Oxford from 1611-1621; the St John to whom college is dedicated is John the Baptist. It was written for the college chapel, and presumably received its first performance there. According to Morris, the earliest known extant manuscripts of the anthem date from the 1630s, a decade after Gibbons' death. They are located at major English cathedrals and chapels, as far from Oxford as Durham, suggesting that the anthem enjoyed wide use when first written. It is included in a number of modern publications, including the Oxford Book of Tudor Anthems (OUP, 1978).
The original text comes from John 1:19 - 23. Gibbons uses the text of the Geneva Bible; it is very similar to that found in the Authorized Version, but (for example) AV has "one crying" in the third stanza, where the Geneva Bible (and Gibbons) have "him that crieth". The text concerns the prophecy of John the Baptist foretelling the coming of Jesus.