Radio Series: Hymns of the Faith: Hymns of the Faith: Rejoice the Lord is King

by Bill Wymond, Derek Thomas, J. Ligon Duncan on September 6, 2013

Hymns of the Faith

“Rejoice, the Lord Is King”

Philippians 4;
Psalm 97

A Presentation
of First Presbyterian Church



Dr. Ligon Duncan, Dr. Derek Thomas, and Dr. Bill

Dr. Wymond: Good morning! This is “Hymns of the
Faith,” brought to you by Jackson’s First Presbyterian Church. The minister of
the First Presbyterian Church is Dr. Ligon Duncan. Stay tuned for “Hymns of the
Faith.” ….and here with “Hymns of the Faith” is Dr. Ligon Duncan.

Dr. Duncan: Thank you, Bill Wymond. This is Ligon
Duncan, along with Derek Thomas, and the three of us are here today to talk
about hymns of the faith, these great treasures of Christian devotion that have
been handed down to the church over the last two millennia, and which now we
enjoy singing Lord’s Day after Lord’s Day. Today we’re looking at a great
Charles Wesley hymn, Rejoice, the Lord Is King.

Now for some of you, to hear that title announced
will bring to mind both the text and the song. This is, for us in our
congregation, almost always sung to DARWALL,
a tune which is named after the author. To get it into your head before we begin
talking about it, let me ask Bill Wymond if he would play
DARWALL for us. [Dr. Wymond plays.]
It’s a sturdy, durable, and flexible tune. We use it for a number of different
things, and we’ll talk about the tune itself in a few moments, and its composer.

Derek, I want to note right off the top of the
program that this text zeroes in on the ascension and the heavenly session,
the reigning of Jesus Christ at God’s right hand
of God, and works
out all manner of implications for us as believers, based on that particular
truth. Remind us a little bit about this remarkable hymn composer, Charles
Wesley, and a little bit about the background to this hymn.

Dr. Thomas: Well, Wesley of course, and his
brother John, are the founders, I suppose we would say, of Methodism, in the
eighteenth century — Charles, by far and away being more well known for his
composition of some of the best hymns in our hymnic repertoire, I suppose.

Dr. Duncan: We were saying off air that
Charles Wesley, the composer of this hymn
, himself was responsible for about
fifty volumes of hymns, and in one of my background pieces here (I’m not sure
whether it’s Julian or if this is in another item) it shows 63 volumes of
poetical works by John and Charles Wesley.

I know that the number of hymns that’s attributed to
Charles is in the range of — what? Five thousand or more? He was incredibly
prolific in terms of his hymn writing.

Dr. Thomas: And Can It Be That I Should Gain;
Christ, the Lord, Is Risen Today; Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus; Jesus, Lover
of My Soul; Love Divine, All Loves Excelling; O for a Thousand Tongues to
Sing; Soldiers of Christ, Arise…
and on and on.

Dr. Duncan: So it’s not just that he wrote a lot
of hymns; it’s that he wrote a lot of hymns that are in sort of your “Top 100
List for All Time in English Hymnody,” which is remarkable. There are very few
people that were able to produce so much that was of such consistently high

Dr. Thomas: And I wonder if the experience of the
Great Awakening and its aftermath…the way in which John and Charles (one thinks
of the great event in London where, in John’s language, his “soul was strangely
warmed”)…where if there’s to be a good hymn, there has to be a wedding of great
theology, but also deep experiential value.

Dr. Duncan: Right. Bill, you were commenting on
this off the air before we came on. I don’t know whether it was Julian or
someone else commenting on how the Methodist corporate experience of singing was
wedded to their passion for holiness and for Christ.

Dr. Wymond: It was interesting. When the
Methodists in college (or in university) first formed and they were using a
method of devotion and lifestyle, it says when they “declined” — and the
implication was when there was a decline spiritually — their singing went away.
And then after their conversions — the Wesley brothers and so on — and the
formation of the Methodists, they started singing, and singing became an
important part of their experience.

The same thing sort of happened in the Scottish
church, too. Their Psalm-singing declined as they had controversies over how
they ought to be doing the Psalms and so on like that, so they got to a point at
one time where they were not even singing in the Scots church in the eighteenth
century. So it’s interesting how singing wells out of one’s own devotional life;
and when that declines, perhaps our interest in singing declines.

Dr. Duncan: The composer of this tune, Bill is
John Darwall, and he was writing in the eighteenth century, a little bit after
the time that John and Charles Wesley were around. Tell us a little bit about
the tune itself and about the author, or the composer.

Dr. Wymond: Well, first something about John
Darwall, the composer.
The thing that is remarkable about him is that he was
really not remarkable! And I don’t mean that as any kind of slur upon him. He
was born in Staffordshire, England, and he served his whole life as a minister
in a parish in the Midlands called Walsall. I think that’s interesting, how this
man went to this one church and served all of his life there. Actually, that
speaks well of him, that he could endure. We had a minister in our own church
here who was here for 44 years, Dr. Hutton, and long pastors can bear certain
fruit because ministers know families through various generations and have a
great impact on families, I think.

So he was at St. Matthew’s Parish in Walsall, and he
was also an amateur musician and enjoyed especially setting the Psalms to new
tunes. There’s a very famous version, an early version of the Psalter by Tate
and Brady — Nathan Tate and Nicolas Brady — and the tunes for those were
considered sort of old fashioned by the nineteenth century. And so Darwall
proposed writing new tunes for these versions of the Psalter, and did so. And he
said that the tunes ought to be more lively. He said you could sing six verses
in a more lively way to four verses of the old tunes that were used from Tate
and Brady. So when there was an interest in putting out a new version of Tate
and Brady, he wrote tunes that were used.

And “lively” is a good word to use for the kinds of
tunes that he did, because this tune, Rejoice, the Lord Is King, is both
lively and energetic to me. It’s one of the most energetic tunes I know.
We’ve actually talked about this tune before, but I love the ascending line of
this as it refers back to the fundamental note, which is this note [plays],
and it jumps up by thirds [plays], then fifths [plays],
then by octaves. To me that’s a very strong way for the tune to progress:
“Rejoice, the Lord is King…” and so for such an elevated thought it has great

And then as it comes to sing what we should do in our
rejoicing, it says “Your Lord and King adore.” [Plays.] A lot of times
hymn tunes have to…when it makes an initial statement and wants to explain
why…will have a descending passage. And then it goes back up again [plays].
Those are kind of big jumps for hymn tunes, and the words are big in their
scope, too: “Rejoice, give thanks, and sing and triumph evermore.” And then
when it says “lift up your voice
it lifts up the tune [plays].
“Lift up your voice, rejoice again…” It goes right up more than an octave…”I
say, rejoice!” To me, this is one of the strongest and most inspiring tunes that
I know, because of those musical features.

Dr. Duncan: It’s bright. The tune is very bright.
And I think it has the effect of producing what the words are asking you to
do — to lift up your heart
. The very tune helps you, it seems, to do what
the words are asking you to do.

Dr. Wymond: The way it’s put together just affects
us emotionally in a really strong way, and in a cheerful way. You can’t hear
this or sing this tune without having that effect upon you.

Dr. Duncan: Right. Derek, there are a lot of
features to this song that you brought to my attention that I had not thought
about that I want to talk with you about. But I do want to say one more word
about Wesley. You know, there are hymnologists, and those that love to study
hymns and the history of hymns argue about was Wesley better or was Watts
better? You know, who was sort of the front rank of the hymn writers of this
period of time? And there’s a very interesting statement here that comes from a
famous hymnologist named Dr. David Breed, and he says this:

“Watts is more reverential; Wesley, more loving. Watts is stronger; Wesley,
sweeter. Watts appeals profoundly to the intellect; Wesley takes hold of the
heart. Watts will continue to sing for the Paul’s and Peter’s of the church;
Wesley for the Thomas’s and the John’s. Where both are so great, it would be
idle to attempt to settle their priority. Let us only be grateful that God in
His gracious providence has given both to the church to voice the praises of the
various classes.”

That’s a beautiful way of describing the relative emphases
and strengths of these wonderful hymn writers.

But one thing that you drew attention to, and I think
it’s appropriate and want to get you to talk about, is how the song helps us do
what the text asks us to do. You had mentioned, Derek, that in the refrain,
each time we sing it — five times in our hymnal, to five stanzas — there
is an English version of a very ancient Latin Christian word of worship
instruction called the circum corda.
Tell us just a little bit
about that, because that factors into Calvin’s worship and into continental
Reformed worship as well.

Dr. Thomas: Just circum corda in
Latin of course means lift up your hearts. I was reading
recently in a fairly dense and difficult book by Aaron Milavec, it was actually
his doctoral dissertation on the The Didache1,
which is one of the earliest manuscripts known to us…

Dr. Duncan: Which, roughly translated, means
the teaching…the teaching of the Apostles

Dr. Thomas: And it used to be thought that The
came from the middle of the second century, but Aaron Milavec
has argued strongly that it’s actually from the sixties of the first century, so
within the lifetime of the Apostles — though he is not actually suggesting that
it was put together by the Apostles. But in any case, the circum corda
occurs in the liturgy of the earliest church outside of The Acts of the Apostles
that we know of. And Calvin, of course, whose great concern was to take worship
back to the early church and was a wonderful scholar of the church fathers,
introduced or re-introduced…well, I suppose the circum corda was part of
the Latin mass liturgy, so Calvin retained the circum corda, but actually
moved it from where it was in the Latin mass to the liturgy of the Lord’s

Dr. Duncan: And it fits in with his doctrine of
what is going on when the believer communes in the Lord’s Supper.

Dr. Thomas: Right; to lift up our hearts, contrary
to all the stuff that goes about concerning the Lord’s Supper these days. But
Calvin is saying we are communing with Christ physically, who is at the right
hand of God. So it would be appropriate to lift up one’s heart
. So
this very well known part of liturgy, Lift up your heart… “lift up your
voice”… of course it would have been antiphonal, so the minister would
say, “Lift up your hearts,” and the congregation would respond, “We lift them up
unto the Lord,” which is still part of the …well, I’m not sure the latest
Anglican liturgy, but certainly was part of the Cranmer liturgy of 1559-1562,
that first liturgy.

Dr. Wymond: Well, I wanted to ask you, but I don’t
want to divert your thought here, so go ahead if you’d like.

Dr. Thomas: My thoughts had expired!

Dr. Wymond: Well, good! Now, Derek, you often tell
us that you sing these things to different tunes over in Great Britain. Is this
the tune…?

Dr. Thomas: No.

Dr. Wymond: OK. It couldn’t happen to be this one…?
[Plays.] It’s called ARTHUR’S SEAT.

Dr. Thomas: Oh, right! In Anglican circles I think
it’s sung to GOPSELL…not “gospel” but “Gopsell,”
which is the home of the man called Jenners or Jennings…the man who wrote the
text to Handel’s Messiah.

Dr. Wymond: Yes, Charles Jennings. Well, I ask you
about this tune because we had talked about Sir John Goss, who wrote that
wonderful Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven. Well, he wrote this tune
for this hymn.

Dr. Thomas:

Dr. Wymond: Yes,
ARTHUR’S SEAT — [plays tune]…just going to do a little bit
more…perfectly Victorian and not anything as good as

Dr. Duncan: I wonder if it’s named after Arthur’s
Seat in Edinburgh. For those of you who have visited Edinburgh, Scotland,
Arthur’s Seat is the massive volcanic formation which is on the east, and
slightly to the south of a volcanic ridge that runs up to the castle in
Edinburgh, which is called The Royal Mile, from Holyrood Palace up to the
castle, and Arthur’s Seat is…if you saw the movie Chariots of Fire, it’s
in the background as Jennie and Eric are having their famous argument (that
never happened in real history, but adds a little poetic dramatic scene to the

Dr. Thomas: Well, the original tune was
RESURRECTION, correct? There was a
tune written by Samuel Wesley called

Dr. Wymond: Well, it’s interesting how sometimes
these tunes and words are immediately wedded to the best, and in this instance
there were several attempts before…and I think that this tune that I did by Goss
is so Victorian, and not in a particularly good way. It’s a little flighty for
me, but…

Dr. Duncan: I think the progressions in
DARWALL would be hard to beat for this
hymn because it’s so much focusing on ascension and reign. I think it would be
hard to come up with a better tune.

Dr. Wymond: Well, that’s a bit of likeness there,
but we should go to more important things which concern the text.

Dr. Duncan: Well, just looking at the text
itself, Derek, in our hymnal it suggests for reflection Hebrews 1:3.

Dr. Thomas: Well, probably the opening allusion is
Psalm 97, don’t you think? “Rejoice, the Lord is King…let all creation” …however
Psalm 97 begins.

Dr. Duncan: Yes, and you also mentioned that
perhaps in the repetition of “Rejoice, again I say, rejoice” is pointing us to
the Pauline exhortation that comes in Philippians 4 and points, as that whole
book does, to the significance of the believer rejoicing in God in the Christian

Dr. Thomas: Some reference to the Creed may well
be here in Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension, sitting at God’s right hand
in glory, and so on.

The original first verse is different from what we
have here. Our text here reads:

“Rejoice, the Lord is King: your
Lord and King adore!

Rejoice, give thanks, and sing,
and triumph evermore.”

But the original said,

“Rejoice, the Lord is King: your
Lord and King adore!

Mortals give thanks and
sing and triumph evermore.”

Dr. Duncan: And Wesley was trying to pair that
with what, Derek? At the end of this hymn?

Dr. Thomas: Well, the final stanza is of

“Rejoice in glorious hope! Our
Lord, the Judge, shall come,

And take His servants up to their
eternal home.”

So there’s a contrast between mortality and eternal life.

Dr. Duncan: So in the language of Paul, when the
mortal puts on immortality…and so he’s trying to draw attention to that glorious
Pauline theme.

Dr. Thomas: And I think…I sort of regret that that
change has been made, because I think a reminder of our mortality is a good
thing: that we are mortal, that it is appointed unto man once to die.

Dr. Duncan: And at the same time a reminder of
our embodied existence in the world to come; that we’re not sort of airy-fairy
spirits flying around, but there is this embodied reality that is awaiting when
the Judge comes and takes us to our eternal home. We’re not floating around on
the clouds, but we have real bodies–glorious bodies, but real bodies.

Dr. Thomas: In theology we talk about “the
session of Christ
.” And it used to be part of vocabulary that would have
been fairly commonly understood. But what does that mean, Ligon, in verse four:
“He sits at God’s right hand, till all His foes submit”? What is the

Dr. Duncan: Well, one thing — to go back to a
point that you’ve already made, but which I want to emphasize because someone
may have missed, is that there is definitely The Apostles’ Creed in the
background here. Even if a person doesn’t know what we are talking about when we
talk about the heavenly session of Christ, if they are Christians and
they say The Apostles’ Creed, they confess that they believe in the
heavenly session of Christ
every time they repeat The Apostles’ Creed
and use the words that “He sitteth at the right hand of God the Father

The heavenly session is the enthronement of
Jesus Christ over all things
, whereby He rules this world by His word
and Spirit from the right hand of the heavenly Father. And this song wants to
apply to the believer and to the believer’s joy and rejoicing numerous aspects
of what it means for us that Jesus is reigning at the right hand of God.

So for instance, the first stanza reminds us that
this means that Jesus triumphs. The world may have had on its vision the
crucifixion of Jesus and the burial of Jesus, but for the believer he cannot but
think of both the resurrection and of the ascension of Jesus, so that Jesus’
session at the right hand is a constant reminder to the believer that Jesus has
triumphed. He’s triumphed over death, and that means what for us? We are going
to triumph over death one day.

And then in the second stanza, He “…reigns, the God
of truth and love.” And His reign means what? He has purged our stains. Seeing
Him on the seat…. You know, it seems to me that a friend of mine wrote a book
about this. Let me see…his name was Derek Thomas! And it’s a book called
Taken Up to
Heaven, 2
isn’t it?

Dr. Thomas: It is.

Dr. Duncan: And it’s all about this! So why are
you asking me the questions about it? I should be asking you the questions about
it–you wrote the book!

Dr. Thomas: I’ve always loved that allusion. Of
course there are several allusions in Hebrews that Jesus is sitting, and what a
perfect picture that is of somebody who has triumphed, when the King comes and
sits on His throne. But when Stephen is being killed, he sees Jesus standing.
What’s going on? Why is He standing?

Dr. Duncan: Well, there are a lot of ways you can
go there, and that’s where our background folks like to duke it out, over the
symbolism of that. Some people will indicate that the standing is an expression
of the acceptance and vindication of Stephen as his Master, Lord and King stands
to receive him into His presence in the mode of a Roman emperor delivering a
positive judgment and verdict — maybe on a victorious General who has come into
his presence to announce to the emperor that a great battle has been won. But
it’s a beautiful, beautiful symbolism that the Lord Jesus Christ is there
receiving His servant who has just died for Him. Bill?

Dr. Wymond: Just one thing before we hear the tune
sung. That last line: “Our Lord, the Judge….” That’s always struck me: He’s our
Savior and our Judge “…shall come to take His servants up to their eternal

Let’s listen to this hymn. The singing will be by the
Choir of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, with John Scott conducting.

“Rejoice, the Lord is King: your
Lord and King adore!

Rejoice, give thanks, and sing,
and triumph evermore.

“Lift up your heart,

Lift up your voice!

Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!”

“Jesus the Savior reigns, the God
of truth and love;

When He had purged our stains, He
took His seat above.

“Lift up your heart,

Lift up your voice!

Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!”

“His kingdom cannot fail, He
rules o’er earth and heav’n;

The keys of death and hell are to
our Jesus giv’n.

“Lift up your heart,

Lift up your voice!

Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!”

“He sits at God’s right hand till
all His foes submit,

And bow to His command, and fall
beneath His feet.

“Lift up your heart,

Lift up your voice!

Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!”

“Rejoice in glorious hope! Our
Lord, the Judge shall come,

And take His servants up to their
eternal home.

“Lift up your heart,

Lift up your voice!

Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!”


The Didache. Aaron Milavec

Taken Up to Heaven. Derek Thomas. Evangelical Press, 1997.

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