Posted by: rcottrill | October 3, 2012

Love Divine, All Loves Excelling

Words: Charles Wesley (b. Dec. 18, 1707; d. Mar. 29, 1788)
Music: Beecher, by John Zundel (b. Dec. 10, 1815; d. July _____, 1882)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (John Zundel)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Zundel’s tune Beecher, written for this text, is frequently used with the hymn. In my view, Blaenwern, by William Rowlands, is superior to it. (Rowlands’ beautiful melody can also be used effectively with What a Friend We Have in Jesus). However, there is an interesting side note pertaining to Beecher.

In his 1870 book Heart Songs, which includes this tune, Zundel used a novel means to indicate the tempo he believed to be appropriate for each song. He noted the number of seconds it should take to sing one stanza. For Beecher, it was sixty-five seconds. If you try it, you may find that this seems quite a slow pace.

The decision regarding a hymn’s tempo is, of course, a somewhat relative matter. It depends in part on what a congregation is used to. However, there are also some practical considerations, and the message of a hymn can be enhanced or obscured if it is sung at an inappropriate speed. For some thoughts on this, see my article, The Tempo of Congregational Hymns.

This is a beautiful hymn, but it is not without a significant problem for some of us. It proclaims the Wesleyan doctrine of perfectionism, which I don’t believe is biblical. According to holiness teaching, the Christian is to seek a second blessing, also referred to as crisis sanctification. The idea is, as taught by some, that with this second blessing experience the sin nature is not only subdued but eradicated, and it becomes possible to live a sinless life.

This comes out in lines found particularly in CH-2 (as Wesley originally wrote them): “Let us find that second rest, [and] take away our power of sinning.” For one thing, does it not seem that if we had no power of sinning, we would have no ability to choose? If we cannot doubt and disobey God, then we are not freely believing and obeying Him, and become mere puppets in His hands.

Further, the “rest” spoken of in Hebrews 4:9 (which the holiness folks apply to their second blessing) refers to the normal Christian life. Verse 10 explains that it involves ceasing from our own works. In other words, fully depending on what Christ has done for us, and not trying to earn God’s acceptance by our own efforts.

“There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His” (Heb. 4:9-10).

In CH-3 of the hymn we have: “Pure and sinless let us be.” However, this might be seen as an aspiration and a desire for holiness, without assuming that it can be attained in this life. Or, in the context of the rest of the stanza it might be looking forward to the eternal day when we are fully transformed into the likeness of Christ, in His presence (I Jn. 3:2).

To claim sinless perfection now, one must have a very limited and superficial definition of sin. When all possible sins of omission and commission are included, when we examine thoughts and heart attitudes, as well as overt acts, and we compare ourselves to the absolute perfection of Christ, the claim to perfection becomes tenuous indeed. Add to that all the passages that reveal the believer’s potential for sinning, and God’s provision for times when a Christian sins (e.g. Gal. 5:16-17; I Jn. 1:8-10; 2:1-2).

In order to make this hymn compatible with a non-perfectionist theology, various changes have been suggested over the years. Some helpful, and some not. Some books simply omit the third stanza, or make alterations in it. Other stanzas are also changed. For example, here is the beginning of Wesley’s fourth stanza, and an amended version found in The Believers Hymn Book.

(Wesley)
Finish, then, Thy new creation;
Pure and spotless let us be.
Let us see Thy great salvation
Perfectly restored in Thee;

(Amended to)
Firstfruits of Thy new creation,
Faithful, holy, may we be,
Joyful in Thy great salvation,
Daily more conformed to Thee.

Questions:
1) If you are not one who accepts Wesley’s theology, would you still use this hymn? (Would you amend it in any way to do so?)

2) What is the difference between a desire not to sin, and a claim to be free from sin?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (John Zundel)
The Cyber Hymnal


Responses

  1. Hi, Robert,

    “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” is an excellent hymn. Of course, I lean far more toward the Arminian school of Baptist theology than to the neo-Calvinist school of Baptist theology, so I’m probably more comfortable with that hymn than others, like yourself are.

    As for choice of tunes, the hymn is metered 8.7.8.7.D, and as you undoubtedly know there is a plethora of tunes that fit that meter. Hyfrydol works for “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”, but played at the tempo one typically encounters in a Baptist Church, Hyfrydol makes the singer sound as if he or she is severely depressed that God loves him (or her). 🙂

    Anyway, as always, I enjoy your blog and look forward to it.

    In Christ,

    RHWoodman

    • H-m-m… Well, I wasn’t aware there was an official “Baptist” way of singing. I’ve been in some baptistic churches where the speed seems to suggest congregants are in a hurry to get home for dinner, and others that sang almost slowly enough for me to take a nap between lines. 🙂 (A slight exaggeration.) Hyfrydol is a great tune, and it’s used with quite a few hymns. But I stand by my preference for Blaenwern for Wesley’s hymn, and as a wonderful alternative for What a Friend We Have in Jesus. Thanks for your encouraging word. Your comments always keep me on my toes.


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