Archive for November 24th, 2022

Hymn stories: Hark the Herald Angels Sing

Christianity has in its favour the greatest hymns ever written.

There is no denomination in Christendom that has more superb catalogue to its credit than Anglicanism. So it is with the timeless Christmas classic “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”

Originally published as a Christmas Day hymn by Charles Wesley (1707-1788), it was included in John Wesley’s Collection “Hymns and Sacred Poems” in 1739. The previous year Charles had experienced a conversion in London on 21 May, 1738 and felt renewed in his faith. Soon he began to spread the good news of the Gospel and write the great hymns he is known for. “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” displays that now bygone era and captures Wesley’s new found zeal. It is a glorious hymn.

When I was a boy I used to love listening to it on the opening credits of the 1951 version of Scrooge with Alistair Sim. It has never left me to this day. Unlike many of the shallow and theologically bland chorus’s sung in many independent congregations around the world, “Hark The Herald Angels Sing” upholds the fabulous dignity of Biblical splendour. It presents in a glorious array the celebratory narrative of the Incarnate Christ. Inspired largely by the King James Version, Charles Wesley’s original lyrics read like so:

HARK how all the Welkin rings
“Glory to the King of Kings,
“Peace on Earth, and Mercy mild,
“GOD and Sinners reconcil’d!

Joyful all ye Nations rise,
Join the Triumph of the Skies,
Universal Nature say
“CHRIST the LORD is born to Day
!”

These words were adapted in 1758 by George Whitefield (1714-1770), and read like so:

HARK! the Herald Angels sing
Glory to the new-born King!
Peace on Earth, and Mercy mild,
God and Sinners reconcil’d.

Joyful all ye Nations rise,
Join the Triumphs of the Skies;
Nature rise and worship him,
Who is born at Bethlehem.

Whitefield’s version was published in 1782 in Tate and Brady’s New Version of the Psalms of David. But the story doesn’t end there. In 1855 musician William Hayman Cummings (1831-1915) gave the song a new lease of life by adding music by Mendelssohn (1809-1847). This is generally the hymn tune we sing today.

Wesley wrote, “Peace on Earth, and Mercy mild, “GOD and Sinners reconcil’d!“. Those original words by Charles Wesley proclaim the pure truth of the Gospel and rightness of the One and only person of Jesus Christ. The only peace that can ever be attained on this earth is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Remember this and never forget, works that have begun, do not always end there. They can go on to future generations and never be forgotten.

This season, go and find yourself a great carol service and sing your heart out until the place becomes unglued. Let the false teachers commence. Let them argue their way into apostacy. Let the world turn in on itself. Let the weak try and rule the strong by fear. Let them try and take away your freedom and right to think. But you, keep yourself unspotted from the world and know that they can never take away your right to sing!

Keep warm this Christmas and sing!

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