“More Love to Thee, O Christ”

"I pray that your love may abound yet more and more…" (Phil. 1.9)

     INTRO.: A hymn which asks Christ to help us love Him more and more is "More Love to Thee, O Christ" (#142 in Hymns for Worship Revised and #45 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written by Elizabeth Payson Prentiss, who was born at Portland, ME, on Oct. 26, 1818, the youngest daughter of Portland minister Edward Payson. At age sixteen she began writing both prose and poetry which were published in a Boston magazine named The Youth’s Companion, with her earliest works appearing in 1834. During her lifetime, she produced 123 poems, along with novels and devotional works. Her most famous book is Stepping Heavenward, which is still in print. After being educated in the schools of her native city, she taught school for a period of time in Portland, in Ipswich, MA, and in Richmond, VA. Then in 1845, at the age of 27, she married George Lewis Prentiss, a Presbyterian minister. The couple had two children and moved to New York City, NY, where Mr. Prentiss became minister of the Mercer St. Presbyterian Church and professor of homiletics at Union Theological Seminary.

     Mrs. Prentiss’s most famous hymn was produced around 1856, when after eleven years of marriage, she was experiencing great personal sorrow, physical suffering, and mental anguish. The Prentisses had already lost one child by that time, and a short time afterward the second one died in an epidemic. Elizabeth asked her husband, "Why should this happen to us, of all people?" He replied, "Maybe we should ask ourselves why a thing like this should not happen to us. Are we better than any of the other families who have lost loved ones in this epidemic?" One evening following this episode, after the couple had returned from the cemetery to put flowers on their children’s graves, George was called out to help someone in the neighborhood. Elizabeth went to her room to study her Bible and read her hymnbook. She looked at the story of Jacob in the Bible and then noticed the hymn based on it by Sarah Flower Adams, "Nearer My God, to Thee."

     Following the same pattern as the familiar song, the words, "More love, to Thee, O Christ," came to her mind, and Mrs. Prentiss began writing. She penned the words so hastily that the final stanza was left incomplete. However, she apparently thought so little of the poem that she did not show it to anyone, not even her husband, for some thirteen years. The last line had to be added in pencil before it could be printed, but it was finally published in 1869 as a leaflet for private distribution and at once became very popular. The tune (Pendleton) was composed, probably that same year, by William Howard Doane (1832-1915). Doane wrote many well-known melodies, including that for Fanny Crosby’s "Safe in the Arms of Jesus." The words and music for "More Love To Thee, O Christ," as we know the song first appeared in Doane’s 1870 Songs of Devotion. Though a near invalid for much of her later life, Mrs. Prentiss continued to publish at intervals, authoring a total of five books before her death at Dorset, VT, on Aug. 13, 1878.

     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 1917 Selected Revival Songs published by F. L. Rowe; 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), the 1948 Christian Hymns No. 2, and the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 all 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 may be 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 1978/1983 Church Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard; the 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forrest M. McCann; and the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; in addition to Hymns for Worship, Sacred Selections, and the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat.

     This song emphasizes the love that we need to have for Christ.

I. According to stanza 1, it should be our earnest plea to have more love for Christ
"More love to Thee, O Christ, More love to Thee!
Hear Thou the prayer I make On bended knee.
This is my earnest plea: More love, O Christ, to Thee,
More love to Thee, More love to Thee!"
 A. Jesus has shown such a great love for us, that we should love Him all the more: 1 Jn. 4.9-10, 19
 B. The idea of making our prayer on bended kneww symbolizes the complete submission to His will that is necessary before the Lord will hear and answer us: 1 Pet. 3.12
 C. And it needs to be an earnest plea, since we ought not to think that the Lord will consider our petitions if we pray half-heartedly: Jas. 5.16

II. According to stanza 2, we must love Christ more than anything else in this world
"Once earthly joy I craved, Sought peace and rest;
Now Thee alone I see, Give what is best.
This all my prayer shall be: More love, O Christ, to Thee,
More love to Thee, More love to Thee!"
 A. So many people seek only the joy, peace, and rest that this world offers: Matt. 16.26
 B. Therefore, we must learn to seek the will of Christ first and foremost: Matt. 6.33
 C. This means that, like Peter, we must make it our prayer to love Christ more than all the other things of this earth: Jn. 21.15-17

III. According to stanza 3, we must not let problems hinder our love for Christ
"Let sorrow do its work, Come grief or pain;
Sweet are Thy messengers, Sweet their refrain,
When they can sing with me, More love, O Christ, to Thee,
More love to Thee, More love to Thee!"
 A. Each of us will surely have his share of sorrow, grief, and pain to work on us in this life: Job. 14.1
 B. Yet God sends us "messengers" to provide comfort in all our tribulations: 2 cor. 1.3-7
 C. The encouragement of such "messengers" will help us to show our love for Christ even in times of trials and troubles: 1 Pet. 1.6-9

IV. According to stanza 4, there is a reward for those who love Christ
"Then shall my latest breath Whisper Thy praise;
This be the parting cry My heart shall raise.
This still its prayer shall be: More love, O Christ, to Thee,
More love to Thee, More love to Thee!"
 A. Even in this life, no matter what happens, we can sing praise to Christ if we really love Him–cf.: Acts 16.25
 B. Then, after a life of faithful service to Christ, our latest breath can be a parting cry of victory: 1 Cor. 15.54-57
 C. And following that, the reward for those who truly love Christ will be the crown of life in heaven: Jas. 1.9-12

     CONCL.: During her darkest hours, Mrs. Prentiss said, "Our home is broken up, our lives are wrecked, our hopes shattered, our dreams dissolved. Sometimes I don’t think I can stand living for another moment, much less a lifetime." Her husband replied, "This is our opportunity to show forth in our lives that which we have been preaching and teaching and believing together for so many years. It is in times like these that God loves us all the more." And she followed his advice. This hymn is like a prayer put into the form of verse and set to music to express the desire that should be in the heart of every Christian, that regardless of what we experience in life we must be determined to tell the Lord that we want to show "More Love To Thee, O Christ."


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