03 December 2014

Hymns for Advent (4): ‘Lo! he comes,
with clouds descending’ (No 132)

The emblem of the Lamb of God on the pediment of the former Moravian Church in Dublin … ‘Lo! he comes, with clouds descending’ was first sung in the Moravian chapel in Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Patrick Comerford

As part of my spiritual reflections for Advent this year, I am looking at an appropriate hymn for Advent each morning. This morning I have chosen ‘Lo! he comes, with clouds descending’ (Irish Church Hymnal, No 132), which was sung as the Post-Communion hymn at the Cathedral Eucharist in Christ Church Cathedral last Sunday morning, and was sung again at the Advent Procession on Sunday evening [30 November 2014].

This hymn can be attributed to three writers. The original text is by John Cennick (1718-1755), who founded the first Moravian congregation in Ireland in Dublin in 1749. Cennick’s parents were both Quakers, but he was brought up in the Church of England and under the influence of John Wesley became the first Methodist lay preacher.

Cennick later joined the Moravians, and founded the first Moravian congregation in Dublin. This hymn, inspired by Revelation 1: 7, was first sung in the Moravian Chapel in Dublin in 1750.

John Wesley’s brother, Charles Wesley (1707-1788), later rewrote the hymn.

The version in the Irish Church Hymnal (No 132) owes much to later revisions by Martin Madan (1726-1790), founder and chaplain of the Lock Hospital in London.

The tune Helmsley may have been written by Thomas Olivers (1725-1799), one of Wesley’s preachers, but it takes its name from a parish in Yorkshire where one of the earliest hymnals in the Church of England was published in 1767 by the Revd Richard Conyers.

The tune was first selected for this hymn by Ralph Vaughan Williams for the English Hymnal in 1906, replacing the earlier tune, ‘Saint Thomas.’

‘Lo! he comes, with clouds descending’ (No 132, Irish Church Hymnal)

Lo! he comes with clouds descending,
once for favoured sinners slain;
thousand thousand saints attending
swell the triumph of his train:
God appears on earth to reign.

Every eye shall now behold him
robed in dreadful majesty;
those who set at nought and sold him,
pierced, and nailed him to the tree:
Lord, have mercy,
let us all thine Advent see.

Those dear tokens of his Passion
still his dazzling body bears,
cause of endless exultation
to his ransomed worshipers;
with what rapture
gaze we on those glorious scars!

Yea, amen, let all adore thee,
high on thine eternal throne;
Saviour, take the power and glory;
claim the kingdom for thine own:
O come quickly,
Everlasting God, come down.

Tomorrow:Deo Gracias,’ from ‘A Ceremony of Carols’ by Benjamin Britten

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