Hymnnotes: The Love of God.

December 6, 2014.

Today I would like to comment on a beloved hymn that is actually one of my sister’s favorites. The hymn has a deep message of the everlasting, profound love of God and details it in such beautiful language. When I was younger, I could not help but imagine what the writer was saying when he expounded on the love of God in vivid imagery. The third verse is of particular notoriety, as it is the key verse to the hymn. This is the verse, adapted from a Jewish poem written in 1096, that inspired Frederick Lehman, a writer and composer of the early twentieth century, to pen the other words and put it to music. The video I found for it is a bit slow, but it has good harmony. Let’s look at the words.

The Love of God
Words by Frederick M. Lehman

This particular hymn was written in 1917 (completed in 1948?) by Frederick Lehman. He was inspired to write the song after attending a tent meeting in the Mid-west and listing to a preacher recite a stanza from a Jewish poem written in 1096, but had recently been discovered penciled on the walls of a patient’s room in an insane asylum. This stanza of the poem was then adapted to form the key (third) verse in the hymn which Lehman would go on to compose the first two verses and the refrain. The hymn is all about the unending and matchless love of God that He has bestowed upon man. I like it so much because it uses our words to try and describe something that is beyond our capabilities of capturing beauty, much like what John had to do in the book of Revelation when he was to use language to describe something that went beyond the language’s scope. Even though the words do a great service to the Love of God, they still do not encompass it entirely, because we simply can’t do such.

The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches to the lowest hell;
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled,
And pardoned from his sin.

The first verse is all about trying to measure the love of God, yet always falling short. We begin by stating our defeat: the love of God is greater than we could ever describe in speech or word, but we are going to try anyway. Even though it is beyond the stars, and deeper than the crevices of the sea, we capture what we can to put down on paper, so that we might in turn sing praises to Him who has given us such a wonderful love.

What is the first thing that we can use to describe the love of God? His gift of His Son, of course. The gift of salvation, of redemption, of reconciliation. There is a reason that this is one of the most quoted verses in the bible:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”
(John 3:16-18)

We know that God loved the world immensely, for He did the only thing that could pardon us from our sins, and that was to send a perfect sacrificial Lamb to lay down His life in our stead. We were the ones deserving of death, we were the ones who spit on Him and mocked His holy name. But He went to the cross, bearing our sins out of a deep and steadfast love that we who have been washed in His blood now try to emulate. For it is this love that has made us whole, and which will carry us through to the end, cleansing us of our sins so that we might stand before the Father blameless in the age to come. What love is this, that this man would willingly leave the Father’s glory, heaven, to come down to a lowly earth fully of wicked, sinful men, knowing that He was to be sentenced to die a cruel and painful death, all that the plan of God might be fulfilled and we might have redemption through Him. There is a reason that our words cannot truly grasp the concept of God’s everlasting love.

When hoary time shall pass away,
And earthly thrones and kingdoms fall,
When men who here refuse to pray,
On rocks and hills and mountains call,
God’s love so sure, shall still endure,
All measureless and strong;
Redeeming grace to Adam’s race—
The saints’ and angels’ song.

Being an older song, the term “hoary” is not used all that often in our language today. This term has to do with “grey” or “grey-haired,” by extension referring to an old man, or just being old. So, when we sing “When hoary time shall pass away,” we are referring to old time, implying that it has been a long time in the coming or something to that effect. I don’t know if I explained that well, so if I just confused you, look up the word and go from there. There is coming a day when all kingdoms of earth shall fall, and all thrones will pass away, and on that day the dead will rise. We well all meet our God in judgement, whether it be a resurrection of life or of eternal destruction. Make no mistake, on that day there will be no question as to who God is- every knee will bow and every tongue will confess (ref. Rom. 14:11). The Lord will take His own to ever live with Him in glory. What a wonderful day that will be. But what a sad day it will be for those who never called on the name of the Lord.

When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”
(Revelation 6:12-17)

I love the allusion that Lehman makes here to Revelation at the opening of the sixth seal and the coming of the day of the Lord. Those who have not named His name will cry out for the mountains and rocks to fall on them to hide the from the wrath of God that is upon them, for no one will be able to stand in that day without the redeeming grace of the Lord- the grace that has been offered to all men, Adam’s race, though many have refused. But there are also many who have not refused, but accepted His grace, and having been buried with Him in the watery grave of baptism, have been raised a new creature in Christ. On that day, God’s steadfast and everlasting love will not fail, and we can be sure of that. Redeeming grace, to Adam’s race, displaying the ultimate love that God has for His own.

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.

Now we approach that key verse, upon which hinges the entire hymn. It is divided into two sections, the set up and the answer. We set up our metaphor by using large gestures to make us of hyperbole to say that if we expended all the resources we had on earth that pertain to writing, an ocean of ink, a sky made of paper, all grass as pens and all men as writers, we still could not write the full love of God, for we would simply not have enough room. We would drain the ocean before we had enough ink to encompass God’s love. John makes a statement like this at the end of his gospel:

“Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”
(John 21:25)

What a mighty and omnipotent God we serve, creator of all the universe. We can look out to the stars and see the wonder of the heavens. Our most powerful telescopes cannot see to the end of it. We serve the God who made it all, and who is larger than it all. He worked out ever detail, down to the smallest microorganisms and subatomic components that comprise everything we see. Omnipotence. And this God, this Almighty power, had such a love for us that He would send His Son, God on earth, to live among us in complete humility, that we might be saved from what we have committed. This is why the love of God cannot be contained by word or pen. This poem is probably the closest we will ever get, so I encourage you to simply read that last stanza several times, as the writer does more justice for the love of God than I can.

Refrain:
Oh, love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure—
The saints’ and angels’ song.

Amen.

“Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    for his steadfast love endures forever!

Let Israel say,
    “His steadfast love endures forever.”
Let the house of Aaron say,
    “His steadfast love endures forever.”
Let those who fear the Lord say,
    “His steadfast love endures forever.”

Out of my distress I called on the Lord;
    the Lord answered me and set me free.”
(Psalm 118:1-5)

The love of God cannot be told, but we can indeed get a glimpse of in through this hymn. Let us sing of His wondrous love, for He is good, and His steadfast love endures forever. I hope this song holds a lot of meaning for you, for it is a great attempt at the impossible, and a worthy song of praise of our Savior and God. Hallelujah to the King! May His mercy fall on us, and may we ever stand before the world to show His love and to glorify His name to all the nations.

Suggested Daily Reading: Psalm 100, 118, 136, Revelation 6.

“His steadfast love endures forever.”

-Walter

One Comment Add yours

  1. Renee Harrington says:

    This is definitely one of my favorite songs. I love the imagery, especially in he 3rd verse.

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