HYMNS OF THE CHURCH

Charles Nutter

Come, Thou Almighty King

Anonymous

1 Come, Thou Almighty King,
Help us Thy Name to sing,
   Help us to praise!
Father, all-glorious,
O’er all victorious,
Come, and reign over us,
   Ancient of days!
2 Come, Thou Incarnate Word,
Gird on Thy mighty sword,
   Our prayer attend:
Come, and Thy people bless,
And give Thy word success;
Spirit of holiness,
   On us descend!
3 Come, Holy Comforter,
Thy sacred witness bear,
   In this glad hour:
Thou who almighty art,
Now rule in every heart,
And ne’er from us depart,
   Spirit of power!
4 To the great One and Three,
Eternal praises be
   Hence, evermore:
His sovereign majesty
May we in glory see,
And to eternity
   Love and adore!

The second stanza of the original hymn, omitted above, is:

Jesus, our Lord, arise,
Scatter our enemies,
   And make them fall:
Let Thine almighty aid
Our sure defense be made,
Our souls on Thee be staid:
   Lord, hear our call!

This hymn is credited to Charles Wesley on very slight evidence that he is the author. While it has long been one of the most popular and widely used hymns among American Methodists, English Methodists, strangely enough, have never given it a place in any of their official hymnals. Although it is now universally sung to Giardini’s tune known as the Italian Hymn (called Moscow in England), it was written in the first instance to be sung to the familiar tune to which “God Save the King” and “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” are sung. Indeed, it was not only written to be sung to the music of what has since become the national anthem of England, but the words were composed in evident imitation of that anthem, as will be seen at a glance by comparing the omitted stanza, quoted above, with the second below:

God save our gracious King,
Long live our noble King,
   God save the King!
Send Him victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us,
   God save the King!
O Lord our God, arise,
Scatter His enemies,
   And make them fall.
Frustrate their knavish tricks,
Confound their politics;
On him our hearts we fix:
   God save the King!
Thy richest gifts in store,
On him be pleased to pour;
   Long may he reign!
May he defend our laws,
And ever give us cause
To sing with heart and voice,
   God save the King!

A brief history of the circumstances under which this national hymn originated will explain why in all probability the author of the noble Christian lyric written in imitation of it chose to remain unknown. The first two stanzas of this national anthem of England appeared as a song “For Two Voices” in a publication titled Harmonia Anglicana, which, though not dated, is supposed to have been published in 1743 or 1744. These stanzas are also known to have been in existence in Latin at that time and to have been used as a “Latin Chorus” in a concert given by the organist of the Chapel Royal in 1743 or 1744. On September 28, 1745, this now famous English song is known to have been sung in Drury Lane Theater, London, in honor of King George, and a few days later at Covent Garden. At both places it awakened tumultuous applause. The following month (October, 1745) the music and words, “as sung in both playhouses,” were published in the Gentleman’s Magazine, with the third stanza, given above, added. It was thus caught up and sung by everybody, and in due course of time, by virtue of its widespread popularity rather than by any official action, it came to be recognized as the national hymn of England. So much concerning the origin of this national anthem.

The late distinguished English hymnologist, Daniel Sedgwick, was the first to attribute the hymn, “Come, Thou Almighty King,” to Charles Wesley. This he did partly on what he regarded as internal evidence and partly because its first appearance was in an undated and anonymous half-penny leaflet containing two hymns– this, which was there titled “An Hymn to the Trinity,” and another hymn known to be by Charles Wesley, beginning, “Jesus, Let Thy Pitying Eye." As the other hymn was known to be by Charles Wesley, he inferred that this unknown hymn to the Trinity was also by him. In drawing this inference he has been followed, though not without considerable hesitation and uncertainty, by numerous editors of Church hymnals who have accredited it, as the editors of this Hymnal have here done, to Charles Wesley.

As Charles Wesley never claimed this hymn, as it is not found in any of his published volumes, as neither he nor his brother John allude to it in any of their writings, and as it is in a meter that neither of the brothers ever used, it is impossible for us to claim with any confidence whatever that Charles Wesley is its author. We regret to be compelled to reach this conclusion; for we regard it as a truly great hymn, which we should be glad to credit to the great singer of Methodism if we could feel at all justified in doing so.

We think, however, that an obvious reason can be suggested why the author chose to remain unknown. When we remember that this was not an original hymn, but something composed in unmistakable imitation of a popular political song of the day which was then being sung in the theaters and on the streets and at political gatherings, and which had by no means won the place of honor that it now holds as a national anthem, we can easily see why the writer preferred to remain unknown to the public.

This noble and useful hymn is the most popular of all our hymns addressed to the Trinity. It is an ideal hymn for the beginning of a great Christian hymnal, as well as for opening public worship. The first verse is an invocation to God the Father to come and aid the congregation in worthily praising His name and also a prayer for Him to “come and reign over us.” The second verse is addressed to the Incarnate Word, and invokes His presence and blessing to give the prayer and the preached word success. The third stanza invokes the presence and sacred witness of the Holy Spirit; while the last stanza finds a fitting climax in ascribing praises to the Triune God.