In 1739, a book was published that contained Christian hymns and poems. It was written by the great hymnwriter Charles Wesley. Wesley and his brother John were Anglican preachers who travelled around England and America preaching the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. His conversion to true Christianity had made such a profound impact on Charles’ life that poems and songs naturally poured out of him.
He wrote the words to the great hymns, “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing,” and “Jesus, Lover of My Soul.” One of the songs that was included in that 1739 book was one of the most doctrinal songs Charles had ever written. In it he describes in poetic beauty the fact that Jesus came to reconcile sinners to God. He wrote in it that Jesus was part of the Godhead, though covered in our own flesh. He speaks of how Jesus left His glory to come to this world and how in coming He provided a way for us to born again. This all in less than 50 lines of poetic text.
Charles had hoped that this new song would someday be sung to the same tune as “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today,” also written by Wesley. However, in 1855, a 24-year-old musician named William Cummings decided this gem needed a better setting. He took German composer Felix Mendelssohn’s “Festival Songs” and adapted it to fit these words. This is the tune that most associate with the song. The result is one of the most beautiful and widely loved Christmas carols ever written. I give you the words here:
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 th’angelic host proclaim,
“Christ is born inBethlehem!”
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 th’incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with men to dwell,
Jesus our Emmanuel.
Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun 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!”