Dwight L. Moody was a well-known preacher of another generation. During the early days of his ministry, he was visiting some churches in England when he met a young and rather eager preacher name Henry Moorhouse. Moody, being very polite but completely insincere, invited Moorhouse to visit him some time. (You know how we say those things!) “If you should ever come to Chicago,” Moody said, “you can come and preach in my church.” He didn’t mean it, of course – and he never imagined that this young preacher would show up.
But not long after returning home, Moody received a telegram from Moorhouse: “I’ve just arrived in New York,” it said. “I’ll be in Chicago on Sunday.”
Moody was embarrassed. And, to make matters worse, he was scheduled to be out of town that Sunday. But since he had offered the invitation, he had to do something.
So he gathered together his church leaders and explained the situation. He said, “I’ll be out of town – but let this young Moorhouse preach one time. If he does a good job and the people like him, let him preach another time.”
Well, a week later, Moody returned from his trip. He asked his wife how the young Moorhouse had done. “Oh, he was wonderful,” she said. “He’s even better than you are! And, Dwight, he said that God loves sinners!”
“But that’s wrong,” Moody complained. “God doesn’t love sinners.”
“Well, you better go tell him yourself,” she said. “Because he is convinced that God loves sinners.”
“You mean he’s still here?” Moody asked.
“Yes,” she answered. “He’s been preaching every night since you left.”
That evening, Moody went to the meeting in his own church and heard Moorhouse preach on “The Unconditional Love of God.” It was his sixth consecutive night in Moody’s pulpit, and all six sermons were based on the same phrase from John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world.”
Moody was spellbound. He had been a preacher for years – but for the first time in his life, he was confronted with the enormity of God’s grace, the openness of God’s love. For the first time in his life, this preacher came to understand that God loves sinners! And Moody’s life and his ministry were never the same again. From this point on, Moody preached about God’s love for sinners.
Fifty years later, songwriter Frederick Lehman was moved by that same truth. He found this phrase in Scripture: “I have loved you with an everlasting love. . .” And he read and reread that phrase – and then he wrote these words:
The love of God is greater far than tongue or pen can tell,
It goes beyond the highest star and reaches to the lowest hell.
O love of God, rich and pure! How measureless and strong!
It shall for evermore endure the saints and angel’s song.
Interestingly, Lehman’s hymn has a verse that was written by somebody else – a man named Ben Isaac Nahorai. This little-known man had suffered from depression for years and was finally admitted to a mental health facility. And it was there that he discovered the immense love of God. After he died, these words (that later became part of Lehman’s hymn) were found written on the wall of his room:
Could we with ink the ocean fill and were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill and every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry,
Nor could the scroll contain the whole, tho’ stretched from sky to sky.