Posted by: rcottrill | October 16, 2013

Wide, Wide as the Ocean

Words: Charles Austin Miles (b. Jan. 7, 1868; d. Mar. 10, 1946)
Music: Charles Austin Miles

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

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).

The present little song falls in the latter category. As noted in a previous blog, Austin Miles contributed hundreds of gospel songs during his career as a Christian musician. For thirty-seven years, he was editor and manager of the Hall-Mack Publishing Company (which eventually merged with the Rodeheaver Company). Mr. Miles was also in demand as a music director in churches, camp meetings and Christian conventions.

It is a little strange that of the hundreds of songs Austin Miles has given us, In the Garden should be, by far, the best known and most popular. This song was inspired by the meeting of Mary Magdelene with the risen Christ (Jn. 20:11-18). However, it does little more than reflect an emotion. It’s details are few–and sometimes erroneous or questionable. It is decidedly weak, yet it is requested again and again.

Two years after publishing the latter song, the hymn writer gave us Wide, Wide as the Ocean. Without question, there is more important truth in these few lines that there is in all of the song just mentioned.

Wide, wide as the ocean, high as the heavens above;
Deep, deep as the deepest sea is my Saviour’s love.
I, though so unworthy, still am a child of His care;
For His Word teaches me that His love reaches me everywhere.

This is usually considered a children’s song (though the word “child” could certainly refer to a child of God of any age). In keeping with its use with children, it is an action chorus, with optional motions to accompany the words. In asking around, I’ve found that the actions taught vary slightly from one group to another. But here’s a possible way to do it.

Wide, wide as the ocean, [extend arms sideways]
High as the heavens above; [point up]
Deep, deep as the deepest sea [point down]
Is my Saviour’s love. [point up again]
I, though so unworthy, still am a child of His care; [point to self]
For His Word teaches me [hold up Bible, or put palms together and open them, as opening a book]
That His love reaches me everywhere. [spread arms apart]

Now, what about the actual content of the chorus. In that regard, it reminds us of some wonderful blessings. The opening lines were likely inspired by the words in Ephesians. Paul prays:

“That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height–to know the love of Christ which passes [surpasses] knowledge” (Eph. 2:17-19).

To know the infinite love of the Lord fully is not possible for finite human beings. But to come to understand and appreciate it more fully than we do is a worthy goal. It should thrill us as it did Paul that “the Son of God…loved [us] and gave Himself for [us]” (Gal. 2:20). “Having loved His own…He loved them to the end [i.e. completely, to the uttermost, to the fullest possible extent]” (Jn. 13:1).

Who could question that we are “so unworthy” of such love? But that is where grace comes in, the unmerited favour of God. “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (I Jn. 4:10).

The love of the Lord is a caring love. “He cares for you” (I Pet. 5:7). “Cast your burden on the LORD, and He shall sustain you” (Ps. 55:22). “”The LORD is my helper” (Heb. 13:6). And as the chorus says, “His love reaches me everywhere.” The Lord Jesus promised His followers, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).

Finally, what is our source of information on these things? I’ve already indicated it by the quotations included about; it’s the inspired Word of the living God. “His Word teaches me,” says Mr. Miles. Our Christian faith is not founded on man-made theories, or idle notions. We anchor our confidence in the unfailing promises of God.

All of that, Austin Miles proclaims in forty-two simple words!

Questions:
1) What other short choruses do you know and use that have strong biblical content?

2) What hymns do you know that help us to rejoice in the fullness of God’s love?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


Responses

  1. this song has been on my heart today, and I was so happy to find this page, with the history of the song…thank you!

    • You’re welcome. The little chorus packs a lot of important truth in a few words. God bless.

  2. Bring back these beautiful old Hymns with a simple and easy to understand message

  3. I agree with your “actions” to this Hymn as long as it is kept within the realms of a Sunday School Class or similar gathering, but when in a Church service, STRONGLY deplore it!
    Where is your sense of Worship to the Almighty?

    • Interesting comment, and I appreciate it–even though I’m not sure I fully agree. It tends to be, in part at least, a cultural thing. I don’t personally find very reverent the kind of “happy-clappy” services that appeal to some. If there’s a lot of bouncing around and hand-waving, I find it distracting, and not worshipful at all. However, I also realize that others are used to something more lively than I would want, and might find my quiet meditative worship too stern and stodgy.

      There is also the possibility of having a mixture in one service. It’s not necessarily either/or; it can be both/and. For example, this morning we had a bunch of children in the service, so I led them in making train sounds, as we sang “The Happy Day Express.” It’s a lively children’s song that I remember from my childhood. Everyone enjoyed it, adults included. And I took a few moments to explain the meaning of the words–which do make some sense.

      However, we also had in the same service, some great hymns of the faith, a reading of the Scriptures, prayer requests, a time of prayer–in which several participated, and which included some periods of quiet praise and meditation. And, there was an exposition of the Word of God. In other words, a mixture.

      Worship is first of all an attitude of the heart. I might not want to attend services that are of a certain style, but I try to be cautious condemning something that others find meaningful. Wide, Wide as the Ocean is an excellent chorus, which teaches some basic doctrine. Does moving our hands to emphasize the meaning make it less so–or somehow displeasing to God? I don’t think so. But I agree that there might be certain services in which I’d refrain from doing so (depending on the purpose and other content).


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