Words: Charles Wesley 1707-1788), Rev. George Whitefield (1714-1770)
Music: Felix Bartholdy Mendelssohn (1809-1847), William H. Cummings (1831-1915)
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 angelic host proclaim "Christ is born in Bethlehem!" Hark! the herald angels sing "Glory to the newborn King!" Christ, by highest heaven adored; Christ the everlasting Lord; Late in time behold Him come, Offspring of the favored one. Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see; hail the incarnate Deity Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel Hark! the herald angels sing, "Glory to the newborn King" Hail! the heaven-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, born in England in 1707, was the brother of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. When Charles was thirteen years old a wealthy Irishman offered to' adopt him and make him his legal heir. However, Charles refused the offer, choosing to continue his way through school under very trying circumstances. Charles followed in the footsteps of his father, and older brother, John, in studying to become a preacher. He wrote his first hymn just three days after his conversion. The hymn was '0 For a Thousand Tongues to Sing." Within the following years, he is said to have written about 6,500 hymns and gospel songs on every conceivable subject. It was in 1738, at the age of 31, he wrote 'Hark! The Herald Angels Sing." By the time Charles Wesley sat down to write this carol, he had already had more than his share of adventure and travel. He had visited the "New World," to the colony of Georgia in America, as secretary to the colony's founder, General Oglethorpe. He was accompanied by his brother John who had plans to convert the Indians. During their trans-Atlantic voyage, the Wesley brothers were greatly influenced by a devout Christian group, the Moravians, who helped them discover in God's Word the joy of Salvation by grace. Charles particularly enjoyed listening to these Christians sing hymns while aboard the ship. A year later, due to ill health, the Wesley brothers returned to England where they banded together as travelling preachers to spread the Gospel throughout the English countryside. It was in 1739, while meditating upon the birth of Jesus, that Charles sat down and wrote the first of ten stanzas that contained these words: "Hark! How all the welkin rings, 'Glory to the King of Kings, Peace on Earth arid mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled. Wesley's ten stanzas underwent a series of alterations and adjustments until Rev. George Whitefield, a co-worker, settled the matter once and for all by omitting the rather awkward word "welkin" (an old English word for "the vault of Heaven"), and rewriting the first two lines to instead read: "Hark! The herald angels sing, 'Glory to the new-born King." The great composer, Felix Bartholdy Mendelssohn, was born a Jew, but later became a Christian. Mendelssohn became almost as prolific a composer as Charles Wesley was a poet, and had he lived as long as Wesley, he doubtless would have equaled Charles' creative output in musical compositions. For an anniversary celebration commemorating Gutenburg's invention of the printing press, Mendelssohn was commissioned to compose suitable music, and so in 1840, he wrote a cantata called "Festival Song." Mendelssohn was not completely satisfied with the original words to the melody. He told the printers, "Perhaps words suitable for a marriage ceremony should be put to it, but it will never do to sacred words." An English professor of music, William H. Cummings, however, proved Mendelssohn wrong, when, in 1855, fifteen years later he suddenly discovered that two sections of Mendelssohn's "Festival Song" fit pefectly with Wesley's Christmas poem. He arranged the song for his choir and presented it on Christmas day. Since its publication in 1856 it has superceded every other tune to which Wesley's stanzas had formerly been sung, and now is generally recognized as one of the most inspiring tunes the composer was to write during his brief life of thirty-eight years. Although Medelssohn considered his tune a secular one, God obviously had a better and higher purpose for it!
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