MUSIC OF THE MESSAGE: The Story of "The Love of God"
Down through the tedious ages of time man's heart has been cheered at the thought of the boundless love of God, and in his soul there has often been touched a responsive chord to that wonderful love. So compelling is this love that it is often felt by the most unfortunate and seemingly hopeless of mortals. Some years ago after the patient in a certain room in one of the mental institutions of our land had found release from his pathetic earthly sojourn, and his room was being readied for another unfortunate occupant, the attendants found scrawled on the walls of the room the following profound lines:
"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."
In his saner moments this poor, troubled soul had poured out his simple heart of love to his God.
In the ensuing years these lines were often quoted, and many hearts were touched. Early in the twentieth century an additional two stanzas and chorus, with a simple melody, were written by F. M. Lehman, using the foregoing as a cli max in the third stanza. The melody was harmonized by his daughter, Mrs. W. W. Mays. It was nearly twenty years later that the song first "caught fire," and people in all walks of life began singing it.
But always there were inquiries about "that third stanza," and though the story of its origin never failed to make a solemn and heart-stir ring impression, many continued to feel that the language of those lines indicated a source even beyond that, perhaps somewhere in the dim and hoary past. They felt that the lines had only been quoted by the inmate in the story.
After endless searching in libraries someone decided to ask a Jewish rabbi—perhaps he would have a clue. The rabbi listened intently to the words, and quietly replied, "Yes, I can tell you who the author of those lines is. Rabbi Hertz, chief rabbi in the British Empire at one time, wrote a book entitled A Book of Jewish Thought. Go to a Jewish bookstore, and on page 213 you will find that this poem was writ ten in A.D. 1050 by a Jewish poet, Meir Ben Isaac Nehorai." It is in the hymnology of the synagogue used for the Feast of Weeks (Pen tecost).
We can imagine this poet standing on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, contemplating the great love of his Jehovah. His heart is moved by the fires of inspiration. As the love of God sweeps over Meir Ben Isaac Nehorai's soul, his imagination fills the ocean with ink, the arching skies seem to magnify the scope of this all-compelling love, and the papyrus marsh comes to life with countless scribes writing ceaselessly and tirelessly about the measureless love of God.
Nehorai's love epic lay dormant through succeeding centuries. But Providence watched over and preserved these memorable lines. Yes, the third stanza of "The Love of God" was written by a Jewish poet in A.D. 1050. Time passed, then God put it into the heart of a Gen tile song writer, F. M. Lehman, whose heart also responded to God's love, to add the two stanzas and chorus in our own day, in Pasadena, California, in 1917.
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* Some time ago, just after I had recorded this song for phonograph use, I visited the author, F. _M. Leh man, now eighty-one years old and residing in Pasa dena, California, and received this unusual story from him. I have found that it always touches hearts when told this way in an evangelistic meeting just before the song is sung.