Updated: Dec 15, 2020
Text: Charles Wesley (1707-1788) Tune: Hyfrydol Rowland Huw Prichard (1811-1887) Beecher: John Zundel (1815-1882) Blauenwern: William Penfro Rowlands (1860-1937)
1. Love divine, all loves excelling, Joy of heav'n to earth come down: Fix in us thy humble dwelling, All thy faithful mercies crown: Jesus, thou art all compassion, Pure, unbounded love thou art; Visit us with thy salvation, Enter ev'ry trembling heart.
2. Breathe, O breathe thy loving Spirit Into ev'ry troubled breast; Let us all in thee inherit, Let us find the promised rest: Take away the love of sinning; Alpha and Omega be; End of faith, as its Beginning, Set our hearts at liberty.
3. Come, Almighty to deliver, Let us all thy life receive; Suddenly return, and never, Nevermore thy temples leave. Thee we would be always blessing, Serve thee as thy hosts above, Pray and praise thee without ceasing, Glory in thy perfect love.
4. Finish, then, thy new creation; Pure and spotless let us be: Let us see thy great salvation Perfectly restored in thee; Changed from glory into glory, 'Til in heav'n we take our place, 'Til we cast our crowns before thee, Lost in wonder, love, and praise.
Charles Wesley, the 18th of Samuel and Susannah Wesley’s nineteen children, was born prematurely, and thought to be dead when he was born. His father was a a clergyman in the Anglican church; his mother, Susannah, a force to be reckoned with. With all her children, she ran a tight ship. A woman with an unusually good education for the time—she knew Latin, Greek and French--she made sure her children learned, teaching them for six hours every day. Rightly, she is called the Mother of Methodism.
When Charles went off to school at Westminster, he had been well prepared by his mother to speak Latin, the only language allowed in the classroom. Charles excelled; after six years he went to Oxford where he studied for the next nine years, earning a Masters Degree.
Spiritual conditions at school were tepid so Charles formed a club dubbed the Holy Club by others. Members gathered daily. Because of their regimen of early rising, Bible study and prayer, and weekly communion, plus their active work ministering to those in prison, they became known as Methodists.
In 1735, Charles and his brother, John, both ordained into the Anglican ministry, felt called to be missionaries to Georgia, Governor Oglethorpe’s colony. They sailed to America with Moravians whose piety impressed especially John. While he was malingering from violent seasickness, they were singing hymns, which made him curious about what they were singing. John learned their hymns in German and translated some into English, especially Paul Gerhardt’s "Befiehl du deine Wege." (See Hymnblog 10)
Their year in Georgia did not go well. They did not flourish, nor did their ministries. When they returned feeling like failures, John said, “I went to America to convert the Indians, but, oh, who will convert me?”
The brothers continued to work with the Moravians. In 1738, Peter Böhler, their leader, urged Charles to look more deeply into his own soul. In May 1738, Charles, while reading Martin Luther’s book on Galatians, had an experience of conversion. “I labored, waited, and prayed to feel ‘who loved me, and gave himself for me.'” Not long after that he came to assurance and “rejoiced in hope of loving Christ.” A few days later, at the Moravian chapel in Aldersgate, his brother John, on hearing Luther's commentary on Romans, found his heart to be "strangely warmed."
Two days after his conversion, Charles wrote his first hymn, "O for a Thousand Tongues" whhich has traditionally been the first hymn in every Methodist hymnal. From that time on it is thought he wrote at least ten lines of poetry a day, ending up with almost 7,000 hymns to his credit. Legend had it that he would dismount his horse on the way to the next meeting, sit down on the ground and write a text that had come to him on his ride.
He and his brother John worked together, preaching and organizing their meetings. For a while they partnered with the great preacher, George Whitefield (1714-1770). Charles estimated that in the years from 1739-1743, he had preached to almost 150,000 people, some crowds of over 10,000.
He married Sarah Gwynne, twenty years his younger in 1747, a very happy marriage. He continued writing hymns and preaching, but in 1756, he quit his itinerancy, and lived in Bristol and London still at work on his hymns and sermons.
No one could write a hymn so drenched with Scripture as Charles Wesley. One can find allusions in every line, but they are not out of place. Charles had so deeply breathed Scripture that he could use it as his natural speech and poetry.
Some people reckon him as the greatest writer of hymns in the English language. It is hard not to agree. The love of God is his theme. Small phrases stick in our memory and we use them to speak of our faith, rejoicing in God's love, with a rapturous exclamation that in heaven we will be lost in wonder, love and praise. Amen.
The hymn text was written by 1747 for a collection called Hymns for those that Seek, and those that Have Redemption. Scholars can find quotes in it from a poem by John Dryden (1631-1700), “Fairest isle, all Isles Excelling,” and other references, but all told the hymn is pure Wesley—he made what he quotes his own. There were many vigorous theological debates about a few concepts in the hymn, especially its Christian perfectionism, a Wesleyan theme. But the hymn has survived most of those edits.
The tune for the hymn is where one can also have a debate. The three I have chosen to use are lovely and fit the text well. Blauenwern is the preferred one in England. It was sung at the wedding of Kate and William. Beecher is by a German organ builder, organist and composer who gave the first organ concert in Russia, and somehow ended up playing for Henry Ward Beecher’s church in Brooklyn. The third tune seems to be preferred in America now. People can sing and enjoy any of them without too much trouble, but what you grew up with makes the difference.
Blauenwern/Welsh/William and Kate’s Wedding in Westminster Abbey
Welsh hymn sing!
Beecher by John Zundel
Hyfrydol/St. Olaf Christmas Concert
Mormon Tabernacle Choir