Frederick Lehman was born in Germany in 1917 and immigrated to the United States with his family when he was four. It was in the midst of a crabapple orchard in Iowa that Lehman came to saving faith in Christ, when he was eleven years old. Later in life he pursued a calling to the ministry and studied to become a pastor at Northwestern College in Illinois. Lehman served as the pastor of a few churches in the Midwest and also pursued writing hymns, publishing five songbooks full of his compositions.
Eventually, Lehman moved to Pasadena, California, where he worked for a citrus packing company. It was here that a new song began taking shape in his mind concerning the vastness of God’s love. His daughter, Claudia joined him in writing and composing two verses and a chorus, but they felt it was incomplete as it was the norm for hymns of the day to have three stanzas, (a reflection of the trinity). While Lehman was unable to come up with a verse to complete the song on his own, he was aided by a very old piece of Hebrew poetry that he’d heard about in a sermon once before. Akdamut Millan is an 11th century verse that was written by Rabbi Meir Ben Isaac Nehorai (1020-1096) – a cantor, or “synagogue singer,” from Germany. The second stanza of Akdamut Millan appears this way in the Jewish Prayer Book:
“At God’s command is infinite power, which words cannot define.
Were all the skies parchment, and all the reeds pens, and all the oceans ink,
And all who dwell on earth scribes, God’s grandeur could not be told.”
*Note: As there is similar poetry found in the Quaran (31:27), the origin of these words is unclear.
Interestingly, Lehman did not know about this Rabbi and Akdamut Millan. The sermon he’d heard talked about how these lines had been found penciled on the wall of a patient’s room in a German insane asylum after he had been carried to his grave. The unidentified patient had adapted the words of the Hebrew poem, and it seems he had done so in the exact same theme and rhythm as Lehman’s unfinished hymn. His adaptation read:
“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, though stretched from sky to sky.”
Lehman and his daughter inserted these words into the hymn to complete its message of praise for God’s great love toward us sinners. How appropriate that its praise was so similarly echoed by those who came before. After all, even if all who dwell on earth were scribes, God’s love and grandeur still could not be told…
Frederick Lehman lived the rest of his life in California, continuing to write songs of praise to his Lord. He died in 1953. What a privilege we have in carrying on his legacy of reveling in the incomprehensible love of God this month. His love, like no other, is steadfast and never ceasing. Let’s commit these lines to memory with our families and praise God for His enduring love.
You may or may not be familiar with this hymn (it’s a new one to us too!). Either way, we invite you to spend this month meditating on its truths. To get you started, we’ve provided free printables for downloading and loads of fresh versions on our YouTube channel that you can sing along with!
If you are new to this community, welcome! It is a great time to join in and make family worship a priority if you haven’t already. You are encouraged to gather up your families, for just a few minutes each day, to sing, discuss and memorize this hymn (hopefully in addition to reading the Scriptures and prayer) whether it is first thing in the morning, or around the dinner table or before bedtime – whatever works best for your family. As always, if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask! God bless you all this month as you worship together as a family! 💛, April