Lo! He comes with clouds descending

Lo, He comes with clouds descending,
once for favoured sinners slain;
thousand thousand saints attending
swell the triumph of his train:
Christ appears on earth to reign.

This hymn, although placed in the Advent section of most hymn books, is one which actually deals with the doctrine of the Second Coming of Christ. It has a complex origin, being the work of three different writers. John Cennick (1718-55) was an Anglican of Quaker parents who became the first Methodist lay preacher and then became a Moravian. In 1752 for his Collection of Sacred Hymns he wrote the words: Lo! He cometh countless trumpets, Blow before his bloody sign. This probably inspired Charles Wesley to write Lo! He comes with clouds descending, which was first published in his Hymns of Intercession for all Mankind (1758). In 1760 Martin Madan published a combined version in his Collection of Psalms and Hymns, and this is the basis of the hymn sung today. There are many references to Revelation throughout. For example, Revelation 11: 15-17 for verse 1, line 6, and verse 4, lines 1 and 3-4; Revelation 1:7 for verse 2; Revelation 7: 11-12 for verse 3, lines 3-4. John 19:37 inspires verse 2, line 4-6; John 20: 27-28 inspires verse 3 lines 5-6.

Tune - Helmsley

The music first appeared in John Wesley's Select Hymns with Tunes Annext (1765) in a rather more lively form than the tune we know today. The name Helmsley probably became attached to the tune through the Rev Dr Richard Conyers, vicar of Helmsley, Yorkshire, who wrote to Wesley on 7 June 1763, declaring that "my house and my heart are, and ever shall be, open to you". Conyers introduced hymn singing into his church, and probably received this tune from Wesley. In 1769 it was included in Martin Madan's Lock Hospital Collection, in the form it now takes. Wesley adopted Madan's version in his Sacred Harmony (1780) but retained the name Olivers in acknowledgement that we owe the tune to Thomas Olivers, one of the best known of Wesley's helpers.

Nigel Day

© St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 30th December 2005