Hymn of the Week: October 3
by Robert W. Lehman,
Organist and Choirmaster
The Episcopal Church of St. Michael & St. George, Clayton
Proper 22B – October 3, 2021
Love divine, all loves excelling
Words: Charles Wesley (1707-1788)
Music: Hyfrydol; Rowland Hugh Pritchard (1811-1887)
The words and music of this hymn are in the public domain.
The great hymn writer Charles Wesley, the youngest of eighteen children, bore the surname of the family that stands out as central to the English ecclesiastical movement. Educated at Christ Church, Oxford, he received his degree in 1729 and became a college tutor. It was at this time that his deep religious impressions were deepened and he became one of the first of the Oxford Methodists. Ordained a deacon and priest – on two successive Sundays – Wesley set out, with his brother John, for America in 1735. The pair landed in Georgia where Charles remained for just a year before returning to England.
Upon his return to his homeland, Wesley fell under the influence of the Moravians who had played a large role in the theological formation of his brother, John. After a short tenure as a parish curate, he was forbidden to preach by the vicar in response to the opposition of the churchwardens to his appointment. His work was now so identified with that of his brother, that he became an indefatigable itinerant preacher. Charles Wesley died in London, March 29, 1788, and was buried in Marylebone churchyard. His brother John was deeply grieved because Charles would not consent to be interred in the burial-ground of the City Road Chapel, where he had prepared a grave for himself. Always true to his Anglican ordination, Charles said, “I have lived, and I die, in the Communion of the Church of England, and I will be buried in the yard of my parish church.”
As a hymn writer, Charles Wesley’s hymns number about 6500. No other hymn writer has ever penned such a vast number of hymns and it is astonishing how many of them rise to the highest pinnacle of excellence. The text Love divine, all loves excelling mimics a popular song by the poet John Dryden, Fairest isle, all isles excelling. The hymn’s theme is the great thread of divine love which is constantly present in Wesley’s hymns. The first verse is a prayer addressed to Christ to dwell within our hearts and lives. The hymn turns to the theme of sanctification – God’s “great salvation” is sufficient to deliver a Christian from the power and guilt of sin (2 Corinthians 5:17). Thus, we are “going on to perfection” being “changed from glory into glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
The hymn tune Hyfrydol (the name means “joyful” in Welsh) was composed by Rowland Hugh Pritchard – a young man just twenty years of age when he penned it. The tune’s enormous popularity is surely due to its eminent singability and simplicity; the tune spans no more than a melodic compass of a fifth (apart from a single note in the final phrase) and it moves almost entirely in stepwise motion – the exception being a simple melodic sequence of descending thirds toward the end of the tune. The arrangement and harmonization of the tune in our hymnal was prepared for the Hymnal 1940.
Listen to the hymn:
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.
Come, almighty to deliver,
let us all thy life receive;
suddenly return, and never,
never more thy temples leave.
Thee we would be alway 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.