History of Hymns: “O Come and Dwell in Me”
By Corrie Hermans
“O Come and Dwell in Me” by Charles Wesley;
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 388.
O come and dwell in me,
Spirit of power within,
and bring the glorious liberty
from sorrow, fear, and sin.
The presence of the Holy Spirit is an important part of the Christian life. The Spirit is working within our hearts, providing spiritual gifts within our lives, and revealing truth to us. Charles Wesley’s (1707-1788) hymn “O Come And Dwell In Me” revolves around the importance of the Holy Spirit. We as humans have sinned, and we need the Spirit within our lives to make us pure again and to free us “from sorrow, fear, and sin.”
A passage from 2 Corinthians 3:17 provides the basis for the first stanza: “Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” (KJV) This biblical passage places emphasis on the word “is.” It is important to note that the Spirit of the Lord is required for liberty; liberty exists when the Spirit is present. For the complete text, see http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/o/c/ocadwell.htm.
The second half of this stanza is unfortunately left out of modern publications of “O Come And Dwell In Me.”
The seed of sin’s disease,
Spirit of health, remove,
Spirit of finished holiness,
Spirit of perfect love.
This stanza begins with sin and moves towards perfection at the conclusion. The “seed of sin” is a metaphor for the sinful seed of Adam, which spread to all humanity after the fall. The repetition of “Spirit” at the start of three successive lines effectively emphasizes the importance of the Spirit to come and remove sin from our lives. To claim the effects of the fall as a disease implies that there is a cure for us, and this cure can be found through God, and the presence of the Holy Spirit in our life. “The Spirit of perfect love” reminds us that we are not, nor can we be perfect. Nothing on earth is perfect but God. We are, however, moving towards perfection through the work of the Spirit.
The second stanza quotes 2 Corinthians 5:17: “When old things shall be passed away and all things new become.” The poet is asking the Spirit to quickly bring the day when all sin will be removed from one’s life. Singers are invoking the Spirit to erase the original sin from their soul, to enter their soul and consume it entirely.
The third stanza asks God for affirmation that everything one is doing in their life is right. Inspired by Hebrews 6:5-6, Charles Wesley denotes the importance of living according to God’s word and to live in a way that is pleasing to God: “And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.” (KJV)
The final line of the hymn reminds singers that they have “eternal bliss” waiting for them, and their life will one day translate to this eternal resting place, where Christian perfection is achieved, and we are fully made in Christ’s image. However, one must ask the Holy Spirit to be ever present in their life to achieve this eternal bliss.
Charles Wesley is possibly the greatest hymn writer in the English language. Having written nearly 9,000 hymns and poems, many of which are among the most well known hymns of all time, he averaged around one hundred and eighty hymns a year. Charles Wesley used his hymns to teach theology to the members of the Society, and eventually helped create the foundations for Methodism alongside his brother John Wesley (1703-1791).
“O Come and Dwell in Me” is a hymn compiled of three single-stanza hymns. All three of the stanzas were written by Charles Wesley and published in Short Hymns on Select Passages of the Holy Scriptures (1762). John Wesley compiled the three single stanza hymns into one, and published it in their most important hymnal, A collection of hymns, for the use of the people called Methodists (1780).
John Wesley made few alterations to Charles’ original text. A line that originally read, “When old things shall be done away” was changed to “passed away.” Which is closer to the original KJV. The final stanza now reads “according to thy will and word,” however the text originally said “mind and word.” Removing the word mind removes a human attribute, and alludes to the Lords Prayer “thy will be done.” “I seek no higher state” was the original text that was changed to “I ask no higher state.” Asking implies that we cannot do things on our own, we cannot seek eternal bliss on our own, and we must ask God for it.
The tune used most commonly to accompany this hymn is ST. MICHAEL that originally comes from the Genevan Psalter (1543) and was adapted by William Crotch (1775-1847). While this hymn only appears in the lectionary once a year it should be sung more often. Acknowledging the presence of the Holy Spirit is extremely important in worship, offering singers the opportunity to invoke the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
Corrie Hermans is a Master of Sacred Music student at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University. She studies hymnology with Dr. C. Michael Hawn.