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The Midweek Hymn: Rejoice, the Lord is King

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BACK to the ever-reliable Charles Wesley this week. I have already written about him several times including hereherehere and here

This hymn was written around 1744 while Charles (1707-1788) and his brother John (1703-1791), the founders of Methodism, were travelling all over the country and attracting large crowds to their open-air sermons. They were not universally welcomed, particularly by the clergy, who were not above encouraging riots to drive them away. Here is an extract from John Wesley’s diary in 1749, concerning an episode not far from where we live

‘I rode, at the desire of John Bennet, to Rochdale, in Lancashire. As soon as ever we entered the town, we found the streets lined on both sides with multitudes of people, shouting, cursing, blaspheming, and gnashing upon us with their teeth.

‘Perceiving it would not be practicable to preach abroad [i.e. in the open air], I went into a large room, open to the street, and called aloud, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts.” The Word of God prevailed over the fierceness of man. None opposed or interrupted; and there was a very remarkable change in the behaviour of the people, as we afterward went through the town.

‘We came to Bolton about five in the evening. We had no sooner entered the main street than we perceived the lions at Rochdale were lambs in comparison to those at Bolton. Such rage and bitterness I scarcely ever saw before in any creatures that bore the form of men. They followed us in full cry to the house where we went; and as soon as we had gone in, took possession of all the avenues to it and filled the street from one end to the other.

‘After some time the waves did not roar quite so loud. Mr P [Edward Perronet, a fellow Methodist] thought he might then venture out. They immediately closed in, threw him down and rolled him in the mire; so that when he scrambled from them and got into the house again, one could scarcely tell what or who he was.’

Despite their lives of hardship, Charles and John Wesley wanted their followers to be joyful, not to be discouraged and lose hope. Charles found the inspiration for this hymn in St Paul’s injunction to the church at Philippi, ‘Rejoice in the Lord alway; and again I say, Rejoice’ (Philippians 4:4, King James Bible).

No doubt Charles Wesley would have empathised with Paul, whose life as he went about spreading the Christian gospel was a great deal more difficult. He was often attacked and on five occasions he suffered the forty lashes that had the potential to kill a man. He was stoned and left for dead. At the time he wrote his letter to the Philippians he was in prison, probably at Rome or Ephesus, about AD 62, for the offence of preaching. Despite his fear that he would soon be put to death, his message was one of joy and encouragement.

There is some dispute about when the hymn was published. It was either in 1744 in John Wesley’s Moral and Sacred Poems or two years later in Charles Wesley’s Hymns for Our Lord’s Resurrection.

The original version had six stanzas:

Rejoice! the Lord is King,
Your Lord and King adore;
Mortals, give thanks, and sing,
And triumph evermore:
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice; Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

Jesus the Saviour reigns,
The God of truth and love;
When he had purged our stains,
He took his seat above:
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice; Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

His kingdom cannot fail;
He rules o’er earth and heaven;
The keys of death and hell
Are to our Jesus given:
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice; Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

He sits at God’s right hand
Till all his foes submit,
And bow to his command,
And fall beneath his feet:
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice; Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

He all his foes shall quell,
Shall all our sins destroy,
And every bosom swell 
With pure seraphic joy
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice; Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

Rejoice in glorious hope;
Jesus the judge shall come,
And take his servants up
To their eternal home:
We soon shall hear the archangel’s voice; The trump of God shall sound: Rejoice!

These days the fourth and fifth verses are often omitted and the variant chorus of the sixth verse (with its highly topical reference to ‘The trump of God’) is replaced by the standard refrain.

The original tune was composed for the text by John Frederick Lampe (c 1703 -1751). He was born Johann Friedrich Lampe in Saxony, but came to England in 1724 and played the bassoon in opera houses. He wrote several operas and other works, and for a while was very successful. He became a friend of Charles Wesley, and wrote several tunes to accompany Wesley’s hymns. Sadly I cannot find his setting of Rejoice, the Lord is King, which I have seen described as beautiful but with a florid melody more suited to a soloist than a congregation, but I did find this charming movement from his concerto for recorder and strings called The Cuckoo.

In America the hymn is most often sung to the tune Darwall’s 148th. This was composed by John Darwall (1731-1789). He was born in Staffordshire and at the age of 14 he entered Brasenose College, Oxford. He was first curate and then vicar of St Matthew’s parish church in Walsall, and he composed the tune for the inauguration of a new organ at the church in 1773.

Here is an arrangement by John Rutter:

I like this version by Covenant Christian High School Choirs of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

This is a must watch:

However to me this tune is indelibly associated with another hymn, Ye Holy Angels Bright (which I will write about later), and I prefer the one I grew up with, which is Gopsal by George Frideric Handel (1685-1759).

This was written specifically for the text in 1752. Handel, who spent much of his life in England, was friendly with theatre manager John Rich, who put his Covent Garden Theatre at Handel’s disposal for the performance of his operas. Handel taught music to Rich’s daughters. Rich’s wife had been converted to Methodism by the Wesleys’ ministry and invited Charles to her home, where he and Handel met. Mrs Rich requested Handel to write a melody for Rejoice, the Lord is King. In fact Handel chose to set six Wesley texts but the tunes were not published until long after the composer’s death, the manuscripts having been discovered by Wesley’s son Samuel in 1826. This one was named after Gopsal Hall (also spelled Gopsall), the Leicestershire country home of Handel’s friend Charles Jennens, who collated the Bible verses which formed the libretto of Messiah.

Here it is by the choir of Marlborough College Chapel.

This is a lovely arrangement performed by Saint Michael’s Singers.

And here is Grimethorpe Colliery Band.

Finally, a tune that is new to me by the prolific American composer Horatio Parker (1863-1919), arranged by Ryan Murphy. I think it deserves to be better known.

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Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth is a retired national newspaper journalist. She runs the Subbing Clinic in a hopeless attempt to keep up standards, and co-runs A & M Records where she indulges her passion for 60s pop.

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