Posted by: rcottrill | March 8, 2013

For God So Loved the World (Smith)

Words: Alfred Barnerd Smith (b. Nov. 8, 1916; d. Aug. 9, 2001)
Music: Alfred Barnerd Smith

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal (none)

Note: This chorus is a departure for the blog, which deals almost exclusively with our traditional hymns and gospel songs. But this short chorus deals with a familiar passage that conveys the central message of the gospel. The Wordwise Hymns link will give you the story of how it came to be written, and the part played in that by Frances Townsend.

Obviously this little song isn’t in the class of John Stainer’s beautiful and reverent God So Loved the World, from his Easter cantata The Crucifixion, let alone being anywhere near the superlative treatment given by Handel in his Messiah, of such related texts as: John 1:29 and Isaiah 53:3-6. But there is something to be said for also putting God’s wonderful truth within reach of even a small child.

John 3:16 describes, in about two dozen simple words, the greatest love story ever told. It is a love supreme above all loves because of the transcendent perfection of God, and the infinite sacrifice He made for us sinners who were so undeserving.

“God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

“God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He [even] gave up His only begotten (unique) Son, so that whoever believes in (trusts in, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish (come to destruction, be lost) but have eternal (everlasting) life” (Amplified Bible).

This is a love inseparable from grace, God’s undeserved, unmerited favour. “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). That is the essence of the gospel of grace. And John 3:16 gives us:

1. The REASON for the Gospel –“[that] God so loved the world”

2. The RECORD of the Gospel–“that He gave His only begotten Son”

3. The RECEPTION of the Gospel–[for] “whoever believes in Him”

4. The RESULT of the Gospel–“[that the one who believes] should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Or, look at it another way. The verse begins by indicating man’s worth to God, and ends with a proclamation of God’s will for man. In between we learn of man’s weakness, and God’s way to solve the problem. John 3:16 thus contains four key elements.

1. Man’s WORTH to God: we are greatly loved

2. Man’s WEAKNESS: we are perishing, heading for eternal ruin

3. God’s WAY: He gave His Son to take sin’s punishment for us

4. God’s WILL for man: everlasting life, received through faith in Christ.

And one more way to look at the verse. We can see it as being all about God’s gift, salvation through the redeeming death of His Son. “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (II Cor. 9:15).

1. The OFFER of the gift–a love gift from God, and just what we needed (Jn. 5:24; 14:6)

2. The OBTAINING of the gift–through personal faith in the Saviour (Jn. 1:12: Acts 16:30-31)

3. The OBJECT of the gift–everlasting life, a life of eternal bliss and blessing in the presence of God, forever (Jn. 14:2-3; 17:1, 24).

It is difficult to conceive of a more important theme than that. It has to do with our eternal destiny. Here is Al Smith’s chorus, with the concluding reference to the return of Christ, added by his friend Frances Townsend.

For God so loved the world
He gave His only Son
To die on Calv’ry’s tree,
From sin to set me free;
Some day He’s coming back,
What glory that will be!
Wonderful His love to me.

1) What is the most wonderful truth expressed or implied by John 3:16?

2) What is the greatest obstacle to someone accepting the gift of God?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal (none)


  1. Alfred B Smith was a musical genius touched with talent from God. He used to come to Highland Park Baptist.

    • Thanks for the comment Mike. I’ve always found Alfred Smith’s tunes very singable, melodies that also suited the text of the song. I appreciated that, both as a soloist and service leader.

  2. Alfred Smith told this story behind the writing of the chorus while helping in a meeting at Lavon Drive Baptist Church.

    As he traveled a bubble on one of the tires of his car developed. This set up a mundane thumping establishing the beat and tempo. Al’s mind came to John 3:16, and using the mundane thumping of the tire, he began humming a tune and setting the words to music. However, he couldn’t get the final line in mind.

    He arrived to spend the night with the quite aged Mrs. Townsend; he spent time at her piano setting the music that was in his head onto paper. However, no matter how much he tried, he just couldn’t form the final words. Being exhausted, he left the music on the piano and went to bed.

    The next morning, he got up for breakfast and discovered the last line penciled in by Mrs. Townsend: “Wonderful His love to me.” Alfred gave her credit for writing the words of the music, and a very young man continued off to college and career.

    • Interesting information, though I can’t vouch for it from any other source. Even Al Smith’s Hymn Stories doesn’t have some of these details. Thanks for sharing.

  3. […] Note: This blog is almost exclusively about our traditional hymns and gospel songs. However, I’ve departed from that defining purpose once in awhile, to include songs of historical significance (e.g. Caedmon’s Hymn), or choruses that have a connection with hymn writers known for other work (e.g. Al Smith’s For God So Loved the World). […]

  4. Many years ago in Portsmouth, Ohio, Dr. Smith came to our church and held a choir clinic for me. It was awesome as he sat at the meal time with all the choir and just told stories of the hymns. When he was telling this story it was a great blessing. Simple chorus but it was one line that he could not get. At any rate he did give Frances Townsend credit for the words. He was one of the most genuine men I have ever known.


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