Hark The Herald Angels Sing…

...glory to the newborn King.

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 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 the favored one.
Veil’d in flesh, the Godhead see;
Hail, th’incarnate Deity:
Pleased, as man, with men 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,
Risen 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!”

 

Charles Wesley wrote this text in ten four-line stanzas and published it in Hymns and Sacred Poems (1739). Originally entitled “Hymn for Christmas Day,” this most popular of Wesley’s Christmas hymns began with the following words:

Hark, how all the welkin [heavens] rings
Glory to the King of Kings.

George Whitefield changed the first line to “Hark! The herald angels sing” and published the text with additional alterations in his Collection (1753). In 1782 the revised opening couplet became repeated as the refrain. The text was extensively changed and shortened by various other eighteenth-century editors as well. With a few word changes the Psalter Hymnal version is essentially the same as the one published in John Kempthorne’s Select Portions of Psalms… and Hymns (1810).

Containing biblical phrases from Luke, John, and Paul, the text is a curious mixture of exclamation, exhortation, and theological reflection. The focus shifts rapidly from angels, to us, to nations. The text’s strength may not lie so much in any orderly sequence of thought but in its use of Scripture to teach its theology. That teaching surely produces in us a childlike response of faith; we too can sing “Glory to the newborn King!”

Psalter Hymnal Handbook, 1987

The tune is from the second chorus of Felix Mendelssohn’s Festgesang (Op. 68) for male voices and brass; it was first performed in 1840 at the Gutenberg Festival in Leipzig, a festival celebrating the anniversary of Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press. Mendelssohn’s tune is similar to another that appeared one hundred years earlier in ‘The Song of Mars” from the John Pepusch opera Venus and Adonis.

Mendelssohn once wrote of this music, “It will never do to sacred words.” William H. Cummings (b. Sidbury, Devonshire, England, 1831; d. Dulwich, London, England, 1915) may not have been aware of Mendelssohn’s opinion; he adapted the tune to Wesley’s text in 1856. When they were placed together in Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861), “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” became a very popular hymn.

Credit: Hymnary.org

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