Love Divine, All Loves Excelling – Introduction of the Hymn
This is The Hymn of the Week with Dr. Larry Frazier—presenting the good news in song, combining faith and everyday experience.
Hymn and Tune
Welcome to The Hymn of the Week. Of the thousands of hymns in use around the world, what is your favorite? Or, if you can’t narrow it to one hymn, consider several that you find meaningful. Do you know the names of any of the tunes associated with these hymns? Most of us may think of the tune as being inseparably connected to our favorite hymn. However, perhaps surprisingly, relatively few hymns are written this way. Often, the hymn writer and the composer have never met, or have lived in different eras. Hymn tunes also have names.
Theoretically, any hymn may be paired with any tune as long as both are in the same meter. The stirring, 19th-century Welsh tune “Hyfrydol” is associated with several different hymns, including two by a prolific, 18th-century hymn poet. One of these hymns, “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,” is…The Hymn of the Week!
Click Below for Love Divine, All Loves Excelling Lyrics
Love Divine, All Loves Excelling: Hymn of the Week Radio Show Episode
Reading of Love Divine, All Loves Excelling Text
(stanzas 1 & 2)
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 every trembling heart.
Breathe, O breathe Thy loving Spirit,
Into every troubled breast!
Let us all in Thee inherit;
Let us find that second rest.
Take away our bent to sinning;
Alpha and Omega be;
End of faith, as its beginning,
Set our hearts at liberty.
(3 & 4)
Come, Almighty to deliver,
Let us all Thy life receive;
Suddenly return and never,
Never more 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.
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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,
Till in Heav’n we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before Thee,
Lost in wonder, love, and praise.
And now, let us hear our hymn paired with the tune, “Hyfrydol,” as sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Background of Love Divine, All Loves Excelling
Charles Wesley was born at Epworth, Lincolnshire, England, on December 18, 1707. He was a fragile, tiny baby, the eighteenth of nineteen children of a poor, Church of England clergyman and his long-suffering wife. Nine of the couple’s previous children died in infancy. His mother feared that this boy, born several weeks premature, would also not survive.
He grew up in a small parsonage shared by several siblings and an often-absentee father. His mother kept the family together and provided early education for each of her children. She managed to spend at least one hour per week with each child. When Charles went to London to further his education at the Westminster School, he was well-prepared to excel.
Wesley continued his studies at Christ Church College, Oxford. After graduation he became a tutor. In 1727, he founded an organization for students dedicated to upholding the highest standards of academic practice and morality in personal conduct laid down in statutes of the University.
The Holy Club
These standards were quite similar to those inculcated in him from an early age by his mother. The group became known as the “Holy Club.” Members were called “Methodists” because of their method of study and practice.
Christian Theology Core Academic Discipline
The study of Christian theology was a core academic discipline at 18th-century English and American universities. Indeed, an early brochure from Harvard describes the mission of the institution as follows: “To advance learning and perpetuate it to posterity; dreading to leave an illiterate ministry to the Churches.” The academic color for theology is crimson, for the blood of Christ. an historic color long associated with Harvard. But the university has never been formally associated with a specific religious denomination.
John Wesley joined his younger brother Charles as a tutor at Oxford. Shortly thereafter he became leader of the “Holy Club” of “Methodists.” The two remained at the university until ordination in the Church of England in 1735.
Charles Wesley in Georgia
Early the next year, Charles Wesley served as private secretary and personal chaplain to James E. Oglethorpe, governor of Georgia. On a voyage to this English colony, Charles and John Wesley encountered a band of Moravian missionaries. The Moravians introduced the brothers to German hymns.
Charles found colonial life in Georgia quite disagreeable, and he returned to London within a few months. Associating himself with a Moravian congregation, he experienced what he described as his spiritual conversion on May 20, 1738. Shortly thereafter, he joined his brother as an evangelist, traveling across England on horseback.
He preached out-of-doors and in secular buildings to great numbers of people. A remarkable preacher, he expressed profound truths of the Christian faith in a manner even the uneducated could easily follow. So compelling and persuasive was his preaching, that he often converted his most determined opponents.
Charles Wesley is considered by some scholars to stand among the finest English poets of the 18th century. But he is universally recognized as one of the greatest and most prolific hymn writers of all time.
Wesley wrote over 6500 hymns, many of which are still popular today. He expresses a wide range of Christian experience in subjective poetic language with a decidedly evangelical emphasis. In addition to “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” are the following favorites:
“A Charge to Keep I Have;”
“Christ the Lord is Risen Today;”
“Come, Thou Long-expected Jesus;”
“Ye Servants of God, Your Master Proclaim;”
“Jesus, Lover of my Soul;” and
“Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”
Brother John's Shadow
For over 50 years, Charles Wesley, though perhaps better gifted, has historically remained in his brother John’s shadow. He tirelessly preached and wrote hymns with astounding facility in advancing the movement for “the people known as Methodists.” He maintained his ordination vows in the Church of England and strongly opposed the establishment of a separate Methodist denomination. He died in 1788.
And now, let us hear our hymn, with the tune “Hyfrydol,” as sung by the Melbourne Welsh Male-Voice Choir.
Background of the Tune
As is often the case with hymns, Charles Wesley’s “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” was first published without music. As such, it could be sung to any tune in a compatible meter—lines of verse with syllables in the following pattern: 126.96.36.199.188.8.131.52. The tunes now most commonly paired with our hymn in modern hymnals were all composed many years after Wesley’s death. “Beecher,” by Brooklyn organist John Zundel, and “Hyfrydol,” by Welsh musician Rowland Hugh Pritchard are 19th-century tunes popular in the United States.
In Great Britain, two other tunes are most often paired with our hymn. Welsh schoolteacher William Penfro Rowlands composed “Blaenwern” in 1905, and noted 19th-century English composer John Stainer composed “Love Divine.” (“Hyfrydol” is also popular in Great Britain, but paired with another Charles Wesley hymn— “Come, Thou Long-expected Jesus.)
And now, let us hear two of the tunes associated with “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.” Organist William Neil plays “Hyfrydol,” followed by “Blaenwern” as performed by the Grimethorpe Colliery Band.
Devotion or Scripture Related to the Hymn
Consider these concluding verses from Romans, chapter eight. “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord.”
Invites and Challenges
Charles Wesley’s great hymn invites and challenges us to embrace this “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.” How? —by serving, praying and praising without ceasing “‘til in heaven we take our place, lost in wonder, love and praise.” For over 260 years this hymn has resonated in the hearts and voices of Christians everywhere.
And now, let us hear our hymn, sung to the tune “Love Divine,” by the Choir of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, directed by Barry Rose.
Thank you for joining me for this episode of “The Hymn of the Week.” Tune in again, next week, when we will consider another great hymn.
Until then, this is your host, Dr. Larry Frazier…
Goodbye and Keep Singing!