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February 14, 2012

Hymn History: The Love of God

Frederick M. Lehman was a California businessman that lost everything through business reverses. He was forced to spend his working hours in manual labor, working in a Pasadena packing house packing oranges and lemons into wooden crates. Not an ideal environment for writing love songs, but this was the environment the Lord chose to use.

Mr. Lehman was a Christian who rejoiced in his salvation. He was so moved by a Sunday evening sermon on the love of God that he could hardly sleep. The next morning, the thrill of the previous evening had not left him. As he drove to the packing house, the makings of a song began to come together in his head, with God’s love as the theme.

Throughout the day, as he packed oranges and lemons, the words continued to flow. Perhaps he jotted down words on various pieces of broken crate as he went along. He could hardly wait to get home and commit these words to paper.

Upon arriving home, he hurried to his old upright piano and began arranging the words and composing a melody to fit them. He soon had finished two stanzas and the melody to go along with them, but now what was he to do? In those days, a song had to have at least three stanzas to be considered complete. (A far cry from the songs of our day that only need have three words!) He tried and tried to come up with a third stanza, but to no avail. The words just would not fall into place.

It was then that he remembered a poem someone had given him some time before. Hunting around, he found the poem printed on a card, which he had used as a bookmark. As Mr. Lehman read the words, his heart was thrilled by the adequate picture of God’s love they pictured. He then noticed this writing on the bottom of the card:

“These words were found written on a cell wall in a prison some 200 years ago. It is not known why the prisoner was incarcerated; neither is it known if the words were original or if he had heard them somewhere and had decided to put them in a place where he could be reminded of the greatness of God’s love - whatever the circumstances, he wrote them on the wall of his prison cell. In due time, he died and the men who had the job of repainting his cell were impressed by the words. Before their paint brushes had obliterated them, one of the men jotted them down and thus they were preserved.”

Lehman went to the piano and began to voice the words with the melody he had just written. They were a perfect fit. It was a miracle! The song was published - and remains today - with these words as the last stanza.

In later years, the origin of these words became known to Alfred B. Smith, which reveals an even greater miracle in the writing of this song. The original third stanza was written in Hebrew around the year 1000 by Meir Ben Issac Nehoria, a Jewish Rabbi. God, knowing that Lehman was going to write a song, also realized that Lehman would have trouble writing a third stanza and so He chose this Rabbi, who though not accepting Christ as the Messiah did possess the skills to graphically paint a picture of God’s love in words. He would preserve these words and then hundreds of years later He would have them translated by this prisoner into a language that did not as yet exist, namely English.

And to think, He did it in the exact meter to fit Lehman’s melody!

Adapted from  Al Smith’s Treasury of Hymn Histories

(My note: Because of this miraculous story and the vastness of God’s love that the words present, the third stanza is my favorite! Just listen to these words…)

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
Tho stretched from sky to sky.

O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure
The saints and angel’s song.
 
 

5 comments:

  1. I am an Indonesian and it's been translated to Bahasa Indonesia. This hymn is my favorite one. It is touching to know God -in my very real life, always love me, despite my sins and rebellious tendency. To know that this hymn has a beautiful story behind it make me realized that it's not the melody nor the words that have captured me all these years. But, God Himself, through this hymn and others has been trying to reach us and deliver the gospel itself in person: I LOVE YOU. I WANT TO SAVE YOU NO MATTER WHAT. Thank you for sharing this. Gbu.

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    1. I am thrilled that this song has been translated into your language! It is amazing to see our awesome God work. Thank you so much for commenting, I love hearing from international readers! =)

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  2. Those words were inspired by a passage from the Islamic Quran: If all the trees of the earth were pens, and the sea, replenished by seven more seas, were ink, the words of God could not be finished still. Mighty is God, and wise. (Surah 31:27) Note that the Quran is supposed to be the verbal word of God, but the passage, but this verse addresses God in the third person. Also, there is very little "love" in the Quran. Lots of words, but very little love. The Bible, in contrast, is an epic story of love -- God's love for mankind. Checed is the Hebrew word, meaning loving kindness. Unconditional love, which is absent from the Quran.

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  3. Historical facts...
    The first translation of the Quran into Persian was called Qur'an Quds. It was produced in the 11th century. Surah 31 plagerizes the Jewish poem, Hadamut, that was composed in the year 1096, by Rabbi Mayer, son of Isaac Nehorai, who was a cantor in the city of Worms, Germany. The Bible is also plagerized several times. The writings of both preceded Surah 31.

    Kenneth Osbeck did complete research when he gave credit to Frederick M. Lehman in the writing most of "The Love of God." The 3rd verse is a direct quote, not partial; but direct quote, translated into English from Jewish poem, Hadamut, composed in 1096 and written on Jewish asylum wall.

    Remember... give credit where credit is due.
    Aaron Loos

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  4. Jesus is worthy to be my Master for ever and ever.

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