Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing appears in more hymn books than any other song written by Charles Wesley. It has been edited in minor ways over the years, leading to the standard version that we have today (Wesley's original version was "Hark! How All The Welkin Rings"). John Wesley was famously against editing of any of his or Charles' hymns, leading to one of my very favorite quotes of his: "Many Gentlemen have done my Brother and me (though without naming us) the honour to reprint many of our hymns. Now they are perfectly welcome to do so, provided they print them just as they are. But I desire they would not attempt to mend them--for they really are not able." He asked that when these hymns were changed, that the originals be left in the margins "that we may no longer be held responsible either for the nonsense or for the doggerel of other men" (The New Oxford Book of Carols 1992, page 328).
Never change any hymns by myself or my brother. They are perfect as is.
In the story of the Fall from the book of Genesis, God says to the snake, "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel" (Genesis 3:15). This enmity surely rings true. Most people do not like snakes. Most snakes do not seem to like people. People and snakes attack one another.
As we look at the arc of scripture, this enmity between people and snakes symbolizes the struggle between God and evil; God and Satan; God and sin. Ultimately through Christ, people were given life and made righteous.
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—
To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.
But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!
Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.
In verse 3 of Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, Charles Wesley celebrates Jesus as the second Adam who has made us righteous, and he calls on God to defeat evil. He taps in to both the Genesis passage and the Romans passage in this verse:
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 thy image in its place!
Second Adam, from above, Reinstate us in thy love!
While this verse is often not sung in churches today (Why do we always sing verses 1, 2, and 4?), it holds the meaning to the entire song. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing is a song of thankfulness to the God who has defeated evil and made us righteous.
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 hosts, proclaim, "Christ is born in Bethlehem!"
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 the incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with man to dwell: Jesus our Emmanuel
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 them second birth.
As we sing this song during the Christmas season, may we celebrate that the Fall was not the end. May we celebrate Jesus' conquering of sin and death. May we rejoice that Jesus was born to raise us and give us second birth.