Thee will I love, my Strength, my Tower;
Thee will I love, my Joy, my Crown;
Thee will I love with all my power,
in all Thy works, and Thee alone.
Thee will I love till Thy pure fire
fill my whole soul with chaste desire.

Ah, why did I so late Thee know–
Thee, lovelier than the sons of men?
Ah, why did I no sooner go
to Thee, the only ease in pain?
Ashamed, I sigh, and inly mourn
that I so late to Thee did turn.

In darkness willingly I strayed;
I sought Thee, yet from Thee I roved.
Far wide my wandering thoughts were spread–
Thy creatures more than Thee I loved;
and now if more at length I see,
’tis through Thy light and comes from Thee.

I thank Thee, uncreated Sun,
that Thy bright beams on me have shined;
I thank Thee, who hast overthrown
my foes and healed my wounded mind;
I thank Thee, whose enlivening voice
bids my freed heart in Thee rejoice.

Thee will I love, my Joy, my Crown;
Thee will I love, my Lord, my God;
Thee will I love beneath Thy frown
or smile, Thy scepter or Thy rod;
What though my flesh and heart decay?
Thee shall I love in endless day!

–Johann Scheffler, 1657 (Ich will dich lie­ben, meine Stärke); trans­. John Wesley, 1739

I think of this as a hymn of aspiration; that is, it expresses a desire to grow in our love and obedience to God (sanctification) and offers some reflections on the challenges of discipleship. One of those challenges, of course, is our own hearts. We seek other things, even if we believe that knowing Christ is our purpose for existence and our greatest joy.

But Wesley reminds us that the desire to grow in godliness is itself a gift from God. God is the one pursuing; He is the Great Initiator. He calls us to himself to find joy in Jesus, and in this life he begins the process of healing some of sin’s ravages on our lives.

This text is poetic and devotional in nature, more introspective and personal than systematic or objective. But it gives voice to a common Christian struggle, and does so in a way that reminds us of truth and points us back to the person of Christ, the fear of the Lord, and the love of God. I think there’s a place for devotional Christian hymnody, even if you categorically avoid them in corporate worship because of their most common flaws (namely, sentimentalism, bad theology, and borrowing language from romantic relationships). I’d rank Wesley’s hymn with the best of its kind, though, right up there with My Song is Love Unknown, or Be Thou My Vision.

Incidentally, one of my favorite choral anthems is built from three of the above stanzas.

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