Take away the love of sinning

“Take away the loving of sinning”

That line always stood out and stuck in my head as a teen. It comes from the second verse of Charles Wesley’s famous hymn, “Love divine, all loves excelling”. I think I was particularly struck by its honesty. It was strange to think that all the smart, suit-wearing men, and prim, proper women surrounding me at church were people who loved sinning! But, at the same time, it encouraged me to hear us all long for “Love divine” to rip that sinful love out of our hearts.

I think it’s a particularly helpful line for us at the moment: 

a) It reminds us that life is filled with love for unlovely things. The slogan: “Love is love” is lazy, nonsense. No one holding such a sign believes loving Hitler, and loving Martin Luther King are moral equivalents. Jesus explains that “people loved the darkness rather than the light” (John 3:19). With a “conversion therapy” ban in the pipeline, the government wants to give a particular sin a very special form of legal protection. There’s to be no questioning that sin, or naming that sin as sin. In fact, in an act of ingenuous moral contortion, discouraging love for that “sin” is now branded “unethical” and “abhorrent”!? Every Christian congregation that sincerely sings that line is protecting itself from the pernicious “love is love” trope. 

b) It locates the heart as the battleground for Christian growth. Jesus hasn’t come wearing Marigolds to just clean up the messy consequences of sin, like a mum constantly cleaning up after her toddler, as he pulls out more and more toys. Jesus comes with a knife to plunge into our hearts; he hands us a shovel and spade for our own burial, so that a new man can be raised (Col 2:11-12). Some versions of Christianity basically say: “I love to sin, Jesus loves to forgive; that makes for a great relationship!”. But this line keeps twisting Jesus’ knife deeper into our hearts, to cut out our distorted love to make room for the love of Christ.

c) It can help us tackle forms of “Christian perfectionism”, which regularly reappear in church history. This is the idea of a sudden spiritual “breakthrough”, which leaves our sin as something dead and buried. The Wesleys themselves indulged in it; you could argue there are hints of it in this hymn itself. But the value of this line is that we sing it all the way to glory. The end of our love affair with sin doesn’t happen in one, sudden moment. This divine “take away” is a long, drawn-out goodbye that only finishes at death. We love the idea of spiritual short-cuts. We love the idea that holiness involves a technique. If there was a daily sanctification pill we could take, it’d be a huge hit. But instead, this line is a prayer the 80-year old saint needs to sing as heartily as the freshly-converted pagan. 

Yes, Love divine, “Take away the loving of sinning”!