Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus

Stanzas 1 and 4, Charles Wesley, 1744; stanzas 2–3, Mark E. Hunt, 1978
Text of stanzas 2–3 © 1978, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship
Addressed to Christ
Come, thou long-expected Jesus,Gen. 3:15
   born to set thy people free;Zech. 9:11; John 8:31–32; Rom. 8:2
from our fears and sins release us;Luke 2:10–11; 1 Tim 1:15; Rom 8:15
   let us find our rest in thee.Matt. 11:29
Israel’s strength and consolation,Ps. 68:35; Luke 2:25
   hope of all the earth thou art,Ps. 65:5
dear Desire of ev’ry nation,Hag. 2:7 (KJV)
   joy of ev’ry longing heart.John 3:29; 16:24
Joy to those who long to see thee,Luke 2:22–38
   Day-spring · · · · · · · · · ·Luke 1:78 (KJV)
come, · · · · · · · · · ·Is. 11:1; Acts 13:23; Rom. 15:12
   of · · · · · · · · · ·
O’er · · · · · · · · · ·Luke 2:8–18
   news, · · · · · · · · · ·
“Go · · · · · · · · · ·
   Christ · · · · · · · · · ·
Come to earth to taste our sadness,Is. 53:3; Matt. 26:38; John 11:33–35
   he · · · · · · · · · ·Heb. 1:8–12
by · · · · · · · · · ·
   our · · · · · · · · · ·Is. 59:20; Heb. 13:20; John 15:13–15
Leaving · · · · · · · · · ·2 Cor. 8:9
   born · · · · · · · · · ·Luke 2:7
this · · · · · · · · · ·
   Christ · · · · · · · · · ·Acts 10:36
Born thy people to deliver,Matt. 1:21
   born a child and yet a king, Matt. 2:2
born to reign in us forever,Col 3:15
   now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal SpiritEzek. 36:27
   rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all-sufficient merit,
   raise us to thy glorious throne.Eph. 2:6

Only medieval scholars now know the thirteenth-century French romance called Roman de la Rose, though it was once among the most influential books in Western culture. Its first portion was written early in the century by one poet and its (longer) second portion was written many years later by another. The reason why now only scholars know this book is because only historical curiosity can forgive the ugly disparity between the two parts. Normally, when a work is written thus, in two parts, by two hands, in two different eras, the results are literary disaster. What fails for the medieval court poets, however, succeeds for the song of God’s people. The forces which unite the universal song of the Church are rooted in God’s word, not in literary tastes. As proof, we may consider the hymn printed above. This well-known hymn wraps Charles Wesley’s famous Christmas hymn of 1744 around two stanzas by Mark Hunt written in 1978. The differences between Wesley and Hunt are far fewer than the similarities, thanks to their common faith and their common goal of biblically-modelled congregational song.

Wesley’s is a welcome hymn to Jesus, placed in the voice of the first-century believing Jew. His first stanza relies heavily on Old Testament prophecy, employing the language of his King James Bible (“Desire of Nations” is no longer a common translation for Hag. 2:7). Notice, then, how seamlessly Hunt’s second stanza follows on. Where Wesley ends with joy, Hunt begins with it. Though much less used in our day, Hunt still employs a King James idiom in his “Day-spring” of the second line. Notice the same imperative form which Wesley used to begin his hymn is also used by Hunt in stanza 2, line 3. Hunt has also apprehended Wesley’s unusual first-century setting and evokes the angels accordingly. He even paraphrases their words so that they will include Wesley’s poetically important “come” in the last line of the stanza. Hunt then uses this word to begin stanza 3. Departing from the imperative structure, he moves to explanation. Christ is “come to earth to taste our sadness.” By using “taste” as his verb, he presages the “wormwood and the gall” of the Crucifixion wine. The stanza’s focus is on the amazing interchange (the poets of Roman de la Rose would have called it admirabile commercium) between God and man. By finishing the third stanza with a line that has “born” for its verb, Hunt prepares us for the return to Wesley’s voice. Wesley’s last stanza begins with three lines which each begin with that word. But it isn’t just word-choice which makes the transition smooth. Just as Hunt’s last stanza dealt with the wonder of God becoming man, Wesley’s last stanza culminates in the wonder of man being raised up and seated with God.

There are some differences between the poets. Wesley is more consistently specific with his biblical images and language and Hunt sometimes allows grammar to fail in order to make poetic gains. To be fair, Wesley lived in the Augustan age of English poetry while Hunt lives in its dark ages. But we should be far more impressed with how many hundreds of congregants would never know but that one man wrote the hymn, were the dual attribution not printed at the bottom of the page. In another sense, however, we should not be surprised. Both men knew Ephesians 5:19–20 and Colossians 3:16.

HYFRYDOL, the tune associated with this text, is among the most successful of bar form hymn-tunes. Bar form succeeds because of the release it creates when the singer reaches the B section (in this tune, lines 5–8). The form is musically wonderful but can be poetically problematic when coupled with a text whose climax is at the end. By the last lines of most bar forms, the energy of the tune is spent and we are cruising toward home, leaving the climax of such a text on the post-climax of the tune (consider, for example, “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” sung to LOBE DEN HERREN). HYFRYDOL is unusual in that it prolongs the melodic release until the last half of its B section (lines 7–8). It does this in three ways.

First, here we have a rhythm different from that of lines 1–6. As we move from the A section to the B section, we expect completely new material, but in lines 5–6 of hyfrydol we are made to sing nearly the same rhythm again, prolonging the normal release which one would expect at that point in a bar form. Second, our climax note (a high D) occurs in line 8:


Finally, we often expect a bar form to finish its B section with a restatement of something from the A section. This is why the form often ends in such a satisfactory way, but also why it usually climaxes somewhere else. In line 7 of hyfrydol, however, we have truly new material:


that is sequenced twice:


and is followed by a return to the familiar rhythmic pattern of the A section (see the first example above). This return makes the conclusion seem satisfactory, but because the range is high and the melodic pattern new, it also seems climactic. It might also be worth pointing out that the tune was written in 1855, missing by only six years the chronological midpoint between Wesley’s 1744 stanzas and Hunt’s 1978 stanzas.