Once again, good hymns, those marked by sound theology and a fitting match of text and music, have endured because they are timeless and because they are based on scriptural truth. Angels from the Realms of Glory fits the description of a good hymn.
The first stanza captures the hymn's main theme- a call to worship Christ.
Angels from the realms of glory, wing your flight over all the earth. You who sang creations story, now proclaim Messiah's birth. Come and worship, Come and worship, Come and Worship Christ the newborn King.
Before considering the words of the hymn, notice God's providence in moving the author to write it.
James Montgomery was born in Scotland, 1771. His father was a poor Moravian minister who along with his wife answered the call to be missionaries in the West Indies. James was in a boarding school as his parents headed to their new mission field. Unfathomably, both of Montgomery's parents died just a few years after arriving in West Indies. Montgomery was only 12 when he received word of his parents death. At the age of 15, the young poet wrote these words about his missionary parents-
"My parents hailed their firstborn boy; A mothers pangs my mother bore, My father felt a father's joy. My father, mother- parents now no more! Beneath the Lion Star they sleep, beyond the western deep, and when the sun's noon-glory crests the waves, he shines without a shadow on their graves..."
Montgomery was a poet and writer. He became the editor and publisher of the "Sheffield Register" in England at age 21. His writing raised the ire of governing authorities as he regularly spoke against the social and political injustice of his day, especially the practice of slavery in England. Eventually, on two different occasions Montgomery was put in prison. He continued to write while in prison. At age 43 Montgomery came out of prison and returned to the Moravian church and became an active worker for missions and the bible society. Montgomery died at the age of 83 having written 400 hymns.
His most popular hymn is the focus of this two-part post, Angels from the realms of glory. The song was actually a poem turned in to a hymn after Montgomery's death. Henry Thomas Smith gave us the current musical arrangement in 1867. Montgomery never got to hear Angels from the realms of glory sung.
Most hymnals have 5 stanzas for Angels from the realms of glory. The first 4 are Montgomery's, the fifth verse is by Chope to round out the hymn. Angels from the realms of glory is one of the most sung and most beloved hymns of the past 150 years.
We'll consider the words and their application in part 2