Glory to the newborn King

13And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14“Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” Luke 2:13-14

One of my favorite Christmas hymns is Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. This hymn is based on a poem with 10 four-line stanzas by Charles Wesley published in 1739. Wesley wrote the poem within a year of his conversion to Jesus Christ, and it stands as one of the finest of his more than 6,500 hymns. It has gone through many revisions since its original writing, beginning with a modification by George Whitefield in 1753.

Wesley’s original line was:

                        Hark, how all the welkin (archaic for “heavens” or “sky”) rings,

                        Glory to the King of Kings!

Which Whitefield changed to its present form:

                        Hark! The herald angels sing

                        Glory to the newborn King.

As with most of Wesley’s hymns, this song is written as a condensed course in the biblical doctrine, with the focus of this song being Christ’s birth.

  • Stanza One—recaptures the message of the angels to the shepherds and places special emphasis on the work of the child as Savior.
  • Stanza Two—Wesley summarizes the essentials of Christ’s person: pre-existence and eternality (1st line), virgin birth (2nd line), two natures and incarnation (3rd line), and fulfillment of the Messianic promise of Emmanuel (4th line).
  • Stanza Three—Wesley draws on OT prophecies to describe the glory of Christ’s person and work: Prince of Peace comes from Isaiah 9:6 and Sun of Righteousness is drawn from Malachi 4:2.

Wesley finishes the third stanza by pointing to the true significance of Christ’s birth:

            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.

What a powerful summary of the purpose for Christ’s coming! I hope we will give that message its proper place as we celebrate Christmas. How can you do that? (1) By thinking about the meaning of these wonderful hymns we sing so that our minds and hearts engage in genuine worship, (2) by telling others why the Son of God really came, and (3) by making sure that your own family’s Christmas celebration does not ignore Christ—read the Scriptures together and offer thanks to God for the gift of His Son.

(Originally posted on 12/24/2009)

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