Charles Wesley wrote the poetry for 7,270 hymns during his lifetime. Born in England in 1707 as the brother of John Wesley, he had 4,000 works published during his lifetime. His contemplation regarding the birth of Jesus Christ brought Charles to pen the lines of perhaps the most scripturally prolific Christmas hymn that we sing today. “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” was originally a poem entitled “Hymn for Christmas Day” and had no fixed tune from which to sing it for over 100 years.

In 1840, Felix Mendelssohn wrote a festival choral work for men’s voices to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the printing press. The music was entitled “God is Light” and was a very well-liked tune. This became the musical setting for the carol we love to hear today.

The arrangement for this happy and meaningful melody was accomplished by organist William Cummings in the 1850s. The poem, written in 1738, was finally published in song during 1856.

Wesley had been raised by parents Thomas and Susanna Wesley to believe in Jesus Christ as Savior, but he had not personally received the new birth into his heart unto shortly before he penned these words:

“Hark! The herald angels sing, ‘Glory to the newborn king;
Peace on earth and mercy mild; God and sinners reconciled.’”

Heaven was announcing the birth of God’s only Son, so that mankind could see and know God. John the disciple writes in 1 John 1:1 and 3: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life …declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us … with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.” John was witness to the presence of Christ and spoke knowingly of His reconciliation between God and man.

Paul writes to the Colossian believers concerning the glory of our newborn king: “And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things to himself … whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven” (Colossians 1:20). The birth of Christ points immediately to His sinless life, atoning death, burial and resurrection from the dead. No wonder the angels exclaimed “Hark!” It meant that mankind could now be saved by grace through faith.

The remaining lines of verse one read:

“Joyful, all ye nations rise, Join the triumph of the skies;
With th’angelic hosts proclaim, ‘Christ is born in Bethlehem.’”

The Jewish scribes of Jesus’ day were familiar with the Old Testament book of Micah, written about 700 B.C. They knew that, although Bethlehem was a small village just south of Jerusalem, “yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is going to be ruler in Israel” (Micah 5:2). These scribes of Israel were nearly silent concerning the place, the person and the time period of our coming Messiah. Like so many today, this great event was head knowledge but not heartfelt, and so it was passed over until the wise men came from the East.

The heavens held a different view. More scripture is lifted up by Wesley into verse two:

“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 th’incarnate Deity!
Pleased as man with men t’appear, Jesus our Immanuel here.”

Isaiah had written as a contemporary of Micah about the permanence of Christ as Lord: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace” (9:6).

Christ had always been God’s Son. When the beginning was preparing to launch, Christ was with God waiting for it (John 1:1-3). He then was robed in human flesh as a child when young Mary carried Him in her womb. The first colon in Isaiah 9:6 divides the time between what has taken place and what is yet to unfold. He has been virgin-born, but the government of earth is not yet upon His shoulder. He has never yet been esteemed with the glorious titles that Isaiah lists, on a worldwide and popular scale. One day that will change.

Isaiah also prophesies in 7:14 that it will indeed be a virgin birth: “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you (the sign-thirsty Israelite) a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Wesley weaves these scriptures into his poetry as he bids “Hail” to the incarnate Son.

He moves on in verse three to masterfully encompass Bible truth within his poetry:

“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.”

Christ is all of these descriptions, and He accomplished what the verse proclaims and more. He set aside His glory from on high, but not His deity. His birth upon earth made possible our second birth, spiritually. He came to help, heal and impart life: “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). Scriptures add quickly upon one another in this victorious hymn, so that we must slow down to absorb the great doctrines that are reflected.

Wesley concludes with a welcoming invitation for Christ to enter the hearts of men and thus the life-blood of nations:

“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 now efface,
Stamp Thine image in its place:
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in Thy love.”

Wesley recalls the promise that God made to Satan in Genesis 3:15 concerning how the serpent would cause untold misery upon mankind and how that Christ would come as virgin-born (her seed) to get the victory over the devil in that long struggle, for whosoever would welcome God’s provision.

Through Jesus Christ alone, a person is enabled to have the righteousness of God imputed to his or her account when that holiness is yet to be actually imparted. It is not yet fully a fact, but God looks upon those who are in Christ as if it were. The Christian is predestinated to one day be like Christ!

I’m sure that Charles Wesley was thrilled with the realization that the second Adam (Christ) was born to “reinstate us in Thy love.”

Have you been forgiven of sin and reinstated to the right relationship with God that He has made possible through Christ? If we will hearken to the Word of God and gladly receive Christ as our own this Christmas season, it will be the greatest determination of your earthly and eternal life!