“The vilest offender who truly believes, will surely, from Jesus, a pardon receive.”
That is a lyric I’ve known all my life…and sung time after time, as I do so many, without it sinking in.
A few weeks ago, I attended something called a HYMNINAR, where I and 10-15 new friends joined together to explore the craft of hymn text writing and what an incredible week it was. That’s a post for another time.
But, over the course of that week, thinking intently and intensely about the lyrics of great hymns, we had a chance to sing a lot. One of the hymns which I don’t think I’d ever led, but had maybe sung a few times was the great hymn, Love for All. The text is by the lesser Longfellow, Samuel. The tune most often associated with it is HORTON (Schnyder) and is 188.8.131.52
While all of this hymn lyric is absolutely stunning, rich and deep with good theology, there’s a particular verse that really stunned me as I sang it. How often have I been the “prodigal” son? More often than I care to admit…but thanks be to God, the Father, waiting and willing, stands, waiting expectantly to receive me…to receive us…each and every time we stray and return.
See! My Father waiting stands;
See! He reaches out His hands;
God is love, I know, I see,
Love for me, yes, even me.
Incredibly poignant to sing these words and let then sink into your heart.
This is GRACE…this is the GOSPEL.
––––– ––––– ––––– –––––
Here’s the entire lyric:
Love for all! and can it be?
Can I hope it is for me?
I, who strayed so long ago,
Strayed so far, and fell so low!
I, the disobedient child,
Wayward, passionate, and wild;
I, who left my Father’s home
In forbidden ways to roam!
I, who spurned his loving hold,
I, who would not be controlled;
I, who would not hear his call,
I, the willful prodigal!
I, who wasted and misspent
Every talent he had lent;
I, who sinned again, again,
Giving every passion reign!
To my Father can I go?
At his feet myself I’ll throw,
In his house there yet may be
Place, a servant’s place for me.
See, my Father waiting stands;
See, he reaches out his hands:
God is love! I know, I see,
Love for me–yes, even me.
I learned this song back in the dark ages when our hymnal was Great Songs of the Church II. It is a profound hymn, and a hidden gem that most in our churches have never sung or even heard.
I don’t think I’ve ever sung this, and I’m not even sure I’d ever seen it. It’s a great Prodigal Son hymn, and I thank you for calling it to my attention.
I must pick a small bone though with your characterization of Samuel as the “lesser” Longfellow. While he never wrote epics like his older brother Henry’s Hiawatha or Evangeline, in the realm of hymnody I definitely think Samuel is the greater Longfellow, even though (perhaps because he was a Unitarian) relatively few of his texts have gained much currency in the hymn-singing traditions of the more theologically orthodox denominations. Off the top of my head, the only hymnal item I can think of by Henry is “I heard the bells on Christmas Day” (one of a number of hymns where I really prefer to sing all the verses, but the hymnals don’t accommodate me; I see that it is not among the seven pieces listed under his name by Julian). Samuel, on the other hand, penned dozens of hymns, of which several are in many hymnals, such as
God of the earth, the sky, the sea
Holy Spirit, Truth divine
Now on land and sea descending
’Tis winter now, the fallen snow
and one less well-known one we sing in the Sacred Harp to the recent tune HARPETH VALLEY: “Where prophet’s word and martyr’s blood” (the third stanza of a hymn beginning “O still in accents sweet and strong” which I am not familiar with).
I was only speaking tongue in cheek about Samuel Longfellow… 🙂