Hark, the Herald Angels Sing
The Gospel in Charles Wesley's Christmas Carol

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson

Charles Wesley
Charles Wesley
One of the deepest and richest Christmas carols of all was written by Charles Wesley in 1739 — "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing."

The Wesley brothers, John and Charles, were used by God to bring about a revival in England that spread to America in the Great Awakening. While John was best known for his powerful preaching, Charles Wesley (1707-1788) wrote this and 6,500 other hymns to instruct converts in the great truths of the Christian faith. A few of his best-known hymns include "Jesus, Lover of My Soul" (1739), "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling" (1747), and "O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing" (1749). He also wrote another popular Christmas carol, "Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus" (1744) and two well-known Easter hymns, "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today" (1739) and "Rejoice, the Lord Is King" (1746).

Any of his hymns would make for a rich Bible study, but I want to invite you to consider "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" for the richness of its Scriptural allusions and teachings. The carol includes references to a number of the Messianic prophecies pointing to the birth of the Messiah. The song is also rich in theological themes of what Christ did for us — known technically as Christology, Incarnation, Atonement, Resurrection, the Fall of Man, Total Depravity, and Sanctification — the renewal of the image of Christ in the believer, Christ being formed in us.

I encourage you to study this Christmas carol by reading the stanza, finding the italicized words, and then looking up each scripture verse that they refer to. For some of these themes, the verses I have listed only scratch the surface, but there are enough to help you explore these them with great profit. You may use this study by yourself, with your family, or with a Sunday school class or small group. Just be sure that you limber up your fingers ahead of time so that you're ready to find these passages in your Bible.

1.

Hark! The herald angels sing,

Luke 2:10

 

"Glory to the newborn King;

 
 

Peace on earth, and mercy mild,

Luke 2:14; 1:78

 

God and sinners reconciled!"

2 Corinthians 5:18-21; Colossians 1:20-22

 

Joyful, all ye nations rise,

Revelation 21:24; Haggai 2:6-7

 

Join the triumph of the skies;

 
 

With thí angelic host proclaim,

Luke 2:10-11; Matthew 1:4-6; Micah 5:2

 

"Christ is born in Bethlehem!"

 

Hark! the herald angels sing,

 
 

"Glory to the newborn King!"

Matthew 2:2

     

2.

Christ, by highest Heavín adored;

Luke 2:9-14; Revelation 5:13; Hebrews 1:6

 

Christ the everlasting Lord;

Revelation 22:12-13

 

Late in time, behold Him come,

Galatians 4:4

 

Offspring of a virginís womb.

Matthew 1:18-23; Luke 1:26-38

 

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;

Hebrews 10:20. Godhead means "divine nature or essence; divinity; God; the nature of God, especially as existing in three persons" (Merriam Webster Collegiate Dictionary, 10th Edition)

 

Hail thí incarnate Deity,

Incarnation is a theological term which refers to the union of divinity with humanity in Jesus Christ, from in + carne, flesh. There are many, many NT scriptures on this central doctrine of the Christian faith. See below.

 

Pleased with us in flesh to dwell,

John 1:14; Romans 1:3; 8:3; Galatians 4:4; Philippians 2:7-8; Colossians 1:15; 1 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 1:3; 2:9-11; 1 John 4:2-3; 2 John 1:7; Revelation 22:16

 

Jesus our Emmanuel.

Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23. "Emmanuel" means in Hebrew, "God with us" — the truth of the incarnation in a single word!

 

 

 

3.

Hail the heav'n born Prince of Peace!

Isaiah 9:6

 

Hail the Sun of Righteousness!

Malachi 4:2

 

Light and life to all He brings,

John 1:4, 10; 8:12; 2 Timothy 1:10

 

Risín with healing in His wings.

Malachi 4:2. "Wings" refers to "rays" of the sun.

 

Mild He lays His glory by,

Philippians 2:6-8; John 17:5, 24. Theologically this is called the Kenosis, Jesus emptying of himself and his glory, so that he might become a human.

 

Born that man no more may die.

John 11:25-26

 

Born to raise the sons of earth,

1 Corinthians 15:35-57. The doctrine of the Resurrection of the Dead.

 

Born to give them second birth.

John 1:13; 3:3, 6; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:3, 23; Titus 3:5

     

4.

Come, Desire of nations, come,

Haggai 2:6-7

 

Fix in us Thy humble home;

Ephesians 3:17; Romans 8:9

 

Rise, the womanís conquíring Seed,

Genesis 3:15; Romans 16:20. This ancient messianic prophecy of Christ crushing Satan the serpent. The hymn is calling on Christ to crush Satan's work in us, the old, sinful nature.

 

Bruise in us the serpentís head.

 

Now display Thy saving power,

Hebrews 7:25 and many verses.

 

Ruined nature now restore;

Romans 6:6; Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 3:9-10; Romans 12:2

 

Now in mystic union join

Ephesians 5:31-32; 1 Corinthians 6:17; Romans 6:5

 

Thine to ours, and ours to Thine.

Romans 8:9-11; 1 Corinthians 2:14-16

     

5.

Adamís likeness, Lord, efface,

Romans 5:12-21, especially 5:14; 1 Corinthians 15:22

 

Stamp Thine image in its place:

Genesis 1:26-27; Colossians 3:10; Ephesians 4:23-24

 

Second Adam from above,

Romans 5:12-21, especially 5:14; 1 Corinthians 15:47

 

Reinstate us in Thy love.

 
 

Let us Thee, though lost, regain

Philippians 3:8-11; Luke 19:10, a prayer for restoration of the broken relationship with God.

 

Thee, the Life, the inner man:

John 14:6; 1 John 5:11-12. Ephesians 3:16; 2 Corinthians 4:16; 1 Peter 3:4

 

O, to all Thyself impart,

Jeremiah 31:34. Habakkuk 2:14. Philippians 3:8-11

 

Formed in each believing heart.

Galatians 4:19; Romans 8:29; Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 1:27; 3:10

Copyright © 1985-2014, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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