Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending

This week’s hymn study is not something we’re singing at our church this week, in fact, it’s not even in our hymn repertoire. However, last week my wife asked me when I was going to write about her favorite hymn, so this week I feel that I absolutely must write about the hymn, “Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending”.  It really is a wonderful hymn, and it fits perfectly into this time of the church year.

The hymn as we have it in Lutheran Service Book is biblically rich and describes the second coming of Christ. It describes both the unspeakable joy of the Christian and the indescribable sorrow of the unbeliever. Most of all, though, the hymn focuses on our savior, Jesus Christ.

Stanza 1

Lo! He comes with clouds descending,

Once for ev’ry sinner slain;

Thousand, thousand saints attending

Swell the triumph of His train:

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

Christ the Lord returns to reign.

It is worth noting that the original second line reads, “Once for favored sinners slain”. The hymn’s author, Charles Wesley, favored Calvin’s idea of limited atonement, which is to say that Jesus only died for those whom God predestined to believe. The committee for Lutheran Service Book wisely changed the line to “Once for ev’ry sinner slain;” which is more in line with true Scriptural teaching, as it says in Romans 5:18-19

18Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

This first stanza is a beautiful stanza of joy. I love the imagery of thousands of saints coming with Christ and singing “Alleluia” as He returns.

Stanza 2

Ev’ry eye shall now behold Him

Robed in glorious majesty;

Those who set at naught and sold Him,

Pierced and nailed Him to the tree,

Deeply wailing, deeply wailing, deeply wailing,

Shall their true Messiah see.

These first two stanzas are clearly based on teaching from Revelation 1:7

7Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.

Throughout the Scriptures, the coming Day of the Lord is described as something that will be horrifying for the wicked. Malachi chapter 4 describes it this way,

1“For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.

Amos 5 puts it this way

8Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD!
Why would you have the day of the LORD?
It is darkness, and not light,
19 as if a man fled from a lion,
and a bear met him,
or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall,
and a serpent bit him.
20 Is not the day of the LORD darkness, and not light,
and gloom with no brightness in it?

For the wicked, the coming of the Lord is something to fear, but for those who are made righteous by Christ (see the Romans passage above) the day will be the greatest  day of joy, as the next two stanzas will show.

Stanza 3

Those dear tokens of His passion

Still His dazzling body bears,

Cause of endless exultation

To His ransomed worshippers.

With what rapture, with what rapture, with what rapture,

Gaze we on those glorious scars!

Does Jesus’ body still bear the marks of His passion (his betrayal, trial, crucifixion, and death) even after the resurrection? It was those marks of His passion that convinced Thomas, as it says in John 20

Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”

Not only does Jesus’ body retain the marks of the crucifixion, but He is praised in the worship of heaven in Revelation as the one who was slain. From Revelation 5:

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
10and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”

We will gaze with rapture on those scars, knowing that the Lamb has redeemed us to be His people forever.

Stanza 4

Yea, amen, let all adore Thee,

High on Thine eternal throne;

Savior, take the pow’r and glory,

Claim the kingdom for Thine own.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

Thou shalt reign, and Thou alone!

We will dwell forever in the kingdom of our Savior and join in the worship of heaven. Revelation 5 continues with these words,

11Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” 13And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” 14And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

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3 thoughts on “Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending

  1. Greetings from Wordwise Hymns. Some excellent comments on John Cennick’s hymn. At least in Britain, the beautiful tune Helmsley seems to be most commonly used. But to my mind it conveys a restful, almost pastoral, mood–unsuited to the dramatic action of Christ’s return, as described by the Lord Jesus Himself (Matt. 24:29-31) and, as you note in Revelation too (Rev. 1:7). I prefer Regent Square, a sturdy tune more suited to the text.

    I’m not so sure about your claim that Wesley favoured Calvin’s idea of limited atonement. A quick check of Wikipedia (not inspired, and infallible, I know!) revealed this statement: “One of the stronger, more vocal proponents of Unlimited atonement was John Wesley.” My own view–and I believe it is what the Bible teaches–is that Christ’s propitiatary sacrifice was sufficient for all (Isa. 53:6; I Jn. 2:2).

    The line in question in the hymn, I have most often seen amended to “Once for our salvation slain.” (Though I think it could be understood to mean simply that all saved sinners are “favoured”–objects of God’s grace–without limiting those who, by faith, avail themselves of the salvation offered.)

    1. Thank you for your comment. I believe you are right regarding Wesley’s view of limited atonement; I should have checked my facts. His original first stanza, however, can give the impression of limited atonement.
      I personally favor the tune Helmsley, but I hear the tune as majestic and triumphant rather than pastoral and restful. Regent Square would work well with the text as well. I’ve also seen this text paired with the tune Picardy.

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