Great Hymns of the Faith: The Love of God
By John Michael Luther, Christian and composer
The Love of God: by Frederick M Lehman (1868-1953)
Frederick M Lehman was born at Mecklenburg in Schwerin, Germany. He emigrated to America at the age of 4 with his family and they settled in Iowa. He became a Christian at age 11. He later studied for the ministry at Northwestern College in Naperville, Illinois, and ministered in several communities in Illinois, Indiana, and Missouri. He wrote and published hundreds of songs and five books. He moved to Kansas City, Missouri, in 1911 and founded the Nazarene Publishing House.
During his early ministry, Lehman recalled that while at a camp meeting, an evangelist punctuated his message by quoting the words of what would become part of Lehman’s most popular 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.” Lehman never forgot those incredible words.
The Lehman family eventually moved to California, where because of their difficult financial circumstances, Frederick turned to manual labor. His work included packing oranges and lemons into wooden crates. One day during a work break while Lehman was sitting on an empty lemon box, the first two stanzas of The Love of God began to flow from his heart, and he hurriedly penned them on a scrap of paper he found nearby.
He later added a third stanza which were the words he had heard at that camp meeting. Over the years, many became interested and inquired as to the origin of the last stanza of the song. It was known that the words were inscribed on the wall of a room in a mental institution some 200 years before the quotation was heard by Lehman at that camp meeting. It became apparent that those lines, which were scrolled by the patient shortly before his death, were the same words heard by Lehman at that camp meeting.
After years of inquiries, it was discovered to be found in the writings of Rabbi Hertz, once chief rabbi in the British Empire in his book, A Book of Jewish Thought. In that book was the poem, written in A.D. 1050 by a Jewish poet, Meir Ben Isaac Nehoral. It is a hymn sung in the synagogue during the Feast of Weeks, or Pentecost. Nearly a thousand years later in 1917, these words would become the third stanza and become part of Frederick M. Lehman’s hymn, The Love of God. Lehman passed away in 1953 in Pasadena, California. The words embody the absolute vastness of the love of God. It is beyond comprehension in the natural world, but not in the spiritual realm as by God’s grace it may be received and believed.
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.
When hoary 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
Oh, love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall for evermore endure
The saint’s and angel’s 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.