My Love

I will arise and go to Jesus,
he will embrace me in his arms:
in the arms of my dear Savior,
oh, there are ten-thousand charms.

Come ye weary, heavy-laden,
l
ost and ruined by the fall:
if you tarry ‘til you’re better
y
ou will never come at all.

I will arise and go to Jesus,
he will embrace me in his arms:
in the arms of my dear Savior,
oh, there are ten-thousand charms.

Come ye sinners, poor and needy,
weak and wounded, sick and sore:

Jesus ready stands to save you,
full of pity, love and power.

The words in the refrain, “I will arise …,” are anonymous, going back at least to 1811 and were probably sung as a camp-meeting spiritual. The verses were penned by Joseph Hart, an 18th-century Calvinist pastor in London, who published them in 1759 under the title, “Come Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy.” Ruut Sallinen sung this arrangement, breaking my heart with her voice, on a Maranatha CD I own, Communion. The entire hymn that Joseph Hart wrote is as follows:

Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
weak and wounded, sick and sore;

Jesus ready stands to save you,
full of pity, love and power.

Come, ye thirsty, come, and welcome,
God’s free bounty glorify;

True belief and true repentance,
every grace that brings you nigh.

Come, ye weary, heavy laden,
lost and ruined by the fall;

If you tarry till you’re better,
you will never come at all.

View him prostrate in the garden;
on the ground your Maker lies.

On the bloody tree behold him;
sinner, will this not suffice?

Lo! the incarnate God ascended,
pleads the merit of his blood:

Venture on him, venture wholly,
let no other trust intrude.

Let not conscience make you linger,
not of fitness fondly dream;

All the fitness he requireth
is to feel your need of him.

Jesus is before us in the Gospel: “Oh, there are ten-thousand charms!” He calls us by presenting himself; we come to his embrace and contemplate him in adoration and the affection of our heart. This is what we do in many hymns; they express the emotion of our ardor and passion, and some of them are very sweet, feminine and romantic. I love to express my love of Jesus through hymns. If I posted all the hymns I love, I feel like I could go on forever.

One hymn moves me deeply though it is not in the public domain: it is #1159 in Hymns, published by Living Stream Ministry (Anaheim, California, 2002), and begins, “Jesus Lord, I’m captured by thy beauty.” I wish I could share it. [Having learned on April 24, 2017, from mjmselim.wordpress.com, that it is not copyrighted, I will print it below.]  The author’s name is not published but it is sung to the tune of Day by Day by Oscar Ahnfeldt. In fact, this hymnal (I have the two volumes, hymns 1-1080 and 1081-1348) is full of such precious gems, many of which are original. I have sung from Hymns for forty years and still have not outgrown it. Sometimes we don’t get the impact of the words until we sing them. This is when my heart melts. The third and fourth verses of this particular hymn draw their imagery from Mary’s anointing of Jesus in Bethany and from the Song of Solomon, two sources in the Scriptures that have resonated deeply in me since I was fifteen years old. The entire hymn, though, when I sing it, comes from my heart.

Jesus Lord, I’m captured by thy beauty, all my heart to thee I open wide;
now set free from all religious duty, only let me in thyself abide.
As I’m gazing here upon thy glory, fill my heart with radiancy divine;
saturate me, Lord, I now implore thee, mingle now thy Spirit, Lord, with mine.

Shining One — how clear the sky above me! Son of Man, I see thee on the throne!
Holy One, the flames of God consume me, till my being glows with thee alone.
Lord, when first I saw thee in thy splendor, all self-love and glory sank in shame;
now my heart its love and praises render, tasting all the sweetness of thy name.

Precious Lord, my flask of alabaster gladly now I break in love for thee;
I anoint thy head, beloved Master; Lord, behold, I’ve saved the best for thee.
Dearest Lord, I waste myself upon thee; loving thee, I’m deeply satisfied.
Love outpoured from hidden depths within me, costly oil, dear Lord, I would provide.

My Beloved, come on spices’ mountain; how I yearn to see thee face to face.
Drink, dear Lord, from my heart’s flowing fountain, till I rest fore’er in thine embrace.
Not alone, O Lord, do I adore thee, but with all the saints as thy dear Bride;
quickly come, our love is waiting for thee; Jesus Lord, thou wilt be satisfied.

There is an older hymn by Ora Rowan with a chorus that begins similarly: “Captivated by his beauty.” Its words are memorable:

Hast thou heard him, seen him, known him? Is not thine a captured heart? Chief among ten thousand own him; joyful choose the better part.

Idols once they won thee, charmed thee, lovely things of time and sense; gilded thus does sin disarm thee, honeyed lest thou turn thee thence.

What has stripped the seeming beauty from the idols of the earth? Not a sense of right or duty, but the sight of peerless worth.

Not the crushing of those idols, with its bitter void and smart; but the beaming of his beauty, the unveiling of his heart.

Who extinguishes their taper till they hail the rising sun? Who discards the garb of winter till the summer has begun?

‘Tis that look that melted Peter, ’tis that face that Stephen saw, ’til that heart that wept with Mary, can alone from idols draw: draw and win and fill completely, ’till the cup o’erflow the brim; what have we to do with idols who have companied with him?

Another hymn I love is I Cannot Breathe Enough of Thee (#172) by William Spencer Walton (1850-1906):

I cannot breathe enough of thee,
O gentle breeze of love;
more fragrant than the myrtle tree
the henna-flower is to me,
the balm of heaven above.

I cannot gaze enough on thee,
thou fairest of the fair;
my heart is filled with ecstasy,
as in thy face of radiancy
I see such beauty there.

I cannot yield enough to thee,
my Savior, Master, Friend;
I do not wish to go out free,
but ever, always, willingly,
to serve thee to the end.

I cannot sing enough of thee,
the sweetest Name on earth;
a note so full of melody
comes from my heart so joyously,
and fills my soul with mirth.

I cannot speak enough of thee,
I have so much to tell;
thy heart it beats so tenderly
as thou dost draw me close to thee,
and whisper, “All is well.”

Another hymn, “O Jesus, Jesus, dearest Lord!” by Frederick W. Faber (1814-1863) also expresses this longing of my heart:

O Jesus, Jesus, dearest Lord! Forgive me if I say, for very love, thy sacred Name a thousand times a day.

O Jesus, Lord, with me abide;
I rest in thee, whate’er betide;
thy gracious smile is my reward;
I love, I love thee, Lord!

I love thee so I know not how my transports to control; thy love is like a burning fire within my very soul….

For thou to me art all in all; my honor and my wealth; my heart’s desire, my body’s strength, my soul’s eternal health….

Burn, burn, O love, within my heart, burn fiercely night and day, till all the dross of earthly loves is burned and burned away….

O light in darkness, joy in grief, O heaven’s life on earth; Jesus, my love, my treasure, who can tell what thou art worth?…

What limit is there to this love? Thy flight, where wilt thou stay? On, on! our Lord is sweeter far today than yesterday….

I picked these at random; I could go on and on with such examples. One that might be more familiar to you than this was composed by Bernard of Clairvaux in the twelfth century. It too captures the ardent longing of my heart for Jesus:

Jesus, the very thought of thee with sweetness fills my breast;
but sweeter far thy face to see, and in thy presence rest.

Nor voice can sing, nor heart can frame, nor can the memory find
a sweeter sound than thy blest Name, O Savior of mankind!

O hope of every contrite heart, O joy of all the meek,
to those who fall, how kind thou art! how good to those who seek!

But what to those who find? Ah, this … nor tongue nor pen can show;
the love of Jesus, what it is, none but his loved ones know!

Jesus, our only joy be thou, as thou our prize wilt be;
Jesus, be thou our glory now, and through eternity.

O Jesus, King most wonderful, thou conqueror renowned,
thou sweetness most ineffable, in whom all joys are found!

When once thou visitest the heart, then truth begins to shine,
then earthly vanities depart, then kindles love divine.

O Jesus, light of all below, thou fount of life and fire!
surpassing all the joys we know, and all we can desire.

Jesus, may all confess thy Name, thy wondrous love adore,
and, seeking thee, themselves inflame to seek thee more and more.

Thee, Jesus, may our voices bless, thee may we love alone,
and ever in our lives express the image of thine own.

O Jesus, thou the beauty art of angel worlds above;
thy Name is music to the heart, inflaming it with love.

Celestial sweetness unalloyed, who eat thee hunger still;
who drink of thee still feel a void which only thou canst fill.

No other source have we but thee, soul-thirst to satisfy.
Exhaustless spring, the waters free! All other streams are dry.

O most sweet Jesus, hear the sighs which unto thee we send;
to thee our inmost spirit cries; to thee our prayers ascend.

Abide with us, and let thy light shine, Lord, on every heart;
dispel the darkness of our night; and joy to all impart.

Jesus, our love and joy to thee, the virgin’s holy Son,
all might and praise and glory be, while endless ages run.

My point is not however about singing. It is about love, or rather the object of my love and the love of countless believers. Richard Rolle of England, the fourteenth century hermit and mystic, who (unfortunately) sometimes seem to love his own love for Jesus at least as much as the object of his love, nevertheless often expresses my sentiments. I quote from Clifton Wolters’ translation in The Fire of Love (Penguin Classics):

O honeyed flame, sweeter than all sweet, delightful beyond all creation!
My God, my Love, surge over me, pierce me by your love, wound me with your beauty.
Surge over me, I say, who am longing for your comfort.
Reveal your healing medicine to your poor lover.
See, my one desire is for you; it is you my heart is seeking.
My soul pants for you; my whole being is athirst for you.

The following prayer of his expresses my own bursting:

I only ask you, Lord Jesus,
to develop in me, your lover,
an immeasurable urge towards you,
an affection that is unbounded,
a longing that is unrestrained,
a fervor that throws discretion to the winds!

The more worthwhile our love for you,
all the more pressing does it become.
Reason cannot hold it in check,
fear does not make it tremble,
wise judgment does not temper it.

I also look to those lovers of Jesus whose love was less self-conscious. Watchman Nee inspired me since I was fourteen years old and the expression of his spirituality has inspired countless others. The hymns he wrote express his tender yet relentless longing for Jesus. He more than anyone else welded my love of Jesus to the Scriptures, and brought the Scriptures to life for me in this regard—they became life-giving. It was from the fruit of his apostolic labor that I came to know the blessedness of worshiping Jesus at the Lord’s Table, where in the assembly my love grew and blossomed. Not discounting this, for I will always be grateful for it, it was nevertheless St. Francis of Assisi and St. Clare who captured my attention since childhood and still their fire grows. Their lives—their hearts!—continue to be the canon of my heart. They saw even more clearly than Watchman (if that is possible), that God’s love comes to us (and to the creation) in the poverty of the Incarnation and the Cross, and our love for God is to be found in a corresponding poverty of spirit in us. True love for others (all others, and even for the creation) wells up from this; it cannot be restrained.

So in the morning when I pray in the Daily Office (I follow the Church of England’s Common Worship), “As we rejoice in the gift of this new day, so may the light of your presence, O God, set our hearts on fire with love for you,” this is my invocation of the Holy Spirit; for this love inside my heart is her love for the Father and the Son, who shares with us the Son’s love for the Father and the Father’s for the Son. We do not put it there; we can neither generate nor manufacture it: it is her gift. And such love can know no limit. It is the source of our being, the meaning of our existence, and the glory toward which we tend. How can we not welcome it? Indeed, it is irresistible.

I was fifteen years old—it was in August of the year 1972—when I was first lured to the Song of Songs by a young man from Paterson, New Jersey, Donald Talford. He was sharing with a group of us bicyclists in the house where we were crashing in Oak Bluffs, Martha’s Vineyard, from chapters 1 and 2 of the Song of Songs. Afterwards he directed me to the little book by Watchman Nee, The Song of Songs, translated by Daniel Smith and Elizabeth K. Mei from notes taken at a Bible study in 1934 and first published in Chungking, China, in 1945. It was based on An Outline of the Song of Songs by C. A. Coates of the Plymouth Brethren. Nee’s book blew me away and I was hooked on the Song from then on. It is interesting that years later, when I was working on my doctorate in Patristics at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York, my adviser (and inspiration) was my beloved professor Richard A. Norris, Jr. Among other things, he devoted the later part of his life to studying the interpretation of the Song in the early and medieval church. I own two of his books on this subject: The Song of Songs: Interpreted by Early Christian and Medieval Commentators (the inaugural volume of The Church’s Bible series, published by W. B. Eerdmans Publishing in 2003), of which he was the translator and editor, and Gregory of Nyssa: Homilies on the Song of Songs (number 13 in The Writings from the Greco-Roman World series, published by the Society of Biblical Literature in 2012), of which he provided the translation, introduction and notes. Along with the Psalms and the Gospels, the Song of Songs was considered the scriptural writing that most deeply touched on the Church’s and the believer’s relation to God in Christ. It was under Professor Norris’ tutelage that I came to understand the doctrine of the Trinity and the Incarnation. (It was only after my work at Union that I came to understand the doctrine of the resurrection with the help of someone I never met, Kerry S. Robichaux, a regular contributor to Affirmation & Critique: A Journal of Christian Thought, published by Living Stream Publishers in Anaheim, California.) I mention all this in order to say that the Song of Songs has accompanied me all my life as the song of my relationship to Jesus.

As an aside, the outline of the Song that I have come to prefer most (at least for the past couple of decades) is the one that Michael D. Goulder came up with and published in 1986 in “The Song of Fourteen Songs,” printed in Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, Supplement Series 36 (Department of Biblical Studies, The University of Sheffield, England). He maintains the tradition that the love in the Song progresses, a perspective with which I concur. May our love speedily make progress!

I belong to my love, and his desire is for me. “Come, my love, let us go to the country. At night we can sleep in the henna, and in the early morning go the vineyards. We can see if the vines are budding, if their blossoms are out, and if the pomegranate trees are in flower. Then I will give you the gift of my love. The mandrakes are giving forth their fragrance, the most exquisite fruits are at our doors, new ones as well as old: these, my love, I have made ready for you.

“I wish you were my brother, nursed at my mother’s breasts! I would find you and kiss you in the street, and no one would think ill of me. I would lead you, and take you into my mother’s house. Then I would have you drink my spiced wine, the juice of my pomegranates (you would show me how).”

His left arm will be under my head, and his right will enfold me.

“You who dwell in the gardens, my companions listen for your voice; let me hear it.
Haste away, my love, [to me,] and be like a gazelle or a young stag on the spice-laden mountains.”

(Song of Solomon 7:11—8:3, 13-14)