Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

December 22, 2009

Whitefield & Wesley

I love when hymn writers are theologians. My favorite hymnist is Charles Wesley, far and away. My favorite hymn is either “And Can It Be?” or “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” both by Charles Wesley.

Give yourself a huge blessing by reflecting on the rich theological lyrics of “Hark! the Herald.” I’ve included them below. This song is such an amazing articulation of the incarnation and the meaning of Christmas.  I love songs that teach me theology in my brain and lead to doxology in my soul!  Don’t you?!?! 

In my opinion, the best stuff is in the second and third stanzas.  “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail th’ incarnate Deity; Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel.”  I mean, come on!  That’s AWESOME stuff!  Read, reflect, learn, rejoice!

Before you do reflect on the lyrics, here are a few facts about the song that I find very interesting:

1. There is one little error in the song as we have it now, biblically speaking.  Not a big deal, obviously I still think it’s a great song!  I trust you will too! 🙂   But there is a slight error no less.  Here it is: “Hark! The herald angels sing.”  Nowhere in the Bible do angels actually sing. Instead, they proclaim. They say, they proclaim, they herald, they bring tidings of joy. But they don’t sing. That blew me away when I first heard it. But as I’ve searched it out in the Bible, I’ve found it to be true.  Get a good literal translation (ESV, NASB) and put it to the test.

The phrase, “with th’ angelic hosts proclaim” is more biblically accurate than the phrase, “Hark! The herald angels sing!”

Apparently, the singing angels were not in Wesley’s original version of the song.  In Wesley’s version of the song, the line was not, “Hark! The herald angels sing, glory to the newborn King.” It was, “Hark! How all the welkin rings, glory to the King of kings!” “Welkin” is the whole celestial sphere, the stars and sky, a la Psalm 19:1-6.  

It doesn’t bother me to sing about singing angels; but sometimes, if you’re close enough to me while we sing that song in church, you might notice I like to sing about the ringing welkin!!!  

2.  Here is something I learned this year in Wikipedia, so can’t say for certain this is true.  But how interesting!…  How did we come to get that new version about angels singing?  George Whitefield put it there!!!  According to Wikipedia, “The version known today is the result of alterations by various hands, most notably George Whitefield, Wesley’s co-worker, who changed the opening couplet to the familiar one we know today.”  That cracked me up!  

If you don’t know who George Whitefield was, shame on you!  Get a book on church history and read it.  He was a traveling preacher during the colonial days who helped spread the Great Awakening in Great Britain and the North American colonies. 

Even if the Whitefield’s modification led to a slight error with this notion of singing angels, I love the fact that Wesley and Whitefield were collaborating on hymns.  I love it!  Another example of a godly man with some Arminian leanings (Wesley) working in unity with a convinced Calvinist (Whitefield).  I am a Calvinist in my soteriological leanings, but I love you all my Arminian-leaning bros/sis!!!

3.  It’s not an error when the text reads “Hail the Sun of Righteousness.”  It’s SUN of Righteousness, not SON of Righteousness.  If you want to know the source of that, check Malachi 4:2.

And without further a due, here is the great song.  Reflect carefully.  How about responding to this blog by telling us all what your favorite line of the song is. 

Blessings to you and Merry Christmas!

~Jeff

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the new born 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 new born King!”

Christ, by highest heaven 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 man to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the new born King!”

Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun 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 us second birth.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the new born King!”

Come, Desire of nations, come,
fix in us thy humble home;
rise, the woman’s conquering Seed,
bruise in us the serpent’s head.
Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface;
stamp thine image in its place.
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in thy love.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the new born King!”

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.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

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One Response to “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”

  1. You may be correct, Jeff, that angels do not sing, however, I doubt that we can know for certain. We find allegorical allusion of stars to angels in the Biblical text as in Rev 1:20, Rev 12:4,and also, I believe, in Job 38:7 where we find the “morning stars sang together.” So I believe that Mr. Charles Wesley did not far err in making the first line of the lyric.

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