During the month of November, I get the privilege of teaching my congregation my favorite hymn, Lord, Thee I Love with All My Heart. This is such a great hymn for several reasons. First of all, this hymn talks objectively about justification, Christian vocation, and the joyful hope of the resurrection. Secondly, the hymn uses subjective, personal language to express a powerful prayer. Thirdly, the text is paired with a perfectly fitting tune that expresses the hymn’s beauty and depth. I should also note that Bach used this hymn to close his Saint John Passion.
The text was written by a man named Martin Schalling, who lived from 1532-1608. He was a student at the University of Wittenberg and studied under Philipp Melanchthon and became a Lutheran pastor. A pattern seems to be emerging that hymn authors I really like lose their positions because they won’t compromise their beliefs. So it was with Schalling, who lost his job three times due to such circumstances. Twice he lost his job for his Lutheran beliefs. He was also removed from a post for refusing to sign the Formula of Concord (a document that Lutheran pastors and teachers today swear to uphold); which he felt was too harsh on his mentor, Philipp Melanchthon.
Lord, Thee I love with all my heart;
I pray Thee, ne’er from me depart,
With tender mercy cheer me.
Earth has no pleasure I would share.
Yea, heav’n itself were void and bare
If Thou, Lord, wert not near me.
And should my heart for sorrow break,
My trust in Thee can nothing shake.
Thou art the portion I have sought;
Thy precious blood my soul has bought.
Lord Jesus Christ, my God and Lord, my God and Lord,
Forsake me not! I trust Thy Word.
Can you see the beautiful direction of this first stanza? The singer of this hymn is obviously seeking the Lord God, but why? Because “Thy precious blood my soul has bought.” This one line brings all the comfort in the world. It is through the precious blood of Jesus that God has shown his infinite love to us. Here’s how the Bible puts it, in 1 Peter 1:
you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.
We know that our God is good and that he loves and cares for us. We know of this love through His Word, and in His Word we abide. God’s love and His Word are such a sure foundation that no heart-breaking sorrow in our lives can tear us away from Him. It is only through knowing the love of God for us that we can say with all earnestness, “Lord, Thee I Love with All My Heart”. 1 John 4 puts it very simply:
19 We love because he first loved us.
Yes, Lord, ‘twas Thy rich bounty gave
My body, soul, and all I have
In this poor life of labor.
Lord, grant that I in every place
May glorify Thy lavish grace
And help and serve my neighbor.
Let no false doctrine me beguile;
Let Satan not my soul defile.
Give strength and patience unto me
To bear my cross and follow Thee.
Lord Jesus Christ, my God and Lord, my God and Lord,
In death Thy comfort still afford.
I don’t think you will find a clearer, more succinct expression of Christian vocation than the lines, “Lord, grant that I in every place may glorify Thy lavish grace and help and serve my neighbor.” We live to glorify God and serve our neighbor out of gratitude and thanksgiving. After all, it was God’s “rich bounty” that gave us everything in the first place. The stanza then acknowledges the seriousness of our struggles and the true enemy we face. We know that Satan is like a lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8), and we pray in this hymn that God would keep us safe from the evil one. We also pray that we may bear our cross and follow our Lord, even to our deaths. This hymn does not leave us with our deaths, however. Stanza three is one of the most powerful stanzas in all of Christian hymnody and gives us a glorious image of our resurrection.
Lord, let at last Thine angels come,
To Abr’ham’s bosom bear me home,
That I may die unfearing;
And, in its narrow chamber keep
My body safe in peaceful sleep
Until Thy reappearing.
And then from death awaken me,
That these mine eyes with joy may see,
O Son of God, Thy glorious face,
My Savior and my fount of grace.
Lord Jesus Christ, my prayer attend, my prayer attend,
And I will praise Thee without end.
What happens to the Christian at death? We know that the body dies and decays, but the soul lives. Jesus points this out in Luke 20:
37But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. 38Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.”
The hymn itself uses the imagery from the parable of the rich man and Lazarus:
22The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side.
Death, then, is a separation of the body and the soul. However, our hymn does not end at Abraham’s bosom because there is a bodily resurrection of the dead! When our bodies are raised, we will see God with our own eyes, as it says in Job:
25 I know that my redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand on the earth.
26 And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God;
27 I myself will see him
with my own eyes—I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!
The hymn ends with a prayer that ties together all three stanzas. We pray at the end of the hymn that God would graciously hear everything that we have prayed for. The goal of this prayer is an eternity spent praising our God. “My prayer attend, and I will praise Thee without end.” Amen.