"O PERFECT LOVE"
"…A man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and the two shall be one flesh" (Eph. 5:31)
INTRO.: A hymn which asks God’s blessings on those entering the marriage relationship is "O Perfect Love" (#298 in Hymns for Worship Revised). The text was written by Dorothy Frances Blomfield Gurney, who was born at Finsbury Circus in London, England, on Oct. 4. 1858. Her father, Frederick George Blomfield, was minister at St. Andrew’s Undershaft in London. Her grandfather was also an Anglican minister. In 1897 she married Gerald Guerney who was at one time an actor but later became a minister in the Church of England too. Displaying literary gifts early in life, Dorothy produced two volumes of verse as well as a devotional work entitled A Little Book of Quiet. One of her best-known poems is "God’s Garden." In 1883, prior to her own marriage, she was visiting at Pull Wyke in the English Lake region near Windemere, England, for the wedding of her older sister.
The sister had complained that she could not find appropriate words for one of her favorite hymn tunes known as "Strength and Stay" which had been composed by John Bacchus Dykes (1823-1876). Knowing of Dorothy’s poetic abilities, her sister asked her if she could provide a text which would fit that tune and be suitable for a wedding. Dorothy took the hymnbook into the library and after about fifteen minutes came back with the words. Later she said that the writing of the hymn "was no effort whatever after the initial idea had come to me of the two-fold aspect of perfect union–love and life." A "Doxology" stanza is often added which had been written in 1875 by John Ellerton (1826-1893). Ellerton was also a hymnwriter whose songs include "God, the Almighty One," "Savior, Again to Thy Dear Name We Raise," "This Is the Day of Light," and "The Day Thou Gavest."
"O Perfect Love" was most likely first printed in 1884. For two or three years it was sung privately at many London weddings and then began making its way into hymnbooks. Its first appearance in a hymnbook was in the Supplement to Hymns Ancient and Modern of 1889. The tune (Sandringham or Perfect Love) most often used with it today was composed in 1889 by Joseph Barnby (1838-1896). It was originally part of an anthem based on Dorothy’s text for the marriage ceremony of the Duke and Duchess of Fife on July 27 of that year. The adaptation for congregational use from that anthem was made by John Stainer (1840-1901). It was first published in The Church Hymnary of 1898. In 1919 Mr. and Mrs. Gurney joined the Roman Catholic Church at Farnborough Abbey. She died at Notting Hill in London on June 15, 1932.
Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, "O Perfect Love" appeared in the 1965 Great Christian Hymnal No. 2 edited by Tillit S. Teddlie; the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 edited by L. O. Sanderson; and the 1975 Supplement to the 1937 Great Songs of the Church originally edited by E. L. Jorgenson. Today it may be found in the 1977 Special Sacred Selections edited by Ellis J. Crum; and the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; in addition to Hymns for Worship.
This is Mrs. Gurney’s only hymn, but it has become a most popular wedding hymn.
I. Stanza 1 presents Christ as the perfect Love
"O perfect Love, all human thought transcending,
Lowly we kneel in prayer before Thy throne,
That theirs may be the love which knows no ending,
Whom Thou forevermore dost join in one."
A. The love that the husband has for his wife is to be patterned after the perfect love that Christ has for the church: Eph. 5:25-27
B. In return, the wife should also love her husband with a love that knows no ending: Tit. 2:4
C. This love between husband and wife should know no ending because they have been forevermore joined in one: Gen. 2:24
II. Stanza 2 presents Christ as the perfect Life
"O perfect Life, be Thou their full assurance
Of tender charity and steadfast faith,
Of patient hope and quiet, brave endurance,
With child-like trust that fears no pain nor death."
A. Because Christ is the perfect Life, husband and wife look to Him for the faith by which they walk: 2 Cor. 5:7
B. Also, they look to Him for the hope by which they endure: Rom. 8:24-25
C. And they look to Him for the child-like trust that fears neither pain nor death: Prov. 3:5-6
III. Stanza 3 presents Christ as the giver of joy and peace
"Grat them the joy which brightens earthly sorrow;
Grand them the peacee which calms all earthly strife.
And to life’s dath the glorious unknown morrow
That dawns upon eternal love and life."
A. Christ can bring joy to any relationship: Phil. 4:4
B. He can also give peace to our hearts: Phil. 4:7
C. The peace and joy which characterize the marriage of two people committed to following God’s ways is a foretaste of the eternal peace and joy of heaven, of which they are heirs together: 1 Pet. 3:1-7
IV. Stanza 4 (by Ellerton) presents the entire Godhead as part of the marriage
"Hear us, O Father, gracious and forgiving,
Through Jesus Christ, Thy co-eternal Word,
Who, with the Holy Ghost, by all things living
Now and to endless ages art adored."
A. Since we all make mistakes, even in our marriages, it is good to know that the Father is gracious and forgiving, even as we forgive others: Matt. 5:9-15
B. Jesus Christ, who alone can give the marriage true love and life, is the co-eternal Word: Jn. 1:1
C. Therefore, every couple entering marriage should seek the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit in their relationship together: 2 Cor. 13:14
CONCL.: This hymn has very limited usefulness because it was written specifically for a wedding, and there would be few other times in a worship service where it would be appropriate. However, it well portrays the ideal married love as it describes the harmony that exists when God and His word are the foundation of a marriage. It has been said that a successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person. This will happen when husband and wife together acknowledge Jesus Christ as their guide, addressing Him as "O Perfect Love."