• Roger Duke

Longing for New Creation: "Love Divine All Loves Excelling"




Editor's Note: This is the fourth installment in a new series called Behind the Hymns. Dr. Roger D. Duke explores the history behind Christianity's most treasured hymns. Dr. Roger D. Duke serves as the Scholar-in-Residence at Stage & Story.

 

We hope you have read, meditated, and absorbed all three of the previous offerings concerning “Love Divine All Loves Excelling” Backgrounds and Theological Reflections. It is one of Wesley’s most cherished, remembered, and sung selections. You can read the past installments here: Part I | Part II | Part III


REVIEW OF WHAT'S GONE BEFORE


PART I. If you have not taken advantage of the first three articles, we encourage you to do so. Please consider what has gone before, and now how it all comes together. In the first episode, a short introduction was offered of Charles Wesley and his importance to the Wesleyan/Methodist tradition. We also tipped our hat to his contribution as hymn writer that would forever affect all hymnody in the Christian tradition.


There was also a short discussion of the brothers Wesley use of hymnals as a catechetical tool for the common folk. They understood the rank-and-file coal miners, shop keepers, and tavern owners would not do the rote memory needed to retain the Doctrines of Christ and His Church. Although the memorized work would aid them along the road to personal sanctification. But the brothers also well understood the people would sing—and in the singing would be the catechizing.


PART II had to do with the hymn's form and structure. It goes into some detail about how it is laid out and the theological flow. Its discussion sets the reader up for the theological reflections, biblical themes, illusions, and allusions of Charles Wesley the poet. That is the one genius of the lesser-known Wesley brother. He was remarkable at his craft and he was also a gifted musician to boot.[1] While investigating the background of the hymn in parts I and II, in part III we glean insights into the poem’s theological reflections.


PART III. This was an opportunity to ponder the Trinitarian work Wesley recounted in his hymn. He left it for all who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is the sincere desire of Stage and Story that you see the Gospel found in Charles Wesley’s “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” and it will cause you to think about your soul’s need and relationship to Jesus Christ.


THE FINAL LOOK


In the final part of this series, we finish our exposition of the hymn where Wesley brings his prayer/poem/song to fruition: The “New Creation” begun in “every trembling heart.” Come now and reflect on the great time of eternal worship when “. . . [W]e cast our crowns before Thee, Lost in wonder, love, and praise.”


Stanza 3

Come, Almighty to deliver,

Let us all Thy life receive;

Suddenly return and never,

Never more Thy temples leave.

Thee we would be always blessing,

Serve Thee as Thy hosts above,

Pray and praise Thee without ceasing,


The focus of Stanza 3 is a “desire never to be separated from the presence of God, either in time or eternity.”[2] In his plea, Wesley invokes an Old Testament name for [God] Almighty.[3] He prays for deliverance. Stanza 1 is remembered when Christ is called to “come,” “fix,” “crown,” “visit,” and “enter ev’ry trembling heart.”[4] He then evinces “the indwelling Spirit of love” [5] of stanza 2—to relieve trouble, secure rest, remove sin, and release from sin’s bondage. He circles back to Stanzas 1 and 2 to complete his petition to the Trinity—all the Godhead are included in the sought delivery. Wesley longs for the Almighty’s sudden return; the appeal is that He will “never, never more Thy temples leave.”


There is a marked shift in the second half of the stanza: When the Almighty does return, the scene changes from deliverance to worship. God will always be with His people, either to deliver or for worship. Images of the Revelation are in view, especially Revelation 21:3. “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he shall dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God” (KJV).[6] Rehearse Wesley’s words as he describes the Church’s eternal worship: “Never more thy temples leave,” “Thee we would always blessing,” “Serve thee as thy hosts above,” “Pray and praise thee without ceasing,” and “Glory in thy perfect love.” Wesley hymn still confesses the Scripture, “Anathema Maranatha”[7] and “Even so, come Lord Jesus.”[8]


Stanza 4

Finish, then, Thy new creation;

Pure and spotless let us be.

Let us see Thy great salvation

Perfectly restored in Thee;

Changed from glory into glory,

Till in heaven we take our place,

Till we cast our crowns before Thee,

Lost in wonder, love, and praise.[9]


Wesley’s use of enjambment is seen in the transition between stanza 3 and stanza 4. “Finish, then, Thy new creation” complements “Glory in Thy perfect love.” There is a turn from Trinitarian worship in stanzas 1, 2, and 3 to their finished work in stanza 4. As such, it becomes an eschatological form of worship. It is divided into two sections: first, what is done in the believer, and second, the ultimate worship that will occur in Heaven with all creation participating.


First, Wesley longs for the “New Creation” begun at the rebirth brought to fruition in every believer. The sub-theme of “Wesleyan perfectionism” bursts forth as his heart-cry, “Pure and spotless let us be.” The poetry connects the internal and personal work of holiness with the universal greatness of God’s salvation: “Let us see Thy great salvation.” He yearns for the heavenly fulfillment of God’s partial love he has known on earth. This he confesses, “Perfectly restored in Thee.” All in all, for Charles Wesley, Heaven will be the fulfillment of God’s love he has sought and experienced his entire earthly life.


Secondly, Wesley turns from the micro-work of Christ in the believer to macro-worship of Christ. “Changed from glory into glory”[10] recalls the Apostle Paul’s declaration. But here, Wesley testifies that it is finished. All the redeemed will be where they are supposed to be. For he asserts, “Till in heaven we take our place.” And all the redeemed will be rightly employed for the work for which God has chosen them—worship: “Till we cast our crowns before Thee.”[11] Then and then alone, in the eschaton, will we know what it means to be “Lost in wonder, love, and praise.”


CONCLUSION


One thing is certain, “Hymn singing was very important to the evangelical revival in the eighteenth century.”[12] The hymns were important for the Wesleys, as “a means of expressing joy and teaching scriptural truth.”[13] Charles’ hymns “continue to enrich us today.” How full our worship is because of the phrases ‘‘O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing,’ ‘Rejoice, the Lord is King,’ ‘Jesus, Lover of my Soul,’ and ‘Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.’”[14] Truly “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” also causes our cup of worship to overflow.


As you ponder Wesley's recounting in this hymn of God's triune work, I pray your heart and mind are stirred by the great news in the Gospel! May you find your eternal soul satisfied in Jesus Christ.


 

FOOTNOTES

[1] As an aside, some people do not realize that song writers are “poets with a guitar.” That is, songs are poetry before they are ever set to music. [2]Bailey, 96. [3]Genesis 35:11. [4]Bailey, 96. [5]Ibid. [6]See also: Revelation Chapters 5, 21, & 22. [7]I Corinthians 16:22. [8]Revelation 22: 20. [9]Charles Wesley, “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,” in Tom Fettke, senior ed., The Hymnal for Worship and Celebration (Waco: Word Music, 1986), 92. [10]II Corinthians 3: 18, KJV. [11]Revelation 4:10, KJV. [12]Diane Severance, “Charles Wesley,” Christianity.com, April 28, 2010, https://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1701-1800/charles-wesley-11630230.html [13]Ibid. [14]Ibid.


 

Dr. Roger D. Duke is an advisory board member and the scholar-in-residence at Stage & Story. Dr. Duke is an ordained Baptist minister and has taught at the college and graduate school levels for over 20 years. Dr. Duke holds graduate degrees from The University of the South’s School of Theology at Sewanee, TN; The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; and Harding University’s Graduate School of Religion. He has written or contributed to more than ten volumes (including works on John Bunyan). Visit his website at www.invertedchristian.com. His published work can be found on his website and his Amazon Author's Page. He has been happily married to Linda Young Duke for nearly 44 years. They have three adult children and four robust grandsons.