What did the second verse do wrong? (on ‘Love Divine’)

Yesterday I mentioned that I one of the few Charles Wesley hymns I knew before coming to the UK was ‘Love Divine, All Loves Excelling’. When I chose it over here, I vaguely knew something was missing. I seemed to remember a verse in the hymn about a ‘bent to sinning’. Eventually I got around to looking in The United Methodist Hymnal and there was indeed another verse that was not in British Methodism’s Hymns & Psalms. I always wondered about this because as I reread the hymn in the UMH, I knew why the verse had lodged in my memory – it is a beautiful verse and one I thought spoke to one of Wesley’s key themes. With the Spirit’s power, the hold of sin is broken – the heart need no longer bend toward sinning, but to doing the will of God.

Sunday, Richard Hall posted ‘Love Divine’ as his ‘Hymn of the Day‘ and he mentioned that John Wesley disapproved of this verse, but the words Richard mentions is ‘power of sinning’. That likely explains why it isn’t in Hymns & Psalms. But is that a good enough reason?

Randy Maddox, the Methodist studies professor at Duke University, wrote in an issue of the Wesleyan Theological Journal (Vol. 16, 2-Fall-1981) ‘The words “power of sinning” were changed to “bent to sinning” after the Wesleys had decided, in the late 1750’s, that the experience of perfect love did not guarantee final perseverance'(Note 1, p. 38). So perhaps what we have is the wrong final verse of the hymn rather than Wesley’s total rejection of it.

I hope in future we can restore the verse because I love the imagery of ‘Breathe, O breathe Thy loving Spirit,/into every troubled breast’). In a lecture, Randy Maddox uses these first two lines of verse two to support his understanding of how Wesleyan theology challenges the culture that is pessimistic about people not being able to change.

Through the work of the Spirit, God begins even now to transform us; to make us as Christ is; in this life. Sanctification, not just justification…It’s not our abilities to do this. It’s that presence of the Holy Spirit.

We can’t change on our own, but through the Spirit of God breathed into us, God not only accepts us as we are, but changes us into new people. It is also a prayer I sing to Caedmon when he is most distressed and all I can do is cuddle him and sing.

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