The Story Behind “Angels, from the Realms of Glory”

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…
 
This charming carol was penned by the Irishman James Montgomery. We like to sing it during the Christmas season at our church in North Sydney. James was an underdog, who struggled in school and lost his parents when he was only 12. Yet God took this boy from humble beginnings and used him to do great things. Here is the story behind his best-known poem, “Angels, From the Realms of Glory.”

When young James was just 5, his parents felt God’s call to be missionaries to the West Indies. So they left James to be raised in a Moravian village in County Antrim, Ireland. Sadly, his parents died on the mission field seven years later, and he never saw them again.
After a year in Ireland, the Moravians sent James to Fulneck Seminary in Yorkshire. He later wrote, ““There, whatever we did was done in the name and for the sake of Jesus Christ, whom we were taught to regard in the amiable and endearing light of a friend and brother.” At our church in North Sydney, we seek to do the same.

When he was 10, James began to write poetry. He was inspired by the Moravian hymns that surrounded him. Unfortunately, poems were banned at the Seminary. To make matters worse, James received bad grades in school. He left the Seminary at age 14 and went to London in search of work. 

James tried several occupations in the big city, but nothing seemed like the right fit. He also sold his poems on the streets of London. When he was 21, James began working at a local newspaper, The Sheffield Register. The Register was owned by Joseph Gales, a political activist with radical views. 
 
Working for the newspaper, James grew tremendously as a writer. Two years later, Gales had to flee to the Continent because of persecution for his political views. 
 
So James took over the newspaper and changed its name to the Sheffield Iris. He would serve as its editor for the next 31 years. Under James’ leadership, the newspaper became a leading voice for reform, including a call for abolition of the slave trade. He became a wealthy, influential citizen of Sheffield. Because of his political views, he was imprisoned twice. However, James remained very popular in his community.

In his newspaper, James also published many of his poems. On Christmas Eve 1816, he was reading the gospel story in Luke 2. And verses 14-15 seemed to jump out from the page. 

“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 2:14-15)

James set pen to paper and quickly wrote the lyrics to “Angels, From the Realms of Glory.” He then published it in his newspaper’s Christmas Day edition. 

His words were later paired with a melody by blind composer and organist, Henry Smart. This beautiful hymn was first sung on Christmas Day, 1821, in a Moravian church in England. And we have been enjoying it ever since!

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Have you heard the hymn “Angels from the Realms of Glory” before? Join the friendly church family of Northside Baptist Church on Sundays at 11:00 am. 

For more information, call (902) 736-6465 or email northside1178@gmail.com