Norwegian: Kom, du Guds kjærleik, kom!
Text: Bianco da Siena (ca.1346-1434) Tune: Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)
1. Come down, O Love divine, Seek thou this soul of mine, And visit it with thine own ardor glowing; O Comforter, draw near, Within my heart appear, And kindle it, thy holy flame bestowing.
2. O let it freely burn, Till earthly passions turn To dust and ashes in its heat consuming; And let thy glorious light Shine ever on my sight, And clothe me round, the while my path illuming.
3. Let holy charity Mine outward vesture be, And lowliness become my inward clothing; True lowliness of heart, Which takes the humbler part, And o’er its own shortcomings weeps with loathing.
4. And so the yearning strong, With which the soul will long, Shall far outpass the power of human telling; For none can guess its grace, Till Love create a place Wherein the Holy Spirit makes a dwelling. Tr. Richard Littledale (1833-1890)
MEDITATION Scripture notices what clothes people wear more than one might think. God clothes Adam and Eve with animal skins after their fall. People in grief tear their garments and wear sackcloth and ashes. Samuel gets a robe from his mother before she leaves him with Eli. Jesus tells a parable about the king’s banquet and the guest who comes with the wrong clothes and is turned away into the darkness. Jesus is stripped of his clothes; the soldiers at his feet gamble for his garments. The New Testament writers speak of putting on Christ, wearing him instead of their own selves. To be clothed in Christ is to be given a new robe, an utter change, that readies one for heaven.
At first glance, clothing might seem somewhat trivial. But it is not. Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), the great wit of the late 19th century said, “It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearance. The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.”
This goes against aphorisms like not judging a book by its cover, but Wilde is really saying what the Greeks said, Character is choice, and by their choices of clothes people reveal who they are.
This is about human will and freedom, I think. One who has tried to dress a willful child knows there is something deep about the will that this struggle entails. Asserting our own will against our parents is part of growing up, to be sure, but the struggle and language about clothing also show us something fundamental about Christian faith.
Christ has come to clothe us in his garments. We are to wear--put on--Christ. The unfortunate guest at the banquet in Matthew 22 is asserting his right not to change for the wedding. If he will not submit to the rules, he cannot come to the party. If he will not be changed, he cannot be saved.
These are harsh words for us in a time of sartorial abandon. We used to get dressed up for social events, but not so much now. In some situations, the rule still obtains. When King Harald of Norway comes on a royal visit those who want to attend the party have to be appropriately dressed. One cannot get into the party without fine clothes.
Colossians 3:9-10 says "Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on a new self which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.”
This needs to be done from the inside. The hymn writer prays that love will come down like a fire to cleanse us so that inwardly and outwardly we are prepared to have the Holy Spirit dwell in us. In other words, our wills must be utterly changed.
A Florentine writing some before Bianco, Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) pictured God's love as being like a fire. For the unbeliever the fire of God's love is hell. For the believer it is a cleansing flame through which the believer must pass to enter Paradise. The heat of that cleansing is so intense Dante wishes he could jump into a vat of molten glass to cool off. And yet, it is a merciful thing. To be reclothed in Christ means a complete makeover. What needs to be changed most of all is our will to have it our way. Without that change we will not put on the wedding garment Christ spent himself to give us. Out of love, he died to clothe us in his garments--his righteousness--to make it possible for us to be his guests and enjoy the pleasures of his company forever.
Bianco da Sienna was a poet and wool worker who lived in Venice where he joined the lay order of Jesuates, following the rule of St. Augustine. That is about all we know of him.
The hymn tune is what attracts people to this hymn. Written by the greatest English composer of his time, Ralph Vaughan Williams, it is named for the town where he grew up, Down Ampney, in the Cotswolds, in Gloustershire, England, where his father was rector. He worked to reconnect English classical music with its English folk roots. He helped edit the English Hymnal of 1906 and contributed not only his editing expertise to the book, but several tunes that are fundamental to worship these days, among them, In sine nomine, the grand tune, "For All the Saints."
The hymn came into American Lutheran hymnals in 1958 with the Service Book and Hymnal. The translator, Richard Littledale, was influenced by the Oxford Movement in England. He was attracted to the history and literature of the early church and the Middle Ages. Born in Ireland, he attended Trinity College there and later received a doctorate in Law at Oxford in 1862. Ill health prevented him from serving as a curate in the Anglican church which he did for some years. He retired and continued writing and translating devotional and hymnological works until his death.
LINKS Choir singing the hymn as scenes from Down Ampney Church and area appear https://youtu.be/qgUFay0th9A
First Plymouth Church, Lincoln, Nebraska https://youtu.be/abgDEEQEhls
Daniel Cook on the Salisbury organ in England https://youtu.be/WYaTj4Nkx1I
Fernando Ortega, contemporary style https://youtu.be/CLQu6_Tjk9M