The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Hail to the Lord's Anointed

For Advent, For Epiphany

The Reign of Christ on Earth

Words: James Montgomery (1771-1854), 1821, a paraphrase of Psalm 72
Written December, 1821; Published 1822

Music: Ellacombe
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF / XML
Valet Will Ich Dir Geben, M. Teschner
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF / XML
Freut euch, ihr lieben, Leonhart Schroter, 1587
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF / XML
plus Crüger, Zoan, Holy Church, Greenland
Meter: 76 76 D

Source: James Montgomery, Songs of Zion. (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1822), pp. 59-63.

1. Hail to the Lord’s Anointed,
    Great David’s greater Son!
Hail, in the time appointed,
    His reign on earth begun!
He comes to break oppression,
    To set the captive free,
To take away transgression,
    And rule in equity.

2. He comes with succor speedy
    To those who suffer wrong;
To help the poor and needy,
    And bid the weak be strong;
To give them songs for sighing;
    Their darkness turn to light,
Whose souls, condemned and dying,
    Were precious in His sight.

3. He shall come down like showers1
    Upon the fruitful earth;
And love, joy, hope, like flowers,
    Spring in His path to birth.
Before Him on the mountains
    Shall peace, the herald, go;
And righteousness, in fountains,
    From hill to valley flow.

4. Arabia's desert ranger
    To him shall bow the knee;
The Ethiopian stranger
    His glory come to see;
With offerings of devotion
    Ships from the isles shall meet,
To pour the wealth of ocean
    In tribute at his feet.

5. For2 Him shall prayer unceasing
    And daily vows ascent;
His kingdom still increasing,
    A kingdom without end.
The tide of time shall never
    His covenant remove;
His name shall stand forever;
    That name to us is Love.

6. The heav'ns which now conceal Him,
    In counsels deep and wise,
In glory shall reveal Him
    To our rejoicing eyes;
He who, with hands uplifted,
    When from the earth below,
Shall come again all gifted,
    His blessings to bestow.

7. Kings shall fall down before Him,
    And gold and incense bring,
All nations shall adore Him,
    His praise the people sing.
Outstretched His wide dominion,
    O'er river, sea and shore,
Far as eagle's pinion,
    Or dove's light wing can soar.

8. O'er every foe victorious,
    He on his throne shall rest;
From age to age more glorious,
    All-blessing and all-blest.
The tide of time shall never
    His covenant remove;
His name shall stand for ever,
    His changeless name of Love.


1. Or: He shall descend like showers. Return

2. Or: To Him shall prayer unceasing. Return

Also found in Hymnal of the Methodist Episcopal Church (New York: Nelson & Phillips, 1878), #52.

Differences in Verse 3:

Editor's Note: The website Old Poetry gives a slightly different version of the poem Hail to the Lord's Anointed (12 four-line verses). This link opens in a new window on this site.

Sheet Music from John Clark Hollister, ed., The Sunday-School Service and Tune Book (New York: E. P. Dutton and Company, 1863, 1865) #21, pp. 40-1.

Sheet Music from William Sterndale Bennett and Otto Goldschmidt, eds., The Chorale Book For England. Congregational Edition. (London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts, and Green, 1863, Supp. 1865), #210.

Sheet music from A. B. Goodrich, ed., A New Service And Tune Book For Sunday Schools (New York: Gen. Prot. Episc. S. S. Union and Church Book Society, 1863, New Edition, Enlarged, 1866), #19, pp. 40-1.

Notes indicate same tune as "From Greenland's Icy Mountains:"

Sheet Music "Crüger" from Mary Palmer and John Farmer, eds., Church Sunday School Hymn-Book (London: Church of England Sunday-School Institute, 1892), #111.

Sheet Music "Tours" by Berthold Tours, 1872, from Henry Sloane Coffin and Ambrose White Vernon, eds., Hymns of the Kingdom of God. New York: The A. S. Barnes Company, 1910, #171.

Sheet Music "Valet Will Ich Dir Geben" from O. Hardwig, ed., The Wartburg Hymnal (Chicago: Wartburg Publishing House, 1918), #148

Sheet Music "Aurelia," by Samuel S. Wesley, 1864, from The Parish School Hymnal. Philadelphia: Board of Publication of the United Lutheran Church in America, 1926, #50

Psalm 72
King James Version

Give the king thy judgments, O God, and thy righteousness unto the king's son.
He shall judge thy people with righteousness, and thy poor with judgment.
The mountains shall bring peace to the people, and the little hills, by righteousness.
He shall judge the poor of the people, he shall save the children of the needy, and shall break in pieces the oppressor.
They shall fear thee as long as the sun and moon endure, throughout all generations.
He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass: as showers that water the earth.
In his days shall the righteous flourish; and abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth.
He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth.
They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before him; and his enemies shall lick the dust.
The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents: the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts.
Yea, all kings shall fall down before him: all nations shall serve him.
For he shall deliver the needy when he crieth; the poor also, and him that hath no helper.
He shall spare the poor and needy, and shall save the souls of the needy.
He shall redeem their soul from deceit and violence: and precious shall their blood be in his sight.
And he shall live, and to him shall be given of the gold of Sheba: prayer also shall be made for him continually; and daily shall he be praised.
There shall be an handful of corn in the earth upon the top of the mountains; the fruit thereof shall shake like Lebanon: and they of the city shall flourish like grass of the earth.
His name shall endure for ever: his name shall be continued as long as the sun: and men shall be blessed in him: all nations shall call him blessed.
Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, who only doeth wondrous things.
And blessed be his glorious name for ever: and let the whole earth be filled with his glory; Amen, and Amen.



Larry Marietta's Music Notes, Sunday Morning Services at FCCB (First Congregational Church of Berkeley),  December 7, 1997

Ellacombe was first published anonymously as a variant of Ave Maria, Klarer Und Lichter Morgenstern, which appeared in Gesangbuch der Herzogl. Wirtembergischen Katholischen Hofkapelle, 1784, the hymnal of the private chapel for the Duke of Württemberg.

This hymn is a metrical version of the Seventy-second Psalm. It was written as a Christmas hymn and was first sung on Christmas Day, 1821, at a great convocation of the Moravians in their settlement at Fulneck. At a Wesleyan missionary meeting, held in Liverpool on April 14 of the following year, 1822, when Doctor Adam Clarke presided, Montgomery made an address and closed it by the recital of this hymn with all of its verses… Doctor Clarke later used it in his famous Commentary in connection with his discussion of the Seventy-second Psalm.

Also found in The Book of Christmas Hymns (London: T. Nelson and Sons, 1868), pp. 119-120.

Editor's Note: The following commentary is by Louis F. Benson from Studies Of Familiar Hymns, Second Series (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press. 1923). At the end of his commentary, Rev. Benson offers "some points for discussion." Please consider these questions as those posed for your own consideration, or for discussion with friends or members of your congregation. Due to a lengthy illness, I regret that I am not able to respond to your thoughts or questions.


1. Hail to the Lord’s Anointed,
    Great David’s greater Son!
Hail, in the time appointed,
    His reign on earth begun!
He comes to break oppression,
    To set the captive free,
To take away transgression,
    And rule in equity.

2. He shall come down like showers
    Upon the fruitful earth;
And love, joy, hope, like flowers,
    Spring in His path to birth;
Before Him on the mountains
    Shall peace, the herald, go,
And righteousness, in fountains,
    From hill to valley flow.

3. Kings shall fall down before Him,
    And gold and incense bring;
All nations shall adore Him,
    His praise all people sing;
For Him shall prayer unceasing
    And daily vows ascend;
His kingdom still increasing,
    A kingdom without end.

4. O’er every foe victorious,
    He on His throne shall rest,
From age to age more glorious,
    All blessing and all-blest:
The tide of time shall never
    His covenant remove,
His name shall stand for ever,—
    That Name to us is Love.

    James Montgomery’s version of the Seventy-second Psalm, written in 1822.

Note: The above text is an abridgment of the original, which was in eight verses as printed in Songs of Zion, 1822.

In taking up this hymn of James Montgomery we pass over into the nineteenth century. And so we leave behind us the eighteenth century hymns — of Watts and his followers on the one side and of the Wesleys and other singers of the great revival on the other.

It was of course from those eighteenth century stores that our American Churches, whether Evangelical or Unitarian, had to draw as they began to make hymn books of their own. Now the dominant note of those hymns is personal piety. It is interesting and in a way touching to remember how the heart of our witty Boston poet, Oliver Wendell Holmes, a rather radical Unitarian, turned back in his old age to those eighteenth century hymns. He perceived in them “the old ring of saintliness” and a virility he missed in modern hymns. “When I turn to the hymn book, and when one strikes my eye, I cover the name at the bottom and guess. It is,” he said, “almost invariably by Watts or Wesley; after them there are very few which are good for much.”

Perhaps the Unitarian hymn book which the poet had in his gallery pew at King’s Chapel failed to do justice to the later hymn writers, choosing those that gave out the ring of modern liberalism rather than “the old ring of saintliness.” However that may be, most Christians will not believe that deep and sincere piety passed away with the eighteenth century or that the true succession of God’s singing men has been broken off.

When the nineteenth century dawned, the voices of all the great hymn writers had passed into silence. Watts and Doddridge had been dead for the half, Toplady for the quarter of a century. The Wesleys had been dead for a decade; Cowper had just died; only Newton survived in the weakness of old age. But with the early

years of the new century a new hymn writer appeared, worthy to take his place in the great succession. This was James Montgomery, a Moravian layman; a poor boy with nothing to depend on but his literary talent; a forward-looking man who kept abreast of the marked religious progress of his time; a poet who could not only sing over the old songs of Zion with a fresh and clear voice but could also furnish new songs for new occasions.


Shortly after writing “Children of the heavenly King,” John Cennick started a little Moravian settlement in the county of Antrim, Ireland. Among the neighbors who joined it was John Montgomery, apparently a laborer, who for some gift or grace was made a Moravian preacher and sent over to Irvine on the Scottish coast. There, on November 4, 1771, in a cottage adjoining the Moravian chapel, his son James was born; “narrowly escaping,” he used afterwards to say, “being an Irishman.” When the parents went as missionaries to the West Indies they left the boy at the Moravian school at Fulneck, near Leeds, and took with them the hope that he would prepare himself for the ministry.

It was a very severe school, as closely guarded against the world as a convent, with most of the world’s literature forbidden. Dr. Blair’s poem, “The Grave,” was an exception, and hearing it read started Montgomery’s poetic impulse, just as the quaint Moravian hymn book in constant use started his lifelong interest in hymns. He neglected the prescribed studies and spent his time in composing epics in Milton’s manner. The Brethren gave him up as a candidate for the ministry and put him in a baker’s shop as shopboy.

The lad became very unhappy there and at the age of sixteen ran away, to begin the world with three shillings and six and a bundle of poems in his pocket. It was characteristic of him that he went off in his old suit, leaving behind him a new one which his master had given him, and which he did not think he had earned. And it was no doubt humiliating to him that he had to ask his old teachers at Fulneck for a recommendation before he could get even a situation in another shop in the village of Wath. This also he left after a year and went up to London with a larger bundle of poems in his pocket and the vision of a publisher ready to print them. When that hope failed, he went back to his situation at Wath.

One day in his twenty-second year he saw in a radical newspaper, The Sheffield Register, its publisher’s advertisement for a clerk. He answered it in person and secured the place. He began to exercise his literary talent in the paper, and, when its proprietor and editor had to flee from political prosecution, a fellow townsman found the means of carrying it on, and put Montgomery in charge. It was an exciting time in politics, and a critical situation for the young editor of a suspected sheet. The skies were lurid with reflections of the flames of the French Revolution. Sheffield was in the thickest of the conflict between the aristocrats and the Jacobins. And amidst all the clamor for the rights of man, the government was insistently trying to raise recruits for the expected war with France.

The ardent young editor’s sympathies were with the democrats, and he was eager for parliamentary reform, to say the least. Almost at once he was arrested for printing a seditious ballad and put in jail for three months. A few months after his release he was charged with seditious libel for an account he printed of the manner in which the military commander had put down a riot in the streets, was found guilty, and imprisoned once more for six months. He spent his enforced leisure in jail in composing poetry, afterwards printed as Prison Amusements. On coming out he resumed his editorship and kept it up until 1825. But at heart he was neither a politician nor a newspaper man, but a poet, and through these years he gave more thought to poetry than to making the most of his newspaper. It was his old Fulneck School scheme of life over again, and not the way that leads to fortune; but Montgomery was unmarried and free to follow the gleam.

As calmer times came, Montgomery’s own opinions became mellower, and his increasing poetic reputation reflected luster on Sheffield. The simple goodness of the man and his unfailing helpfulness in every worthy cause conquered all hearts. He became recognized as the first citizen of the town, and the government that had twice jailed him put him on its pension list. And so he spent his last years contentedly and helpfully, esteemed by all as the best of men and by many as a great poet. He had not been without his struggles to gain a place, but he bore no grudge against life, except perhaps at the persistency with which many people confused his personality with that of a namesake whose poetry he did not admire.

Dr. Theodore L. Cuyler, of Brooklyn, visited him in 1842. “A short, brisk, cheery old man, then seventy-one, came into the room with a spry step. He wore a suit of black, with old-fashioned dress ruffles, and a high cravat that looked as if it choked him. His complexion was fresh, and snowy hair crowned a noble forehead. We chatted about America, and I told him that in all our churches his hymns were great favorites. I unfortunately happened to mention that when lately in Glasgow I had gone to hear the Rev. Robert Montgomery, the author of ‘Satan,’ and other poems. It was this ‘Satan Montgomery’ whom Macaulay had scalped with merciless criticism in the Edinburgh Review. The mention of his name aroused the old poet’s ire. ‘Would you believe it?’ he exclaimed indignantly, ‘they attribute some of that fellow’s performances to me, and lately a lady wrote me in reference to one of his most pompous poems, and said it was the best that I had ever written!

The poet (James, not Robert) had arranged to spend the Easter of 1854 with his brethren at Fulneck, was unable to go, and on April 30 was dead. He was buried with such a funeral as Sheffield had never seen, and in the years following two of his friends with great devotion but less judgment published a biography extending to no less than seven volumes.


It is just as well that a popular poet should die before his reputation begins to fade, and Montgomery’s had lasted a good while. The first of his poems to catch the public ear was his Wanderer in Switzerland of 1806, of which three editions were called for. Volume after volume followed, the series closing with the long poem of The Pelican Island of 1826 and the short pieces collected in The Poet’s Portfolio of 1835. They all appealed to a large public, mostly the religious public who valued such pure sentiments in the vesture of verse they could read and understand. But the longer poems have found no place in English literature, and the anthologies preserve none of his lyrics except a few hymns. And this is just as it ought to be. In his poetic work Montgomery mistook the easy flow of rhetorical or sentimental verse for poetry. But his hymn writing was a thing apart, and in the best of his hymns he made no mistake of any kind. He understood exactly what to aim at, and he is one of “the little masters” in the art of hymn writing.

As early as 1822 Montgomery gathered his versions of Psalms; including the one now before us, in his Songs of Zion. He printed many of his hymns in a collection called The Christian Psalmist, in 1825; and at the last gathered up the hymns of a lifetime in the Original Hymns of 1853. He wrote four hundred in all, of which not less than a hundred have had a part in the worship of some branch of the Church.


Many have regarded this as the best of all, and at the present time it is found in more hymn books than anything else of Montgomery’s. And it has something of a story.

It was written to be sung at a Christmas festival of 1821, at one of the Moravian settlements in England, Fulneck probably. Which reminds us that Montgomery was a Moravian all his life, though he did not formally resume his birthright membership until his forty-third birthday. In January, 1822, he inclosed (sic) a copy of the hymn in a letter to a South Sea missionary, suggesting that the isles afar are to share the glories of the Messianic reign. In April of that year it was recited by the author at a great Methodist missionary meeting at Liverpool, under rather striking circumstances. The lights went out while he was speaking, a crash resounded from a seat back broken by the crowd, and it was uncertain what might happen. The chairman called out, “There is still light within.” The speaker took his cue, proceeded not without agitation, “concluding with the full blaze of the renovated illumination” by reciting his “Hail to the Lord’s Anointed.” And we can imagine that it was not spoken or heard without a perceptible thrill. Dr. Adam Clarke, who presided at the meeting, was so impressed that he secured a copy, and in 1822 appended the hymn to his notes on the Seventy-second Psalm in his now famous Commentary on the Bible, with a special note calling attention to its excellence; which no doubt contributed a good deal to the hymn’s success.


1. In Montgomery’s Original Hymns this bears the title,

The Reign of Christ on Earth. — Ps. lxxii,”

and it is of course a free rendering of that Psalm. The Seventy-second Psalm is the vision of a great king who brings righteousness and peace, redresses human wrongs, and extends his rule to the world’s end. The Old Testament seems to apply the Psalm to Solomon’s reign, and the New Testament does not apply it to Christ as Messianic King. The Early Church did, and chose it as the special Psalm for the Epiphany season. Now just what did they mean by that?

The Epiphany (January 6) follows so soon after Christmas that many people think of them as one. It really commemorates the visit of the Wise Men, and when the Church put the Psalm in that connection it meant to say that it foretells the homage of the nations to Christ, of which the visit of the Wise Men was the beginning. What the Church did then was to choose the Seventy-second as its special foreign missionary Psalm.

The nineteenth century Churches have done just the same thing with Montgomery’s rendering of that Psalm.

They have always regarded it as a foreign missionary hymn, a trumpet call to advance toward the conquest of the world, a blessed assurance of victory. We may be quite sure that the author so intended it. He wrote in the early glow of the new zeal for foreign missions that dawned on England, and which so moved his heart. Is the Church justified in making this hymn a song of the final triumph of foreign missions; and just what bearing upon this question has the old saying, “My kingdom is not of this world?”

2. There are no differences of text in this hymns printed in Songs of Zion in 1822 and in Original Hymns, thirty-one years later. The fact is worth noting, as a number of editors have made changes, especially in the last line. But as Montgomery printed the hymn, there were eight verses of eight lines each; not too many for a proper presentation of the Psalm but too many for a congregational hymn book; so that each editor has to decide on his own abridgment. That in The Hymnal Revised is perhaps as effective as any; the best of the omitted verses, the original second, is rather a loss:

He comes with succour speedy,
    To those who suffer wrong;
To help the poor and needy,
    And bid the weak be strong:
To give them songs for sighing,
    Their darkness turn to light;
Whose souls, condemn’d and dying,
    Were precious in His sight.

3. What is the meaning of “For Him shall prayer unceasing,” in the third verse, regarded by some as an improper expression? Does the fact that the seventy-second Psalm is itself a prayer for the king bear upon the questioned propriety of the expression?

4. Another and equally well-known missionary hymn, “Jesus Shall Reign Where'er the Sun,” is also a version of the Seventy-second Psalm, written in Dr. Watts’s very best style. And it may be interesting to compare the work of two excellent hymn writers dealing with the same subject matter a century apart. Dr. Watts would probably have regarded Montgomery’s meter and rhythm as a bit jaunty for a hymn.

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