Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus
Charles Wesley lived from 1707-1788. He was the founder and leader of the Methodist Church, and widely known for the massive number of hymns that he wrote in his lifetime. In fact, Charles wrote more than 6,000 hymns while he was alive — that’s roughly a hymn per day for over 35 years!
One of his most popular hymns is the Advent song, “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus.” It was first published in 1744 in Hymns for the Nativity of Our Lord. This small collection of music was so popular, it was reprinted over 20 times over the course of Wesley’s life.
The original song was written as only two eight-line stanzas, which are now generally the first and last stanzas. Typical of Wesley’s writing, almost every couplet in this hymn is connected to at least one or more biblical references or allusions.
Along with its biblical literacy, this hymn also contains many poetic and theological elements. Wesley captures the very heart of Advent as he celebrates the first coming of Christ as well as turning his eye to Christ’s second coming.
Throughout the hymn, imperative verbs are used six times in the two stanzas:
Come, thou long-expected Jesus
From our fears and sins release us
Let us find our rest in thee
Now thy gracious kingdom bring
Rule in all our hearts alone
Raise us to thy glorious throne
These commands give the song an urgency and longing as the people of God once again are looking towards and longing for the return of their King. Wesley also uses repetition throughout the lyrics, mainly the word “born” — appearing four times to emphasize the incarnation and mission of Christ:
Born to set thy people free
Born thy people to deliver
Born a child and yet a king
Born to reign in us forever
In these lyrics we find the most humble image of our delivering King. The one who left His throne, became an infant, and came to His wounded people in a broken creation bound to sin in order to set them free and deliver them.
As the song declares, He is our rest, our strength, our consolation, our joy. While we live in a much different time from Wesley, the longings of our hearts are just as deep. We long for identity, purpose, love, and security. And for those that are willing to look through the window of this hymn into the very heart of the biblical message, those longings can be found in the hope of Christ. Hope itself is central to the Christian message.
Our security is not in our bank accounts. Our deliverer is not a politician. Our joy is not found in our circumstances. Our hope is not found in our possessions.
Where is our ultimate hope found in this life? We find it in the final line of Wesley’s hymn: “Raise us to thy glorious throne.”
This is the main thrust of Advent: to lift our eyes to our returning, delivering, slavery-freeing, death-defeating, joy-fulfilling Messiah. Songs like this help us fight against the temptation to get so comfortable in this life that we stop longing for the next one.
Celebrating Advent in the liturgical calendar builds in a season each year to remind us of this specifically. Satan will do everything he can to keep our eyes from Christ’s return and get us to focus on the things of this world. A friend of mine has said, “Satan is a master anesthesiologist. He uses the comforts of this world to numb the longing of Christ’s return in the hearts of His people.”
How do we fight this? We read scriptures that remind us of the hope we have in Christ. We talk to other Christians who have a more tangible grasp of this hope. And we sing songs like this to stir our heart’s affections.
May our prayer sung in these words find its home in our heart as it echoes the closing words of Scripture:
“Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).
This article was written by Pastor Caleb Brasher of Grace Clermont, and published in the Holiday 2017 edition of Grace Magazine.