Words by Charles Wesley (1707-1788)

(Also included in The Broadman Hymnal, Broadman Press, Nashville, 1940 – #19; Baptist Hymnal – 1975 ed. #58; 1991 ed. #208; 2008 ed. #172; Favorite Hymns of Praise, Tabernacle Publishing Co., Chicago, 1967 – #45; The Celebration Hymnal, Word/Integrity, Waco, 1997 – #648; Voice of Praise, Broadman Press, Nashville, 1947 – #4; Inspiring Hymns, Singspiration/Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1951 – #83; The Hymnal for Worship and Celebration, Word, Waco, 1986 – #92)

Charles Wesley is one of the most beloved hymn writers of the church. His hymns are sung in churches of a variety of stripes and spots. This one is an examination of the work of Salvation, grounded in love.

The Hymn

  1. Love divine, all loves 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.
  2. Breathe, O breathe Thy loving Spirit,
    Into every troubled breast!
    Let us all in Thee inherit;
    Let us find that second rest.
    Take away our bent to sinning;
    Alpha and Omega be;
    End of faith, as its Beginning,
    Set our hearts at liberty.
  3. Come, Almighty to deliver,
    Let us all Thy life receive;
    Suddenly return and never,
    Never more 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.
  4. Finish, then, Thy new creation;
    Pure and spotless let us be.
    Let us see Thy great salvation
    Perfectly restored in 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. (source for Hymn lyrics:  Cyber Hymnal)

Some hymn collectors choose a few variations on the lyrics. For instance in the originally published version from 1743 Wesley writes in verse 2: “Let us find that second rest/Take away our power of sinning” – in verse 3: “Let us all Thy life receive” – and in verse 4: “Pure and sinless let us be.” Changes from the printed version above change the words “that second rest” to “the promised rest” in an apparent attempt to move the thought from the underlying scene of death (the “first” rest) to heaven—which one would assume is Wesley’s intention.

The exchange of “power” for the phrase “bent to” is generally accepted as a more theologically preferred term reserving power for God’s power to love and to save, and removing an idea of power in the hands of those who sin. Sin is our typical reaction, which is replaced by God’s love.

The replacement of the word “life” in stanza three with the word “grace” would seem to have more to do with a desire of the hymn collector to emphasize God’s grace in the act of Salvation than the life that is the result of that act.

The final exchange of words—verse 4 “sinless” to “spotless”—is more of a poetic than doctrinal one, which doesn’t seem to affect the power of the words.

Scriptural Connection

General consensus among hymnal editors focuses this lyric on its stated title—“Love Divine” or God’s love. I John 4:16 is chosen as the scriptural connection: And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. (KJV)

What does it mean?

The love of God is the power to salvation. It is embodied in Jesus (see verse 1, lines 5 and 6). Wesley presents an evangelistic zeal here with a note that his desire is for “every trembling heart” to experience the salvation of Christ. With each stanza, Wesley creates a fuller and deeper portrait of God’s saving love. He assures the worshiper that not only does salvation begin with God, but it is God who completes the work, cleansing our sinfulness and sinful nature. In this the Love of God moves beyond all other loves that can be experienced by humanity.

*Hymn # refers to the 1956 edition of the Baptist Hymnal, Convention Press, Nashville, TN

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