Posted by: rcottrill | December 11, 2013

Rejoice, the Lord Is King

Words: Charles Wesley (b. Dec. 18, 1707; d. Mar. 29, 1788)
Music: Darwall, by John Darwall (b. Jan. 13, 1731; d. Dec. 18, 1789)

Wordwise Hymns (Charles Wesley born)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Published two years before simply as a poem, the hymn we know was published in Hymns for Our Lord’s Resurrection, in 1746. Most hymnals use CH-1, 2, 3 and 6 of Wesley’s original. None that I know of have us singing about our bosoms swelling with seraphic joy (CH-5)! And for simplicity’s sake Wesley’s ending for the last stanza (“We soon shall hear th’archangel’s voice; / The trump of God shall sound, rejoice!”) is dropped by most editors, and the ending common to the other stanzas is used.

Though, in my experience, the tune Darwall is used for this hymn, the tune Gopsal by the great composer George Frederic Handel (1685-1759) is common in Britain. The latter name may look like a corruption of the word “gospel,” but it’s not. Gopsal Hall was the home of Charles Jennings, who arranged the texts for Handel’s superb oratorio, Messiah. Handel apparently named the tune in honour of his friend.

This fine hymn contains a multitude of scriptural allusions, and also seems to reference the part of the Apostles’ Creed that states of Christ:

“He ascended into heaven, and sittest at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.”

Most prominent of the biblical references in the song is Philippians 4:4, with the call to “rejoice [be glad],” a summons with which each stanza begins and ends. It’s a word Wesley uses fifteen times. And some form of the word “rejoice” is found over 260 times in our English Bibles. Those who are the recipients of God’s grace, who have been brought into fellowship with Him, and who look forward to Christ’s coming reign as King of kings and Lord of lords, have much to rejoice about! “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4).

The first stanza of the hymn calls upon us to rejoice that the Lord is King. He was born to be King, and rules now in the hearts of those who own Him as Lord, yet awaiting the full realization of His messianic kingship at His return.

“Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this (Isa. 9:6-7; cf. Lk. 1:31-33).

CH-1) Rejoice, the Lord is King! Your Lord and King adore;
Rejoice, give thanks and sing, and triumph evermore;
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice;
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

CH-2 reminds us that “when He [Christ] had purged our stains, He took His seat above.” The Lord Jesus is seated on His Father’s throne (Rev. 3:21), at His right hand (Heb. 1:3). His ascension to that place of honour and authority assures us that His saving work is complete and is fully accepted by God the Father. It is also in that place that Christ ministers as Head of the church (Eph. 1:22-23).

CH-3, “His kingdom cannot fail.” If a prominent theme of Wesley’s hymn is rejoicing, it is also about the Lord’s coming rule over the earth at His return. John Lawson, in his fine book The Wesley Hymns, says that “this message of divine hope is the gospel of the Kingdom,” and he lists over sixty texts that relate directly to what the hymn says, line by line (pp. 72-73). For example:

“Behold, a king will reign in righteousness” (Isa. 32:1). “Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, He is the King of glory. Selah [Think of that!]” (Ps. 24:10). “He will not fail nor be discouraged, till He has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands shall wait for His law” (Isa. 42:4). “And the LORD shall be King over all the earth. In that day it shall be–‘The LORD is one,’ and His name one” (Zech. 14:9).

CH-3) His kingdom cannot fail, He rules o’er earth and heav’n,
The keys of death and hell are to our Jesus giv’n;
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice;
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

As noted, there is a sense in which Christ rules now. He rules in every heart that recognizes Him as Lord (Rom. 10:9, NIV), and He has been declared the Head of the church (Eph. 1:22-23). But in the closing age of this world’s history, the Agent of God’s rule on earth will be the Messiah, at His second coming, made clear in many passages.

“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. Even so, Amen” (Rev. 1:7). “For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death” (I Cor. 15:25-26).

CH-6) Rejoice in glorious hope! Our Lord the Judge shall come,
And take His servants up to their eternal home.
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice,
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

1) What is there in the message of this hymn that should be reassuring and encouraging today, giving the conditions in the world?

2) How should the reign of Christ be reflected in our lives day by day?

Wordwise Hymns (Charles Wesley born)
The Cyber Hymnal


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