If it gets much later the hymn of the week will be the hymn of last week. On Sunday I chose this as the hymn after the sermon, thinking particularly of the Gospel text’s (Mark 1:21-28) description of Jesus as one with authority, even authority over unclean spirits.
The original heading of the hymn ‘To be sung in a tumult’ gives a clue as to its original context.
During the early years of the Methodist movement John Wesley and his preachers often faced opposition and even mob violence. It was not unusual for a gang to be hired to break up a Methodist meeting and sometimes preacher and congregation were abused and threatened. More than once Methodist preachers were in danger of losing their lives. John Wesley’s practice was to look a mob in the face. Sometimes the crowd melted away; even if not, he refused to panic. One example of his courage was recorded in the Journal for 4 July 1745:
I rode to Falmouth. About three in the afternoon I went to see a gentlewoman who had long been indisposed. Almost as soon as I was sat down, the house was beset on all sides by an innumerable multitude of people. A louder or more confused noise could hardly be at the taking of a city by storm. At first Mrs B and her daughter endeavoured to quiet them. But it was labour lost. They might as well have attempted to still the raging of the sea…
They forced open the outer door, and entered the passage. Only a wainscot partition was between us, which was not likely to stand long… Among those without were the crews of some privateers, which were lately come into harbour. Some of these, being angry at the slowness of the rest, thrust them away, and coming up all together, set their shoulders to the inner door, ad cried out: ‘Avast, lads, avast!’ Away went all the hinges at once, and the door fell back into the room.
I stepped forward at once into the midst of them, and said, ‘Here I am. Which of you has anything to say to me? To which of you have I done any wrong? To you? Or to you? Or you? I continued speaking till I came… into the middle of the street, and then raising my voice, said: ‘neighbours, countrymen! Do you desire to hear me speak?’ they cried vehemently: ‘Yes, yes! He shall speak! He shall! Nobody shall hinder him! But having nothing to stand on, and no advantage of ground, I could be heard by few only. However, I spoke without intermission, and, as far as sound reached, the people were still; till one or two of their captains turned about and swore, not a man should touch him.
‘Earth, rejoice, the Lord is King’ was written to be sung in the face of such danger. In its use of imagery it is one of the most dramatic of Charles Wesley’s hymns. As usual, Charles Wesley drew on a wide range of biblical sources, but particularly the story of the Syrian army surrounding Elisha, as recorded in 2 Kings 6:15-17
‘And his servant said unto him, Alas, my master! how shall we do? And he answered, fear not, for they that be with us are more than they that be with them. And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.’
Earth, rejoice, our Lord is King!
Sons of men, his praises sing;
Sing ye in triumphant strains,
Jesus the Messiah reigns!
Power is all to Jesus given,
Lord of hell, and earth, and heaven,
Every knee to him shall bow;
Satan, hear, and tremble now!
Angels and archangels join,
All triumphantly combine,
All in Jesu’s praise agree,
Carrying on his victory.
Though the sons of night blaspheme,
More there are with us than them;
God with us, we cannot fear;
Fear, ye fiends, for Christ is here!
Lo! to faith’s enlightened sight,
All the mountain flames with light,
Hell is nigh, but God is nigher,
Circling us with hosts of fire.
Christ the Saviour is come down,
Points us to the victor’s crown,
Bids us take our seats above,
More than conquerors in his love.
Charles Wesley (1707-1788)