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Love Divine All Loves Excelling
Sadly, many great hymns of the past have fallen into disuse. Read the words of this hymn prayerfully, and let them touch and transform you.


When I was eight years old my mother enrolled me in the Elgar Boys' Choir of Vancouver, B.C. Sixty or so boys sang in some of the larger churches in Vancouver under the director, Mr. Findlater. We wore a white surplice over a black cassock. One of the hymns that made a deep impression upon me was "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling," by Charles Wesley. At the time, I memorized all four verses, and ever since have had a deep attachment to this hymn. I especially like it because it is personalized—it addresses Jesus in His pre-incarnate state, and invites His indwelling presence by His Spirit.

Love Divine All Loves Excelling
John Wesley

My step-grandfather, George R. Gordon, lived in Vancouver, and attended the Wesley Methodist Church prior to the church union in 1925 with the Presbyterians and Congregationalists. He had a large part in my conversion experience, and attended some of the services in which we sang. It is sad that many of these great hymns of the past have fallen into disuse. They carry a deep spiritual and theological basis. Dr. Donald Gray Barnhouse of the Tenth Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia had his congregation of some 2000 members memorize 100 of the great Christian hymns. That would still be a worthy endeavour for our day.

A hymn to Jesus

During the days of the early Church, when people inquired concerning Christians, this is what they were told—"They live separated lives from sin and worldliness; have a full love for God and their fellow-man; have a deep compassion that all men might know God intimately and be delivered from their sins; and in their meetings they sing hymns to One, Jesus." Here is a hymn to Jesus from recent Church history:

Love Divine All Loves Excelling

Love divine, all loves excelling, Joy of heaven, to earth come down;
Fix in us Thy humble dwelling; All Thy faithful mercies crown.
Jesus, Thou art all compassion, Pure, unbounded love Thou art;
Visit us with Thy salvation; Enter every trembling heart
Breathe, O breathe Thy loving Spirit Into every troubled breast!
Let us all in Thee inherit, Let us find the promised rest;
Take away our bent to sinning; Alpha and Omega be;
End of faith, as its beginning, Set our hearts at liberty.
Come, Almighty to deliver, Let us all Thy grace receive;
Suddenly return, and never, Never more Thy temples leave.
Thee we would be always blessing, Serve Thee as Thy hosts above,
Pray, and praise Thee without ceasing, Glory in Thy perfect love.
Finish, then, Thy new creation; Pure and spotless let us be;
Let us see Thy great salvation Perfectly restored in Thee:
Changed from glory into glory, Till in heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before Thee, Lost in wonder, love, and praise.
Love Divine: Charles Wesley, 1707-1788; John Zundel, 1815-1882

Written by Charles Wesley in 1743, this hymn first appeared in Hymns for Those ThatSeek and Those That Have Redemption in the Blood of Jesus Christ (London, 1747), where it was entitled "Jesus, Show Us Thy Salvation," and consisted of four, eight-line stanzas. So few of the earlier hymns dealt with the idea of God as love that this hymn was a welcomed contribution to the Wesleyan hymn singing, for it mirrored a major emphasis of their preaching. Several changes from the original appear in our text. In stanza two, line four, the original was, "Let us find that second rest"; stanza two, line five, "take away our power of sinning"; stanza three, line two, "let us all Thy life receive"; and in stanza four, line two, "pure and sinless let us be."

"Love Divine" (also called "Zundel" or "Beecher") was composed for these words in 1870 by John Zundel, Henry Ward Beecher's organist at the Pilgrim Congregational Church in Brooklyn, New York. It was published in the same year in Christian Heart Songs, A Collection of Solos, Quartettes and Choruses of All Meters (New York, 1870, No. 91). In the index Zundel attempted to indicate the right tempo for each tune by giving the number of seconds required for singing one stanza. The time indicated for this tune is 65 seconds.

… the services became widely known for great preaching, skilful organ playing, and thrilling congregational singing.

Zundel, John (b. Hochdorf, Germany, December 10, 1815; d. Cannstadt, Germany, July, 1882), began his musical career in Russia at St. Petersburg (now Leningrad), where he was organist at St. Anne's Lutheran Church and bandmaster of the Imperial House Guards. In 1847 he arrived in America, and after brief service at the First Unitarian Church, Brooklyn, and St. George's Episcopal Church, New York, he became organist at Henry Ward Beecher's Plymouth Congregational Church, Brooklyn, January 1, 1850. His organ playing became also as popular as Beecher's preaching. "We will go hear Beecher and Zundel," became a common expression as the services became widely known for great preaching, skilful organ playing, and thrilling congregational singing. He published The Choral Friend (1852), Psalmody (1855), and Christian Heart Songs (1870). He assisted Beecher in the editing of Temple Melodies (1851), and the Plymouth Collection (1855). To this latter collection he contributed 28 tunes. In 1863 he founded the Monthly Choir and Organ Journal, but ceased publication after a year. In 1873 he became editor of Zundel and Brandt's Quarterly, which contained 12 pages of music in each issue. Upon his retirement in 1880, he returned to his native Germany and his death occurred two years later.

A prayer for the Church

Lord Jesus—You deserve our very best. You deserve "Our Utmost" for "Your Highest." You deserve our personal, passionate devotion to you.
It is when we treasure your indwelling presence by the Holy Spirit, that we glow like Moses' burning bush. When we are incandescent with your glory, then unbelievers are attracted to you!
Father—we would individually and corporately be so possessed by you—our triune God, that anything you want to do with us and through us is possible.
This is our prayer for our congregation. This is our prayer for every other congregation. May every church have a remnant so in love with you, that daily we offer ourselves a living sacrifice to you—our spiritual service.
Daily we deny ourselves the right to call the shots—and defer to you to help yourself to us. Daily we take up our cross—the cross of self-abnegation—that you might be all in all. Daily we would follow you. Amen.

Jim & Marie Watt are the founders of Two Are Better Than One Ministries based in Federal Way, Washington. E-mail: jim2rbetter1@yahoo.com. Phone: 253.874.4265—Fax: 253.474.0189.

Originally published in the Two Are Better Than One Ministries Newsletter, July 14, 2005.
www.2rbetter.org

 

 
 
 
 

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