This joyous morning hymn comes from Charles Wesley (1707-1788), who along with his brother, John, founded the Methodist Church as a “renewal” movement of the Church of England. Charles wrote thousands of hymns, many of which are beloved in Christendom. His, for example, is “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” In the first stanza of this morning hymn can we see the unmistakable imagery of Charles Wesley, “Christ, whose glory fills the skies, Christ, the true and only light, Sun of righteousness, arise, Triumph o’er the shades of night. . .” This stanza echoes Wesley’s famous Christmas hymn, but derives inspiration from Malachi 4: 2, “But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings.” This is no doubt a foreshadowing of the “Son” of righteousness who will bring healing in His wings. As at Christmastide (actually, 21 December), when the days begin to lengthen and we are reminded daily in nature that Christ is the Sun of Righteousness, this hymn reminds us that the Sun of Righteousness is present daily—even with more certainty than that with which we greet the daybreak. The stanza continues with veiled references to Christ, the “Dayspring from on high” and the “Daystar, in my heart appear.” The Dayspring reference can be traced to Isaiah 9:1, “The people in darkness have seen a great light,” this light sometimes being translated as “dayspring.” The Daystar is also that “bright, morningstar” which can often be seen right before dawn. Since this star is actually a planet (Venus), its theological import is even more precise. Just as a planet merely reflects the light of the sun, so, too, does Christ reflect the light of God the Father.
Notice Wesley’s text painting in the second stanza, “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.” Just as the morning is not the morning without the sun, our faith is meaningless without Christ. To use a cliché befitting a church committee, the astute reader of music notes may have an “ah-ha!” moment. (Apologies for the cliché—it won’t happen again.) Wesley now speaks of “inward light” which warms “my heart.” Charles Wesley may begin his texts with grand, universal, celestial themes, but he quickly personalizes them so that we realize we are not singing about a metaphorical Deity, but One who relates to us personally. The Wesleys both believed in a sort of “heartfelt” faith as opposed to one that was “intellectually objective” (although one might argue that those two “poles” are not incongruous), and such was partly a reaction to the Deism of the time which posited that God started the heavens in motion, but now has left humanity to its own devices and remains personally unknown to us.
The third stanza prayerfully implores Christ to “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.” Here Wesley compares “sin and grief” to unbelief—a useful thought in today’s world in which the endless questioning of authority (particularly of organized religion) is somehow a badge of honor and announces one to be a true “intellectual.” Unbelief is the result of sin, and belief can only come from Christ. Just as Christ derives his essence from the Father, we likewise derives our spiritual capabilities as a Christian from Christ Himself. We are able to be justified only through Christ’s redemption, and we are only sanctified through the word of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps we would do well to remember this every morning when we rise to greet the sun!