The Famous and the Unknown
(Or What in the World Is a Welkin?)
When you look at the famous Christmas carol “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing,” the name of the famous Charles Wesley stands out as the author of the words to this famous song. He authored the text of many classic hymns, and his poetic skills are admired by all those who enjoy learning about the history of our sacred music.
But when Charles Wesley wrote “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing,” these are the lines of verse that he actually wrote:
Hark, how all the welkin rings,God Himself works through the details to allow His children to be blessed with heavenly hymns.
“Glory to the King of kings;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”
Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
Universal nature say,
“Christ the Lord is born today!”
Not only did Wesley compose these stanzas, but he was not too excited when publishers edited his work, changing his words without his permission. His brother actually wrote these lines in the preface to a hymnal that was published in 1779:
“[Printers] are perfectly welcome to [reprint many of our hymns]. But I desire they would not attempt to mend them, for they are not really able. None of them is able to mend either the sense or the verse. Therefore, I must beg of them these two favors: either to let them stand just as they are, to take things for better or for worse, or to add the true reading in the margin, or at the bottom of the page, that we may no longer be accountable either for the nonsense or for the doggerel of other men.”
So the famous Wesleys did not particularly care for it when anonymous editors changed their writing of “Hark, how all the welkin rings” to “Hark! the herald angels sing”; but millions of the people through the years have been blessed (and quite satisfied!) to have the term welkin removed from their hymnal.
The Christmas carol as we know it would have never been created without the help of now-anonymous editors. Of course, those editors would not have had anything to edit if Charles Wesley had not written a poem in the first place.
As we scan the history of hymnody, it is clear that God uses both the famous and the unknown. And in a way that we cannot fully comprehend, God Himself works through the details to allow His children to be blessed with heavenly hymns.