Come, Thou long-expected Jesus
CROSS OF JESUS
Text. One of Charles Wesley’s most enduring Christmas hymns, “Come, Thou long expected Jesus” was first published in Hymns for the Nativity of Our Lord (1745 | Fig. 1). The first edition was printed on 17 December 1745, in time to be distributed for Christmas that year. The collection was relatively small—just 18 hymns—but it was printed 27 times through 1791. This hymn, in its original form, consisted of only two stanzas of eight lines, without music, and without a title or heading. Wesley made minor revisions to the second stanza, changing “thine” to “thy” in the fifth and seventh lines, starting with the 1762 printing. He changed “From our fears and sins relieve us” to “release us” in the 1777 printing, following the example of Martin Madan’s Collection of Psalms and Hymns (1760).
With its opening line beckoning “Come,” this hymn is best suited for the season of Advent. The hymn has a strong message of spiritual deliverance. The first stanza applies several descriptors to the Christ child: strength, consolation, hope of all the earth, desire of every nation, and joy of every longing heart. The second stanza drives home its point by using repetition, listing three circumstances for which the Saviour will be born, followed by the urgency of “now.” The hymn goes on to describe how this reign will be facilitated by the Holy Spirit, taking place in the heart, and made possible only by Christ’s merit, not our own.
Scripture allusions include the promised rest of Matthew 11:28, God as the strength of Israel in 1 Samuel 15:29 or Psalm 68:34, the prophetic hope and strength of Joel 3:16, the desire of all nations anticipated in Haggai 2:7, the heart-indwelling of the Spirit as in Ezekiel 11:19 and 36:26, or Romans 5:5, or 2 Corinthians 1:22; and the complete sufficiency of the work of Christ in Ephesians 2:8 or 2 Corinthians 12:9.
Hymnologist Carl Daw summarized the hymn nicely:
Despite the title of the collection in which this text was published, and despite the four appearances of “born” here, this is not so much a hymn about Nativity as it is about Incarnation. The details of the birth are never mentioned: no manger, no shepherds, no angels. Yet there is an awareness here that the larger mystery being celebrated leads to the sending of the Holy Spirit and comes full circle in Christ’s reign in glory, when God’s people will find freedom from fear and sin, when hope will be fulfilled, and when human hearts will be aligned with God’s saving purposes.
Tunes. The earliest musical settings of this text varied widely. It was first set to music in Harmonia-Sacra (London: Thomas Butts, 1767) with a tune called NATIVITY HYMN, otherwise unknown outside that collection. In John Rippon’s Selection of Psalm and Hymn Tunes (London, 1792), it was paired with a tune called WELSH by an unknown composer. In modern collections, three tunes are most often associated with Wesley’s text.
The most commonly used tune with this text is STUTTGART, from Christian Friedrich Witt’s Psalmodia Sacra (Gotha, 1715 | Fig. 2), with melody and figured bass. The tune was originally paired with the text “Sollt es gleich bisweilen scheinen” by Christoph Titius (1641–1703).
The name of the tune STUTTGART is connected to a story, recorded in the 3rd ed. of Geschichte des Kirchenlieds und Kirchengesangs der christlichen, vol. 8, ed. Richard Lauxmann (1876), p. 488-489 (HathiTrust), summarized in English by James Mearns in Julian’s Dictionary of Hymnology (1892), p. 1179:
C.A. Dann, chief pastor of St. Leonard’s Church at Stuttgart, having spoken somewhat freely at the funeral of one of the courtplayers, had been relegated in 1812 to the village of Oieschingen in the Swabian Alb [in 1819 to the neighbouring village of Mössingen]. The king at last granted the earnest desire of the Stuttgart people for his return, and on Feb. 5, 1824, recalled him to Stuttgart. That night four friends walked over to Mössingen, and in the early morning conveyed the news to Dann by singing this hymn at the door of his room.
The tune entered English hymnody via William Henry Havergal’s Old Church Psalmody (London: J. Shepherd, 1847 | 3rd ed. shown at Fig. 3). In Havergal’s collection, it was paired with the anonymous hymn “Dread Jehovah, God of nations.”
This tune achieved a wider audience via its inclusion in Hymns Ancient & Modern (1861 | Fig. 4), using an arrangement by Henry J. Gauntlett. In that collection, the tune was paired with the Christmas hymn “Earth has many a noble city,” an adaptation by the editors of the text by Edward Caswall (1814–1878), which is a translation from the Latin “Quicumque Christum quaeritis” by Prudentius.
The connection between Wesley’s text and STUTTGART seems to have started with J. Ireland Tucker’s Hymnal with Tunes, Old and New (NY: F. J. Huntington and Co., 1872 | Fig. 5) for the Episcopal Church, using Gauntlett’s arrangement from Hymns Ancient & Modern.
The connection between Wesley’s text and Stainer’s tune dates as early as 1916, in the Second Supplement to Hymns Ancient & Modern.
The other popular tune setting for this text is HYFRYDOL by Rowland Hugh Prichard (1811–1887), from his Cyfaill i’r Cantorion (1844 | Fig. 7). The tune is said to have been written in 1830 when he was 19. HYFRYDOL is a singable, versatile tune, set to many different texts over the course of its history. This particular pairing dates as early as 1918 in the The Book of Praise (Toronto: Oxford Univesity Press) from the Presbyterian Church in Canada. Many hymnals utilize a harmonization by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958) made for The English Hymnal (Oxford: University Press, 1906).
by CHRIS FENNER
for Hymnology Archive
28 November 2018
rev. 29 May 2019
Carl P. Daw Jr., “Come, thou long-expected Jesus,” Glory to God: A Companion (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2016), pp. 82-84.
Johannes Zahn, Die Melodien der deutschen evangelischen Kirchenlieder, vol. 1 (1889), no. 1353, p. 355.
John Julian, “Come, thou long expected Jesus,” A Dictionary of Hymnology (London, 1892), pp. 252-253: Google Books
James Mearns, “Christoph Titius,” A Dictionary of Hymnology, ed. John Julian (London, 1892), pp. 1178-1179: Google Books
“Earth has many a noble city,” Hymns Ancient & Modern Historical Edition (London: William Clowes & Sons, 1909), p. 111.
“Come, thou long-expected Jesus,” Companion to Hymns and Psalms, ed. J.R. Watson & Kenneth Trickett (Peterborough: Methodist Publishing House, 1988), p. 81.
“Come, thou long-expected Jesus,” Psalter Hymnal Handbook, ed. Emily Brink & Bert Pohlman (Grand Rapids: CRC Publications, 1998), pp. 477-478.
John Lawson, “Come, thou long-expected Jesus,” A Thousand Tongues: The Wesley Hymns as a Guide to Scriptural Teaching (London: Paternoster, 2007), p. 49: Amazon
J.R. Watson, “Come, thou long-expected Jesus,” An Annotated Anthology of Hymns (Oxford: University Press, 2002), p. 186.
Nativity Hymns, ed. Randy L. Maddox, Charles Wesley’s Published Verse (rev. 2009):
“Come, thou long-expected Jesus,” Hymnary.org: