Hymn: “O the Depth of Love Divine”

The next “favorite hymn” I’d like to talk about in this series is a Communion hymn, since my church will be celebrating the Lord’s Supper tomorrow. And, if past experience is any guide, the closest the service will come to singing a Communion hymn will be the organ playing one (of the more obvious ones) as the elements are passed, so I will find myself wishing for this one.

O the depth of love divine, the unfathomable grace!
Who shall say how bread and wine God into us conveys!
How the bread His flesh imparts, how the wine transmits His blood,
Fills His faithful people’s hearts with all the life of God!

Let the wisest mortals show how we the grace receive;
Feeble elements bestow a power not theirs to give.
Who explains the wondrous way, how through these the virtue came?
These the virtue did convey, yet still remain the same.

How can spirits heavenward rise, by earthly matter fed,
Drink herewith divine supplies and eat immortal bread?
Ask the Father’s wisdom how: Christ Who did the means ordain;
Angels round our altars bow to search it out, in vain.

Sure and real is the grace, the manner be unknown;
Only meet us in thy ways and perfect us in one.
Let us taste the heavenly powers, Lord, we ask for nothing more.
Thine to bless, ’tis only ours to wonder and adore.

This is a Charles Wesley hymn, one I learned from the Cardiphonia project’s album of “retuned” and new Communion hymns (which also includes several other gems). I much prefer the setting on that album to the way my family’s hymnals just pair it with one of the very common tunes in the right meter.

But aside from the tune, this hymn speaks to the heart of the sacrament with great humility: we do not, and most likely cannot, know what is really going on, but we know from Scripture that something is. And it doesn’t matter that our understanding is limited, since whatever it is is God’s grace, not based on anything we could have done: “Thine to bless, ’tis only ours to wonder and adore.”

This hymn also talks about each of the ways the Church has described the benefits of the Lord’s Supper: filling the people with the power of the divine life, raising the people’s spirits to God’s presence, and so on. But, like I keep coming back to, it ultimately ends in the humble admission of the last stanza. It’s all God.

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