I love the simplicity of this prayer, for that is what this particular hymn is: a prayer to our Father in Heaven. The soaring first lines acknowledges His greatness and goodness and our comparative insignificance:
O thou kind and gracious Father,
Reigning in the heav’ns above,
Look on us, thy humble children;
Fill us with thy holy love.
Fill us with thy holy love.
I leave that repetition because that is the phrase I’d like to address. The remaining two verses continue the prayer–we ask our Father to instruct us in how to better serve and revere Him, to resist temptation, to do His will–but it’s that “holy love” in the first verse which stands out to me.
It brings to my mind the word “charity”, which we generally (and sometimes glibly) define as “the pure love of Christ” (see Moroni 7:47). That preposition “of” is a tricky one; it holds a surprising number of different meanings, depending on context, for such a short word.
“The pure love of Christ” could mean “pure love from Christ”, i.e. the love he has for all mankind. This is the love that prompted him to offer himself as a sacrifice for our sins, to suffer beyond human capability, and to die that we might live again.
“The pure love of Christ” could also mean “pure love for Christ”, i.e. the love we have for our Savior because of his Atonement in our behalf.
“The pure love of Christ” also means–and this is one of the most common interpretations I come across–”pure love like Christ”, i.e. the love we have for our brothers and sisters in mortality. This is the love that prompts us to reach out in service and lift others in kindness.
And here’s how they all tie together:
- God loves us: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16
- Jesus Christ loves us: “And the world, because of their iniquity, shall judge him to be a thing of naught; wherefore they scourge him, and he suffereth it; and they smite him, and he suffereth it. Yea, they spit upon him, and he suffereth it, because of his loving kindness and his long-suffering towards the children of men.” 1 Nephi 19:9
- We love Jesus: “We love him, because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19
- Because we love him, we are obedient to him: “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” John 14:15
- He asks us to love one another: “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:12-13
So when we ask to be filled with God’s holy love, we are praying to be reminded of His love for us, to take advantage of the Atonement offered by His Son, and to have His help in loving those around us.
It is still a simple request, but sometimes a difficult one to fulfill. We are, after all, human. Sometimes we’re not especially loveable. Fortunately, God loves all of us and He answers all of our prayers. We can be filled with the pure love of Christ. We can learn to do His will, to love and serve His children, and to gain eventual salvation.
We simply have to ask for and accept His help.