Home History of Hymns: "Rejoice, the Lord is King!"

History of Hymns: "Rejoice, the Lord is King!"

"Rejoice, the Lord is King!"
Charles Wesley
The United Methodist Hymnal, Nos. 715 and 716

Charles Wesley

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.

Charles Wesley wrote the text for "Rejoice, the Lord is King!" in 1746 for Hymns on the Great Festivals and Other Occasions, set to tunes by John Frederick Lampe.

The original text has six stanzas, with the fourth and fifth stanzas omitted in the settings used in The UM Hymnal. Of the four stanzas used in both settings in the hymnal (numbers 715 and 716), almost nothing has been altered from the original 1746 text, a testament to the quality of Charles Wesley's poetry.

The text of this hymn is also quite clear in its message: It is a call to worship the risen Christ. In fact, in its original setting, it is listed under the heading "On the Resurrection," obviously pointing towards Easter.

This is a joyous text as affirmed by the refrain at the end of the first three stanzas: "Lift up your heart, lift up your voice, Rejoice; again I say, rejoice!" The call to "Lift up your heart" is also a part of the Sursum Corda that begins the Eucharistic prayer.

Creedal imagery also abounds in this text -- for example, the idea of Christ as our judge, enthroned above us. This hymn is a call to believe in the risen Christ. When one reads the text, you can almost see Charles Wesley standing on a box on a street corner, shouting these words to the masses.

The evangelistic focus of this hymn reflects the energy of the Wesley brothers as they founded the Methodist movement. Since the early Methodists were calling people toward Christ, it is possible that this text is not so much for congregants in attendance but for people who do not yet know the majesty of Christ. The text itself sums up in simple terms much of who we believe Christ was and still is: Christ is our Savior, King, and Judge.

There is quite an interesting history of the melodies pared with "Rejoice, the Lord is King!" There are two settings of the text in the UM Hymnal: No. 715 is set to DARWALL'S 148TH, attributed to John Darwall, and No. 716 is set to GOPSAL, composed by George Frederick Handel.

The original tune, composed for the text by John Frederick Lampe, is available in the original source. Though very beautiful, it is extremely florid. The setting has a florid melody more fitting for a soloist, so it understandable why it wasn't preserved for congregational singing.
There is much contrast between the two settings in the UM Hymnal, but they are both very singable.

The four-part harmonization by Darwall is bright and joyful. DARWALL'S 148TH was composed in 1770, but wasn't joined to the Wesley text until the late 19th century.

A more interesting story surrounds the composition of GOPSAL, Handel's setting of the text. GOPSAL was written specifically for this text in 1752. The Wesley/Handel connection is unclear, but they were both working in London at the time, Charles Wesley helping to grow the Methodist church and Handel enjoying his own tremendous musical success through operas and oratorios such as Messiah.

Handel chose to set six Wesley texts but the tunes weren't published until the manuscripts were discovered by Charles Wesley's son Samuel in 1826. Though GOPSAL has a Baroque aria-like line, it is not too difficult for the average congregant to sing.

Mr. Johnston is a master of sacred music candidate at Perkins School of Theology and a student of Dr. C. Michael Hawn.

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