Continuing along with Then Sings My Soul: The Hymns of My Youth (I’m not out of hymns quite yet), we come to a selection written and composed by Haldor Lillenas in 1918. I have to say it’s pretty upbeat for church in 1918, perhaps it was scandalous at the time. Its bouncy tempo and echoes make it fun to sing, and Lillenas cautioned in his autobiography against distorting the words of the hymn by performing it at too rapid a tempo.
Haldor Lillenas was born November 19, 1885 at Stord Island in Norway, and emigrated as a young child with his family to America. He studied at Bible College in Los Angeles and married Bertha Mae Wilson, a songwriter like himself. His musical training came though correspondence courses, which strikes me as an odd way to study music, of all things. Lillenas traveled as an evangelist before pastoring several churches in the Church of the Nazarene from 1914-1924. Over his lifetime he wrote some 4,000 hymns (including some under pseduonyms), and founded a publishing house that eventually became the music division of the Nazarene Publishing House. He died August 18, 1959 in Aspen, Colorado and was at Floral Hills Cemetery in Kansas City, Missouri.
The hymn is of course not just a happy tune, but a sound theological work, but a work of theological encouragement. I found an online version of the lyrics that include the echoes, which is the way I remember singing it… I just had to add the extra “for even me”. I don’t actually recall the verses nearly so well as the chorus.
Wonderful Grace of Jesus
Wonderful Grace of Jesus, greater than all my sin;
How shall my tongue describe it,
Where shall its praise begin?
Taking away my burden, setting my spirit free;
O the Wonderful Grace of Jesus reaches me!
(men) Wonderful the matchless Grace of Jesus,
(women echo) the matchless Grace of Jesus,
(men) Deeper than the mighty rolling sea;
(women echo) the rolling sea;
(women) Wonderful Grace, all sufficient for me, for even me
(men echo) Higher than the mountain, sparkling like a fountain,
All sufficient Grace for even me.
(for even me)
(all) Broader than the scope of my transgressions,
(men) sing it!
(all) Greater far than all my sin and shame
(men echo) my sin and shame,
(all) O magnify the precious name of Jesus,
PRAISE HIS NAME!
Wonderful Grace of Jesus, reaching to all the lost;
By it I have been pardoned, saved to the uttermost.
Chains have been torn asunder, giving me liberty;
O the Wonderful Grace of Jesus, reaches me!
Wonderful Grace of Jesus, reaching the most defiled;
By its transforming power,
Making me God’s dear child,
Purchasing peace and Heaven, for all eternity;
And the Wonderful Grace of Jesus, reaches me!
This was one of my favorites from early discipleship days in non-denominational Bible-teaching churches. Wonderful to see it here and hear it in my heart again, with full group of friends singing it at church, including all the echoes! And we never did sing it toooo fast so it transmogrified from hymn to a ho-down …