Wesley’s original verse for this beloved Christmas hymn is rich with poetry and theology. Many of these lines are all but unknown today, pushed aside in favor slightly lighter though no less excellent poetry. Conspicuous by its absence is the familiar refrain from which we derive the very title of the hymn. The refrain was added 100 years later. It was adapted from a chorus found in Mendelssohn’s cantata, Festgesang (1840). By the way, the word “welkin” found in the first line means the whole sky or the firmament. It is a similar phrase to the one Haydn wrote for the chorus to sing in his Creation: “The heavens are telling the glory of God.”
On this Christmas Eve, enjoy these first thoughts by one of the great all-time hymn writers. Merry Christmas to all my readers.
Hark how all the Welkin rings “Glory to the King of kings,” Peace on Earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!
Joyful all ye nations rise, Join the triumph of the skies, Universal nature say “Christ, the Lord, is born today!
Christ by highest heaven adored, Christ the everlasting Lord, Late in time behold him come, offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Veil’d in flesh, the Godhead see, Hail h’Incarnate Deity! Pleas’d as man with men t’appear, Jesus, our Immanuel here!
Hail the heaven-born 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 men no more may die, Born–to raise the sons of Earth, Born–to give them second birth.
Come desire of nations, come, Fix in us thy humble home, Rise, the woman’s conquering seed, bruised in us the serpent’t head.
Now display thy saving pow’r, Ruin’d nature now restore, Now in mystic union join Thine to ours, and ours to Thine.
Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface, Stamp thy image in its place, Second Adam from above, Reinstate us in thy Love.
Let us Thee, tho lost, regain, Thee, the life, the inner man: O! to all Thyself impart, Form’d in each believing heart.