“What Wondrous Love Is This” is an extended exclamation attesting to an intense awareness of the love of God expressed in the life and death of Jesus, causing the poet to erupt in a song of amazement. The text of “Wondrous Love,” a well-known folk hymn of the South, first appeared anonymously in six stanzas in Methodist hymnbook compiler Stith Mead’s A General Selection of the Newest and Most Admired Hymns and Spiritual Songs Now in Use (2nd ed., Lynchburg, VA, 1811, no. 121).
In the same year, this text was anonymously published in seven stanzas in Baptist compiler Stark Dupuy’s A Selection of Hymns and Spiritual Songs from the Best Authors (Frankfurt, KY, 1811, no. 198).
The earliest publication of the tune WONDROUS LOVE was in the appendix of the 1840 edition of Baptist compiler William Walker’s The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion (Spartanburg,SC; Flat Rock, NC; Philadelphia, PA). Walker attributed the tune to “Christopher.” He only provided the first stanza of the anonymous text. In 1867 Walker included all six stanzas as found in Mead in his tunebook, The Christian Harmony (Philadelphia, p. 359). He again attributed the tune to “Christopher,” but identified him as the arranger: “Arranged by James Christopher of Spartanburg, S. C. A very popular old southern tune.” are given in an essay in The Handbook to The Baptist Hymnal (Nashville: Convention Press, 1992, pp. 271-272) provides further details of the complicated early publishing history of this beloved southern folk hymn text and its tune.
Thus “Wondrous Love” existed in oral tradition for some time before it was arranged by James Christopher, whose identity has not yet been successfully traced. “What Wondrous Love Is This” has gained a firm place in recent hymnals and appears in numerous choral arrangements.
William Walker (1809-1875), was one of the best known publishers of shape-note tunebooks for teaching music in singing schools of the early South. Walker, an active Baptist from Spartanburg, was related by marriage to the Georgia singing school compiler of shape-note tunebooks, Benjamin Franklin White (1800-1879), whose Sacred Harp (1844) is the most widely used shape-note tunebook today. In addition to its practice in the United States, Sacred Harp singing has spread in recent decades to Canada, England, Scotland, Ireland, continental Europe, and several other non-English-speaking countries. Schedules of Sacred Harp singings are listed in the annual Directory and minutes. For the current edition, contact Judy Caudle, 1821 Gum Pond Road, Eva, AL 35621.
What Wondrous Love is This
What wondrous love is this, O my soul! O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul.
When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down,
When I was sinking down, sinking down,
When I was sinking down beneath God’s righteous frown,
Christ laid aside His crown for my soul, for my soul.
Christ laid aside his crown for my soul.
To God and to the Lamb, I will sing, I will sing!
To God and to the Lamb, I will sing!
To God and to the Lamb Who is the great “I Am;”
While millions join the theme, I will sing, I will sing;
While millions join the theme, I will sing.
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on;
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on.
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing and joyful be;
And through eternity, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on;
And through eternity, I’ll sing on.
(2008 Baptist Hymnal)