Behind the Hymn: Love Divine All Love Excelling

Love Divine All Love Excelling was written by Charles Wesley.

Charles Wesley was born in 1707 Lincolnshire, England to Samuel and Susannah Wesley.

Charles Wesley

He was the youngest of eighteen children {although nine of his siblings died as infants}.

Charles and his brother, John, were founders of the Methodist movement. Often John would edit his brother’s lyrics and words. It is said that Charles wrote a poem every day and has been averaged that he wrote approximately 10 lines of verse daily for 50 years.

Over the course of his life, Charles published the lyrics to over 6000 hymns, including Christ the Lord is Risen Today, Come Thou Long Expected Jesus, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing, Jesus Lover of my Soul and Love Divine All Love Excelling.

According to Hymnary.org, Love Divine is considered “among Wesley’s finest”.

Charles Wesley

The hymn first appeared in Wesley’s Hymns for those that Seek, and those that Have Redemption published in 1747.

Due to the closely matching lyrics, many scholars believe it was inspired by John Dryden’s “Fairest Isle” sung in Act 5 of his opera Venus. “Fairest Isle” had been set to music by Henry Purcell.

The lyrics are so closely matching, that it is believed he may have been inspired by the lyrics to apply a Christian message to them.

In 1749, Wesley married Sara Gwynne, who became a constant companion in his travels. Although he often traveled by horseback, poetry sprang up in Wesley’s heart and he was able to quickly pour out the words onto paper, even while on horseback.

Love Divine All Love Excelling

The original tune put with the hymn was titled Westminister, which was the Purcell tune.

Today the tune most commonly associated with the hymn {at least in the US} was a tune John Zundel composed titled Beecher, for these words, in 1870. The tune was first published in Christian Heart Songs {1870}.

Some hymnals also use a tune called Hyfrydol which was written by Rowland Hugh Prichard. Other settings have been used throughout the years.

Jesus Thou Art All Compassion

While the hymn is one of Wesley’s best known, it is also considered a prayer. In the prayer of the hymn we are asking Jesus to enter our hearts, set our hearts free from sin, and make us a new creation in him.

Charles Wesley died on 29 March 1788, at the age of 80, in London, England.

The song has grown in popularity and around the early 20th Century, was found in almost every hymnal in publication.

While the hymn has always been popular, the recent use in the 2011 wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton, is a reminder of just how popular the hymn is.

How has the hymn touched your life?

 

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