Love Divine, All Loves Excelling
“Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” was written by Charles Wesley as a prayer, through Christ, to request the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. It is helpful for us to realize that this inclination to write and sing songs about the Spirit and His presence is not a new phenomenon; this is a theme that has been developed throughout the time that the church has been singing.
Most of this song falls into a pattern of using the first half of each verse to discuss the gospel and the second half to respond to that truth in submission. This song begins by discussing the incarnation of Christ while describing His eternal and infinitely loving nature. One of the best gospel lines that is written in this song is in verse two. “Take away our bent to sinning.” This idea is reinforced in the beginning of the last verse. “Finish then thy new creation;/ Pure and spotless let us be.” Some find this line heretical if it is understood to the full extent of Wesleyan theology, that God will perfect our natures even here on earth, but if we view this through the eyes of progressive sanctification and through the words Wesley uses at the end of the song, “Changed from glory into glory,/ Till in heaven we take our place,” we can sing this song without reservation.
Names of God
There are two phrases in this song that may not be direct names of God but are referencing Him: “Love divine” and “Joy of heaven.” Wesley also refers to God as Spirit, Jesus, Almighty, and Alpha and Omega. All of these names give clear evidence of about Whom and to Whom we are singing.
This is a very heavenward song. As stated earlier, the first half of most of the verses talk about the gospel and the second half responds to it. There are lines asking for God’s Spirit and our sanctification. There are also numerous lines that look forward to heaven when we will be glorified and worship God forever.
Theological vs. Doxological
While there is discussion of the gospel and truths in this song, the majority of it is responsive. This song is focused on seeking God and asking Him to be with us, teach us, lead us, and sanctify us. This a good song to sing together in order to help us focus our requests on Biblical things. Because of its responsive tone, this song is more Doxological than Theological.
Why Did it Get Its Score?
“Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” received a 95% from the “Is it Helpful? Chart.” That’s a fairly high score. This song does well in pointing singer’s minds to heaven, it is full of truths from Scripture, and, though it does not spell out the gospel as well as some other songs do, its requests are gospel focused and informed. Some of the language might sound a little foreign to modern ears, and it may take a few times through to begin to see all that Wesley is talking about, so there is a small deduction for accessibility, but this is a song well worth learning.
Utilizing it in a Service
If the sermon has focused on Christ or the Spirit’s work in the life of a Christian, this song could serve as a helpful response. It will be best appreciated if it follows an element of the service that demonstrates the gospel clearly.