O the deep, deep love of Jesus
with EBENEZER (TÔN-Y-BOTEL)
Text: Origins. This hymn by Samuel Trevor Francis (1834–1925) was first published in Whence-Whither and Other Poems (London: Morgan & Scott, 1898 | Fig. 1), in eight stanzas of eight lines, without music. In his preface, he included this explanation:
Many of these poems have appeared in various religious and semi-religious papers and magazines. The author has collected them together and with others which have never before seen the light, launches them forth on their message. If he has touched upon the sorrows and the dark side of human life, he has endeavoured to show how light, hope, and joy may be found. He trusts that those poems that are hymn-like will not be altered to suit the whims or theology of hymn-book compilers. This book is not written in the interests of any sect, denomination, or party, but for all who “love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity and truth.”
Unfortunately, he did not indicate whether “O the deep, deep love of Jesus” had been previously printed elsewhere, or whether it was one of those “which have never before seen the light.” No previous printing of the hymn is known.
Hymnological sources often credit the hymn’s expanded audience and its reduced form to its appearance in The Song Companion to the Scriptures (1911), where it had been reduced to three stanzas, but the same reduction had appeared nine years earlier in the New and Enlarged Edition of Hymns of Consecration and Faith (London: Marshall Brothers, 1902 | Fig. 2), edited by Isabella (Mrs. Evan) Hopkins, where it was set to a tune called EVENING BLESSING by H.J.E. Holmes.
The complete hymn text also appeared in Francis’ posthumous collection, O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus and Other Sacred Poems (1926). An altered version of the text, for the purpose of updating the language, appeared in Hymns for Today’s Church (1982). This was repeated in some other collections, including the Irish Church Hymnal (2000).
Text: Analysis. The deep love described in the first line of every stanza is reflected well in Ephesians 3:17-19:
And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God (NIV).
The hymn is rich in oceanic language, a suitable image for the concepts of depth and size, but the metaphor also describes movement, direction: “rolling … underneath me, all around me, is the current of thy love.” In the second stanza, the author sees the manifestation of this love in the sacrificial death of Christ. The proper response to this love is to “spread his praise from shore to shore.” The author is also amazed how such love could be offered to one who is “polluted, sinful, wretched.” This idea is echoed in Romans 5:8, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (ESV). The last four stanzas point upward to heavenly realms, where worshipers will be “standing by His side.” The “great inheritance” in stanza six is described in Ephesians 1. The final stanza refers to the Bridegroom and his “spotless bride,” another concept found in Ephesians (5:25-27).
Tune 1. This hymn is most commonly set to EBENEZER by Thomas John (T.J.) Williams (1869–1944), first published in the periodical Yr Athraw (‘The Teacher’), vol. 71 (Llangollen: 1897), printed in Tonic Sol-Fa notation, which was common at the time (similar to how shape-note books had been common in the U.S.). EBENEZER is said to have been named after Ebenezer Chapel in Rhos, Wales, where Williams worshiped.
A couple of years later, Williams incorporated this tune into an anthem, “Goleu yn y Glyn” (“Light in the valley”) (Caernarfon: W. Gwenlyn Evans, ca. 1899 | Fig. 4). The EBENEZER melody begins on page 3.
The tune’s first appearance in a hymnal was in The Baptist Book of Praise (Wales: Baptist Book of Praise Committee, 1900 | Fig. 5), where it was set to the hymn “With my pilgrim staff I wander” by William Edwards. Here the tune was renamed ASSURANCE to avoid duplicating the name EBENEZER assigned to another tune (No. 131).
The connection between Francis’ text and Williams’ tune was made in The Song Companion to the Scriptures (London: Morgan and Scott, 1911 | Fig. 6), using the same three-stanza reduction as in Hymns of Consecration and Faith (see Fig. 2 above).
Some hymnals use a harmonization of EBENEZER prepared by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958) for The English Hymnal (1906), No. 108.
Early in the tune’s history, it became associated with a curious story, apparently in jest, about a man finding the tune inside a bottle, washed up on a beach in Wales, thus the tune is sometimes called TÔN-Y-BOTEL (“Tune in a bottle”).
W. Gwenlyn Evans of Caernarfon, Wales, had somehow claimed the copyright for the tune (see how his name appears in Fig. 6). An account of his involvement was cited in James T. Lightwood’s Music of the Methodist Hymn-Book (1935), p. 359:
I first heard it in Manchester, in October. There were hundreds of Welshmen there, and they struck up the quaint tune, with which I was very much struck at the time. Then I came home and heard people humming the tune, little boys in the street whistling it, and I thought it would take, so I made a search for the author. After some delay I discovered that the tune had been composed as part of an anthem by Mr. T.J. Williams, Rhos, Pontardawe, in the Swansea Valley. The anthem was known as “Goleu yn y Glyn” (“Light in the valley”). I secured and copyrighted it.
Hymnologist Erik Routley praised the tune in his assessment for the Companion to Congregational Praise (1953), p. 208:
This is one of the noblest and most striking examples of modern Welsh hymnody. It is written on a very restricted compass and in a very economical musical form, but it has an effect of accumulating grandeur that is almost hypnotic when sung by a large gathering. This is largely due to the fact that the whole tune grows out of the phrase in the first bar, which itself employs a rhythm that is virtually twelve crotchets [quarters] to the bar. The majestic stride of the tune thus produced may be compared, we think, not improperly with the same effect of 12/8 rhythm achieved by Bach in the Sanctus of the Mass in B minor; that is triumphant, whereas this is sombre, but the source of the effect is the same.
Tune 2. One modern, alternative tune with some success is the one by Bob Kauflin, written in 2008 and recorded on the album Together for the Gospel Live (2008), with other versions appearing on the Sovereign Grace Music albums Next 2009 (recorded live in Baltimore, Maryland), and Come Ye Weary Saints (2010). The score was published on the Sovereign Grace Music website. Kauflin offered this account of the composition:
I had sung this song in various contexts and wondered about the fittingness of the music for the lyrics. The commonly used tune emphasized the depth and sobriety of the love of Jesus, the not so much the joy and sweetness. It also didn’t spend much time on the way we most clearly know the love of Jesus, which is through his substitutionary death. So one day in my devotions I wrote a new melody and added more specific references to the atonement.
by CHRIS FENNER
for Hymnology Archive
30 May 2019
Correspondence from Bob Kauflin, 20 May 2019.
James T. Lightwood, “Ebenezer,” The Music of the Methodist Hymn-Book (London: The Epworth Press, 1935), pp. 358-360.
Erik Routley, “Ebenezer (Ton-y-Botel),” Companion to Congregational Praise (London: Independent Press, 1953), p. 208.
Harry Eskew, “O the deep, deep love of Jesus,” Handbook to the Baptist Hymnal (Nashville: Convention Press, 1992), pp. 210-211.
Edward Darling & Donald Davison, “O the deep, deep love of Jesus,” Companion to Church Hymnal (Dublin, Columba Press, 2005), pp. 178-179.
Christopher M. Idle, “O the deep, deep love of Jesus,” Exploring Praise! vol. 1 (Darlington: Praise Trust, 2006), pp. 238-239.
“Oh the deep, deep love,” Sovereign Grace Music:
“O the deep, deep love of Jesus,” Indelible Grace Hymn Book:
“O the deep, deep love of Jesus,” Hymnary.org: