Posted by: rcottrill | January 3, 2011

Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending

Through 2010, Wordwise Hymns featured an Almanac of significant dates in hymn history. Posts now will provide further Reflections on our hymns from a biblical perspective, better equipping us to “sing praises with understanding” (Ps. 47:7).
There is an alphabetical Index (see tab above), listing the titles of the songs. (Links will be activated as these songs appear in the 2011 blog.) As well as being cross-linked to the 2010 Almanac, articles are linked to the original 1996 Cyber Hymnal. Unless otherwise specified, stanzas are numbered as they appear in the Cyber Hymnal, for example, CH-3, or CH-5.


Words: John Cennick (b. Dec. 12, 1718; d. July 4, 1755)
           (Text altered by Charles Wesley and Martin Madan)
Music: Regent Square, by Henry Smart (b. Oct. 26, 1813; d. July 6, 1879)

Wordwise Hymns (about John Cennick)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: A number of different tunes have been used with this hymn, including Sicilian Mariners Hymn. (See the Cyber Hymnal link for others.)

As it appears in the Cyber Hymnal, this hymn as seven stanzas. But often today only the first two and the last are used. The hymn concerns the second coming of Christ, with a special emphasis on the dramatic difference between the scene of His earthly passion, and that of His return. In the first case there was humiliation, cruel torture and death. In the second, He will come in honour and majesty, and with triumph over His enemies.

Once he was mockingly clothed in a purple robe; then He will be robed in “dreadful majesty” (CH-2)–a kingly state that fills watchers with awe and dread. Once He wore a crown of thorns (Matt. 27:27-29); then His head will be crowned with diadems of glory (Rev. 19:12). Once multitudes ridiculed Him and cried, “Crucify Him!” but then there will be repentance and worship. Once He was hung upon a cross to die; then He will be seated upon His messianic throne. “Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him” (Rev. 1:7; cf. Zech. 12:10).

Stanza CH-6 (see below) is not used today, and the wording seems more stilted. But it does refer to something for which I believe there is biblical support: that in eternity, the body of Christ will still bear the scars of Calvary. We know His resurrection body did, since He invited Thomas to touch the marks of His passion (Jn. 20:27). And even in His vision of heaven John sees the Son of God as “a Lamb as though it had been slain” (Rev. 5:6). This would seem to be the one jarring note in all the perfections of the heavenly kingdom. But far from being repulsive to us, it will be the “cause of endless exultation.”

The dear tokens of His passion
Still His dazzling body bears;
Cause of endless exultation
To His ransomed worshipers;
With what rapture, with what rapture,
Gaze we on those glorious scars!

Some object to the line “God appears on earth to reign” (CH-1). The contention is that it is God the Father who should be spoken of as “God,” and that it is wrong to use the term of the Lord Jesus. That even if we believe in the Trinity, and in the deity of Christ, the terminology is wrong. But the New Testament writers do refer to Christ in this way (Jn. 20:28; Acts 20:28; Rom. 9:5; Tit. 1:3; 2:13; Heb. 1:8), and hence it is appropriate, though infrequently used.

On another point, have you ever wondered how it is that “every eye will see Him” (Matt. 24:30; Rev. 1:7) when Christ returns (cf. CH-2)? How that must have puzzled the apostles! How could the entire population of the earth be able to see Him? Of course, we must leave room for a miracle in this regard. But there are a couple of possibilities apart from that. One is that the procession from heaven to earth, with saints and angels attending (Jude 1:14; Rev. 19:14), will take some time, and all will see it as the earth revolves beneath it. The other is that with the growing access all have to televisions and computers, we will witness it in that way. Time will tell!

1) The Bible says of the saints in heaven that “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Rev. 7:17; 21:4). What causes for tears will there be, when we first stand before the Lord Jesus Christ?

2) How should the truths expressed in this hymn affect our lives today?

Wordwise Hymns (about John Cennick)
The Cyber Hymnal


  1. I like your new format though I strongly disagree with many of your theological views.

    However, it is simply incorrect to say that stanza 6 is “not used today” as it certainly does appear in my own denominational hymnal and I quickly found it in three other contemporary hymnals without looking very hard.

    You undermine your own efforts by making factual assertions that are based on your personal experience with hymns, which appears (having read you for several months) to be limited to your own tradition.

    • Thanks for your input. And yes, I’m speaking from personal experience, and somewhat from my own tradition–though I do check others along the way. I’m mainly interested in the contents of general or non-denominational hymnals, though I have denominational ones too.

      Readers have to understand that a blog expresses a point of view. They can agree or disagree. But it would endlessly complicate every sentence of the blog to keep saying, “in my opinion…,” or “I think…,” or, “according to my research…”

      With respect to stanza CH-6 of “Lo! He Comes,” I just did a check of 14 hymnals and not one of them has it. Of course I didn’t check every one in the world–or nearly every one in my own collection. But that seems to be pretty representative.

      As to your disagreement with my theology, I can only tell you that I have studied the Scriptures in some depth for about 50 years, and taught them, both from the pulpit and in the college classroom for nearly that long. While I certainly do not claim to have the final answer on every detail, I think my hermeneutical methods are consistent, and my position is certainly shared by many whose scholarship I respect.

      Glad you like the new format. It’s something of an experiment. And thanks for sticking with me, even when we disagree. 🙂

  2. I found what you said about the Lord’s scars interesting:

    “that they would cause endless exultation”

    That makes sense to me. There is a song I really like. It is called “He Washed My Eyes With Tears”. The second verse is so moving!

    He washed my eyes with tears that I might see
    The glory of Himself revealed to me.
    I did not know that He had wounded hands.
    I saw the blood he spilt upon the sands.
    I saw the marks of shame and wept and cried
    He was my substitute; for me He died…

    It really is something how those types of references can touch a person’s heart.

    I am so glad that I came by and saw the new format. I am looking forward to returning and pondering your questions!

    • Thanks so much for your encouraging words. The new format is somewhat of an experiment. The articles dig deeper into the meaning of the hymns, rather than focusing on the story behind them. I wondered whether some readers would be interested–though I think they should be. If we are to “sing with understanding” as the Bible tells us to, we need to think about what our hymns are saying.

  3. Oh I am definitely interested. There are so many topics in the hymns, regeneration, sanctification, the flesh versus the spirit.

    Take “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” for example:

    O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be.
    Let Thy goodness like a fetter Bind my wandering heart to Thee…

    What a humble confession to sing!

    Or how about “O For A Thousand Tongues to Sing”

    There is a verse about “canceled” sin in it.

    I have been to your other site and read a lot of your theological thoughts and was thrilled to find such sound and helpful teaching!

    I am going to have to write an entry about you in my blog and see if I might be able to send some your way. In fact I think I already have a request for you. Do you think you could examine “A mighty Fortress Is Our God”? I would love that.

    • Thanks again for your encouragement. I have a list of about 750-800 hymns I want to deal with. As to A Mighty Fortress, it’s scheduled for discussion in September (Lord willing). (Come, Thou Fount is even further down–August of 2012.) But since it’s a “request,” I’ll see what I can do about moving the former hymn up a bit. 🙂

  4. I am introducing this hymn this evening at our carol service. I agree completely with your remarks. I cannot understand the comment from someone disagreeing with your theology. Your theology here is entirely biblical and traditional. May thanks.

    • Thanks for your encouraging note. As to someone disagreeing with my theology, they’re certainly free to do that. And now, with over 145,000 visitors from about 190 countries, and representing many different denominations and “isms,” it’s not surprising that some differ with me. I’m just trying to present the history of our traditional hymns and gospel songs, and comment on them from a biblical point of view. I’m confident that even when a reader disagrees on some point, there will be useful things in the blog. So far, so good! Thanks again for writing. Have a blessed Christmas.


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