Posts Tagged ‘God ways different than our ways’

After you’ve known God awhile you begin to notice:

His ways are not our ways–they’re better.

And he loves to weave together disparate, even far-removed elements (sometimes over decades of time) to achieve his plans…

Brothers, John and Charles Wesley are well-known names in church history.  God used them as highly effective evangelists in England and America during the 1700s.


(c) John Wesleys House & The Museum of Methodism; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

(c) John Wesley’s House & The Museum of Methodism; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation


Early in their ministry, they became convinced of the power of music to teach scriptural truth and create meaningful worship. Charles in particular began to write hymns. (In fact, he composed over 6,000 in his lifetime.  We still sing a number of them today.*)

One of those familiar hymns is “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” Some say the carol was inspired as Charles walked to church on Christmas Day, 1739.




As the church bells rang out he wrote:

“Hark! How all the welkin** ring.

Glory to the King of kings!”

For years to come, those attending the Wesleys’ open-air meetings sang the carol to the tune of another Wesley hymn, “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today.”

In 1743, another famous preacher, George Whitefield, decided to include the carol in a hymnbook he compiled, but changed the first lines to what we know today:

“Hark! The herald angels sing,

‘Glory to the newborn King.”

Charles Wesley did not appreciate the altered words, because scripture includes nothing about angels singing at the birth of Christ. Luke 2:13 clearly states “a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest.’”



Skip ahead more than one hundred years to 1856. Church organist, William H. Cummings (above), discovered a new and perfect tune for the carol, hiding within a cantata by his favorite composer, Felix Mendelssohn. (He had once enjoyed singing in a chorale directed by the famous Mendelssohn.)

The score, Festegesang (1840), had been composed for the 400th anniversary celebration of Gutenberg’s printing press. In the second section, Cummings heard “a beautiful melody looking for words.” He took Charles Wesley’s verses, George Whitfield’s revisions, and Mendelssohn’s tune to create a hymn suitable for congregational singing.

The result: the familiar carol we sing to this day.

If it had been up to Wesley, those lyrics would never have been changed.  He once commented that he and John were honored to have their hymns published, but he did wish the editors would “not attempt to mend them.”

If it had been up to Mendelssohn, his melody never would have become a Christmas carol.  Granted, he had recognized its  potential for a popular song, but as a Christian, Mendelssohn never considered the melody suitable for sacred words.

God had different plans, however, than Wesley or Mendelssohn. And he used two more gentlemen to accomplish his purpose.

Isn’t that just like our God?

Master Weaver indeed.


*Some popular hymns of Charles Wesley: “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing”; “Blessed Be the Name”; “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus”; “And Can It Be?”; and “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”.

** Welkin is an old Anglo-Saxon word meaning “the vault of heaven where the angels dwell.” 

Sources: Stories behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas by Ace Collins (2001); Stories of the Great Christmas Carols by Kenon D. Renfrow and June C. Montgomery (2003); www.aproundtable.com; www.markroberts.com .

 Art and Photo Credits:  www.bbc.co.uk; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.wikipedia.org.




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