I thought about saving this hymn for Holy Week, but I decided that since it’s been such an influential text – and tune – in my life, that you might want to have it for the remainder of this Lenten season.
My Song is Love Unknown, text by Samuel Crossman, is in and of itself a speaking of the Gospel story, a devotional masterpiece, and a humbling, challenging, moving portrait of the ‘love that surpasses knowledge’ of which Paul speaks in Ephesians. It has been set to several tunes, but my favorite and the one that seems the most evocative of the deepest parts of the text is Love Unknown, by John N. Ireland, written in 1918. A story is told about Geoffrey Shaw and John Ireland. When Shaw was editing the English Hymnal, shortly after WWI, he took John Ireland to lunch. Halfway through it he handed a slip of paper to him across the table and said, “I need a tune for this lovely poem.” It was Samuel Crossman’s poem, written in 1664. Ireland read it and re-read it, then wrote some music for a few minutes on the back of the menu and handed it back to him, “Here’s your tune.” It was the music to the hymn: “My Song Is Love Unknown”.
Must be nice.
Text is below, with thoughts between each verse.
My song is love unknown,
My Savior’s love to me;
Love to the loveless shown, That they might lovely be.
O who am I, that for my sake My Lord should take, frail flesh and die?
—–My song – my theme – all my glory – is this love that surpasses knowledge that we are still compelled to know more fully. Thus, there is no end to the depths we may plumb of the marvelous love of God, particularly as displayed in His Son. I stand amazed!
He came from His blest throne
Salvation to bestow;
But men made strange, and none the longed for Christ would know:
But O! my Friend, my Friend indeed, Who at my need His life did spend.
—a definition of ‘strange’ – [ predic. ] ( strange to/at/in) unaccustomed to or unfamiliar with : “I am strange to the work”. So, in this case, unfamiliarity led to contempt. Yet he spent – gave away – His life for you, for me.
Sometimes they strew His way,
And His sweet praises sing;
Resounding all the day Hosannas to their King:
Then “Crucify!” is all their breath, And for His death they thirst and cry.
They strew his way with, of course, palm branches, at the triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
Such manic people with their praises and curses! From the same tongue, in nearly the same breath. I stand
convicted. So familiar.
Why, what hath my Lord done?
What makes this rage and spite? He made the lame to run, He gave the blind their sight,
Sweet injuries! Yet they at these Themselves displease, and ’gainst Him rise.
Sweet is the injury that leads me to an encounter with the Living God. The blind – sighted. The deaf – hearing.
The lame – running. Physical, spiritual, emotional – healing. And yet, we condemn. This is the mystery of Holy Week. We are among the crowd.
They rise and needs will have
My dear Lord made away;
A murderer they saved, The Prince of life they slay,
Yet cheerful He to suffering goes, That He His foes from thence might free.
The Lord ‘made away’ – fulfilled – their needs… yet He is slain. Yet, to suffering He goes with
cheer – one of the synonyms for ‘cheerful’ is ‘agreeable’. Resolved. Resigned. Resplendent.
In life, no house, no home
My Lord on earth might have;
In death no friendly tomb But what a stranger gave.
What may I say? Heav’n was His home; But mine the tomb wherein He lay.
Our Lord Jesus was the ultimate sojourner. A wanderer from embryonic state – a visitor, literally.
And to the end, He remained a sojourner – with only a borrowed tomb. I suppose, since He wouldn’t
need it for long…. But yet, I think there’s a very appropriate summation of the story in this simple statement –
What may I say?
Here might I stay and sing,
No story so divine;
Never was love, dear King! Never was grief like Thine.
This is my Friend, in Whose sweet praise I all my days could gladly spend.
Oh, Lord, keep me near to the cross, where I am reminded – daily – to sing the song of Your suffering,
Your sacrifice, and Your glory. May this Lenten journey bear lasting fruit in my Alle—ia life – that
the glory songs of life would be more significant because of the experience of the cross songs of
difficult days. Keep me ever-faithful, dear Lord…
Born: 1623, Bradfield Monachorum, Suffolk, England.
Died: February 4, 1683, Bristol, England.
Buried: South aisle, cathedral church, Bristol, England.
Crossman earned a Bachelor of Divinity at Pembroke College, Cambridge, and was Prebendary of Bristol. After graduation, he ministered to both an Anglican congregation at All Saints, Sudbury, and to a Puritan congregation as well. Crossman sympathized with the Puritan cause, and attended the 1661 Savoy Conference, which attempted to update the Book of Common Prayer so both Puritans and Anglicans could use it. The conference failed, and the 1662 Act of Uniformity expelled some 2,000 ministers from the Church, including Crossman. He recanted shortly thereafter, and was ordained in 1665, becoming a royal chaplain. He received a post at Bristol in 1667, and became Dean of Bristol Cathedral in 1683.
There are several tune options for this text. My favorite is here.
A lovely more-folky tune is here, and you can finda great recording of it on ‘Night of Your Return’ by Fernando Ortega. He uses a more contemporary setting of the text, as well.