Hark The Herald Angels Sing (Advent 8-2014)

Charles Wesley’s second contribution to our Carol Me, Christmas (2014 Advent Devotional Series) is Hark The Herald Angels Sing which first appeared by a slightly different name (1739) in Wesley’s Hymns and Sacred Poems.  Remember how I said that his carols and hymns are often uplifting?  Well, apparently that’s not entirely due to Mr. Wesley himself who was a very serious and solemn man.

Wesley’s original version was called Hark, How All the Welkin Rings.

Hark, how all the welkin rings,
“Glory to the King of kings;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”

Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
Universal nature say,
“Christ the Lord is born to-day!”

OK, I’ll admit I had to look up “welkin” since this day of my writing must be officially International Vocabulary Expansion Day.

Worldwide Words writes:

We don’t use this much nowadays — dictionaries usually tag it as archaic or literary — except in the set phrase make the welkin ring, meaning to make a very loud sound.

What supposedly rings in this situation is the vault of heaven, the bowl of the sky, the firmament. In older cosmology this was thought to be one of a set of real crystal spheres that enclosed the Earth, to which the planets and stars were attached, so it would have been capable of ringing like a bell if you made enough noise.

The word comes from the Old English wolcen, a cloud, related to the Dutch wolk and German Wolke. Very early on, for example in the epic poem Beowulf of about the eighth century AD, the phrase under wolcen meant under the sky or under heaven (the bard used the plural, wolcnum, but it’s the same word). Ever since, it has had a strong literary or poetic connection.

It appears often in Shakespeare and also in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales: “This day in mirth and revel to dispend, / Till on the welkin shone the starres bright”. In 1739, a book with the title Hymns and Sacred Poems introduced one for Christmas written by Charles Wesley that began: “Hark! how all the welkin rings, / Glory to the King of kings”. If that seems a little familiar, it is because 15 years later it reappeared as “Hark! the herald-angels sing / Glory to the new born king”.

There ya’ go.  My problem is that I never read enough Shakespeare or Chaucer.  I guess I can be glad that two other famous people had a hand in forming the version of Wesley’s original into what we know today.

  1. George Whitfield, yes, amazing preacher of the Great Awakening, tweaked the opening couplet to become Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, Glory to the Newborn King!
  2. Felix Mendelssohn (whose real name is Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy) you may know from his famous Wedding March was born into a Jewish family, but as his parents later came to faith, he and his siblings were baptized as Reformed Christians.  It was Mendelssohn who composed a cantata 100 years after Wesley’s commissioned original tune which had been more somber in tone.  This cantata was in commemoration of Johann Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press, and later adapted by one of Mendelssohn’s choristers–an English musician, organist, and tenor named William H. Cummings–to fit the Whitfield-Wesley version of Hark The Herald Angels Sing into what we know and love in most churches today.

All this to say, in the Body of Christ, we are better together!  Praise the LORD!

The theology, as one would expect from Charles Wesley, is profound.  He goes all the way back to mankind’s sinful start in the Garden of Eden—not at Creation but when Adam and Eve rebelled against God and we needed for the Second Adam (Jesus Christ) to restore us in relationship to God.

Rise, the woman’s conquering seed, Bruise in us the serpent’s head. Goes back to Genesis 3:15 And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel.”

Now display thy saving power, Ruined nature now restore; Now in mystic union join Thine to ours, and ours to thine. Goes back to the whole idea of the Incarnation!  Emmanuel, God with us! The Incarnation is the magnitude of God’s love, His grace, His mercy, His wrath, and His unfathomable wisdom and power on full display.

Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface; Stamp Thy image in its place. Second Adam from above, Reinstate us in thy love. Let us Thee, though lost, regain, Thee, the life, the inner Man: O! to all thyself impart, Form’d in each believing heart. This is from Romans 5:6-21 summarized in Romans 5:17 For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.)

It’s a glorious carol, fitting to instruct our hearts as we listen to the lyrics.  In this version by the Celtic Women, read through the lyrics of Hark The Herald Angels Sing while it is playing (so all the glitz doesn’t distract you from the powerful words).

Thought for Today’s Focus:  Imagine Hark! The Herald Angels Sing as the words proclaim a triumphant victory of Christ—in His birth, in His life, in His death, and in His exaltation as Lord, Savior, and King!

 hark the heraldHark! 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 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 th’incarnate Deity,
Pleased with us in flesh to dwell,
Jesus our Emmanuel.


Hail the heav’nly 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.


Come, Desire of nations, come,
Fix in us Thy humble home;
Rise, the woman’s conqu’ring Seed,
Bruise in us the serpent’s head.
Now display Thy saving power,
Ruined nature now restore;
Now in mystic union join
Thine to ours, and ours to Thine.


Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface,
Stamp Thine image in its place:
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in Thy love.
Let us Thee, though lost, regain,
Thee, the Life, the inner man:
O, to all Thyself impart,
Formed in each believing heart.



Carol Me, Christmas (2014 Advent Devotional Series) began November 30th.  By way of reminder, if you haven’t signed up yet, you can receive these devotional studies in your email throughout Advent 2014 by entering your email address on the SeminaryGal.com home page in the space provided in the sidebar.  Or “Like” the SeminaryGal Facebook page to access them there.  If you like these devotionals, I’d really appreciate your letting others know so I can continue to spread the Good News far and wide.  Blessings to you, in Christ always, Barbara <><

Categories Articles and Devotionals, Devotionals | Tags: | Posted on December 7, 2014

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