Article

History of Hymns: “Morning hymn” celebrates Christ as light of the world

by Brian Hehn

“Christ, Whose Glory Fills the Skies”
Charles Wesley
UM Hymnal, No. 173

Charles Wesley

Christ, whose glory fills the skies,
Christ, the true, the only light,
Sun of Righteousness, arise,
Triumph o’er the shades of night;
Dayspring from on high, be near;
Day-star, in my heart appear.


The 18th-century Englishman Charles Wesley (1707-1788) wrote, according to eminent 20th-century hymnologist Erik Routley, “more than 8,989 poems with over 6,000 of them qualifying as ‘hymns.’” That’s 3.4 poems per week, Routley added, “assuming him to have died in the act of writing.” 

Judging solely by quantity, Wesley can be matched by few sacred poets in history. The quality and depth of theology found in these hymns, however, is why hymnologist Routley dubbed Wesley “the first and, surely for all time, the greatest evangelical hymn writer.” 

From the beginning of their movement, Methodists included many of his texts in their hymnals. Of the 980 hymns included in the English Methodist Hymn Book (1904), 440 are by Charles Wesley. The next edition in 1933 still used 243 of his poems. 

Of the many great hymns by Charles Wesley, “Christ, Whose Glory Fills the Skies” is considered one of his best. American Methodist hymnologist Robert McCutchan quotes hymnal editor Alexander MacMillan saying it is “one of the greatest morning hymns in our language, but it is more. It is a glorious hymn to Christ, the Sun of Righteousness, the Light of the World.” 

Originally titled “A Morning Hymn,” this hymn first appeared in the Wesley collection Hymns and Sacred Poems (1740) in three stanzas as well as other collections prepared by the Wesley brothers. In Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861) it was first paired with RATISBON, the tune that most often accompanies the text today. 

Wesley begins the hymn with the antithesis between light and night. Also found throughout the first stanza is the personification of “Sun,” “Dayspring” and “Daystar.” The personification of these objects engages the singer’s imagination and creates vivid pictures in the mind.
In stanza two of this hymn, Wesley uses the first words of each line to tell the story of redemption. The first three lines begin with “Dark,” “Unaccompanied,” and “Joyless.” The plight of humanity has been set. The next two lines begin with “till” which represents hope for salvation. Finally, after the hope is given and the work is done, line six begins with the “Cheer” which comes from our redemption through Jesus Christ. 

In stanza three Wesley once again personifies an idea that represents a deeper meaning so that it might have life in the singer’s imagination. “Radiancy divine” is personified in lines three and four. The picture of scattering our unbelief is wonderfully cheerful, which is only appropriate after sin and grief have been pierced. As Wesley comes to his dramatic close, he employs the technique of epizeuxis (“more and more”) to show the excitement of the writer as well as the singer. The repeating of “more” at that moment implies the idea that we can never see enough of the “Radiancy divine” which has “[pierced] the gloom of sin and grief.” 

Scripture references may be found throughout, ranging from books of prophecy to a literal incarnation account in Luke and a theological incarnation account in John. The Rev. Carlton Young, editor of the UM Hymnal (1989), points out a reference to John 1:9 concerning the “true light” in line two. Stanza one continues with direct references to Isaiah 2:6 and Malachi 4:2 in line three about the “Sun of Righteousness.” The “Day-star” in line six is a direct reference to Isaiah 14:12 and 2 Peter 1:19. 

Routley explores two interesting ideas about this hymn in his book, Hymns and the Faith (1968). First he points out that the idea of worshipping the sun was a pagan religion. By referencing Christ as the “Sun of Righteousness,” Christianity has put “back on the right track religious instincts which had gone astray.” 

The other idea concerns the very first word of the hymn. Routley states that “God, whose glory fills the sky” would not have been anything out of the ordinary. He continues that “Christ, whose glory fills the sky” is an “epic” idea that until this hymn had not been present in Christian thinking or writing. Christ is no longer a being that can only be at one place at one time, but he is one with God in his omnipresence and omniscience. 

Routley rightly proclaims, “Never was written a more thoroughly and richly happy hymn than this.”

“Christ, Whose Glory Fills the Skies”
Charles Wesley
UM Hymnal, No. 173

Charles Wesley

Christ, whose glory fills the skies,
Christ, the true, the only light,
Sun of Righteousness, arise,
Triumph o’er the shades of night;
Dayspring from on high, be near;
Day-star, in my heart appear.


The 18th-century Englishman Charles Wesley (1707-1788) wrote, according to eminent 20th-century hymnologist Erik Routley, “more than 8,989 poems with over 6,000 of them qualifying as ‘hymns.’” That’s 3.4 poems per week, Routley added, “assuming him to have died in the act of writing.” 

Judging solely by quantity, Wesley can be matched by few sacred poets in history. The quality and depth of theology found in these hymns, however, is why hymnologist Routley dubbed Wesley “the first and, surely for all time, the greatest evangelical hymn writer.” 

From the beginning of their movement, Methodists included many of his texts in their hymnals. Of the 980 hymns included in the English Methodist Hymn Book (1904), 440 are by Charles Wesley. The next edition in 1933 still used 243 of his poems. 

Of the many great hymns by Charles Wesley, “Christ, Whose Glory Fills the Skies” is considered one of his best. American Methodist hymnologist Robert McCutchan quotes hymnal editor Alexander MacMillan saying it is “one of the greatest morning hymns in our language, but it is more. It is a glorious hymn to Christ, the Sun of Righteousness, the Light of the World.” 

Originally titled “A Morning Hymn,” this hymn first appeared in the Wesley collection Hymns and Sacred Poems (1740) in three stanzas as well as other collections prepared by the Wesley brothers. In Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861) it was first paired with RATISBON, the tune that most often accompanies the text today. 

Wesley begins the hymn with the antithesis between light and night. Also found throughout the first stanza is the personification of “Sun,” “Dayspring” and “Daystar.” The personification of these objects engages the singer’s imagination and creates vivid pictures in the mind.
In stanza two of this hymn, Wesley uses the first words of each line to tell the story of redemption. The first three lines begin with “Dark,” “Unaccompanied,” and “Joyless.” The plight of humanity has been set. The next two lines begin with “till” which represents hope for salvation. Finally, after the hope is given and the work is done, line six begins with the “Cheer” which comes from our redemption through Jesus Christ. 

In stanza three Wesley once again personifies an idea that represents a deeper meaning so that it might have life in the singer’s imagination. “Radiancy divine” is personified in lines three and four. The picture of scattering our unbelief is wonderfully cheerful, which is only appropriate after sin and grief have been pierced. As Wesley comes to his dramatic close, he employs the technique of epizeuxis (“more and more”) to show the excitement of the writer as well as the singer. The repeating of “more” at that moment implies the idea that we can never see enough of the “Radiancy divine” which has “[pierced] the gloom of sin and grief.” 

Scripture references may be found throughout, ranging from books of prophecy to a literal incarnation account in Luke and a theological incarnation account in John. The Rev. Carlton Young, editor of the UM Hymnal (1989), points out a reference to John 1:9 concerning the “true light” in line two. Stanza one continues with direct references to Isaiah 2:6 and Malachi 4:2 in line three about the “Sun of Righteousness.” The “Day-star” in line six is a direct reference to Isaiah 14:12 and 2 Peter 1:19. 

Routley explores two interesting ideas about this hymn in his book, Hymns and the Faith (1968). First he points out that the idea of worshipping the sun was a pagan religion. By referencing Christ as the “Sun of Righteousness,” Christianity has put “back on the right track religious instincts which had gone astray.” 

The other idea concerns the very first word of the hymn. Routley states that “God, whose glory fills the sky” would not have been anything out of the ordinary. He continues that “Christ, whose glory fills the sky” is an “epic” idea that until this hymn had not been present in Christian thinking or writing. Christ is no longer a being that can only be at one place at one time, but he is one with God in his omnipresence and omniscience. 

Routley rightly proclaims, “Never was written a more thoroughly and richly happy hymn than this.”

Mr. Hehn is a candidate for the master of sacred music degree, Perkins School of Theology, and studies hymnology with Dr. Michael Hawn.

Categories: History of Hymns