(picture of Frederick M. Lehman)
THE LOVE OF GOD IS GREATER FAR
“Who shall separate us…from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39)
INTRO.: A hymn which extols the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord is “The Love of God Is Greater Far,” sometimes titled “O/Oh Love of God” (#608 in Hymns for Worship Revised, #267 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text of stanzas 1 and 2 and the tune (Lehman) was composed by Frederick Martin Lehman, who was born on August 7, 1868, at Mecklenburg in Schwerin, Germany. Lehman emigrated to America with his family at age four, settling in Iowa, where he lived most of his childhood. Studying for the ministry at Northwestern College in Naperville, IL, he became a Nazarene minister and served churches in Audubon, IA, and New London, IN. However, the majority of his life was devoted to writing sacred songs. His first was produced while living in Iowa, in 1898. In 1911, he moved to Kansas City, MO, where he helped to found the Nazarene Publishing House. Sometime around 1917, Lehman, preparing to relocate to California, was at a campmeeting in a Midwestern state and heard an evangelist end his message by quoting what became the third stanza of Lehman’s song “The Love of God.” The preacher said that these lines had been found penciled on the wall of a patient’s room in an insane asylum after he had been carried to his grave. The assumption was that this inmate had scratched out the words in moments of sanity.
The identity of that incarcerated prisoner is unknown, but it is now recognized that his scribbled message was adapted from an eleventh-century acrostic Jewish poem entitled Haddamut (or Akdamut) of ninety couplets written in the Aramaic language with the author’s name woven into the concluding verses. It was composed in the years around 1050 to 1096 by a Jewish rabbi and cantor in the city of Worms, Germany, named Mayer (or Meir) ben Isaac Nehorai (c. 1020-1096). The profound depths of the portion cited moved Lehman to preserve the words for future generations. However, it was not until he had settled in California that his urge found fulfillment. One day, during a short interval of inattention while he was engaged in manual labor at a factory, he picked up a scrap of paper and a stub pencil and, seated upon an empty lemon box pushed against the wall, added the first two stanzas and the chorus of the song.
During his life, Lehman wrote numerous poems, published hundreds of songs, and compiled five volumes of song books with the title Songs That Are Different. “The Love of God” first appeared in Volume Two of that series in 1919, although the copyright was obtained two years earlier. The translation of stanza 3 was made in 1917 by Joseph H. Hertz. The harmonization of the music was provided by Lehman’s daughter, Claudia F. Lehman (Mrs. W. W.) Mays (1892-1973). She was also associated with the Nazarene Publishing House as its secretary for a period of time. Lehman left his own account concerning the writing of this hymn in a 1948 pamphlet entitled “History of the Song, The Love of God.” Two other well known Lehman songs are “The Royal Telephone” and “There’s No Disappointment in Heaven.” He spent his latter years in California, where he died on February 20, 1953, at Pasadena.
Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church for use in churches of Christ, “The Love of God” has appeared in the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater; 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 Hymns of Praise edited by Reuel Lemmons; the 1978/1983 Church Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard; the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat; the 2009 Favorite Songs of the Church and the 2010 Songs for Worship and Praise both edited by Robert J. Taylor Jr.; and the 2012 Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs edited by Steve Wolfgang et. al.; in addition to Hymns for Worship and Sacred Selections.
The song discusses some important facts about God’s love for us.
I. Stanza 1 teaches us that God’s love is greater than anything that we can tell
The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches to the lowest hell;
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled,
And pardoned from his sin.
- The greatness of God’s love is seen in the fact that He gave His Son for our sins: 1 Jn. 4:8-10
- He did this because He wanted us to be reconciled to Him: Col. 1:20
- As a result, we can be pardoned from our sin: Mic. 7:18-19
II. Stanza teaches us that God’s love is stronger than anything that we can know
When hoary (years of) time shall pass away,
And earthly thrones and kingdoms fall,
When men, who here refuse to pray,
On rocks and hills and mountains call,
God’s love so sure, shall still endure,
All measureless and strong;
Redeeming grace to Adam’s race—
The saints’ and angels’ song.
- The updaters seem to think that no one today can understand what “hoary time” means so they have changed it to “years of time;” but there are times when men who refuse to pray will call on rocks and mountains: Rev. 6:15-16
- However, because of His love and grace, God wants to redeem sinful mankind: 1 Pet. 1:18-19
- The strength of God’s love is seen in the fact that He is mighty to save the entire race: Zeph. 3:16-17
III. Stanza 3 teaches us that God’s love is more enduring than anything else
Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above,
Would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.
- God’s love is certainly great: Jn. 3:16
- God’s love is also strong to save: Eph. 2:4-7
- And God’s love is enduring because it is an everlasting love: Jer. 31:1-3
CONCL.: The chorus repeats the greatness, strength, and enduring quality of God’s love
O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure
The saints’ and angels’ song.
As we face the various situations that come our way in life, we should be grateful for all the blessings which we have because “The Love of God Is Greater Far.”