Lo, he comes with clouds descending
Hymns we love to sing
Charles Wesley [1707-1788]
Lo, he comes with clouds descending,
once for mortal sinners slain;
thousand thousand saints attending,
swell the triumph of his train:
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Christ appears on earth to reign.
Ev’ry eye shall now behold him
robed in dreadful majesty;
we who set at naught and sold him,
pierced and nailed him to the tree,
deeply wailing, deeply wailing,
shall the true Messiah see.
Those dear tokens of his passion
still his dazzling body bears;
cause of endless exultation
to his ransomed worshippers;
with what rapture, with what rapture,
with what rapture
gaze we on those glorious scars!
Yea, amen, let all adore thee,
high on thine eternal throne;
Saviour, take the pow’r and glory,
claim the kingdom for thine own;
O come quickly! O come quickly!
O come quickly!
Thou shalt reign and thou alone!
This popular Advent Carol is rightly and wrongly attributed to the great hymn writer Charles Wesley, brother of the celebrated John Wesley. Read more about the Wesleys
It was actually first written by John Cennick [1718-1755] who was a friend of the Wesleys. Cennick had been converted during the early years of the evangelical revival in England. He was a teacher, itinerant preacher and a member of the early Methodist movement. He wrote a number of hymns, his best known being ‘Children of the heavenly king.’
In 1752 John Cennick published an Advent hymn, ‘Lo, he cometh’. It wasn’t his best work and the opening verse read;
Lo, he cometh endless trumpets
blow before his bloody sign!
Midst ten thousand saints and angels
see the crucified shine.
Alleluia! Welcome, welcome, bleeding Lamb.
The hymn came to the attention of Charles Wesley who set about re-writing it for his Hymns of Intercession for all Mankind, published in 1758. Wesley transformed the hymn, changing it almost beyond recognition.
The great hymnologist, Canon John Ellerton [1826-1893] later wrote, ‘Cennick’s hymn is poor stuff compared to that into which Wesley recast it’.
'Lo, he comes with clouds descending’ is typical of so many of Charles Wesley’s hymns. It is rich in Biblical imagery and takes words from the Book of Revelation as its inspiration;
‘Behold, he cometh with clouds, and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him; and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him.’ [Revelation 1.7]
Charles Wesley is thought to have written over 6,500 hymns and is often referred to as the ‘Prince of English hymnody’. He was the great poet of the Evangelical Revival in England and the Methodist movement.
Charles Wesley went through a conversion experience in 1738, three years after his ordination. He became an itinerant preacher in England and America, though he remained a member of the Church of England throughout his long life. His hymns helped to ensure the success of the revival movement in the 18th century
John and Charles Wesley
The popularity of ‘Lo, he comes with clouds descending’ owes much to the rousing tune it is usually sung to, Helmsley. It’s thought that the melody is derived from an eighteenth century Air. It is sometimes attributed to Thomas Olivers [1725-1799] who is said to have heard it on a street somewhere in England.
Thomas Olivers was born in Tregynnon, near Newtown, Powys, Wales and died in London. He became one of Wesley's itinerant preachers in 1753.
The tune is also attributed to Thomas Augustine Arne [1710-1799] who composed ‘Rule Britannia’. It is thought to have been first published as a hymn tune in Revd Martin Madan’s Collection of Psalm and Hymn Tunes sung at Lock Hospital, London .