"LO! HE COMES WITH CLOUDS DESCENDING"
"Behold, He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him…" (Rev. 1:7)
INTRO.: A hymn which emphasizes that when Jesus comes again in the clouds, every eye shall see Him is "Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending." The original text was written by John Cennick (1718-1755). Produced perhaps as early as 1750, it was first published in his 1752 Collection of Sacred Hymns, 5th Edition, in six stanzas. It was altered by John Benjamin Wesley (1703-1791). He heard Cennick’s hymn, was moved by it, and decided to provide a better version. Sometimes, the altered version is attributed to John’s brother Charles Wesley (1707-1788). Perhaps they collaborated on it. Basically the Wesleys changed two of Cennick’s stanzas drastically, kept two others basically the same, and added two or three more of their own. This version was first published in their 1758 Hymns of Intercession for All Mankind. Further alterations were made by Martin Madan (1726-1790). His arrangement was published in his 1760 Collection of Psalms and Hymns. Many tunes have been used with the song, but one (Regent Square) of the most popular was composed by Henry Thomas Smart (1813-1879). It was first published in the 1867 Presbyterian collection of Psalms and Hymns for Divine Worship edited by James Hamilton where it was set to Horatius Bonar’s "Glory Be to God the Father."
Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for us in churches of Christ, "Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending" appeared in the 1921 Great Songs of the Church (No. 1) and the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 both edited by E. L. Jorgenson; and the 1965 Great Christian Hymnal No. 2 edited by Tillit S. Teddlie. The same tune was used with Henry F. Lyte’s "Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven" in the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater. Today, "Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending" may be found in the 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forest M. McCann; and the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand. Praise for the Lord also uses the same tune with James Montgomery’s "Angels from the Realms of Glory," as does the 1994 Songs of Faith and Praise edited by Alton H. Howard.
The song uses present tense language to describe Christ’s coming as if we were there to see it happening.
I. Stanza 1 emphasizes the manner of His coming
"Lo! He comes with clouds descending, Once for favored sinners slain;
Thousand, thousand saints attending Swell the triumph of His train:
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Jesus Christ shall ever reign."
A. The scriptures promise that just as Christ was received from the earth by a cloud, so He will come again in like manner: Acts 1:11 (because "Once for favored sinners slain" sounds like the Calvinistic concept of limited atonement, which teaches that Christ died only for those who had been previously elected, many modern books change it to "Once for our salvation slain.")
B. Thousand, thousand saints will attend because the souls of those who sleep in Jesus will He bring with Him: 1 Thess. 4:13-14 (the word "saints" or "holy ones" could also refer to, or include, the angels who will come with Him)
C. Most books read, "Hallelujah! God appears on earth to reign." Some modern books read, "Christ, the Lord, returns to reign." In Great Songs of the Church (No. 1) E. L. Jorgenson changed it to read "Jesus now shall ever reign," but in Great Songs of the Church No. 2 altered that to read "Jesus Christ shall ever reign" to avoid aggrevating the premillennial controversy that had arisen among churches of Christ. The Bible does teach that "He shall reign forever and ever": Rev. 11:15
II. Stanza 2 tells us who will see Him at His coming
"Every eye shall now behold Him, Robed in dreadful majesty;
Those who set at naught and sold Him, Pierced and nailed Him to the tree,
Deeply wailing, Deeply wailing, Shall the true Messiah see."
A. Every eye will then behold Him because all who are in the tombs shall come forth: Jn. 5:28-20
B. This will include even those who crucified Him: Acts 2:23
C. Like those persecutors upon whom God’s judgment was promised, they will be deeply wailing: Rev. 18:15-19
III. Stanza 3 explains what will happen at His coming
"Every island, sea, and mountain, Heaven and earth, shall flee away;
All who hate Him must, confounded, Hear the trump proclaim the day.
Come to judgment, come to judgment, Come to judgment, come away."
A. Heaven and earth shall flee away in that they will perish: Heb. 1:10-11
B. All, including those who hate Him, will hear the trump of God: 1 Cor. 15:52
C. Then they will come to judgment: Acts 17:30-31
IV. Stanza 4 identifies the blessings to the redeemed at His coming
"Now Redemption, long expected, See in solemn pomp appear!
All His saints, by man rejected, Now shall meet Him in the air;
Alleluia! Alleluia! See the day of God appear."
A. Some newer books read, "Now the Savior, long expected." While it is true that Jesus came the first time to provide redemption through His blood and we can have that now, we still await the final, eternal redemption at Christ’s coming: Rom. 8:22-25
B. Then, His saints will rise to meet Him in the air: 1 Thess. 4:15-17
C. All this will occur when the "day of the Lord" appears: 2 Pet. 3:10
V. Stanza 5 talks about what we shall see at His coming
"The dear tokens of His passion Still His dazzling body bears,
Cause of endless exultation To His ransomed worshippers.
With what rapture, with what rapture Gaze we on those glorious scars."
A. "The dear tokens of His passion" refer to the print of the nails in His hand and the print of the spear in His side: Jn. 20:25
B. These tokens form part of the reason that we worship Him because they declare Him to be the spotless Lamb of God by whose blood we are redeemed: 1 Pet. 1:18-19
C. Whether He still bears the mark of these scars in His glorious body is a matter for the theologians to debate, but we know that when He comes we shall see Him just as He is: 1 Jn. 3:1-2
VI. Stanza 6 urges the Lord to be quick about His coming
"Yea, Amen! let all adore Thee, High on Thine exalted throne;
Savior! take Thy power and glory, Claim the kingdoms for Thine own:
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Quickly, Lord, O quickly come!"
A. Just as Jesus is now upon His exalted throne, when He returns, we shall see Him on His throne: Matt. 25:31-32
B. The original read, "Claim the kingdom for Thine own," which would most likely refer to the fact that Christ would take the citizens of His kingdom home and then deliver the kingdom back to the Father: 1 Cor. 15:24
C. Wesley’s original read, "O come quickly! Everlasting God, come down!" Various books have made different changes, such as "O come quickly! Alleluia, come, Lord, come," or "Alleluia! Thou shalt reign and Thou alone." In any event, just as John pled for the Lord to come quickly in judgment upon the persecutors, so we may hope that He will come quickly to take His people home:
CONCL.: As given above, stanzas 1-2, and 5-6 are primarily the work of Wesley, whereas stanzas 3-4 are taken pretty much directly from Cennick. Another stanza of Wesley’s, generally omitted, is as follows:
"Answer Thine own bride and Spirit, Hasten, Lord, the general doom!
The new heaven and earth t’inherit, Take Thy pining exiles home:
All creation, all creation Travails, groans, and bids Thee come!"
We do not know when the Lord will return. However, as Christians, we know that He could descend at any day or time, and thus we must always be ready. And when He does appear, we shall certainly say, "Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending."