- Singing the Faith: 436i
- Charles Wesley
- “Abridge (St Stephen)” by Isaac Smith
- 86.86. Common Metre
Consider introducing this hymn by reading some of the words that inspired it, from Ephesians 3: 16-18.
Reflect on the "size" of God - how God encompasses our lives and our world - by drawing on other hymns, such as Our God is a great big God (StF 61); or two hymns based on Psalm 139 - There is no moment of my life (StF 482); O God, you search me and you know me (StF 728).
This hymn is a classic expression of the Wesleys’ belief that God’s love, shown to us in the life and death of Jesus, is for everyone. Charles describes God’s “sovereign grace” that extends to all, “immense and unconfined” (v.2) It’s a phrase that Wesley echoes in Father, whose everlasting love (StF 320), where he speaks of God’s mercy that is “immense, unfathomed, unconfined”.
"What shall I do my God to love", based on Ephesians 3: 17-18, speaks of the length, breadth, height and depth of God’s ”sovereign grace” in verse 1. Wesley unpacks each of those words in turn in the following four verses, exploring the sheer, all-encompassing “bigness” of God’s grace and love:
wide as infinity;
so wide it never passed by one,
or it had passed by me. (v.3)
These words and phrases were making a really important theological point at a time when many early Methodists, including the influential preacher George Whitefield, were following the lead of John Calvin and saying that only a minority of people (“the elect”) were destined to be saved. The theory, known as “predestination”, argued that God was going to save some people for salvation while everyone else was condemned to hell-fire and damnation. Calvinists did not believe in a cruel or unjust God; they said that the saving of a few was in fact a generous act of grace shown to individuals who, like everyone else, didn’t deserve God’s mercy.
Charles Wesley, however, called it a “horrible decree” and wrote hymns like this one as antidotes to such a point of view. Time and again he would insist:
For all my Lord was crucified,
for all, for all my Saviour died.
(Let earth and heaven agree, StF 358)
The tune "Abridge"
For a note on the naming of this tune, see O for a heart to praise my God (StF 507)