Posted by: rcottrill | January 16, 2015

O Perfect Love

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Words: Dorothy Frances Blomfield Gurney (b. Oct. 4, 1858; d. June 15, 1932)
Music: Perfect Love, by Joseph Barnby (b. Aug. 12, 1838; d. Jan. 28, 1896)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Dorothy Gurney herself has given us an account (below) of how she came to write this beautiful wedding prayer, when she was twenty-five. The “favourite tune” spoken of was one by John Dykes, and you can here it played on the Cyber Hymnal. However, in less than ten years, Joseph Barnby’s tune–which I believe is superior–replaced it. When Princess Louise, daughter of King Edward VII, and granddaughter of Queen Victoria, was married in 1889, Joseph Barnby wrote his tune specifically for the hymn–which has been used with it ever since.

“It was Sunday evening [in 1883], and we were enjoying a time of hymn singing. A song that was particularly enjoyed by all of us was O Strength and Stay, the tune to which was a favourite of my sister. As we finished singing this hymn, someone remarked, ‘What a pity the words of this beautiful song should be unsuitable for a wedding!’ My sister turned to me and challenged, ‘What is the use of a sister who composes poetry if she cannot write new words to a favourite tune? I would like to use the tune at my wedding.’ I picked up a hymn book and said, ‘If no one will disturb me, I will go into the library and see what I can do.’ Within fifteen minutes I was back with the group and reading the words I had jotted down.”

Life and love are dominant in God’s nature, and in His dealings with us.

“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” (I Jn. 4:9).

The author decided to make those same qualities central in her hymn. It personifies God as “perfect Love.”

The Bible tells us that sacrificial, self-giving love is such a fundamental quality of God’s character that it’s possible to say that “God is love” (I Jn. 4:8). We cannot expect to attain the infinite perfection of the love revealed in God. “As for God, His way is perfect” (Ps. 18:30). But “whoever keeps [believes and obeys] His word, truly the love of God is perfected [meaning it’s brought to maturity] in him” (I Jn. 2:15).

CH-1) O perfect Love, all human thought transcending,
Lowly we kneel in prayer before Thy throne,
That theirs may be the love which knows no ending,
Whom Thou forevermore dost join in one.

Mrs. Gurney’s hymn goes on to personify God as “perfect Life” as He’s the source of all life. “He gives to all life, breath, and all things” (Acts 17:25). Since this is so, it’s not surprising that life, too, is almost synonymous with Him, “This is the true God and eternal life” (I Jn. 5:20)–life that He gives freely to all who put their faith in Christ (Jn. 3:16; I Jn. 5:11-12).

CH-2) O perfect Life, be Thou their full assurance,
Of tender charity and steadfast faith,
Of patient hope and quiet, brave endurance,
With childlike trust that fears nor pain nor death.

CH-3) Grant them the joy which brightens earthly sorrow;
Grant them the peace which calms all earthly strife,
And to life’s day the glorious unknown morrow
That dawns upon eternal love and life.

Some couples today may feel that this song is “too old-fashioned” to use at their wedding. But it ought to be given a closer look. It would even work as a prayer that is read, rather than sung. Many of the things in it are worthy of meditation, not only by the bride and groom, but by all those present.

The hymn concludes with a Trinitarian benediction, though many hymn books seem to omit it. The form is precisely biblical. “For through Him [Christ] we both have access by one Spirit to the Father (Eph. 2:18). (The “both” mentioned refers to the equal access to God, through Christ, provided for both Jews and Gentiles–cf. vs. 11-13).

CH-4) Hear us, O Father, gracious and forgiving,
Through Jesus Christ, Thy co-eternal Word,
Who, with the Holy Ghost, by all things living
Now and to endless ages art adored.

1) What are some things in this hymn that are worthy of being emphasized as couples anticipate marriage?

2) Is this a hymn you would encourage a couple to use at their wedding?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


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