“Christ, Whose Glory Fills the Skies”

“Unto you that fear My Name shall the Sun of Righteousness arise with healing in His wings” (Mal. 4:2)

     INTRO.: A hymn which identifies Christ as the Sun of Righteousness to whom we look for light as we look to the sun for light in the morning is "Christ, Whose Glory Fills the Skies." The text was written by Charles Wes­ley (1707-1788). It was first published in his 1740 Hymns and Spir­it­u­al Songs. The tune (Lux Pri­ma–Gou­nod) most often used with these words was composed by Charles Francois Gou­nod, who was born on June 18, 1818, at Paris, France. His father Francois was a painter, and his mother was a capable pianist who gave him his first musical training. After taking his baccalaureat in philosophy at the Lycee St. Louis in 1835, he began to study music with Anton Reicha. Entering the Paris Conservatory upon Reicha’s death in 1836, he won the Prix de Rome in 1839 for his cantata Fernand, and spent two and a half years in Italy where he studied church music, especially that of Giovanni Perluigi di Palestrina, and composed a mass.

     Leaving Italy, Gonoud spent some time in Vienna, where some of his music was performed, then passed through Prague, Dresden, Berlin, and Leipzig, where he spent four days with Felix Mendelssohn, on his return to Paris. His first opera was Sapho in 1851. From 1852 to 1860 he served as director of the Orpheon choral society, for which he wrote choral music. The 1859 premiere of his opera Faust, which he had begun in 1852, at the Theatre-Lyrique in Paris was only moderately successful, but ten years later Gounod made revisions in the score and added a ballet, and the work was staged at the Paris Opera to great acclaim.  Through the years, it has been one of the most popular operas in the standard repertoire and has been performed at virtually every opera house in the world. Two other Gounod operas, Mireille of 1864 and Romeo and Juliette of 1867, are also still performed today.

     Gonoud’s most popular short pieces are the "Ave Maria" (or "Meditation") with accompaniment by a keyboard prelude of Johann Sebastian Bach, and the whimsical "Funeral March of a Marionette," which Alfred Hitchcock used as the theme for his television program. Beginning in 1870, Gounod spent five years in England, and this hymn tune dates from 1872. Other works by Gounod include 23 masses, six oratorios, two symphonies, three string quartets, piano pieces, and some incidental music for plays. After being made a grand officer of the Legion of Honor in 1888, he died on Oct. 18, 1893, at St. Cloud, France, outside of Paris.  I first saw this song in the 1961 Presbyterian hymnbook The Trinity Hymnal and immediately fell in love with it. Among hymnbooks published by brethren during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, Wesley’s hymn with Gounod’s tune (or anyone else’s for that matter) has not appeared or is not found in any to my knowledge.  My friend Kelly Hersey did use the text in his Hymn Supplement 2007, with a tune (Heathlands) by Henry T. Smart.

     This would be a wonderful hymn to begin a morning worship service.

I. Stanza 1 reminds us that Christ is the true Light
"Christ, whose glory fills the skies, Christ, the true, the only Light,
Sun of Righteousness, arise, Triumph o’er the shades of night;
Dayspring from on high, be near; Day-star, in my heart appear."
 A. Jesus referred to Himself as the Light of the world: Jn. 8.12
 B. As the physical sun scatters the darkness of the night, so Christ as the Sun of Righteousness triumphs over the shades of sinful darkness in this world: 1 Jn. 1.5-7
 C. He is the Morning Star who rises in the hearts of those who turn to God: 2 Pet. 1.19

II. Stanza 2 reminds us that Christ’s light will bring joy to our lives
"Dark and cheerless is the morn Unaccompanied by Thee;
Joyless is the day’s return Till Thy mercy’s beams I see;
Till they inward light impart, Glad my eyes, and warm my heart."
 A. Any time of day would be dark and cheerless if not accompanied by Christ, so we should desire to awake in the Lord’s likeness: Ps. 17.15
 B. Our aim should be to live in such a way that we can receive the beams of His mercy in our hearts: Ps. 13.5
 C. Some might see the Wesleyan "second work of grace" in the "inward light" which will "glad my eyes, and warm my heart," but the truth is that it is the word of God that provides the light that will guide our feet: Ps. 119.105

III. Stanza 3 reminds us that we need Christ’s light to guide us to eternity
"Visit then this soul of mine, Pierce the gloom of sin and grief;
Fill me, Radiancy divine, Scatter all my unbelief;
More and more Thyself display, Shining to the perfect day."
 A. To ask the Lord to "visit" us does not necessitate some direct or even miraculous operation, but can refer simply to Christ’s dwelling in our hearts by faith: Eph. 3.16-17
 B. In this way, we are filled with the fruits of righteousness: Phil. 1.11
 C. If we continue to let it, the light of Christ will display itself in our hearts, shining on to the perfect day: Prov. 4.18

     CONCL.: James Montgomery, himself a hymn writer whose works include "According to Thy Gracious Word," "Go to Dark Gethsemane," "Hail to the Lord’s Anointed," "In the Hour of Trial," and "Prayer Is the Soul’s Sincere Desire," called this one of Wesley’s finest compositions. I wholeheartedly agree!  Unfortunately, because this hymn has been in none of the books commonly used among churches of Christ in this country, I seriously doubt that it has ever been sung in any of our worship services. Gounod’s tune (the name of which means "First Light") is a perfect complement to Wesley’s text. Every morning is an excellent time to meditate on the word of God and seek for guidance from "Christ, Whose Glory Fills the Skies."


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