Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The love of God

The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches to the 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 forevermore endure
The saints’ and angels’ song.

When years of time shall pass away,
And earthly thrones and kingdoms fall,
When men, who here refuse to pray,
On rocks and hills and mountains call,
God’s love so sure, shall still endure,
All measureless and strong;
Redeeming grace to Adam’s race—
The saints’ and angels’ song.


Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above,
Would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.


My late mother-in-law was a fine singer in her youth and this was her favorite song. There are many songs about the love of God, most notably the one sung at President Reagan’s funeral or perhaps the Stuart Townend hymn, “How great the Father’s love for us”, but this one always comes to my mind.

The third verse of this song is based on the Jewish poem “Haddamut”. It was written in 1050 AD by a Jewish Cantor from Worms named Meir Ben Isaac Nehorai, and translated into English by Frederick Lehman, who was born in Germany in 1868, and died in 1953, in Pasadena, California. Lehman moved to America with his family at the age of four and settled in Iowa, where he lived most of his childhood. He attended Northwestern College in Naperville, Illinois while preparing to enter the ministry. He pastored Nazarene churches in Kingsley and Audubon, Iowa; New London, Indiana; and Kansas City, Missouri. He devoted most of his life to writing sacred songs; the first being written in 1898. He compiled five hymnals, authored and published numerous sacred songs, and established Nazarene Publishing House in Kansas City, Missouri.

He wrote The Love of God in 1917. It was published in Songs That Are Different, Volume 2, in 1919. In 1948 Lehman described how he came to write this hymn: One day, during short intervals of inattention to our work, I picked up a scrap of paper and wrote the first two stanzas and chorus of the song. This was written with a stub pencil while I was seated on an empty lemon box pushed against the wall. I adopted the third stanza from a Jewish poem, Haddamut, which was found on the wall of a patient's room in an insane asylum after he had been carried to his grave. The general opinion was that this inmate had written the epic in moments of sanity.

The words were quoted during our church holiday which took the benediction of 2 Corinthians 13:14 as its theme. The session on grace I have already alluded to. On Saturday evening we considered the love of God. Paul’s prayer in Ephesians chapter 3 expresses the incomprehensible nature of God’s love for us.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

‘So high you can’t get over it, so deep you can’t get under it, so wide you can’t get round it’ sing the children, but we somehow start thinking that my sins make me unreachable. I remember speaking to a dying man about the only hope he had; the hope of salvation in Jesus. “I have made my bed. I will have to lie on it,” he replied.

It isn't true. God's love is overwhelming. No sin is irredeemable be it ever so despicable. His love is the remedy for every ill save a stiff neck. His will can overcome everything but, "I won't!"

Consider the case of Max Moseley, the President of FIA, the motor racing organization. This old man was recently exposed by a Sunday Newspaper for taking part in sado-masochistic orgies. He admitted in court that he had been doing so for decades. Is this man beyond the reach of the love of God? How about Pete Doherty, boyfriend of Kate Moss, now more famous for his drug addiction than his career as a pop singer? Think about Robert Mugabe, rigger of elections, torturer of his own people. Could Adolf Hitler have repented? Or Pol Pot or Joseph Stalin? Are we sure that they did not? Are child pornographers beyond the reach of the love of God? Are pedophiles?

It disgusts us to think that our father God could look at one of these and see only the beauty of His son, Jesus, but that is what the Bible teaches us. Because we have an inflated view of our own virtue with think that God loves us and not them. As Paul says in Romans Ch 3: “What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! As it is written ‘There is no-one righteous, not even one; there is no-one who understands, no-one who seeks God. All have turned away; they have together become worthless; there is no-one who does good, not even one.’”

This passage comes immediately after what most Christians believe is Paul's diatribe against homosexuals. It is true that Paul describes homosexual acts as the punishment that men and women receive in their bodies for their wilful failure to recognize God as their Creator and Lord, but he goes on to say, "Furthermore...he gave them over to a depraved mind to do what ought not to be done. They (that is the idolaters who worship the creature rather than the creator - not they = homosexuals) have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless." While we are gloating over this strong condemnation of homosexuals he comes straight back at us, "You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things."

When we realize our own filthy rags, it amazes us that anyone should love us, let alone a God so majestic, so holy and so perfect. Why would he sully his hands with us let alone give up his one and only son to torture and death? You can perhaps imagine someone so in love with a woman that he sacrifices his home, his career and his family to possess her; but our God does not wish to possess us, he wishes that we possess Him. I will write another time of the bonds that bind Father to Son, but here I will say just imagine the Godhead torn apart. They, who were together from all eternity, were wrenched asunder so that the Son should literally suffer Hell; the absence of God. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

How deep the Father's love for us,
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure

How great the pain of searing loss,
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the chosen One,
Bring many sons to glory

Behold the Man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice,
Call out among the scoffers

It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished

I will not boast in anything
No gifts, no power, no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ
His death and resurrection

Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom

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