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New Hymn: ‘Love Divine, All Loves Embracing’


 Have you ever tried to write a hymn – from scratch, that is? I have, and it is a lot harder than it looks. This is why the text of most of the hymns in our hymnals comes unstuck at some point. The more ancient the language, the less noticeable are the infelicities. This is why poor old Graham Kendrick and his ilk get so much flak from the traditionalists, who squirm at some of the lyrics. Of course, if the music is good enough, people don’t take so much notice of the words.

You may have read the recent guest post on this blog by Chris Fewings. He gave it the splendid title, ‘Love Divine, All Loves Embracing‘ – playing on the first line of one of the Church of England’s favourite hymns, ‘Love Divine, All Loves Excelling’. He then challenged me to produce a draft text for the whole amended hymn. I like challenges. But I am no poet, and this was a rather tall order. Nevertheless, I do think it is a good idea, and someone has to produce the first effort – a coconut shy for our readers to chuck coconuts at. So here it is.

I decided on these guiding principles:

  • I would aim to produce a real new hymn, that could be used in genuine services;
  • The sense of the hymn would be that human love for other humans overflows into love for God, and love for God overflows into love for other humans;
  • I would stick fairly closely to the original, only changing the text where there was an opportunity to put across an ‘inclusive’ message;
  • For obvious reasons, I would not use ‘man’ or ‘mankind’, but this made the drafting more difficult;
  • The result would aim to look therefore as if it could have been written by Charles Wesley, as was the original, and not an obvious parody.
This is my attempt:


Love Divine, all loves embracing,

Joy of heaven, to earth come down,

Thee we would be always praising,

All thy grace and mercy crown.

Jesus, thou art all compassion,

Pure unbounded love thou art;

Encompass love of every fashion,

Enter each adoring heart.

Come, almighty to deliver,

Let us all thy grace receive;

Human love and love of the Father

Blend in us when we believe.

Thee we would be always blessing,

Interceding through thy Dove, (1)

Pray, and praise thee, without ceasing,

Glory in thy perfect love.

Finish then thy new creation

Rainbow colours let us be;

Showing all thy great salvation,

Lovingly bestowed by 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!

 Here is the original text for comparison:

Love divine, all loves excelling,
Joy of heaven to earth come down;
Fix in us thy humble dwelling;
All thy faithful mercies crown!
Jesus, Thou art all compassion,
Pure unbounded love Thou art;
Visit us with Thy salvation;
Enter every trembling heart.

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,
Glory in Thy perfect love.

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.


The text of the original version is taken from Net Hymnal, but is set to ‘the wrong tune’, Beecher. The ‘proper’ tune is Blaenwern. (YMMV!)

(1)Difficult line – Help! Idea is Intercession of the Spirit – can anyone improve on this?

13 comments on this post:

Savi Hensman said...

After I pointed out the near-impossibility of matching Wesley at his best, the editor of Lay Anglicana suggested that I might want to have a go at writing a hymn that is more markedly different, so here is a first attempt, which others may be able to improve.

Love divine, all loves embracing,
Set our hearts on fire for you.
Through your Holy Spirit gracing
All creation, our lives renew;

Take away all trace of coldness,
Warm us with your tender touch
Following you, may we, with boldness,
Welcome those you love so much.

Cherished, healed, revived, forgiven
Through your hospitality,
In this world by hatred riven,
Teach us generosity;

Earthly loves your love infusing –
Neighbour, family, lover, friend –
All the universe suffusing
With a joy that knows no end.

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you very much, Savi. I think it does indeed work better than mine (though some might say that would not be difficult!) I particularly like the last verse. I’m hoping that Inclusive Church might want to adopt one of our versions as their own hymn, but think Giles may (unsurprisingly) be away at the moment. Let us see if we get any further reaction…

Chris Fewings said...

I like this very much, Savi. I think in the last two lines ‘universe’ needs to the object and ‘joy’ the subject, and ‘with’ removed: – something like:

Joy that knows no end suffusing
The cosmos flowing from your hand.

but with a much better last line than that, worthy of the rest of your lines!

23 July 2012 13:28
20 July 2012 01:51
19 July 2012 21:40
UKViewer said...

I don’t propose to try to outdo both of you. Not sure if I have an original thought in my head. Hymns are better than worship songs.

If I hear ‘Shine, Jesus Shine’ one more time this year, I fear that I will be tempted to rip the page out of every hymn book that I can find.

Bring on a Bit of Soul of our Saviour:

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you very much for this, Ernie. I loved the hymn, but was a bit puzzled that I had never heard it before (I pride myself on knowing most of ‘Ancient and Modern’ off by heart through constant repetition at school!). Google enlightened me – it is apparently a Catholic hymn so I’m guessing it is one you know and love from childhood?

21 July 2012 14:13
20 July 2012 20:41
Savi Hensman said...

I recently heard ‘Sing a new church into being’ for the first time (, words on – an appropriate hymn for those seeking an inclusive church, I think.

21 July 2012 14:26
Revsimmy said...

I’m sorry to say that I really don’t like messing around with the words of well-known hymns. Most of the Jubilate hymns versions from c. 20 years ago grate, and even the more modest revisions by Kevin Mayhews editors jar somewhat.

“Soul of my Saviour” is indeed a Catholic hymn based on a prayer known as “Anima Christi” which came to prominence with St. Ignatius of Loyola as it features in his Spiritual Exercises. But it almost certainly predates Ignatius by a considerable time.

My own personal favourite “Inclusive Church” type hymn is “Let us build a house” by Marty Haugen. (Hope I’ve remembered how to embed the link properly).

22 July 2012 22:17
Revsimmy said...

Sorry – the link obviously wasn’t right. URL is

22 July 2012 22:19
Joyce said...

I don’t like the messing about with words, either,Revsimmy. Don’t be ‘sorry to say’ so.It’s simply unnecessary and perhaps more people are irritated by it than dare say so. Traditional,popular hymns aren’t so old that the meaning of the words is lost to anyone who’s been to school.I find alteration a bit of an insult,as if I’m too stupid to know what the original means.
I suppose ‘inclusivising’ is fun,like ‘While shepherds washed their socks by night’, which we don’t actually expect anybody to sing.
Thanks for the link to the Songs of Praise clip.

23 July 2012 08:05
Chris Fewings said...

Sorry to land in hot water with some of your commenters Laura! As Savi says, going head-to-head with Chas is a tall order.

23 July 2012 13:33
Savi Hensman said...

I was not trying to alter the Wesley hymn, rather write a hymn which could be sung to the same tune(s) and inspired by Chris Fewings’ piece. Since Charles Wesley was quite prolific and sometimes wrote more than one hymn with a similar beginning, I think this is quite legitimate!

Chris Fewings said...

I agree Savi – yours is a new hymn. Laura’s altered lines make sense in a different way – I suspect many of us alter lines of hymns or even liturgy in our heads (or to sing in the shower) to explain it to ourselves or to expand its meaning. And it’s good to share these.

Sometimes then we can arrive where we started and know the place anew. Gender-inclusive versions have a drawback – they usually only change the human gender, but leave God as male. This serves to underline God’s unconsciously assumed maleness. If you leave in all the ‘hes’ and ‘hims’ you might quicker realise that that’s the way they spoke in them days (just as ‘his’ could mean ‘its’). So I’m OK with ‘In man for man the foe’!

Joyce said...

We need new hymns.All power to the pen of those writing them. Their usefulness comes in their expression of concerns that are regarded as important at this time,and what the understood theology is.
What I don’t get is why, when there’s scope for new hymns and people of ability to write them,the old ones have to be fiddled with.
I want to throw something at the telly when on Songs of Praise they sing ‘humans’ instead of ‘mankind’ and that sort of thing,especially when it takes something away from the original. For instance we do know that a correct word in the English language for the biological entity that is ourselves is ‘man’. Just because that usage is currently out of fashion in some circles it doesn’t mean it’s wrong. We don’t change the works of Jane Austen, George Elliot,the Brontes or Charles Dickens. If a 19th century hymn-writer deliberately wrote ‘man’ or ‘all men’ instead of ‘humans’ or ‘people’ he or she was making a point that would be entirely missed if the word or phrase were changed. ‘The double agony in man for man did undergo’for example must have taken much thought in order to make us think about what it means for us.
Keep up the good work,those trying to come up with new hymns. The rest of us should leave well alone.

25 July 2012 16:46
25 July 2012 05:32
24 July 2012 19:39

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