Week 10: Return of Christ



Lo, He Comes With Clouds Descending

Text: Charles Wesley (1707–1788), 1758

Tune: Thomas Olivers (1725–1799), 1765

  1. The text describes Christ’s second coming, with particular references to Revelation 1:7, but is almost always sung during the Advent season leading up to Christmas. Does this hymn give a different perspective to the Christmas season? What are the similarities and differences between the first and second coming of Jesus?

    • The hymn says “God appears on earth to reign” … is this true of Christmas?
    • Compare “robed in dreadful majesty” with the baby in swaddling clothes
    • Choirs of angels on one hand, “thousand thousand saints attending” on the other
    • “O come quickly” reminds of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”, but with much more pomp
    • Christmas is a beginning; Christ’s return is not the end, but rather a second beginning
  2. Critics note that Wesley’s text treads a sensitive line between enthusiasm and restraint, unlike Cennick’s earlier text. Do you agree? How do the imagery of the two compare?

    • Differences:
      • “clouds descending” vs. “trumpets blow”
      • “tokens of his passion” vs. “his bloody sign”
      • “every eye shall see”: “him clothed in royal majesty” vs. “his wounds”
      • “his dazzling body bears” vs. “shining in his bruised face”
      • “ransomed worshippers” vs. “happy mourners”
      • “claim the kingdom” vs. “every evil to destroy”
      • Only Cennick mentions Christs’ judgment
    • Similarities:
      • both consider those who “pierced him” (and “sold” and “nailed”, for Wesley)
      • “wailing” appears as their reaction in both
      • “let all adore thee” and “all the nations now shall sing”

Battle Hymn of the Republic

Text: Julia Ward Howe (1819–1910), 1862

Tune: Traditional American

  1. The “Battle Hymn of the Republic” is perhaps one of the most “embattled” hymns in popular use, especially in recent years. It is, without a doubt, a heavily scriptural hymn, with allusions to the books of Revelation, Daniel, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Isaiah, and more. At the same time, many people feel the hymn is too secular, and are uncomfortable with its violent imagery (see its original third verse) and portrayal of the Union Army as the “army of God”. In your opinion, is there any good (or at least redeemable) message in the hymn? Is it appropriate for use in a church setting?

  2. In addition to problems with its Civil War history, other critics take issue with what they see as Howe’s Unitarian theology coming through the hymn. In particular, they point to phrases like “in the beauty of the lilies, Christ was born” and “He died to make men holy” as Unitarian misinterpretations of the gospel. Do you agree? Are there other theological problems in the hymn?

    • “In the beauty of the lilies” does not particularly match the manger of a stable
    • Many hymnals modify “let us die to make men free” to “let us live to make men free”; is this an improvement? But remembering John 15:13, perhaps “die” is appropriate after all?
    • Howe is quoted as saying, “Not until the Civil War did I officially join the Unitarian church and accept the fact that Christ was merely a great teacher with no higher claim to preeminence in wisdom, goodness, and power than any other man.”

When the Roll is Called Up Yonder

Text: James Milton Black (1856–1938), 1893

Tune: James Milton Black (1856–1938), 1893

  1. Although its words are simple and straightforward, the hymn leaves open some questions in its description of Christ’s second coming. Does the picture it presents match what we read in scripture? Consider the phrases “time shall be no more”, “the dead in Christ shall rise”, “His chosen ones”, and “home beyond the skies”.
    • In the King James Version, Revelation 10:6 says “…there should be time no longer”, but in the English Standard Version (and basically all modern translations) it reads “…there would be no more delay”. Could this be a misinterpretation on the part of Black?
    • Resurrection of the dead again echoes 1 Corinthians 15:52.
    • Matthew 22:14 says “many are called, but few are chosen”. Unless we believe in predestination, how do we square this with the idea that Christ died for everyone?
    • Revelation 21 describes the New Earth and New Jerusalem, but leaves much open to interpretation. Many would say a “home beyond the skies” is not accurate as it implies leaving the earth rather than its renewal.