A Truth in
"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God." Colossians 3.16
This verse seems to refer to a wide range of religious music, and nowadays different fellowships have their own preferred music, ranging from loud songs and hearty choruses to the austere melody of solemn chants. As a person brought up on 'traditional hymns' I am repeatedly astonished at how writers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries combine the joy of music with the opportunity to teach, as God's word 'dwells in them'.
Recently there have come to my mind three hymns, each beginning with the words 'God is love'.
'God is love, His mercy brightens all the path in which we rove…' was written by John Bowring in the early eighteen hundreds, and emphasises God's love as it affects us personally. His mercy brightens our path, arouses happiness and lightens our burdens, because He is not only loving but wise. His mercy remains constant, while we in our own lives are exposed to chance and change and the march of 'progress'. His brightness shines in the darkness, His glory shines everywhere. Alleluia!
The author, who was born of a puritan family in Exeter, published his book of hymns in 1825, and afterward he had a varied career for nearly fifty more years - as a man of letters, a Member of Parliament, an industrialist who was a model employer, and Governor of Hong Kong - ending up as Sir John Bowring. But what I personally appreciate most about him is what he wrote in this hymn - did he find it true in his own life?
'God is love, His the care, reaching each everywhere', written by Percy Dearmer in the early twentieth century is inspired by how God's love is revealed in Jesus. His care extends to each one, everywhere. So our care and love too, reaches out to our neighbours; in loving them, we love God. (Which of my own neighbours do I in fact love?) Jesus rules our hearts, 'light and life, friend and king' - saving us by the truth He gave us. He is our pattern, showing God's beauty. "Sing aloud… God is love, God is truth, God is beauty. Praise Him!"
Who was Percy Dearmer? An Anglican priest who wanted everything about worship to be beautiful. He was a chaplain during the Great War, at which time he lost his first wife from fever. His belief in doing good carried him into politics. He wrote many hymns, of which perhaps the most memorable are those which speak about Jesus, such as 'Jesus, good above all other' or his translation of the carol 'Unto us a boy is born, king of all creation'.
'God is love, let heaven adore Him' comes from the pen of Timothy Rees, a boy from west Wales who as a curate saw life in the Welsh mining valleys, then was a college lecturer, then a monastic with the Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield. He too became a chaplain with the army in the Great War, and ended by serving as a bishop of the Church in Wales. He too wrote many hymns. One, 'O crucified Redeemer' shows mankind repeating through the centuries the same anguish that was inflicted on Jesus Christ in his life on earth - love outraged, hope killed, torture; a cross of greed, battlefields where brother men slaughter one another, and economic battles where might is right and self is king. On the other hand, in another hymn Timothy Rees sees the Holy Spirit giving life in this sinful world - forming the mind of Christ in members of the church, setting sinners free, binding men together in fellowship.
In 'God is love, let heaven adore Him', the emphasis is once again on God shown as Love. He laid the earth's foundations, spread the heavens above, breathes through all creation. He enfolds all the world in His loving care, every child of every race. And when we suffer and our hearts are breaking, God suffers too. Despite our sin, God's eternal loving kindness holds and guides us. In the end, sin and death will not win: God is Love, so 'love for ever o'er the universe must reign'