"Above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfectness" (Col. 3.14)
INTRO.: A hymn which encourages us to put on love for God because of His love for us is "Love Divine" (#393 in Hymns for Worship Revised and #260 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written by Charles Wesley (1707-1788). It was dated 1743 and first appeared in his Hymns for Those that Seek and Those that Have Redemption in the Blood of Jesus Christ, published at London, England, in 1747. Various alterations have been made in the original text by different editors, especially by Martin Madan (1726-1790). The tune (Beecher or Zundel) was composed by John Zundel, who was born in Hochdorf, Germany, on Dec. 10, 1815. Educated in Germany he began his musical career in Russia at St. Petersburg where he was music director for seven years at St. Anne’s Lutheran Church and bandmaster of the Imperial House Guards.
In 1847, Zundel came to the United States, and three years later, after a brief service at the First Unitarian Church in Boston, MA, and St. George’s Episcopal Church in New York City, NY, he began serving on Jan. 1, 1850 as music director at the Plymouth Church in New York City, NY, where Henry Ward Beecher was the minister, continuing there for 28 years. His work as popular as Beecher’s sermons, and the services were widely known for great preaching and thrilling congregational singing. During his time at Plymouth Church, he published three hymnbooks, The Choral Friend in 1852, Psalmody of 1855, and Christian Heart Songs: A Collection of Solos, Quartettes, and Choruses of All Meters from 1870, in which this tune, produced for Wesley’s text that same year, first appeared.
Zundel also co-edited with Beecher two other songbooks, Temple Melodies in 1851, and the famous Plymouth Collection of 1855, the first major hymnbook to put the music on the same page as the lyrics. In all, he is credited with some 28 hymn tunes. In 1863 he founded the Monthly Choir and Organ Journal, which ceased publication after only a year. In 1873 became editor of Zundel and Brandt’s Quarterly, containing twelve pages of music in each issue. Just before his retirement in 1880, he served briefly at the Central Methodist Church in Detroit, MI, around 1878 and 1879. After his retirement, he returned to his native Germany and died two years later at Caanstadt in July of 1882.
Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, the song appeared in the 1921 Great Songs of the Church (No. 1) and the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 both edited by E. L. Jorgenson; the 1935 Christian Hymns (No. 1) edited by L. O. Sanderson; the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch; and the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater. Today it is found in the 1971 Songs of the Church, the 1990 Songs of the Church 21st C. Ed., and the 1994 Songs of Faith and Praise all edited by Alton H. Howard; the 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forrest M. McCann; the 1978/1983 (Church) Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard; and the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; in addition to Hymns for Worship and Sacred Selections.
The song gives some specific reasons why we should put on love for God.
I. Stanza 1 says that it is because of the joy of heaven to earth come down
"Love divine, all love(s) 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."
A. Jesus Christ is the joy of heaven sent down to earth because of the Father’s love: 1 Jn. 4.9
B. He has promised to fix in us His humble dwelling if we obey Him: Jn. 14.23
C. And He will visit every obedient soul with salvation from sin: Heb. 5.8-9
II. Stanza 2 says that it is because of the promised rest
"Breathe, O breathe Thy loving Spirit Into every troubled breast;
Let us all in Thee inherit; Let us find the promised rest;
Take away the love of sinning, Take our load of guilt away;
End the work of Thy beginning, Bring us to eternal day."
A. Because of His love for us, God has made it possible for us to have eternal rest: Heb. 4.9 (In Sacred Selections the words "Let us" in this and succeeding stanzas are changed to "May we," and this alteration is followed in Hymns for Worship. I suppose that the editor of Sacred Selections may have thought that saying "Let us" sounded too much like asking permission of God to be saved, but truthfully I see absolutely no difference between saying "Let us" and saying "May we"–remember that the old game, "Mother May I," was all about asking permission)
B. But to accomplish this, God had to provide a way to take away our load of guilt which would keep us out of heaven–so He sent Christ: Jn. 3.16 (the original read, "Take away our bent to sinning;" our books have changed this because it sounded too much like total inherited depravity).
C. Hence, it is in Christ that we can have the hope of being brought to eternal day: 1 Jn. 2.25
III. Stanza 3 says that it is because of the deliverance from our sins
"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."
A. One of the reasons that Jesus came down is to deliver us from this present evil world: Gal. 1.4
B. The statements "Come Almighty…" and "Suddenly return…" are not talking about the second coming of Christ, but asking Him to come into our lives and return to our hearts, which had once been separated from Him by sin, that He might dwell in us as His temples: 1 Cor. 6.19
C. And if Christ does dwell in our hearts, we can glory in His perfect love by blessing and serving Him: Eph. 3.17-19
IV. Stanza 4 says that it is because God has promised to finish His new creation
"Finish then Thy new creation, Pure, unspotted, may we be;
Let us see our whole salvation Perfectly secured by 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."
A. As a result of God’s love for us in sending Christ to deliver us from our sins, it is possible for us to become a new creation: 2 Cor. 5.17
B. And as God’s new creation, He wants us to be pure and unspotted: 2 Pet. 3.14
C. Furthermore, if we remain pure and unspotted, God will finish His new creation by making sure that our whole salvation will be perfectly secure, so that we can be changed from glory to glory and take our place in heaven: Phil. 1.6, 3.20-21
CONCL.: I once read an objection to this hymn which claimed that it taught a direct operation of the Holy Spirit, I suppose in stanza 2 which asks, "Breathe Thy loving Spirit into every troubled breast," and thus was Calvinistic. First, it is difficult to think of Charles Wesley as teaching Calvinism since the Wesleys were considered the arch-enemies of the Calvinists in their day. Furthermore, the Bible teaches that Christians should "be filled with the Spirit" (Eph. 5.18). Does Paul teach the direct operation of the Holy Spirit? It is true that Wesleyan doctrine does teach a direct operation of the Holy Spirit, but the song does not necessarily imply that. One can simply look upon the request of the song as asking God to grant us the influence of His Holy Spirit consistent with everything else that the Bible says about it. This hymn shows us that God is the kind of person that Jesus would call Father, and it exhorts us to grow in the grace of our Lord. Of course, it talks about God’s love for us in sending Christ, but the Bible says that we love Him because He first loved us. So the song also speaks of our expressing love for God in worship and praise because of His "Love Divine."