Hymns from History #2: Hark! the Herald Angels Sing..?

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You probably know the well-loved ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’, a carol which has been sung for over two hundred years. But  have you heard the words ‘Hark How All the Welkin Rings’ ? These were actually the original first words of the carol we know so well.  ‘Hark How All the Welkin Rings’ or rather ‘A Hymn for Christmas Day’ was written in 1739 by Charles Wesley, the great hymn writer and minister who wrote many timeless hymns including ‘And Can it Be’ and ‘Love Divine’

The word ‘welkin’ in Wesely’s original version means ‘sky’ or ‘heavens’. In 1758 the famous preacher George Whitfield, who was a friend of Wesley and who perhaps thought that, even in the 18th century, the word ‘welkin’ was too old-fashioned, changed the words to ‘Hark the herald angles sing’. It is interesting to note that the Bible does not actually say that the angel’s ‘sang’ (Luke 2:13) and so, although it is harder to understand, the first version is actually more correct.

I have put the original carol below and you will see that the first line is not the only thing that has changed over time. Sadly, some of the last verses are rarely sung today. As you read the familiar words, mingled with less familiar words, take a moment to marvel at the rich truths that ring out of this Christmas poem.


A Hymn for Christmas Day

1.HARK how all the Welkin rings
“Glory to the Kings of Kings,
“Peace on Earth, and Mercy mild,
“GOD and Sinners reconcil’d!

2.Joyful all ye Nations rise,
Join the Triumph of the Skies,
Universal Nature say
“CHRIST the LORD is born to Day!

3.CHRIST, by highest Heav’n ador’d,
CHRIST, the Everlasting Lord,
Late in Time behold him come,
Offspring of a Virgin’s Womb.

4.Veil’d in Flesh, the Godhead see,
Hail th’ Incarnate Deity!
Pleas’d as Man with Men t’ appear
JESUS, our Immanuel  here!

5.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.

6.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.

7.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.

8.Now display thy saving Pow’r,
Ruin’d Nature now restore,
Now in Mystic Union join
Thine to Ours, and Ours to Thine.

9.Adam’s Likeness, LORD, efface,
Stamp thy Image in its Place,
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in thy Love.

10.Let us Thee, tho’ lost, regain,
Thee, the Life, the Inner Man:
O! to All Thyself impart,
Form’d in each Believing Heart.

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