Posts Tagged Hymn stories

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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The Day Thou Gavest Lord is Ended

Dear all,

my mother Joyce Sutherland went home to be with the Lord on February 17. I have dedicated this precious hymn to her. Joyce was a wonderful mother to me and all her children. I will never forget her and I will honour her memory and legacy for as long as I live.

Joyce Sutherland was not only my mother, but was a singer who worked with me from my earliest days and until the final moments. In the 1960’s Joyce and my father met Johnny Cash in Manchester. In 1991, Joyce met Johnny Cash once again, only this time, with me. She was loved by everyone she knew. Joyce had seven children and after the death of my father, spent her remaining years serving her family, friends and everyone she met with kindness, love and friendship.

Joyce became a Christian in 1972 after an experience with Christ that she told repeatedly throughout her life. I was the first born after she became a Christian. Joyce sang with me on most of my recordings and appeared in my live concerts, the last few being the UK’s only Bob Dylan Festival.

Joyce Sutherland’s story will be told.

This wonderful Anglican hymn was written by John Ellerton in 1888 while walking home from his Church in Cheshire. The lyrics are set to the tune of St Clement. The hymn is a national favourite and has become a theme song for me and I have used it in every documentary I have made. When I was in Paphos, filming my first documentary, I asked the Lord what music He wanted me to use for my documentary and immediately the brass band behind me broke into that tune. When I arrived back in England I hummed the tune, as I do in the recording, and asked my mother what the hymn was, and she said she knew it and sang it to me. I have used this hymn ever since and I will use it again. I have dedicated this version to Joyce and I hope it is a blessing to you.

Joyce Sutherland passed away peacefully in her sleep.

“Ashes to ashes, and dust to dust. From dust we came and to dust we shall return.”

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Hymn Stories: The Day Thou Gavest Lord, Is Ended

The Day Thou Gavest Lord, Is Ended, is a classic hymn, greatly upheld as a favourite in Britain and the Anglican Communion, and is sung in many Churches of other denominations.

It was written in the 19th century by Church of England minister, John Ellerton (1826-1893). The story goes that in 1870, the Rev Ellerton was walking home after teaching classes at the Mechanics’ Institute and noticed how beautiful the night was. He wrote the lyric based upon that inspiring moment. Being customary in the Anglican Communion to give thanks to God ‘Morning and Evening’ the lyrics reflect 1 Chronicles 23: 30 and Psalm 113: 3. Christians from the earliest days of the faith, gave thanks to God both in the morning and the evening. This hymn reflects that practice.

It is easy to assume that the words and music of such great hymns were written entirely by one person, but this is not always the case. The melody for The Day Thou Gavest Lord, Is Ended is actually set to the Hymn tune known as St. Clement, in 98. 98. meter. This tune is generally credited to Clement Cotteril Scholefield (1839-1904) and first appeared in a hymnbook in 1874. This publication was known as Church Hymns and Tunes.

This inspiring and uplifting melody¬†sets the lyrics in motion for an ever flowing waltz of affectionate love. These are no mere words of a self focused individual, but from the soul of a person devoted and affectionate to the One true God. They ascribe to God the honour and praise as the One who gave the sinner the gift of each day and night. The knowing that God hears the praises of His people. They give thanks to Him continuously for His provision and building of His Church. That she is unchanging, and “unsleeping” as the world worries its way through life. That men’s empires pass away, but the Kingdom Christ has established, will never pass away for He is her King.

For me, the lyrics “Thy Kingdom stands and grows forever” reflect the constancy of the Kingdom of Christ and the sovereignty of His reign. The word “Thy” reflects the singular focus upon the Kingship and person of Christ. “Thy Kingdom stands and grows forever” does not relate to any supposed Kingdom to come in our future, or during any futuristic millennium, but the identity of Christ’s Kingdom, being His Church, was expected and prayed for during the lifetime of Jesus (Matthew 6: 10). That the reign of Messiah (upon the Throne of David) was proclaimed, by the preaching of Peter, that the prophecy concerning the throne of David was fulfilled by and at the death and resurrection of Christ (Acts 2: 30-36). Who’s Kingdom knows no end (Isaiah 9: 7, Luke 1: 33).

The lyric speaks of the continuing growth of Christ’s everlasting Kingdom. That His people are everywhere beneath the “Western skies” and such can never be destroyed.

The hymn has continued to be sung in Churches everywhere and today it remains the official hymn of the Royal Navy and has also been included in many editions of the Scottish Psalter, and Methodist hymnbooks.

When I recorded instrumental versions of this melody for use my documentaries, I explored the melody from a purely musical perspective. I let the notes raise my soul to the spiritual realms of musical praise. Where music can take the soul into places where words cannot enter. Many modern chorus’ and so-called ‘praise and worship’ songs do not have the power or depth to attain that.

I love the idea and sound of traditional Anglican Church music, and although I have yet to ever attend a service where this hymn has been sung, it has quite possibly become my favourite hymn.

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