Second Adam from Above


When I went to buy Christmas wrapping paper this year, I found a wide array of options – everything from Santa and snowmen to scenes from the movie Frozen. One of the rolls I purchased had words of the season throughout the design. Peace. Love. Joy. Christmas is for love, for family, we are told. It is for peace and deliverance from the turmoil that is around us. 

Yet this is an incomplete message. Peace, love, and joy most assuredly mark the Christmas season, but to understand their meaning, we must see them in the context of other, more startling words. Sin. Death. Hell.

Eighteenth century hymnist Charles Wesley, did not shy away from these words when he wrote the beloved Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. He called the nations to be joyful, yes – but why? Because God and sinners were now reconciled. As pictured in Benjamin West’s painting, the angels carry the message of peace and goodwill, a message that had to come from God to man. It could never have come from man to God.

Wesley’s hymn went through a number of revisions before coming to the form we know it in today. One of the portions lost to us is striking in its summary of the Gospel:

Come, Desire of Nations, come,
Fix in us Thy humble home;
Rise, the woman’s conquering Seed,
Bruise in us the serpent’s head.

Now display Thy saving power,
Ruin’d nature now restore;
Now in mystic union join
Thine to ours, and ours to Thine.

Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface,
Stamp Thy image in its place;
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in Thy love.

Let us Thee, though lost, regain,
Thee, the Life, the Inner Man:
O to all Thyself impart,
Form’d in each believing heart.
— Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, Charles Wesley

Wesley takes us back to Genesis, to Adam and the serpent. Here, in stark contrast to our modern inclination to seek peace merely from the turmoil outside us, Wesley prays that the Desire of Nations would “bruise in us the serpent’s head.” We, those with “ruined nature,” are the problem. With Wesley, we pray that the Lord would remove Adam’s likeness. Why Adam’s? Because Adam’s likeness is a likeness of death. “Death reigned from Adam to Moses,” wrote the Apostle Paul (Romans 5:14). Our sin and Adam’s sin lead to death and destruction. 

But there is hope, as Wesley continues. “Second Adam from above / reinstate us in thy love,” he prays. “Let us Thee, though lost regain / Thee, the Life, the Inner Man.” Here, then, is the end of the Christmas story, set in a world filled with death and destruction, a world filled with sinful people causing that death and destruction. A second Adam, God incarnate, chooses to lovingly, graciously reinstate His people into His presence by first entering theirs. He gives Himself in the manger and on the cross. He claims His victory and leaves behind an empty tomb. And he provides for His people that message our hearts long to hear.

Peace. Love. Joy.

Romans 5:12-17

"Hark the Herald Angels Sing" - Sovereign Grace Music

Hark! the Herald Angels Sing Words by Charles Wesley Music by Felix Mendelssohn Additional words and music by David LaChance, Jr.