Story of a Love Song

I love Valentine’s Day. I love sharing valentines–silly, mushy, and beautiful ones. Love receiving them, too! I love chocolates, flowers, and sweet stories. And, of course, I love my own special Valentine of 57 years! But the greatest Lover of all is our Savior.

Recently I was reminded of the beautiful song, “The Love of God.” I can hear my mother’s voice in my head when I hum the tune, as well as other voices, like my oldest brother’s who sang it so beautifully. I became intrigued with tracking down who wrote this song, under what circumstances, and found an interesting story.

I had to piece the story together as different Google sources recorded various authors and circumstances with dates back to 1000. (I do complain about social media taking over to the point people don’t read books as much anymore. But I’m thankful for the ease in which I can do a surface research on something like this song and even hear it sung by different artists on YouTube with a touch of my finger.)

Frederick M. Lehman is credited with writing two of the three verses of “The Love of God.” He was born in Germany in 1868. His family emigrated to America when he was four years old. At the age of eleven he was “saved by grace.” He tells his story in some of his many writings, how one morning walking a country lane he became so aware of Heaven it was like a “cornucopia of glory” descending on him. “The weight of conviction was gone and the paeans of joy and praise” fell from his lips.

Frederick was to become a prolific writer of sacred songs, a pastor, a businessman, and a founder of the Nazarene Publishing House. His pastorates were in Iowa, Indiana, and Missouri. His business venture in Pasadena, California suffered a drastic decline and he lost everything. He resorted to manual labor packing oranges and lemons into wooden crates. A Sunday evening sermon on the love of God moved him deeply and, sitting on a lemon crate the next morning, he wrote on a scrap of paper the first lines to the song “The Love of God.” That night he sat at his piano and began composing music to fit those lyrics. In the end, he’d written two stanzas but by the standards of that day’s hymn writing he needed three. He could not think of words for a third stanza.

Later, he discovered words on a bookmark someone had given him that finished the hymn. At the bottom of the bookmark an anonymous writer told how these words had been found on the wall of a prison cell. No one knows much about that prisoner, why he was incarcerated, whether the words were his originally. After his death painters found his words on the wall and were so impressed they copied them before they applied paint.

That’s not the end of the story. Years after Lehman published the song, a man named Alfred B. Smith found more information on the development of that third stanza. According to his research, around the year 1000 those lines “Could we with ink the oceans fill and were the skies of parchment made…” were written in Hebrew by Meir Ben Isaac Nehoria, a Jewish Rabbi. God preserved his words so that hundreds of years later they were found scribbled in English on that prison cell wall. The painters preserved the words which later were printed on a bookmark that landed in the hands of Lehman who, through God’s guidance, added them to the song he’d already written so we have today all three stanzas.

I’d love for you to read these timeless words from a pastor/songwriter, a Rabbi, a prisoner, and, most importantly, preserved for you on this Valentine’s Day.

The love of God is greater far

than tongue or pen can ever tell;

It goes beyond the highest star,

And reaches to the lowest hell;

The guilty pair, bowed down with care,

God gave His Son to win;

His erring child He reconciled,

And pardoned from his sin.


Oh, love of God, how rich and pure!

How measureless and strong!

It shall forevermore endure–

The saints’ and angels’ song.

When ancient time shall pass away,

And human thrones and kingdoms fall;

When those who here refuse to pray

On rocks and hills and mountains call;

God’s love so sure, shall still endure,

All measureless and strong;

Grace will resound the whole earth round–

The saints’ and angels’ song.

Could we with ink the oceans fill,

And were the skies of parchment made;

Were ev’ry stalk on earth a quill,

And ev’ryone 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.

1 Comment

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One response to “Story of a Love Song

  1. TYSM for these beautiful lyrics. I wish I could hear them.

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