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Angels from the Realms of Glory

Dr. Ray Pritchard
Dr. Ray Pritchard
2015 4 Dec

“Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified” (Luke 2:9).

In his day, James Montgomery was quite a rabble-rouser.

On one hand, his friends knew him to be a deeply devoted Christian who stood up for what he believed. But because of certain political views, he was considered by some to be extreme and by others to be dangerous. When he was six years old, his parents put him in boarding school while they left to be missionaries in the West Indies. Shuttled from home to home, he never seemed to find his place.

He failed at school.
He failed as a baker’s apprentice.
But he knew how to write poetry.

Eventually he found success as the owner of a newspaper called “The Iris.” Twice he was imprisoned because of his politics, especially his call for the abolition of slavery.

In 1816, when he was 45 years old, he wrote “Angels from the Realms of Glory.” It is considered one of the finest hymns ever composed in English. During his lifetime, Montgomery wrote over 400 hymns. Only Charles Wesley and Isaac Watts surpass him in the number of hymns still sung today. It is sung most often to the tune “Regent Square,” written by the blind composer Henry Smart (who also built some of England’s finest organs).

In successive verses, this carol tells the Christmas story, starting with the angels, then the shepherds, then the wise men (“sages”), and ending with a call to Christians everywhere. “Angels from the Realms of Glory” first appeared in Montgomery’s paper on Christmas Eve 1816.

Here are the four verses found in most hymnals:

Angels from the realms of glory
Wing your flight o’er all the earth
Ye, who sang creation’s story
Now proclaim Messiah's birth
Come and worship, come and worship
Worship Christ the newborn King

Shepherds in the fields abiding
Watching o’er your flocks by night
God with man is now residing
Yonder shines the Infant light
Come and worship, come and worship
Worship Christ the newborn King

Sages leave your contemplations
Brighter visions beam afar
Seek the great Desire of nations
Ye have seen His natal star
Come and worship, come and worship
Worship Christ the newborn King

Saints before the altar bending
Watching long in hope and fear
Suddenly the Lord, descending,
In His temple shall appear
Come and worship, come and worship
Worship Christ the newborn King

James Montgomery had a good grasp of theology. He mentions Jesus’ Old Testament title (“Messiah’s birth), his deity (“God with man is now residing”), his universal appeal (“Desire of nations”), and even his second coming (“Suddenly, the Lord descending”). The refrain calls on everyone to respond in faith (“Come and worship”).

I found a short instrumental version by the Percy Faith Orchestra. I hope you will listen and sing along.

Sovereign Lord, with the angels, we proclaim your greatness. With the shepherds, we seek your face. With the Wise Men, we offer our gifts. With all the saints, we worship as we await your return. Amen.

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