Today’s hymn from Sing Praise is “Here is love, vast as the ocean” by William Rees to a tune by Robert Lowry. I first came across this some years ago, and was surprised to find that both words and music are from the 19th century as they sound much more recent to me. The language seems more imaginative than most Victorian hymns, and the imagery is more striking than I would expect of its time.
Maybe that’s because the composer was thoroughly Welsh, a nation known for their love of poetry and song. A biography of Rees describes him as a largely self-taught shepherd and farmer, Welsh being his first language, becoming a preacher aged 27, later a minister in churches in North Wales and Liverpool. It’s interesting how many of God’s great servants have been shepherds, including Moses and King David. The solitude of their trade and closeness to the natural world, it seems, lends itself to being open to God’s leading.
Only two verses of the hymn are given in this book, which (to continue a point made in yesterday’s post) are corporate praise from the congregation. But there are more. I found a setting online with two more verses: https://hymnary.org/media/fetch/111969 which are a personal response, and altogether this four-verse version is more complete.
The overall impression one gets from these words is of God’s intention for us to receive his grace, not grudgingly given or in small measure, but as Jesus himself put it, as “good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over” (Luke 6:38, KJV). Ponder on these words: “love, vast as the ocean”, “a vast and gracious tide”, “grace and love like mighty rivers, poured incessant from above”. God’s grace once given is unstoppable. The last lines of the extended version linked above echo this theme in the singer’s response: “Of thy fullness thou art pouring thy great love and power on me; without measure, full and boundless, drawing out my heart to thee”.
Of course there was a cost to offering that grace, as any meditation on the Cross reminds us, as do words in the first verse of this hymn. “The Prince of Life, our ransom, shed for us his precious blood”. Other hymns for Holy Week will explore that in more depth, but for today we have this hymn for praise for the abundance of God’s saving grace.