Hymn Story: What Wondrous Love is This
What Wondrous Love Is This began as an American folk hymn, which was passed down from one generation to another through the course of time.
The origins and text of the song are not known and was probably refined over time, as being passed down.
Folk songs usually consist of the repetition of key phrases, to assist in learning the song, which is passed down aurally, not being written down. This is true for this hymn in which such phrases as “O my soul” and “I’ll sing on” are repeated repetitiously.
The text was first published in 1811, during the Second Great Awakening.
Many sources attribute the melody to the 1701 English song the “Ballad of Captain Kidd”, although the melody itself predates the Kidd song.
The hymn first appeared in a collection William Walker’s Southern Harmony, first published in 1835. Walker later noted the tune is a “very popular old Southern tune”.
The three point harmony found in the hymnal was arranged by James Christopher, who was from Spartanburg, South Carolina.
Composer Charles F. Bryan included What Wondrous Love Is This in his 1952 folk opera, Singin’ Billy.
In 1966, the United Methodist Book of Hymns became the first mainstream hymnal to incorporate this hymn. The song can now be found in many hymnals.
In 2003, Dwayne S. Milburn composed a prelude to the hymn for the first movement of his “American Hymnsong Suite”.