Posted by: rcottrill | April 25, 2014

God Is Love, His Mercy Brightens

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Words: John Bowring (b. Oct. 17, 1792; d. Nov. 23, 1872)
Music: Cross of Jesus, from The Crucifixion, by John Stainer (b. June 6, 1840; d. Mar. 31, 1901)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Sir John Bowring (knighted by Queen Victoria), also the author of In the Cross of Christ I Glory, was one of the greatest geniuses of the nineteenth century. He has also been called “an evangelical Unitarian,” his theology being closer to orthodoxy than to strict Unitarianism. You can read more about his accomplishments on the Wordwise Hymns link.

The Cyber Hymnal lists several tunes that can be used for this 1825 hymn. However, a very fine tune I think works even better is Cross of Jesus, by John Stainer. You can hear his tune here. Also worth checking is Wellsley, a tune often used with There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy. Either of these has the kind of smooth serene flow that I believe Bowring’s lovely hymn merits.

T he opening phrase of the hymn is taken from First John.

“He who does not love does not know God, for God is love….And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him (I Jn. 4:8, 16).

In the context it’s made clear that the love of God was revealed in the sacrifice of God the Son. Christ bore the wrath of God, paying the price for our sins at Calvary.

“In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 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. 4:9-10; cf. Jn. 3:16).

The wisdom of God, which John Bowring pairs with His love in the last line of each stanza, is also displayed all through the Scriptures. It is “manifold [complex, many-sided] wisdom” (Eph. 3:10).

“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!” (Rom. 11:33).

And what is it that a wise and loving God does for those of us who belong to Him through the saving work of the Lord Jesus Christ? First, we are reminded that He brightens life’s pathway, bringing joy and lightening our woeful burdens. (In Bowring’s original version, CH-1 was repeated as a fifth stanza. Later publications dropped this repetition.

CH-1) God is love; His mercy brightens
All the path in which we rove;
Bliss He wakes, and woe He lightens:
God is wisdom, God is love.

In the midst of “chance and change,” (excellent phrase) the uncertainties of life, we face the limitations of deteriorating physical powers, and a world of giddying and escalating change. But God’s mercy is unchanging toward us.

CH-2) Chance and change are busy ever;
Man decays and ages move;
But His mercy waneth never:
God is wisdom, God is love.

When we pass through the most difficult of human experiences, when the way ahead is shrouded in misty gloom, even then we can experience the Lord’s changeless goodness, and the bright beams of His love still shine upon us.

CH-3) E’en the hour that darkest seemeth
Will His changeless goodness prove;
From the mist His brightness streameth:
God is wisdom, God is love.

“Earthly cares” are the common experience of the human family. But the child of God will find hope and comfort in the midst of pain and loss. Like the sunlight bursting through dark clouds, the glorious love of God shines on us even in the darkest hour. The people of God have testified to this over and over.

CH-4) He with earthly cares entwineth
Hope and comfort from above;
Everywhere His glory shineth:
God is wisdom, God is love.

1) What experience of the love and wisdom of God have you had in the last week?

2) Is there someone going through a dark time for whom you can be a channel of God’s love today?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


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