The words to Love Divine, All Loves Excelling were written by Charles Wesley. They contain his romantic and subjective expression, but also demonstrate a grounding in Scripture truth and a desire to express complex truth in popular form.
The church in which I grew up sang this hymn to the tune ‘Hyfrydol’, the tune to which it was set in the Church Hymnary, Revised. With the advent of the Rejoice! hymnbook the tune to which we now sing it is called ‘Blaenwern’.
The hymn is also evidence of a tendency toward what is called Christian perfectionism, a belief that Christians can live in complete obedience to God and not sin in this life. The second verse reproduced below is not included in either of the hymnals mentioned above, along with many others. If this is the first time you’ve seen the second verse you’ll notice how it casts sentiments in the other verses in a different light.

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.
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.
Come, Almighty to deliver,
let us all thy life receive;
suddenly return and never,
nevermore 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.
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.

Thoughts of Christian perfectionism aside, the remaining lyrics can be sung in a way that expresses a present thankfulness for sanctifying power and a future expectation of complete glorification.

Just to illustrate the difference that singing one set of words to different tunes can make (and how one set of words can have more than one tune that people feel is the right one) here are three tunes to which this hymn is popularly sung.

First youtube is the Boy’s Brigade in London, 1991 singing the tune ‘Blaenwern’.

Second youtube is from the Crystal Cathedral to the tune ‘Hyfrydol’. At least they sing the gospel at the Crystal Cathedral.

Lastly is a third youtube of the tune ‘Beecher’ to which the hymn can also be sung. (Does the organist have a tatoo on their arm?)

One thought on “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling – Sunday Songs

  1. rcottrill says:

    Thanks for an excellent analysis of Wesley’s “Love Divine.” Terrific hymn, but I agree that Wesleyan perfectionism is not biblical. Beecher is likely the best known tune. It was written by John Zundel (born 195 years ago today). But in my view the melody best suited to the text is the Welsh tune Blaenwern. The way it builds to a climax beautifully suits the triumphant not in the text in the latter part of each stanza.

    If you enjoy reading about our hymns and their authors, I invite you to check out my daily blog on the subject, Wordwise Hymns.

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