Hark the Herald Angels Sing - Hymn

Hark the Herald Angels Sing – Introduction of the Hymn

This is The Hymn of the Week with Dr. Larry Frazier—presenting the good news in song, combining faith and everyday experience.

Welcome to The Hymn of the Week. In the early Christian church, Christmas was celebrated for a much longer period than is the custom today. Traditionally, the season of Christmas began on Christmas Eve. The celebration continued for at least twelve days, sometimes lasting into the month of February. The traditional song, The Twelve Days of Christmas, remains popular, though the gift-giving custom it describes has largely disappeared.

Wesley and Mendelssohn

Liturgical churches continue to formally celebrate Christmas over a period of about two weeks. Several fine hymns belong to this season, focusing on the incarnation of God in the infant Jesus. A famous and prolific evangelical 18th-century English preacher, Charles Wesley, wrote one of the most joyous and popular of these hymns. A master 19th-century composer, Felix Mendelssohn, composed the music that is usually paired with this hymn. Hark the Herald Angels Sing is…The Hymn of the Week!

Click below for Hark the Herald Angels Sing Lyrics

Reading of Hark the
Herald Angels Sing Lyrics

(stanzas 1-3)

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!”

Refrain: 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 virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail th’incarnate Deity,
Pleased with us in flesh to dwell,
Jesus our Emmanuel,

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

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.
Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that we no more may die. Born
to raise us from the earth,
Born to give us second birth.

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

(stanzas 4-5)

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.
Now display Thy saving power,
Ruined nature now restore;
Now in mystic union join
Thine to ours, and ours to Thine.

Refrain: Hark, the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn 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.

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

And now, let us hear our hymn, inspiringly presented by the chorus and orchestra of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, conducted by Sir Neville Mariner

Background of Hark
the Herald Angels Sing

Charles Wesley was born at Epworth, Lincolnshire, England, on December 18, 1707. He was a fragile, tiny baby, the eighteenth of nineteen children of a poor, Church of England clergyman and his long-suffering wife. Nine of the couple’s previous children died in infancy. His mother feared that this boy, born several weeks premature, would also not survive.

Charles Wesley - Early Education

He grew up in a small parsonage shared by several siblings and an often-absentee father. His mother kept the family together and provided early education for each of her children. She managed to spend at least one hour per week with each child. When Charles went to London to further his education at the Westminster School, he was well-prepared to excel.

Wesley continued his studies at Christ Church College, Oxford. After graduation he became a tutor. In 1727, he founded an organization for students dedicated to upholding the highest standards of academic practice and morality in personal conduct laid down in statutes of the University.

The Holy Club; Methodists

These standards were quite similar to those inculcated in him from an early age by his mother. The group became known as the “Holy Club.” Members were called “Methodists” because of their method of study and practice.

The study of Christian theology was a core academic discipline at 18th-century English and American universities. Indeed, an early brochure from Harvard describes the mission of the institution as follows: “To advance learning and perpetuate it to posterity; dreading to leave an illiterate ministry to the Churches.” The academic color for theology is crimson, for the blood of Christ. an historic color long associated with Harvard. But the university has never been formally associated with a specific religious denomination.

Ordination in the Church of England

John Wesley joined his younger brother Charles as a tutor at Oxford. Shortly thereafter he became leader of the “Holy Club” of “Methodists.” The two remained at the university until ordination in the Church of England in 1735.

Early the next year, Charles Wesley served as private secretary and personal chaplain to James E. Oglethorpe, governor of Georgia. On a voyage to this English colony, Charles and John Wesley encountered a band of Moravian missionaries. The Moravians introduced the brothers to German hymns.

Charles Wesley's Spiritual Conversion

Charles found colonial life in Georgia quite disagreeable, and he returned to London within a few months. Associating himself with a Moravian congregation, he experienced what he described as his spiritual conversion on May 20, 1738. Shortly thereafter, he joined his brother as an evangelist, traveling across England on horseback.

He preached out-of-doors and in secular buildings to great numbers of people. A remarkable preacher, he expressed profound truths of the Christian faith in a manner even the uneducated could easily follow. So compelling and persuasive was his preaching, that he often converted his most determined opponents.

Charles Wesley - Poet and Prolific Hymn Writer

Charles Wesley is considered by some scholars to stand among the finest English poets of the 18th century. But he is universally recognized as one of the greatest and most prolific hymn writers of all time.

Hark the Herald Angels Sing first appeared in Hymns and Sacred Poems, published in 1739. Fellow evangelist George Whitefield published several alterations in 1753, which continue to be used today.

And now, let us hear Hark the Herald Angels Sing, beautifully sung by soprano, Leontyne Price.

Background of the Music

Born in Hamburg, Germany, Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) became a most important composer of the Romantic style period of music. His father, Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, brought him up in the Lutheran Church to avoid anti-Semitic prejudice. Because of this Lutheran influence, the young Mendelssohn came to appreciate the music of J. S. Bach and the Lutheran chorale. Consequently, he incorporated these musical experiences into his own work as a composer.

Mendelssohn and Sacred Music

Mendelssohn’s fifth symphony is known as the “Reformation Symphony.” He prominently included the chorale, “Ein feste Burg” (“A Mighty Fortress”) and the “Dresden Amen” in this great work. He also revived interest throughout Europe in the great masterworks of Bach, such as “The St. Matthew Passion.” In addition, he composed much sacred music, including the oratorios, “Elijah,” St. Paul” and “Hymn of Praise.” These large-scale choral works were popular throughout Europe and especially, in England.

The Hymn Tune "Mendelssohn"

Mendelssohn also wrote music for several hymns, including the tunes, “Munich” and “Consolation.” In 1840, he wrote the music now associated with “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” as a chorus for male voices. He composed this piece to commemorate the four-hundredth anniversary of Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press with moveable type. William Hayman Cummings (1831-1915), noted British musician, adapted the music for use with “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” He named this tune “Mendelssohn” and published it with our hymn in London, in 1857.

And now, let us hear the tune, “Mendelssohn,” arranged and performed by the Manhattan Strings. Then, listen to hymn and tune as sung by the choir of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Ironically, this was the site of the 1846 first performance of “Elijah,” conducted by Mendelssohn with Cummings as alto soloist.

Devotion or Scripture
Related to the Hymn

Charles Wesley’s gifted poetry emphasizes the theological impact of God’s intervention in
human history. Compellingly, he invites Christians, then and now, to meditate on the meaning of Christmas. “Christ, by highest heaven adored…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 with us in flesh to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel”—God with us. “Born to raise the sons of earth…to give them second birth…that we no more may die! Now display Thy saving power; ruined nature now restore. Now in mystic union join Thine to ours and ours to Thine. Hark the herald angels sing, glory to the new-born king!”

And now, let us hear our hymn as presented by the Salvation Army Band and Chorus.

Thank you for joining me for this episode of The Hymn of the Week. Next week we will consider another great hymn.

Until then, this is your host, Dr. Larry Frazier...

Goodbye, and Keep Singing!

About the Author Larry Frazier

Larry spent 24 years teaching music at the University of West Georgia to over 6,000 students. Ten years ago, Larry and his wife Mary Lynn, received comfort, support and inspiration from traditional Christian hymns while she overcame stage-three colon cancer. Larry is on a mission to help you discover God’s incredible power through the intersection of faith and Christian music in your life.