Last week I came across the words of an old hymn,
“The Love of God”.
It was written by Frederick Lehman in 1917.
Lehman pastored several churches in the midwest, but what he really loved to do was write songs. At age 50, he came up against some hard times and moved his family to California where he got a warehouse job packing oranges and lemons into wooden crates. After hearing a rousing sermon on God’s love one Sunday evening, he couldn’t sleep. Words to a song began to form and he continued composing as he packed fruit the next morning. Soon two stanzas were complete. He felt it needed a third verse, but nothing came.
Several days later, he opened a book and a handwritten poem fell out. It had been a gift from someone who explained that the poem had been found 200 years earlier, written on the cell wall of a prison. One of the guards had found it after the prisoner died and he jotted the words down before painting over it.
When Lehman read the poem,
he knew immediately it was his third verse.
It was a miraculous, perfect fit.
Later, it was discovered that the poem dated back to 1000 A.D. and was written by a Jewish Rabbi. Somehow the Hebrew was translated to English and found its way to a prison cell. Somehow it was preserved by a guard and passed through hands until it landed in a book on Frederick Lehman’s shelf. Somehow the rhythm of the poem matched the meter of Lehman’s song exactly.
The hymn was completed in 1917, while these world events were being played out:
- America declared war on Germany, sending the first combat troops to France
- A world-wide influenza pandemic struck, killing 20 million by 1920
- 15,000 African Americans silently walked down 5th Avenue in New York to protest racial discrimination
Things haven’t changed much.
We still need the love of God desperately.
“Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made;
Were every tree on earth a quill,
And everyone 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.
O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure;
The saints’ and angels’ song!”