Hail the day that sees Him rise
Text. “Hail the day that sees Him rise,” a hymn for Ascension by Charles Wesley, was first published in Hymns and Sacred Poems (1739), in ten stanzas of four lines, without music (Fig. 1).
Manuscript copies of this hymn survive in MS Acts (MA 1977/555), 5–6, and MS Richmond Tracts (MA 1977/423), 28–29, both held at the Methodist Archive and Research Centre, John Rylands Library, University of Manchester.
Wesley’s hymn was republished in Hymns on the Great Festivals (1746 | Fig. 2), with some changes, not all of them improvements. Notice, for example, the awkward contractions at stanza 2, line 2: “Conqu’ror o’er death, hell, and sin.” In the 1739 original, “over” would have been pronounced “o’er,” but here the double contraction is particularly troublesome. Lines 5-6 of the third stanza are more sensible, while the change from “Near himself” to “Next himself” is strange. Notice also how the hymn has been rearranged from ten four-line stanzas into five eight-line stanzas.
The 1746 revision was carried over into Select Hymns with Tunes Annext (1761), without further change.
An altered version of the text with some influence came from Thomas Cotterill, A Selection of Psalms and Hymns, 9th ed. (1820 | 1822 ed. shown at Fig. 3). Note especially the changes in the first stanza and the first line of the second, where he replaced “pompous” with “glorious.” Cotterill improved Wesley’s awkward “Conqu’ror” line and returned “Next himself” to the better “Near himself.” The legacy of Cotterill’s version can be seen, for example, in The English Hymnal (1906 | Fig. 5).
Text: Analysis. The hymn naturally takes its cue from accounts of the Ascension in Luke 24:50-53 and Acts 1:6-11. The second and third stanzas recall Psalm 24. Stanza six echoes the promise of John 14:2-3, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself” (ESV).
This hymn was originally part of a cycle of hymns for the church year, beginning with Christmas (“Hark how all the welkin rings”), then Epiphany (“Sons of men, behold from far”), Resurrection (“Christ the Lord is ris’n today”), Ascension (“Hail the day that sees Him rise”), and Whitsunday/Pentecost (“Granted is the Saviour’s prayer”).
Wesley’s text (especially stanzas 4-5) was quite likely inspired or informed by the collect for Ascension in the Book of Common Prayer (1662 revision):
Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that like as we do believe thy only begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into the heavens; so we may also in heart and mind thither ascend and with him continually dwell, who liveth and reigneth with thee, and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.
Tune 1. In the Wesley collection Hymns on the Great Festivals (1746 | Fig. 3), this text was set to the tune ASCENSION, which had been composed for the Wesleys by John Frederick Lampe (ca. 1703-1751). This pairing was repeated in the Wesleys’ subsequent tune books in 1761 and 1781. Lampe was a good friend of the Wesleys. His melodic style shows influences from both the Moravian hymn singing that the Wesleys admired and the popular style of Lampe’s contemporary colleague G.F. Handel. This tune by Lampe has not endured, but some others by him were still in print well into the 20th century.
Tune 2. In modern hymnals, the tune most commonly associated with this text is LLANFAIR (pronounced hlan-vire), which was first printed in John Parry’s Peroriaeth Hyfryd (1837) under the name BETHEL (Fig. 4). This 1837 edition was given in four parts, melody in the third part, arranged by J.R. Henllan (John Roberts of Henllan). The authorship has been assigned to Robert Williams, based on the testimony of a manuscript that is now lost:
It was usually described simply as “Welsh Tune” and was only ascribed to Robert Williams in an article by Llewelyn Jones, Llanfechell, in the journal Y Cerddor (The Musician) in 1896, He claimed to have the manuscript of the tune, dated July 14, 1817, in his possession as late as 1920. It has been impossible to trace this since his death, though there have been rumors of its whereabouts.
The change of name from BETHEL to LLANFAIR is not well documented. LLANFAIR might refer to the village Llanfair-Ynghornwy in Anglesey, Wales, near where Robert Williams was born. LLANFAIR was first paired with “Hail the day that sees him rise” in The English Hymnal (1906 | Fig. 5).
LLANFAIR works well with other exuberant texts, including the Resurrection hymns “Christ the Lord is risen today” and “Jesus Christ is risen today,” and a hymn by Henry Francis Lyte, “Praise the Lord, His glories show,” among others.
by CHRIS FENNER
for Hymnology Archive
26 June 2018
rev. 13 May 2019
Robin Leaver, “Lampe’s Tunes,” Hymns on the Great Festivals, ed. S.T. Kimbrough and Charles A. Green (Madison, NJ: Charles Wesley Society, 1996), p. 34.
Geoffrey Wainwright & Alan Luff, “Hail the day that sees him rise,” The Hymnal 1982 Companion, vol. 3A (NY: Church Hymnal Corp., 1994), p. 214.
Frank Baker, “Hail the day that sees him rise,” Representative Verse of Charles Wesley (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1962), pp. 15-17.
J.R. Watson, “Hail the day that sees him rise,” An Annotated Anthology of Hymns (Oxford: University Press, 2002), pp. 172-174.
Charles Wesley’s Published Verse, ed. Randy L. Maddox, Duke Divinity School:
LLANFAIR at Hymnary.org:
“Hail the day that sees him rise” at Hymnary.org:
Neil Dixon, “Hail the day that sees him rise,” Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology: