"O WONDERFUL LOVE"
"…I will make them to…know that I have loved thee" (Rev. 3.9)
INTRO.: A hymn which indicates that prayer is an opportunity to express our praise to our Lord because He has loved us is "O Wonderful Love." The text was written by "Maxwell." Nothing further is known about this author, the date of writing, or the circumstances under which the text was produced. There was a Scottish poet named James Maxwell (1719-1800). He published Hymns and Spiritual Songs in Three Books around 1759. This text was included in the 1791 Selection compiled by John Rippon. It was originally in four stanzas of eight lines each. Three stanzas were used with a tune (De Fleury, most often associated in our books with Benjamin Francis’s "My Gracious Redeemer I Love," in The Christian Hymnal of 1871 published by Bosworth Case and Hall under the direction of the Christian Hymn-Book Committee. In a letter to his mother following his father’s death, Alexander Campbell said of Thomas Campbell, "You recollect how strenuous were his efforts to retain in memory certain hymns, his favorites, such as ‘How shall I my Savior set forth’" (from Memoirs of Elder Thomas Campbell, 1861). In a sermon entitled "Atonement" a gospel preacher of the eighteenth century, Thomas Munnell, began, "The anxious inquiry of every proclaimer of the love of Jesus is, ‘How shall I my Savior set forth? How shall I His beauties declare? Oh! how shall I speak of His worth, Or what His chief dignities are?’" (from The Living Pulpit of the Christian Church, edited by W. T. Moore in 1868).
The tune was composed by John William McGarvey, Jr. He was the son of the well-known mid- to late-nineteenth century preacher and scholar among churches of Christ and Christian Churches, John William McGarvey, Sr., who was born on Mar. 1, 1829, in Hopkinsville, KY, the oldest son and second child of an Irishman named John W. McGarvey, who had migrated to Hopkinsville a short time before and ran a dry goods store, and his wife Sarah Ann Thomson. The father died when the boy was four years old, but by that time the family had three other children. The mother then married Gurdon F. Saltonsall, whose own wife, her sister Polly, had die leaving him with nine children. To this new union were born six more children, making a total of nineteen. In 1839, Saltonsall moved his growing family from Georgetown, KY, to Tremont, IL, because of his anti-slavery views, and it was there that McGarvey’s young manhood was spent. Saltonsall had been converted to the cause of restoration, and as a successful businessman was a trustee of Alexander Campbell’s Bethany College. Young McGarvey, by his own choice, enrolled at Bethany in March, 1847, though he had not yet obeyed the gospel, and was baptized the following year, graduating in 1850. By this time, his family had moved to Fayette, MO, and for two years he conducted a school for boys there while continuing his own studies in Bible and Greek as he found time.
In September of 1852, the church at Fayette invited McGarvey to preach for them. Later that fall, he held a meeting at the church in Dover, MO, and received an invitation to locate, so in January, 1853, he began his ten yeasr work with this church. While there, he married Otwayana Frances Hix on Mar. 23, 1853, and their first child was born in April of the following year. In the spring of 1862, McGarvey received an invitation to come and work with the Main St. church in Lexington, KY, and in 1865 also began teaching at the College of the Bible when the University of Kentucky moved to Lexington. In 1870, McGarvey went with an overflow group to work with the Broadway church and remained there for forty years until instrumental music in worship was introduced and he placed his membership with the non-instrumental Chestnut St. church. Spending the rest of his life in Lexington, he died there on Oct. 6, 1911. I have tried to find some biographical information on his son who composed this tune but have not been very successful. I do know that he was President of the Madison Institute for Young Ladies at Richmond, KY, and planned to write an autobiography of his father entitled Notes for Memoirs of J. W. McGarvey: The Narrative by J. W. McGarvey, Jr., using his fathers Notes as a guide, which was to be published along with another piece about McGarvey, Estimate of the Man, by Mrs. Anna R. Bourne who was Professor of English Literature and Dean of Women at Bethany College in Bethany, WV. The song was copyrighted in 1887 by the Fillmore Brothers.
Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use among churches of Christ, it appeared in the 1921 Great Songs of the Church (No. 1) edited by E. L. Jorgenson; the 1935 Christian Hymns (No. 1) and the 1948 Christian Hymns No. 2 both edited by L. O. Sanderson; and the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch.
The song is filled with praise to God for the sacrifice that Jesus made for us.
I. Stanza 1 centers upon His worth
"How shall I my Savior set forth? How shall I His beauties declare?
Or how shall I speak of His worth, Or what His chief dignities are ?"
A. Jesus Christ came to be our Savior: Lk. 2.11, 19.10
B. Therefore, He is "worth"-y of all praise, honor, and glory: Rev. 5.9
C. While we can never completely speak of His chief dignities, we can still use our tongues to extol Him: Ps. 66.17
II. Stanza 2 centers upon His death
"Though once He was nailed to the cross, Vile rebels like me to set free,
His glory sustained no loss; Eternal His kingdom shall be."
A. As our Savior, He was nailed to the cross: Matt. 27.26-35
B. His purpose in doing this was to set us free from sin: Rom. 6.17-18
C. However, His glory sustained no loss because He rose from the dead to sit at God’s right hand: Acts 2.29-33
III. Stanza 3 centers upon His goodness
"O sinners! believe and adore This Savior, so rich to redeem;
No creature can ever explore The treasure of goodness in Him."
A. We must believe this Savior: Jn. 8.24
B. He deserves our faith because He is so rich to redeem: Eph. 1.7
C. While we trust Him, we can never fully understand the treasures of wisdom and knowledge that are hidden in Him: Col. 2.3
IV. Stanza 4 centers upon His salvation
"Come, all ye who see yourselves lost, And feel yourselves burdened with sin,
Draw near while with terror you’re tossed, Obey and your peace shall begin."
(The original read "Believe and your peace shall begin.")
A. Salvation is for those who recognize that they are lost, like the prodigal son: Lk. 15.17-20
B. Those who recognize their burden of sin can come to this Savior as the Father draws them: Jn. 6.44-45
C. When they obey and are justified by faith, they can have peace with God: Rom. 5.1
CONCL.: McGarvey apparently chose various sections of the four original eight-line stanzas to make his four-line stanzas, and then added the chorus:
"O wonderful love! O wonderful love!
O wonderful, wonderful love, My Savior showed to me."
The portions of the original poem that he did not use are as follows:
1b. "His angels can never express, Nor saints who sit nearest His throne,
How rich are HIs treasures of grace; No! This is a mystery unknown."
2a. "In Him all the fullness of God Forever transcendently shines;
Though once like a mortal He stood, To finish His gracious designs."
3a. "His wisdom, His love, and His power Seemed then with each other to vie,
When sinners He stooped to restore, Poor sinners condemned to die!"
3b. "He laid all His grandeur aside, And dwelt in a cottage of clay;
Poor sinners He loved till He died, To wash their pollution away."
Each time I go to my heavenly Father in prayer, I need to praise Him for the salvation that He offers in Christ, saying, "O Wonderful Love."