Charles Wesley was born in England, the youngest of eighteen children. He grew up to be England’s premier Christian Poet and hymn writer, writing more than three thousand hymns. Many of which are still sung today, such as “Jesus Christ has Risen Today.”
In 1737 during his quiet time, Wesley wrote the first line “Hark! How all the welkin rings, glory to the King of Kings.” The new song quickly came together. Welkin is a word that means literally, heaven makes a long noise. Alternatively, heaven makes a long pronouncement. Wesley titled his new song “Hark! How all the Welkin Rings” Wesley used a tune of his own and started using it in his own church. It quickly spread across England.
It was first published by on old college rival of the Wesley brothers’ John Whitefield. The Wesleys started the Methodist moment in England; however, John Whitefield was a staunch Calvinist. Their theological differences drove a wedge between them. When Whitefield published the hymn, he changed the name and the lyrics to what we know today. This infuriated Wesley, that Whitefield changed words with out his permission or his knowledge. As long as Wesley was alive, he never sang the Whitefield version.
Later, (1855) William Cummings, a tenor in Felix Mendelssohn’s opera company, changed the tune of Wesley’s carol to one of Mendelssohn tunes and used the Whitefield version of lyrics. This is the version we still sing today.