Christmas-tide Hymns of Charles Wesley
(18 December 1707 – 29 March 1788)
Rev. John Wesley (1703-1791)
Rev. Charles Wesley (1707-1788)
The Reverands John and Charles Wesley made a profound impact on Christian hymnology, and not just for the Church of England or the Methodist Episcopal Church. Their hymns can be found in the hymnals of most or all Christian denominations, although sometimes altered to conform to doctrinal differences.
The Rev. Charles Wesley, one of the co-founders of the Methodist movement within the Church of England — and later a separate denomination — was one of the most prolific of all Christian hymn writers. Estimates of his output are pegged between 5,000 and 8,000 according to various sources that I've consulted. Charles remained a member of the Church of England to his death; his hymns have been reverently adopted by almost every Christian denomination. The last of his hymns was said to have been dictated to his wife from his death bed.
The hymns on this page are some of the Christmas-tide hymns that I've been able to locate from his pen. Where ever possible, I've gone to the earliest sources. Because of their age, many of those sources are unavailable. In such cases, I've gone to the multi-volume set created by George Osborne, The Poetical Works of John and Charles Wesley, copies of which can be found at Google Books and the Internet Archive, together with scans of many other volumes of hymns and poetry. Also of great help is the Center for Studies in the Wesleyan Tradition.
The first of the Christmas poem-hymns that I've found was in Hymns and Sacred Poems (1739), and is the well-known Hark How all the Welkin Rings (better known by the alterations imposed by hymnal editors, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing). According to records that have been discovered, the Wesleys footed the bill to have this hymn printed and issued as a broadside at Christmas 1743, the Hymn for Christmas Day (1743).
At Christmas 1744, the Wesleys paid to have 1500 copies of a pamphlet of Christmas hymns printed by William Strahan in London, the Hymns for Christmas Day (1744). None exist, but Wesleyan experts believe that it was between 8 and 12 pages, and contained three or four hymns from Hymns and Sacred Poems, 1739 and 1740 (although they note that these hymns might have been some of those found in a subsequent publication). It isn't known which specific hymns were included, although it's possible that Hark How All the Welkin Rings might be a strong contender.
Finally, at Christmas 1745, the Wesleys issued an 18-hymn collection of entirely new Christmas hymns (presumably written by Charles), Hymns for the Nativity of our Lord. This collection was extremely popular among Methodists of the day, and it's believed that the pamphlet went through at least 25 printings in Britain before Charles’s death in 1788.
Continuing with this theme, the brothers issued a seven-hymn collection at Christmas 1750, Hymns for the New Year's Day.
At some point – possibly as early as 1795 – an unknown editor combined the hymns for the Nativity and for the New Year's Day into a single 24-page pamphlet A Collection of Hymns for the Nativity of Our Lord: And for New Year's-Day (Printed at the Conference Office, and sold by R. Lomas and at the Methodist Preaching Houses in Town and Country). While only the original seven hymns for the New Years were included, the Nativity hymns increased from 18 to 21, with several new hymns included in lieu of the original 18! Based on entries found at Google Books, numerous editions were printed from 1795 through 1816, and, of course, there could have been other editions during these years, as well as before or after these years.
The two individual collections for the Nativity and New Year's Day are found among the 13-volume collection, The Poetical Works of John and Charles Wesley. The collection is available at both Google Books and the Internet Archive, in multiple formats (PDF, ePub, mobi, html, etc). These two collections, as well as other Christmas hymns from other sources, are linked from this page (see below).
Other Christmas-tide hymns were written or translated by the Wesleys throughout their long and highly successful lives. In Hymns and Sacred Poems (1739), there was a hymn for the Epiphany, “Sons of men, behold from far.” Charles also wrote a series of hymns based on verses from the Old and New Testaments, including – as it relates to the Christmas-tide – hymns from the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke, as well as many of the Psalms, including the prophetic psalms.
Almost none have specific tunes attached to them, and none had tunes in their original publications. As such, these could arguably be called the "Christmas-tide poems of Charles Wesley." However, since the majority of hymns were originally poems, and especially because Wesley himself styled them as "hymns," I will follow that description. The choice of hymn tune is left to the discretion of the musical director of the congregation.
I am not pretending that this is a complete listing of the Christmas-tide output by Charles or John. The output was so large that only an expert in Wesleyan hymnology could possibly have a good grasp of the full body of Christmas related hymns and poems. Hopefully, however, this will provide you with a good starting point.
Note: Much of this information was excerpted from several different documents found at the excellent Duke University “Center for Studies in the Wesleyan Tradition” under the editorial direction of Randy L. Maddox, with the diligent assistance of Aileen F. Maddox. I would urge you to visit for additional details.
Other details were found among the entries in John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology (1892, 1907), as well as several books dedicated to Methodist hymnology and the Wesleys, and a number of early Methodist hymnals.
George John Stevenson, The Methodist Hymn Book (London: S. W. Partridge & Co., 1883).
John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology (1892, 1907)
Wesley Center Online (Charles)
Hymn I. Ye Simple Men of Heart Sincere
Hymn II. Ye Heavenly Choir, Assist Me To Sing
Hymn III. Angels Speak, Let Men Give Ear
Hymn IV. Glory be to God on High
Hymn V. Let Earth and Heaven Combine
Hymn VI. Join, All Ye Joyful Nations
Hymn VII. All Glory To God, And Peace Upon Earth
Hymn VIII. Away With Our Fears
Hymn IX. Father, Our Hearts We Lift
Hymn X. Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus
Hymn XI. Light of Those Whose Dreary Dwelling
Hymn XII. Sing, Ye Ransom'd Nations, Sing
Hymn XIII. Let Angels and Archangels Sing
Hymn XIV. O Astonishing Grace
Hymn XV. All-wise, All-good, Almighty Lord
Hymn XVI. O Mercy Divine, How Couldst Thou Incline
Hymn XVII. Where Is The Holy Heaven-born Child
Hymn XVIII. All Glory to God in the Sky
Hymn 2. Ye Worms of Earth, Arise
Hymn 3. Blow Ye The Trumpet, Blow!
Hymn 6. The Lord of Earth and Sky
These texts are from A Collection of Hymns for the Nativity of Our Lord and for New-Year's-Day (London: Printed at the Conference Office, 1810). At Google Books, there are listings for editions of this volume in the following years: 1795, 1797, 1801, 1803, 1806, 1809, 1810, 1811, 1815, 1816.
In this collection there are 21 Christmas hymns, as opposed to the 18 in the original “Hymns for the Nativity of Our Lord,” issued in 1745. Interestingly, among the first 18, not all in this collection were the same as in the 1745 collection, above. They “new” hymns are:
Hymn III. What Angel Can the Grace Explain, 1806.
Hymn VIII. Celebrate Immanuel's Name, 1806.
Hymn XIV. Let All Adore the' Immortal King, 1806.
Hymn XVI. Servant of God, and Son of Man, 1806.
Hymn XIX. Rejoice in Jesu's Birth!, 1806.
Hymn XX. Branch of Jesse's Stem, Arise, 1806.
Hymn XXI. Come, Thou Universal Blessing, 1806.
Note: There were no new hymns for the New Year in this edition beyond the seven hymns in the 1750 collection.
Hark! How All The Welkin Rings! - Hymns and Sacred Poems, 1739
Hark The Herald Angels Sing - The Altered Version
Source: Charles Wesley, Hymns on the Four Gospels: St. Matthew, from George Osborn, ed., The Poetical Works of John and Charles Wesley, Vol. 10 (London: Wesleyan-Methodist Conference Office, 1871), pp. 158-443. Including such "Short Hymns" as were published in 1762.
The Birth of Christ - Selections from the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke
Hymns on the Four Gospels, and Acts of the Apostles
1. The book of the generation of Jesus Christ. – Matthew i. 1.
2. The Son of David. – Matthew i. 1.
3. The Son of Abraham. – Matthew i. 1.
4. Who is called Christ. – Matthew i. 16.
5. Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise. – Matthew i. 18.
6 & 7. Thou shalt call His name Jesus, &c. – Matthew i. 21.
8. They shall call His name Immanuel. – Matthew i. 23.
9. Jesus was born in Bethlehem. – Matthew ii. 1.
10. We have seen His star in the east, and are come, &c. – Matthew ii.
11. Out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule, &c. – Matthew ii. 6.
12. When they saw the star, they rejoiced, &c. – Matthew ii. 10.
13. They saw the young Child, and fell down, &c. – Matthew ii. 11.
14. Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him. – Matthew ii. 13.
15. Being warned of God, he turned aside, &c. – Matthew ii. 22.
Source: Charles Wesley, Hymns on the Four Gospels: St. Luke, from George Osborn, ed., The Poetical Works of John and Charles Wesley. Vol. 11 (London: Wesleyan-Methodist Conference Office, 1871), p. 101 ff.
The Birth of Christ - Selections from the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke
Hymns on the Four Gospels, and Acts of the Apostles
#1141. “They were both righteous before God, walking,” Gospel of St. Luke i. 6.
#1142. “The whole multitude of the people were praying,” Gospel of St. Luke i. 10.
#1143. “There appeared unto him an angel of the Lord,” Gospel of St. Luke i. 11.
#1144. “When Zacharias saw him, he was troubled,” Gospel of St. Luke i. 12.
#1145. “Thy prayer is heard.” Gospel of St. Luke i. 13.
#1146. “He shall be great in the sight of the Lord,” Gospel of St. Luke i. 15, 16.
#1147. “Whereby shall I know this ? for I am an old man.” Gospel of St. Luke i. 18.
#1148. “I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God;” Gospel of St. Luke i. 19.
#1149. “Behold, thou shalt be dumb,...because thou,” Gospel of St. Luke i. 20.
#1150. “He shall be great, and shall be called the Son,” Gospel of St. Luke i. 32, 33.
#1151. “With God nothing shall be impossible.” Gospel of St. Luke i. 37.
#1152. “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto,” Gospel of St. Luke i. 38.
#1153. “When Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary,” Gospel of St. Luke i. 41.
#1154. “Blessed is the fruit of thy womb.” Gospel of St. Luke i. 42.
#1155. “Whence is this to me, that the mother of my,” Gospel of St. Luke i. 43.
#1156. “As soon as the voice of thy salvation sounded in,” Gospel of St. Luke i. 44.
#1157. “Blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a,” Gospel of St. Luke i. 45.
#1158. “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my,” Gospel of St. Luke i. 46, 47.
#1159. “For He hath regarded the low estate of,” Gospel of St. Luke i. 48.
#1160. “His mercy is on them that fear Him.” Gospel of St. Luke i. 50.
#1161. “He hath showed strength with His arm;” Gospel of St. Luke i. 51.
#1162. “He hath filled the hungry with good things.” Gospel of St. Luke i. 53.
#1163. “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,” Gospel of St. Luke i. 68.
#1164. “To perform the mercy promised,” Gospel of St. Luke i. 72-76.
#1165. “And thou, child, shalt be called,” Gospel of St. Luke i. 76.
#1166. “Through the tender mercy of our God.” Gospel of St. Luke i. 78.
#1167. “There went out a decree from Caesar.” Gospel of St. Luke ii. 1.
#1168. “She...laid Him in a manger,” Gospel of St. Luke ii. 7.
#1169. “There were...shepherds abiding,” Gospel of St. Luke ii. 8.
#1170. “Good tidings...which shall be to all people.” Gospel of St. Luke ii. 10.
#1171. “Unto you is born this day, in the city of David,” Gospel of St. Luke ii. 11.
#1172. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth,” Gospel of St. Luke ii. 14.
#1173. “Let us now go even unto Bethlehem.” Gospel of St. Luke ii. 15.
#1174. “When they had seen it, they made known.” Gospel of St. Luke ii. 17.
#1175. “Mary kept all these things, and pondered them.” Gospel of St. Luke ii. 19.
#1176. “The shepherds returned, glorifying,” Gospel of St. Luke ii. 20.
#1177. “When eight days were accomplished,” Gospel of St. Luke ii. 21.
#1178. “They brought Him to Jerusalem, to present Him,” Gospel of St. Luke ii. 22.
#1179. “He should not see death, before he had,” Gospel of St. Luke ii. 26.
#1180. Then took he Him up in his arms, Gospel of St. Luke ii. 28.
#1181. “This Child is set for the fall and rising,” Gospel of St. Luke ii. 34.
#1182. “And for a sign which shall be spoken against.” Gospel of St. Luke ii. 34.
#1183. “That the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” Gospel of St. Luke ii. 35.
#1184. “She...spake of Him to all them,” Gospel of St. Luke ii. 38.
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