Love Divine, All Loves Excelling
Charles Wesley (1747)
Lately I’ve run into a few people who, when it comes to faith in God, seem to have gotten stuck in a sour year in middle school, when it occurred to Master Roderick or Mistress Annabelle that they could get away with doing exactly the opposite of what their too-patient parents demanded, and they weren’t going to get sent to any very bad place for it, at least not any time soon. Such people aren’t going to be fooled, no sir! They see through it all, they do. They know that God is just a yardstick to rap your knuckles with. The universe? The meaning of man’s life? The mystery of the intellect? The call of beauty? The testimony of the wisest poets, artists, and philosophers? The person of Jesus Christ, and his incomparable words? The testimony of saints? The miracles wrought in the name of Jesus? Master Roderick and Mistress Annabelle won’t hear of it. Why, they’ve even filched some cider from the barrel in the pantry — so there.
God is Love, says the beloved disciple, and that sometimes moves people with a sweeter disposition in the other direction. They’ll call a thing they hanker after by the name of Love, and that, they believe, makes everything all right, all vanilla icing on an angel-food cake. Commandments? Oh, those ill-natured things! Love doesn’t trouble with those. As if Love did not want us to be healthy and strong — for God’s commands are to the soul what getting fresh air and good food are for the body!
But it’s just because God is Love, that we want to call him into our hearts, to change us, to purify our always somewhat muddy desires, and not to delay about it. That’s the import of Charles Wesley’s beloved hymn, “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.” We call upon him in this hymn, not that he might give us some good thing in the world, but that he might give us himself, and not just in a warm feeling now and then, or a small burst of religious inspiration, like a wild flower in a field. “Nevermore thy temples leave,” we cry, for when that same beloved disciple John says that God’s dwelling shall be with men, he really does mean it in an ultimate sense. We are to be those tabernacles: we are to be those holy places where joyful prayer and the praise of God go on “without ceasing,” as we glory in his perfect love.
If that sounds irksome to Master Roderick and Mistress Annabelle, it is because they do not know the crowning joy of such love. It’s as the psalmist says, that God has crowned us with glory and honor, and the crown of that crowning, as was revealed to John, is the eternal wedding feast of the Lamb. “All is grace,” said Saint Therese, and I am sure Wesley would have agreed. All is grace, all is the freedom of the gift, both in God who gives and in us who receive, which is just another way of saying that all is love.
The Choir of the Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul, Montreal
Love divine, all loves excelling, Joy of heaven, 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. 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. 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 heaven we take our place, Till we cast our crowns before thee, Lost in wonder, love, and praise.
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