The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns
This is the third and final installment in our series about advent hymns (hymns about the coming of the Lord). Our previous articles considered the biblical messages behind “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” and “The Lord is My Light.” Next up is “The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns,” written in 1907 by John Brownlie. It is hymn number 267 in Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs (as an aside, I should note that the editors of our hymnal have inexplicably set the hymn to the tune EVAN; the hymn is far more commonly set to MORNING SONG, which I recommend looking up if you want to learn the hymn yourself). Here are the lyrics:
1. The King shall come when morning dawns
and light triumphant breaks,
when beauty gilds the eastern hills,
and life to joy awakes.
2. Not as of old a little child
to bear, and fight, and die,
but crowned with glory like the sun
that lights the morning sky.
3. O brighter than the rising morn
when He, victorious, rose
and left the lonesome place of death,
despite the rage of foes.
4. O brighter than that glorious morn
shall this fair morning be,
when Christ, our King, in beauty comes,
and we His face shall see.
5. The King shall come when morning dawns,
and earth's dark night is past:
O haste the rising of that morn,
the day that e’er shall last.
There are three kinds of advent hymn: those that cry out for the Lord’s coming, those that exhort us to live godly lives as we wait for Him, and those that revel in the glory of His coming. “The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns” belongs to that third group. Its first verse declares the glory of the Lord’s coming as its theme: “The King shall come when morning dawns, and light triumphant breaks, when beauty gilds the eastern hills, and life to joy awakes.”
The hymn is bursting at the seams with Jesus’ glory, and it’s all focused on His coming light, which we find in every verse. Light may be the most pervasive motif in Scripture. Light is the first and last work of God (Gen 1.3; Rev 22.5, 16). We wait for His dawn to rise (2 Pet 1.19), and in the meanwhile, we are to shine His light in the world (Mat 5.14-16).
Verses two and three contrast the glory of Jesus’ coming with the glory of His Incarnation and Resurrection. In my mind, this is one of the hymn’s greatest strengths, because those events are no small matter. Yet Brownlie uses them to show just how glorious the second coming will be.
Verse two contrasts the second coming with Christ’s Incarnation, His first coming. In His first appearance, the Son of God showed His strength through weakness. He appeared as a baby who didn’t even have a proper place to lay His head. This didn’t change as He aged: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Luke 9.58). He came to serve by suffering, the emblem of which was a crown of thorns. His second coming reverses all of that: He comes in the fullness of His splendor to execute judgment and establish His reign, and His emblem shall be a crown of glory (Rev 19.11-16).
Verse three turns to the Resurrection as an argument from the lesser to the greater—with the Resurrection as the lesser! If the Resurrection was glorious—and it was the most glorious event of all history—then how glorious will His return be! If He overthrew His enemies when He rose on the third day, how much more when He returns from the right hand of the Father!
The hymn’s final verses remind us of the great reward of His coming. We shall see His face (Rev 22.4). He will bring us out of our present darkness and into His glorious light (John 12.46). It is “a consummation most devoutly to be wished.” So let all God’s people pray, “Come quickly, King of Kings!”