Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Historical Note on a Great Hymn: "The Love of God"

Below are the lyrics to the hymn, "The Love of God:"

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.


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

When years of 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.


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.


Historical note:

I knew from the hymnal at church that the song was written in the early 20th century by Frederick Martin Lehman. A note in the hymnal also mentioned that the 3rd verse "had been found pen­ciled on the wall of a pa­tient’s room in an in­sane asy­lum af­ter he had been car­ried to his grave, the gen­er­al opin­ion was that this in­mate had writ­ten the epic in mo­ments of san­ity."

I was surprised to find the following note in Thomas Brooks' The Secret Key to Heaven (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2006), in a brief discussion of 1 Corinthians 7:21:

The Rabbis say of liberty,'If the heavens were parchment, the sea ink, and every pile of grass a pen, the praises of it could not be comprised nor expressed."

The quote above, from Brooks (originally published in 1665), is, of course, nearly identical to the 3rd verse of the hymn "The Love of God."

So, does this verse originate from the room of an asylum or from Rabbis writing sometime previous to 1665?

The situation is made even more complicated as Cyber Hymnal notes:

The lyr­ics [to "The Love of God"] are based on the Jew­ish poem Had­da­mut, writ­ten in Ara­ma­ic in 1050 by Meir Ben Isaac Ne­hor­ai, a can­tor in Worms, Ger­ma­ny;

Cyber Hymnal gives a quote from Lehman in which he mentions his debt to the Jewish poem and also mentions that the 3rd stanza of the poem was written on the wall of an asylum, etc.

Apparently, the words of the 3rd stanza from "The Love of God" were orginally part of the Haddamut (the text of which I've been unable to find), and were subsequently found on an asylum inmate's wall. I take the comment from Brooks' Secret Key to Heaven to reflect the original of the Haddamut, in that the poem was apparently concerned with the liberty of man, rather than the love of God, and either the asylum inmate or Lehman changed to lyric to extol God's love, which is the source of true liberty.

Final note:

In addition to authoring the great hymn "The Love of God," F.M. Lehman also has the dubious distinction of writing one of the corniest attempts at a contemporary hymn ever: "The Royal Telephone."


Blogger robert said...

H-m-m... Yes, I agree with your assessment of "The Royal Telephone." There's a reason why it's not found in hymnals today! But even so, treated as a kind of parable, I expect it helped some to better understand the immediacy of access the believer has to God in prayer.

I can forgive Pastor Lehman this less than stellar offering because of "The Love of God." Beautiful! And you're right about the orgin of the last stanza. To see my brief comments on the song, check out my daily blog on hymn history, Wordwise Hymns here...

And just one more suggestion: I encourage you to link to the original Cyber Hymnal. It was created about 14 years ago by a friend of mine, and I have had some input into the content. But another simply came along and copied the content, without permission, and set up his own site.

This forced my friend to change his URL to...
(There is no advertising at the top of the page on the original site.)

8:35 AM  
Blogger David E Wight said...

Who are the "guilty pair" in the song "The Love of God"?(first verse)

9:09 PM  
Blogger Daniel said...

I'm writing a paper on Islam for college, and I came across a verse in the Qur'an, Sura 18:109: "If the sea were ink for [writing] the words of my Lord, the sea would be exhausted before the words of my Lord were exhausted, even if We brought the like of it as a supplement." Assuming Muhammad wrote this, it takes the verse back to the 7th century AD. Of course even if it came from Arab/Muhammadan thought, the words still apply to Yahweh and Jesus Christ much more than a false god!

Interesting nevertheless.

2:40 AM  
Blogger Have Courage said...

Here are the words of the Haddamut/Akdamut as well as a more complete history of what was going on when this was written in Arabic on the wall of a prison...

5:32 PM  
Blogger Daniel said...

(added 12/3/2012)
Reading Leon Morris's commentary on the Gospel of John (part of the New International Commentary on the NT). He has a footnote on John 21:25 that cites 2 sources:

1. Philo, De Post. Cain, 144: "Were (God) to chose to display His own riches, even the entire earth with the sea turned into dry land would not contain (χωρησαι) them."

2. Strack's and Billerbeck's 3-volume German commentary on the NT, Talmud, and Midrash: [a saying of Jochanan b. Zakkai (who died c. AD 80)]: "If all the sky were parchment, and all the trees were writing pens, and all the seas were ink there would not be enough to write down my wisdom which I have learned from my teachers; and yet I have had the pleasure of only as much of the wisdom of the wise as a fly, who plunges into the ocean, takes away" (II, p. 587).

Another non-Christian citation, but it takes the metaphor back further in history.

10:12 PM  

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