The hymn form of worship music is absolutely irreplaceable because it just lends itself to breadth, depth, and poetry. Such is the case with today’s worship song called “My Song Is Love Unknown.” The beauty and detail with which Samuel Crossman wrote in 1664 concerning our Savior is staggering. When sung to John Ireland’s meditative melodic dirge from 1918, the song moves the heart to contemplate the bittersweet reality that Jesus suffered for us—bitter in that we’re grieved it was our sin for which He suffered; sweet in that by His suffering, we who trust in Him are saved from the wrath of God our sin deserves.
I first sung this song at the Together for the Gospel conference this year and was blown away by it. Although the example of the song I have for you below from Wells Cathedral Choir in England is very high church (and omits the 4th and 6th verses), it could certainly be more popularized for our typical churches. I pray that you’ll consider the beauty of the words and be moved by the melody!
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Seven stanzas capture the wonder of Jesus’ incarnation and substitutionary death. Verse 1 focuses on the fact that Jesus’ love for us is otherwise unknown in the world, capturing the wonder that He showed love to unlovely mankind for the purpose of making us lovely.
Verse 2 points to the deity and preexistence of Christ who left His heavenly throne to take on flesh to spend His life for those that would condemn Him.
Verse 3 focuses on the irony of Jesus’ triumphal entry—with the crowds shouting praises and laying their coats in the road for Jesus to ride over—being followed by the same crowds a few days later shouting “Crucify him!” Such fickleness is the fallen human heart.
Verse 4 extols Jesus’ innocence, pointing to the fact that He was the last person who deserved to die.
Verse 5 reflects that shameful decision made by the crowd when Pontius Pilate asked the crowd to choose between the release of the murderer Barabbas or Jesus. It was a ploy by Pilate to release Jesus whom he found no fault in, thinking that they’d surely choose Jesus over Barabbas. His ploy failed, and the crowd cried “Give us Barabbas!”
Verse 6 illustrates the earthly lowliness of Jesus who was basically homeless and even had to borrow a tomb upon His death.
Finally, verse 7 ends in responding with praise to our suffering king. May we spend all of our days in His sweet praise!
UPDATE: If the example of the song above is too high church for you, then here are two other examples:
1) Robin Mark performs a great version of “My Song is Love Unknown” to Ireland’s tune, but with alternate lyrics: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TK1LNz-rIOI.
2) Fernando Ortega performs a moving version of “My Song is Love Unknown” set to John Edwards’ “Rhosymedre” tune from 1840: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lbsj7tBQjdk. My friend Todd Gray reminded me of this one, calling it “more listener friendly.” It is really good as well!