Hymn #70: Hark the Herald Angels Sing

Lyrics: Charles Wesley

Music: Felix Mendelssohn, adapted by William H. Cummings.

Theme: But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Galatians 4:4-5.

Patricia at Always Chasing Boys: “Call it doctrinal, call it whatever you want. I would not like to attend a church that does not include this hymn in its Christmas services. I love how this hymn relates directly to one of my favorite Bible verses, Luke 2:10.”

Hark the herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled”
Joyful, all ye nations rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim:
“Christ is born in Bethlehem”
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Christ by highest heav’n adored
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin’s womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris’n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”

There are three more traditional Christmas hymns on this list, coming in at #66, #51, and #47. Can you guess them?

Also, Mr. Wesley, prolific hymn writer that he was, wrote the lyrics for numbers 60, 57, 31, 30, 15, and 9. A virtual prize to anyone who names the six other Wesley hymns that made the list.

Semicolon Author Celebration of Charles Wesley.

An excellent sermon built on the words and music of Hark, The Herald Angels Sing.

7 thoughts on “Hymn #70: Hark the Herald Angels Sing

  1. Those are a couple of challenging challenges, Sherry! My own list of the top 100 hymns includes only 4 Wesley hymns that I can certainly identify as such, and I’m sure all four should be in your top 101, namely “Hark! the herald angels sing”, “Love divine, all loves excelling”, “O for a thousand tongues to sing”, and “Christ the Lord is risen today”; but what the other two might be I’m not so sure at all. There are so many! I could do with “Come, O thou traveller unknown” and “Come away to the skies”, I suppose. But I don’t think I’ll win any virtual prizes with guesses like that!

    As for the other three Christmas hymns, my guess is “Silent Night”, “Joy to the world” and “O little town of Bethlehem”, though “O come, all ye faithful” is a strong contender. My top 100 actually contains 12 Christmas (including Advent) songs, in the following order:

    5. Hark! the herald angels sing / Mendelssohn
    9. O little town of Bethlehem / St. Louis
    10. It came upon the midnight clear / Carol
    11. Silent night, holy night / Stille Nacht
    13. Joy to the world / Antioch
    17. Angels from the realms of glory / Regent Square
    20. The first noel / The First Nowell
    33. O come, O come, Emmanuel / Veni Emmanuel
    60. Away in a manger / Mueller
    61. Angels we have heard on high / Gloria
    85. What Child is this / Greensleeves
    94. While shepherds watched their flocks / Christmas

    If I were to factor in other tunes to which they are set, “O little town of Bethlehem” would move up from #9 to #2, “Away in a manger” from #60 to #3, and “While shepherds watched” from #94 to somewhere in the top ten.

    Leland aka Haruo

  2. Ah, I know what’s missing from my Wesleyan tally: “Jesus, lover of my soul”! It comes in on my list, set to Martyn, at #136, but that’s deceptive, as it’s only based on the 22 hymnals that set it to that tune; if you add in the 15 that set it to Aberystwyth and the five that set it to Refuge, it would clearly be #2 overall (after “All hail the power of Jesus’ Name”, which benefits from strong showings under three tunes). “Love divine” would also move up in the ranks under a all-tunes-combined system, though not as much since my hymnals tend to be Beecher-biased.

  3. Well, I think Qoheleth or somebody once wrote that “of the multiplicity of tune settings there is no end” or words to that effect, and this truth certainly affects the indexing of Wesleyan hymnody. “Come, thou long-expected Jesus” is another of CW’s hymns that would move up the ladder significantly if Hyfrydol, Stuttgart, Jefferson and Harwell were counted as one. (The Harwell setting, in Baptist Hymnal (1956), gives the incipit as “Hail, thou long-expected…”

  4. Three more comments, this time about “Hark! the herald angels sing” itself:

    1) Original incipit: You didn’t mention that what Charles Wesley actually wrote was a hymn that began “Hark how all the welkin rings!” I think the change to the present wording was begun during the Wesleys’ lifetime; I’m not sure how they felt about it (they made some caustic comments about meddling with their texts in their hymnal prefaces, but they did the same thing to Watts, e.g. changing “Our God, our help” to “O God, our help”, so I don’t think they deserve the utmost respect in the matter). It may have been Whitfield’s work. There were some incidental changes in other lines, too; if you scroll down past the first five stanzas in the Cyber Hymnalâ„¢ version, you can see Charles’ original text and compare it to what you sing each December more than 200 years later.

    2) Other stanzas: As I mentioned, Charles wrote ten four-line stanzas. We usually find three 8-line stanzas in our hymnals, and rarely sing more than these. But a few hymnals contain a fourth stanza, put together out of Wesley’s seventh and ninth, beginning “Come, desire of nations, come…”

    3) Other tunes: In the Fasola (four-shape shape-note) traditions (of which the Sacred Harp is the most widespread and best-known) this hymn is sung to a number of other tunes. I don’t suppose there’s much chance of displacing Mendelssohn as the standard, but it can be fun (and even worshipful) at times to vary these things; try it to Cookham. Or go to the UCC’s New Century Hymnal and try their “Jesus, the Light of the world” version to Elderkin, either with your favorite version of the words or with their typical somewhat modernizing, gender-inclusive, anti-monarchical rewrite.

  5. I absolutely love Christmas hymns. I wish we sang them all year long. I play them at home on the piano all the time.

  6. Six hymns by Charles Wesley on your list? Well, there are so many to choose from (over 6,500). But here are the most likely candidates in my view:

    And Can It Be?
    Christ the Lord Is Risen Today
    Hark, the Herald Angels Sing
    Jesus, Lover of My Soul
    Love Divine, All Loves Excelling
    O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing

    Eventually, I hope to deal with these and more on my blog, Wordwise Hymns.

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