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Words: Charles Wesley (b. Dec. 18, 17-7; d. Mar. 29, 1788)
Music: Purleigh, by Arthur Henry Brown (b. July 24, 1830; d. Feb. 15, 1926)
Note: Charles Wesley wrote more than 6,500 hymns–some of them still used today. Several, including Jesus, Lover of My Soul, and Hark, the Herald Angels Sing, are considered among the best that we have, but there are many more: Soldiers of Christ, Arise; O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing; Christ the Lord Is Risen Today; Depth of Mercy! Can There Be; And Can It Be? and Arise, My Soul, Arise, to name just a few.
Published in 1749, Wesley called this hymn “Desiring to Love.” According to a couple of sources, it is one of three of his hymns for which George Frederick Handel (1685-1759) wrote the tunes. Handel, of course, is the man who gave us the peerless oratorio, Messiah.
The word “love” is an important one to us. We hear it, and likely use it a lot. But it can also be one of the most confusing words in our language. It has so many different meanings, and shades of significance, we’re often unsure which is intended.
In tennis, a score of love means neither player has any points yet. They are, in a sense, playing for nothing, or playing for the love of it. The statement about two people that there’s “no love lost between them,” can mean one of two completely opposite things! It can signify they love each other so much they couldn’t possibly love more. Or, it can mean they don’t love each other at all.
A person can say he loves ice cream, or Chinese food, or loves his dog. But are these the same? And are they the same as loving his wife? Making love is something different again. And how is that related to being in love? And what about loving God? Should that somehow be distinguished from all our other loves?
In 1958, C. S. Lewis gave a series of radio talks on the subject, later published as a book entitled The Four Loves. In it he distinguishes: 1) affection for or the cherishing of another; 2) the bond of friendship; 3) romance or erotic love; 4) what the author calls charity, an unconditional love that is the highest form of all. Whether we fully accept Lewis’s definitions and conclusions, his work does highlight differences in the love we have for one another.
The second and fourth of the loves Lewis describes are prominent in the New Testament. In the original Greek language, some form of the word philos or phileo is found many times, representing friendship. It’s used when the Lord Jesus is described as “a friend [philos] of tax collectors and sinners” (Matt. 11:19), and when Abraham is spoken of as “the friend of God” (Jas. 2:23).
But it is the fourth term (agape or agapeo in Greek) that is found by far the most frequently–over two hundred times. Unlike lust, it doesn’t focus on what one person desires to get from another. It as to do with giving, a selfless, unconditional desire to bless another. It’s the kind of love that has existed eternally between the members of the Trinity.
When God the Father speaks of Jesus as “My beloved [dearly loved] Son” (Matt. 17:5), He is using a form of this word. As the Bible is when it says, “ God so loved [agapao] the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
Our love for God is described the same way. But it can’t be divorced from the best love we have for one another. As the Apostle John points out:
“If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” (I Jn. 4:20).
The Bible says, “We love Him because He first loved us” (I Jn. 4:19). Our love for God, weak though it may be, is a responding echo of His infinite love for us. It’s that holy passion that’s the theme of the hymn by Charles Wesley.
The song references an incident in the home of Mary and Martha (Lk. 10:38-42). The use of the word “Bridegroom” to represent Christ is found in His own words, and in a parable He taught (Matt. 9:15; 25:1, 5-6). It pictures the time when the Lord returns to gather the church (His bride) to Himself, and rejoices with them (cf. Rev. 19:7-9).
CH-1) O love divine, how sweet thou art!
When shall I find my willing heart
All taken up by thee?
I thirst, I faint, I die to prove
The greatness of redeeming love,
The love of Christ to me.
CH-3) God only knows the love of God;
O that it now were shed abroad
In this poor stony heart!
For love I sigh, for love I pine;
This only portion, Lord, be mine,
Be mine this better part.
CH-4) O that I could forever sit
With Mary at the Master’s feet;
Be this my happy choice;
My only care, delight, and bliss,
My joy, my heaven on earth, be this
To hear the Bridegroom’s voice.
1) What are some characteristics of God’s love for us?
2) What should be some characteristics of our love for Him?