How blessed to know that the great and holy God loved his people before heaven and earth were called into existence, that he had set his heart upon them from all eternity. What praise should this evoke from each of his children! How tranquilizing for the heart: since God’s love toward me had no beginning, it can have no ending! Since it is true that “from everlasting to everlasting” he is God and since God is “love,” then it is equally true that “from everlasting to everlasting” he loves his people. – The Attributes of God by A.W. Pink
Our hymn focus this month is The Love of God by Frederick Lehman. Although this hymn may not be that familiar to you, the subject matter, and its unique 900 year history, make it one that you will want to Partner to Remember with your family this month.
Frederick Martin Lehman was born on August 7, 1868 in Mecklenburg, Schwerin, Germany. He emigrated to America with his family at the age four, settling in a one-room cabin in Iowa, where he lived most of his childhood. He came to Christ at age 11 and recounts his conversion like this:
One glad morning about eleven o’clock while walking up the country lane, skirted by a wild crabapple grove on the right and an osage fence, with an old white elm gate in a gap at the left, suddenly Heaven let a cornucopia of glory descend on the eleven-year old lad. The wild crabapple grove assumed a heavenly glow and the osage fence an unearthly lustre. That old white elm gate with its sun warped boards gleamed and glowed like silver bars to shut out the world and shut him in with the ’form of the fourth,’ just come into his heart. The weight of conviction was gone and the paeans of joy and praise fell from his lips.
Lehman would go on at attend Northwestern College in Naperville, Illinois, where he studied to enter the ministry. After graduating, he was a circuit-riding preacher for a time, traveling by horse and buggy between communities. At the age of 27, he received his first pastorate in a Nazarene church in Audubon, Iowa. He would go on to pastor Nazarene churches in Iowa, Indiana, and Missouri, before becoming a music publisher. He wrote his first hymn in 1898 while in Kingsley, Iowa, and this pursuit would continue to occupy much of his life. In 1911, while pastoring in Kansas City, Missouri, he helped found the Nazarene Publishing House. His later years were lived in California, where he died in Pasadena on February 20, 1953. He is buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery, Glendale, California.
Throughout his ministry, Frederick Lehman wrote numerous poems and songs, including the publishing of five volumes of Songs That Are Different. The Love of God first appeared in 1919, in Volume Two of this series, although the copyright was obtained two years earlier. The original melody for this hymn was composed by Lehman’s daughter, Claudia, who also was associated with the Nazarene Publishing House as its secretary for a period of time.
The Love of God actually has its roots in a Jewish poem written in Germany in the 11th century. In 1948, Lehman wrote a pamphlet entitled History of the Song: The Love of God. Portions of Lehman’s account are as follows:
While at camp-meeting in a midwestern state, some fifty years ago in our early ministry, an evangelist climaxed his message by quoting the last stanza of this song. The profound depths of the line moved us to preserve the words for future generations. Not until we had come to California did this urge find fulfillment, and that at a time when circumstances forced us to hard manual labor. One day, during short intervals of inattention to our work, we picked up a scrap of paper and, seated upon an empty lemon box pushed against the wall, with a stub pencil, added the (first) two stanzas and chorus of the song. Since the lines (3rd stanza from the Jewish poem) had been found penciled on the wall of a patient’s room in an insane asylum, the general opinion was that this inmate had written the epic in moments of sanity. Actually, the key-stanza (third verse) under question as to its authorship was written nearly one thousand years ago by a Jewish songwriter.
The Jewish songwriter that Lehman speaks of was Meir Ben Isaac Nehorai, who was a cantor in the city of Worms, Germany, in the 11th century. In 1096, Nehorai set out to compose a poem that would be followed by a recitation of the 10 Commandments. What he ended up with was an extensive acrostic poem entitled Hadamut. Written in Aramaic, the poem has ninety couplets, with Nehorai’s name woven into the concluding verses. In the first part of the poem, Nehorai praises God as the ruler of the world, the One who created all things, including the angels, to serve Him. In the second part, the writer describes the conflict between the nations of the world, and the Jewish people. Throughout the poem, the theme of God’s eternal love and concern for His people is evident.
The section of the poem from which the bridge of The Love of God was adapted, originally read as follows:
Were the sky of parchment made,
A quill each reed, each twig and blade,
Could we with ink the oceans fill,
Were every man a scribe of skill,
The marvelous story of God’s great glory
Would still remain untold; For He, most high
The earth and sky created alone of old.
Many years later, but still before Lehman’s time, this verse was found penciled on the wall of a patient’s room in an insane asylum. The general opinion was that this inmate had written it in a moment of sanity as he called to mind God’s faithful love. The idea that God’s love can overwhelm anything or anyone is apparently what motivated Lehman as he sat down years later to compose two other verses and the chorus.
Here are the lyrics to The Love of God that we will be focusing on this month:
The love of God is greater far than tongue or pen can tell
It goes beyond the highest star, and reaches 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
O love of God, how rich and pure
How measureless and strong
It shall forever and ever more endure
The saints’ and angels’ song
When ancient time shall pass away, earth’s thrones and kingdoms fall
When men, who here refuse to pray, on rocks and mountains call
God’s love so sure, will still endure, all measureless and strong
Redeeming grace to Adam’s race—salvation is our song
Could we with ink the ocean fill, were skies of parchment made
Were every stalk on earth a quill, each man a scribe by trade
To write the love of God, would drain the ocean dry
Nor could the scroll contain it, though stretched from sky to sky
The song begins by expressing how God’s love is bigger and more glorious that any spoken or written words could possibly express. His love is higher than the outer borders of the universe, yet reaches to depths of the most ugly places in the spirit realm. God sent His Son Jesus to save to the end of both of these extremes. Adam and Eve and all their offspring who have all wandered so far away from God are reconciled back to Him through Jesus; all can be pardoned if we come to him by faith, trusting him and him alone for our salvation.
Lehman and Meir use lots of adjectives and phrases to describe the extent of God’s affection, and at the center of this love stands a cross, the means by which God has satisfied the just demands of His Law and freely embraced us as sinners. The law stipulates that the penalty of sin is death. So Jesus paid that penalty in our place.
The second verse begins at the end of human history, when even those who in this life chose to turn their back on God’s love shall begin to cry out to Him from every mountain peak. Even in those times, God’s love for us will not be diminished. The boundless capacity and strength of His love is more than enough to redeem even the worst offender in humanity. It’s this amazing love that we sing about; our voices joining with the angels to tell the world of God’s redeeming love through Jesus.
It was Jesus who lived a perfect, sinless life, and obediently offered himself to God as a ransom for many. The full and just demands of the law have been met in Him and His death pays the penalty for our sins. God’s wrath has been fully satiated and His love flows freely upon this blood-stained ground. God’s love is his mercy and grace abundantly showered on those whom He has chosen in Christ.
And if we could fill up the ocean with ink, and turn the sky into the finest notepaper, and turn every blade of grass into a pen, and recruit every human alive to serve as writers in our feeble attempt to write about the love of God, we would run out of ink; and the sky would be filled from top to bottom, and edge to edge, and we would still not be able to fully tell of His love.
As Christians, we have been saved from an eternity of unending separation from God, through nothing else but the sacrifice that God himself lovingly made for us. Our greatest works and our highest achievements could not even begin to satisfy the debt which we owed; and while we were living in sin, and still sin today, God chose to save us for himself. Could we ever or sing this enough? God’s love is rich and pure; it’s measureless and strong, and it shall last forever! May this be our song, and may our song never end.
About this Recording
Executive Producer: Shelby T. Murphy
Engineered and Mixed by: Jeff Carver and David Jackson
Vocals: Megan Clinch and Marla Hershberger
Banjo: Nic Clinch
Mandolin: David Jackson
Acoustic Guitar and Bass: Shelby T. Murphy
Violin: Mary Gleeson
Drums: Jon Tobin
Produced by: Justin Bailey, Jonathan Fuller, and David Jackson