Hark the Herald: Deep Truths Embedded in a Simple Carol


Across the world, Christmas carols carry deep doctrinal truths where few other witnesses would be allowed. These carols ring out from apostate cathedrals of Europe, through pop music artists online, and even in glitzy Asian malls.

In particular, Charles Wesley’s “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” proclaims bold truths about the person and work of Christ that most carolers do not even realize as they sing the familiar lines. Let’s walk through the lyrics of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and discover what doctrines and Scripture passages Charles Wesley (and later editor George Whitefield) reference throughout this beloved Christmas carol.

1. Jesus Is Savior, King, and Messiah.

(1) Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!”
Joyful, all ye nations rise, Join the triumph of the skies;
With th’angelic host proclaim, “Christ is born in Bethlehem!”
Hark! the herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”

The hymnwriter, Charles Wesley, launches directly into the Christmas account, paraphrasing lines from Luke 2:9–15. He focuses on Jesus’ titles of king, savior, and messiah. As king, Jesus brings peace. As Savior, He reconciles man to God. Finally, as messiah, He fulfills the prophet’s words in Micah 5:2 as a ruler born in Bethlehem. Wesley tucks all these doctrinal truths into one stanza and hides them in plain sight in the words of the angels on Christmas morning.

2. Jesus Is Fully God and Fully Man.

(2) Christ, by highest Heav’n adored; Christ the everlasting Lord;
Late in time, behold Him come, Offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail th’incarnate Deity,
Pleased with us in flesh to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel.
Hark! the herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”

In verse two, the hymnwriter weaves in the doctrine of the hypostatic union: Jesus is fully God and fully man. He is the everlasting Lord, eternal God with no beginning. Yet, He is also born into this world, the son of a virgin as Isaiah foretold (Isaiah 7:14). Alluding to John 1, Wesley teaches the incarnation: God became man and lived among humankind. He is Emmanuel, meaning “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14; 8:8, 10). Wesley puts these truths so succinctly that the nature of Christ can be explained in just one stanza of this Christmas carol.

3. Jesus is the Risen Source of Spiritual Life.

(3) Hail the heav’nly Prince of Peace! Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings, Ris’n with healing in His wings.
Mild He lays His glory by, Born that man no more may die;
Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth.
Hark! the herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”

In the final stanza, Wesley focuses on resurrection life for Jesus and His followers. The hymnwriter quotes the final prophecies of the last book of the Old Testament, calling Jesus the “Sun of Righteousness” and speaking of “healing in His wings” (Malachi 4:2). Jesus, the heavenly Prince of Peace, is the source of spiritual life. He can “raise the sons of earth” because He rose from the dead. Jesus provides new life through regeneration—the new birth (John 3:3; 2 Corinthians 5:17). Within this Christmas hymn, Wesley teaches soteriological truths that, if understood by the singer, could lead them to be born again.

The Theology of Hark the Herald

Set to the stirring melody by Felix Mendelssohn, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” is a gold mine of biblical theology. In these short stanzas, Wesley teaches rich truths about the person of Christ (Christology) and salvation (soteriology). The composition of this hymn follows the inspired guidelines of Colossians 3:16: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” With so many quotes and allusions to Scripture, the word of Christ dwells richly in “Hark the Herald.” This carol teaches timeless truths from God’s Word as any good hymn should. Along the way, it heralds the offer of salvation to the many lost souls who hear it playing during the Christmas season across the world.

Original photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash (lyrics added).

MR Conrad Bio

Dr. Conrad serves in urban Asia. He, his wife, and their four children squeeze into a 700 square-foot apartment where he seizes rare moments of quiet to write amidst homeschooling, a cacophony of musical instruments, and the steady stream of visitors they so enjoy having in their home. He enjoys birding, board games, and basketball. He is the author of, so far, two books.