Union Chapel Baptist Church



Angels From The Realms Of Glory

By Stephen Mitchell

This hymn was written by James Montgomery (1771-1854), who was born in Scotland of Irish parents.  His father, John Montgomery, was a Moravian pastor—apparently the only Moravian pastor serving in Scotland at the time.

Montgomery’s parents felt a call to serve as missionaries on the island of Barbados, West Indies, in the Caribbean.  When James was only five years old, his parents departed for the West Indies, leaving James with a Moravian group in County Antrim, Ireland.  His parents died in the West Indies a few years later, so James never saw them again.  One wonders how well he remembered his parents—and whether he resented them for abandoning him at such an early age.

The Moravians made it possible for James to enter Fulneck Seminary in Yorkshire, but that turned out to be a bad fit.  James had the soul of a poet, and poetry was banned at Fulneck.  In 1787, he apprenticed himself to a baker, which also proved unsuitable.  He bounced from pillar to post during his late teens.

But in 1792 he began working for Joseph Gales, who published the Sheffield Register, a local newspaper.  Gales supported a number of radical causes, and in 1794 was forced to flee to Germany to avoid prosecution.  Montgomery, although still in his early 20s, was able to gain control of the newspaper, and changed its name to Sheffield Iris.  Under his leadership, the paper continued its radical bent for more than three decades—advocating such seditious causes as abolition.  Montgomery was twice imprisoned for his editorials, but his imprisonments only added to his popularity.

As a young man, Montgomery drifted from the faith, but as he matured he returned to the Moravian church and became an advocate for Christian missions.

On Christmas Eve, 1816, Montgomery was reading the second chapter of Luke, when these verses captured his attention:

And suddenly there was with the angel

a multitude of the heavenly host

praising God, and saying,

‘Glory to God in the highest,

and on earth peace,

good will toward men’

(Luke 2:13-14, KJV).

Montgomery was inspired to write this hymn, which he wrote quickly and printed in the Christmas Eve edition of his newspaper.  Each verse of this hymn speaks to the nativity from the perspective of a different group of people.

• Verse 1 is about the angels, who are urged to “proclaim the Messiah’s birth.”


Angels from the realms of glory
Wing your flight o’er all the earth
Ye, who sang creation’s story
Now proclaim Messiah’s birth

Angels from the realms of glory: In Matthew 18, the Disciples asked Jesus who is the greatest in the Kingdom. After calling to Himself the weakest of the weak, a little child, Jesus said to the Disciples that they needed to have humility. Then, Jesus said something rather startling: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven.

It is from this statement that belief in guardian angels has come “their angels.” But Jesus never said that angels follow anyone around. Rather, pay attention to what Jesus actually said: “their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven.” Rather than running around on earth, angels stay in the presence of God the Father waiting eagerly to be dispatched to earth on behalf of someone in need. Angels dwell in Heaven, in the presence of the Glory of God, looking directly into the face of Glory.

The Book of Job appears to tell us that angels were present when God created this earth and the Universe in which it dwells. Job 38:4-7 relates:

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding,

Who set its measurements? Since you know. Or who stretched the line on it?

On what were its bases sunk? Or who laid its cornerstone,

When the morning stars sang together And all the sons of God shouted for joy?

This, by-the-way, is the only place where we find angels singing. While we read in the Scriptures about the unfolding of our Salvation through history from the Garden of Eden, the angels have been on hand to watch it down through the Millennium.

And as they sang at the foundation of the earth, they are suddenly called upon to proclaim the beginning of the final chapter in providing for the Salvation of mankind and the conquering of their ancient enemy, one of their own number, the mighty Cherub Satan.

And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened.

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

Angels are God’s Messengers and God’s agents whom He uses to accomplish His will among us. They are mighty but totally devoted to God their Creator and Master. These beings are so devoted to God’s commands, that they do nothing of their own will but only carry out the will of the Father in Heaven.

This is why Jude considered it such an offense of the false teachers to “revile angelic majesties.” Why? Because what they do they do by express command of God. What have they done? Specifically, they have been God’s messengers of truth, such as when they proclaimed the arrival of the Savior, Christ the Lord. To deny the message is to revile them, declaring that they do not know what they are saying.

But we owe great debts to these spiritual beings who have stayed faithful to God, far more than we realize. They were involved in the giving of the Law. They have been locked in a battle some 6000 years long, of which we get a glimpse in Daniel. They announced the coming of the Messiah. They ministered to Jesus in the Garden. They announced the risen Lord.

Angels are God’s agents and messengers. And that still night some 2000 years ago. They scared a motley group of smelly shepherds almost out of their wits to tell them: Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.


• Verse 2 is about “Shepherds in the fields abiding.”

Shepherds in the fields abiding
Watching o’er your flocks by night
God with man is now residing
Yonder shines the Infant light

If Jesus was born in the winter months, then the Shepherds abiding in the fields were those specifically watching over the sheep and goats destined for sacrifice. At least, that is the assertion of Alfred Edersheim, the author of the greatest biography of Jesus outside the Gospels themselves.

They kept the sheep and goats outside away from things that could scrape against them, cause a blemish, and thus disqualify them to be used as sacrifice in the Temple.

Recall that the brightest light at night, apart from the moon, was a fire, a torch.

When I was a teenager living in Pomona, CA, I liked to go for walks at night. I recall one time I was walking through a neighborhood. Occasional dogs barked. I could hear a helicopter overhead. Suddenly, that helicopter hit me with its searchlight. I had difficulty seeing where I was walking as the light was so intense. And talk about sudden. It was a definite shock. I stopped and looked up and was completely blinded.

Now imagine you are a shepherd out at night sitting around the fire, quietly chatting, watching the sheep. “And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened.” A sudden brilliance unlike anything they had ever seen? You better believe they were about scared out of their wits.

Which is why the angel first told them everything was OK. “But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid.” Why not? What possible thing could calm these men down?

for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

The nation had been looking for the coming of the Messiah. Jewish writers and correctly figured out it was time for Him to come. But they were looking in the wrong place and for the wrong person.

Montgomery wrote God with man is now residing.

What never entered their heads is that the Messiah had to be God in human flesh.

They completely missed the truth stated so clearly in Isaiah 7:14. “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.” Immanuel – God with us.

What the shepherds did not realize at the time was that that announcement of the angel was an announcement of a loss of a job. That baby, God with Us, was to be the “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Once the perfect sacrifice was made through the broken body and shed blood of the Messiah, animal sacrifice would no longer be needed. We would have the perfect sacrifice for sins.

An what about that last phrase: Yonder shines the Infant light? That is just a cultural myth grown up through the centuries. The baby Jesus did not glow. But one day His glory did shine forth and completely scared Peter, James, and John on the Mount of Transfiguration. And when Jesus returns? The glory of His holiness will shine forth and all evil will persih before Him. So I guess we can forgive a little cultural anticipation of the glory of God in the face of Christ.


• Verse 3 is about “Sages,” the Magi or Wise Men.

Sages leave your contemplations
Brighter visions beam afar
Seek the great Desire of nations
Ye have seen His natal star

We know the Sages, the wise men, did leave their contemplations to seek one of infinite greater wisdom, He who is born King of the Jews. They were drawn by a star. There have been many speculations and many natural phenomena have been suggested as that star. But, a star that leads to Bethlehem and then stops over a single home? That has to be of supernatural origin.

But they are seeking the Great desire of nations, as Montgomery wrote. This is a reference to Haggai 2:7 in the King James Version:

And I will shake all nations,

and the desire of all nations shall come:

and I will fill this house with glory,

saith the Lord of hosts.

While the KJV translation is not quite accurate in that verse, the sentiment is completely correct. Jesus is the Desire of nations. Only He brings forgiveness, Only He brings fellowship with God, Only He can bring genuine peace. As God told Abraham so long ago, speaking of Jesus, “In you shall all nations of the earth be blessed.” Only in Jesus do we find our deepest needs and desires satisfied.

And mankind’s contemplations, their philosophies, are mere speculation apart from the reality that God lives and He has sent His Son into the world to redeem sinners. Any worldview which ignores that truth is doomed to be empty speculation.

• Verse 4 expands the vision to “Saints”—a word that in the New Testament applies to all Christians.

Saints before the altar bending
Watching long in hope and fear
Suddenly the Lord, descending,
In His temple shall appear

Montgomery finished off in our version with the consequences of the coming of “a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

The creation of Saints is owed entirely to the reality that Jesus came as Savior. He did not come as conqueror. Which is what the Jews were looking for. Mankind has always longed for a Savior, someone to deliver us from this mess of a world so polluted with sin.

Here in the US we long for political leaders who will bring about conditions that we hunger for, whatever they may be. The world loves the tales of mighty heroes who will deliver us. And Jesus is the ultimate deliverer. But, before He can deliver us politically, He must deliver us spiritually.

This is why Jesus said, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” But the vast majority of people in the world refuse to recognize their hopeless condition before God. They think they can deliver themselves.

But it takes the Savior Jesus to actually make mankind Holy, Saints, who can dwell with the Holy, Righteous God for eternity.

As Saints, we bow our knee before our Savior. Montgomery is referring to Philippians 2:9-11:

For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

We are truly watching for the Hope. Paul wrote of this to his fellow minister Titus:

…looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus.

And we are those who, knowing our sinful condition and the holiness of God, bow before Him and walk daily with reverential fear. We do this because we know Jesus can return at any moment.


Montgomery referred in the lines Suddenly the Lord, descending, In His temple shall appear to one of the last promises in the Old Testament, Malachi 3:1:

Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says the LORD of hosts.

This sudden return is the reason why we are told, “Now is the day of salvation.” You may not have another opportunity to trust in Jesus as your Savior.



Montgomery concluded each verse with the phrases:

Come and worship, come and worship
Worship Christ the newborn King

Because His coming was important enough to send a host of angels to announce it, because His coming was to provide the sacrifice that made all other sacrifices obsolete, Because His coming makes all human wisdom empty, Because His coming creates those who are holy enough to be in God’s presence, we should bow before Him and worship. He is worthy of all praise and all worship.

Even though He came as Savior, still, He was and always will be the rightful King of this world. King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Let every knee bow before the Lord of all.

Come and worship, come and worship
Worship Christ the newborn King


Leave a comment