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"LOVE DIVINE, ALL LOVES EXCELLING": AN EXPOSITION OF CHARLES WESLEY'S HYMN-Part the Fourth-Stanza 4




"Part the Fourth"

Stanza 4

Finish then thy new creation,

Pure and sinless let us be,

Let us see thy great salvation,

Perfectly restored in thee;

Changed from glory into glory,

Till in heav’n we take our place,

Till we cast our crowns before thee,

Lost in wonder, love, and praise.

Stanza 4 is a continuation of the eschatological vision of the previous stanza. Here also two divisions are seen in the text: the first four lines describe what is done in the believer, and the last four point to the ultimate worship to occur in Heaven.


First, Wesley longed for the “new creation” begun at the rebirth, brought to fruition in every believer. The concern for Christian perfection emerges again here— “pure and sinless let us be”—except here it is attached to heavenly glorification, as it should be. The poetry then connects the internal and personal work of holiness with the universal greatness of God’s salvation. In the text, Wesley yearned for the heavenly fulfillment of the partial sanctification he had known on earth, when he would be “perfectly restored.” All in all, for Charles Wesley, Heaven would be the perfect manifestation of the divine love he had sought and experienced his entire earthly life.


Second, Wesley turned from the micro-work of Christ in each believer to the macro-worship of Christ in eternity. “Changed from glory into glory” recalls the Apostle Paul’s declaration in 2 Corinthians 3:18, “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord”

(KJV). Wesley’s hymn looks forward to this, when all the redeemed will be where they are supposed to be. And all the redeemed will be rightly employed for the work for which God has chosen them—worship, casting our crowns before the Messiah (Rev. 4:10). Then and then alone, in the eschaton, will we know what it means to be “Lost in wonder, love, and praise.” This last line was borrowed from a hymn by Joseph Addison (1672–1719), whose work was known to the Wesleys:

When all thy mercies, O my God,

My rising soul surveys,

Transported with the view, I’m lost

In wonder, love, and praise.[1]

Coda

Near the end of their lives and ministries, John assembled A Collection of Hymns for the Use of the People Called Methodists (1780). To him it was the summation of all the central doctrines pertaining to Methodism. John stated in the introduction, “It is large enough to contain all the important truths of our most holy religion, whether speculative or practical; yea, to illustrate them all, and to prove them both by Scripture and reason.”[2] The role of such a hymnal was (and still is) vital for the instruction of basic tenets of the Christian faith via song. Many might not participate in the catechism, but they can learn doctrine by singing godly hymns. Wesleyan scholar Henry H. Knight III described the role of this collection in the context of early Methodism:

Just as the Articles of Religion, Book of Homilies, and Book of Common Prayer provided theological grounding for the Church of England, the hymns joined J. Wesley’s sermons, commentaries, and conference minutes as means to convey Wesleyan theology. Their purpose was not to serve as an “official” doctrinal authority but to disseminate the theology to the widest possible audience.[3]

The hymns were carefully organized into pedagogic categories like a catechetical tool would be. John explained, “The hymns are not carelessly jumbled together, but carefully [ar]ranged under their proper heads, according to the experience of real Christians. So this book is in effect a little body of experimental and practical divinity.”[4]


Among the hymns in this collection was “Love divine, all loves excelling,” placed in the organizational scheme under Section VII: Groaning for Full Redemption. Here, John followed Charles’ example from 1761 and omitted the second stanza. At the same time, he introduced two small changes. “Let us all thy life receive” became “Let us all thy grace receive,” a change hymnologist J.R. Watson felt was unfortunate, or “less apposite to the Incarnational theology of the hymn as a whole. … Charles Wesley’s precision of thought is well seen in ‘life’ (from John 10:10, ‘I am come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly’).”[5] The other change is a further response to the issue of Christian perfection, altered from the original “Pure and sinless let us be” to “Pure and spotless let us be,” which accords nicely with the description of sanctification in Ephesians 5:27 (“a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle,” KJV).


Some hymnal compilers have reclaimed or preserved the second stanza, with some adjustments. Martin Madan (1726–1790), friend and colleague of the Wesleys, was the first to employ “Let us find thy promised rest,”[6] an example many others have followed. He also possibly influenced John’s later editorial work by offering “Pure, unspotted may we be.” Augustus Toplady (1740–1778), who had his fair share of theological disagreements with the Wesleys, wasn’t opposed to using this hymn. He repeated Madan’s “promised rest,” introduced “Take away the love of sinning,” an alteration many others have repeated, and printed “Pure and holy may we be,” among other changes.[7]


One thing is certain, hymn singing was vital to the growth of the evangelical movement led by the Wesleys and their fellow Methodists. As one writer expressed it, the hymns were important for the Wesleys as “a means of expressing joy and teaching scriptural truth.”[8] Their hymns have continued to teach and enrich countless generations of worshipers. How full our worship is because of ‘‘O for a thousand tongues to sing,” “Rejoice, the Lord is King,” “Jesus, lover of my soul,” “Christ the Lord is risen today,” and “Hark, the herald angels sing.” Truly, “Love divine, all loves excelling”—with its literary heritage, its scriptural depth, its poetic craftsmanship, and its doctrinal richness—causes the cup of worship to overflow.

[1] Joseph Addison, The Spectator, no. 453 (9 Aug. 1712), p. 317. The Wesleys included this in A Collection of Psalms and Hymns (Charlestown: Lewis Timothy, 1737), no. XXVII. [2] John Wesley, A Collection of Hymns for the Use of the People Called Methodists (London: J. Paramore, 1780), p. iv.

[3] Knight, “Wesley and the Doctrinal Role of Hymnody” (1 February 2005).

[4] Wesley, Collection (1780), iv. [5] Watson, Annotated Anthology, 197. [6] Martin Madan, A Collection of Psalms and Hymns (London, 1760), no. XLIX. [7] Augustus Toplady, Psalms and Hymns for Public and Private Worship (London: E. & C. Dilly, 1776), no. XCVIII.

[8] Diane Severance, “Charles Wesley,” Christianity.com (28 April 2010), https://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1701-1800/charles-wesley-11630230.html

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