Measureless: The Story Behind the Song

Featuring Shelly E. Johnson Posted on January 22, 2016

One of my favorite aspects of church music is the history. Some Sundays we sing songs that were written a year ago or a decade ago. And some Sundays we sing songs that were written centuries ago.  We get to be part of this beautiful history of God's people singing God's story, generation after generation. 

There's an "old hymn" that I have been surprised to discover is largely unknown among many of my worship leader friends. It's called "The Love of God", and it was written in 1917 by a guy named Frederick Lehman.  Frederick was dealing with some major financial issues and found himself working in a packing factory in Pasadena, California, moving thirty tons of lemons and oranges a day.  Despite his circumstances, he was in awe of the goodness of God and began writing a song to describe the limitless love of God.  He wrote the lyrics and melody but was still in need of a third verse.  It was then he remembered these beautiful words he had heard quoted recently:

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.

Those lyrics were written on the wall of an insane asylum by an unknown inmate, but the words originally came from an eleventh-century Jewish poet from Germany named Meir Ben Isaac Nehorai.

As a songwriter who also happens to be a worship leader, I am passionate about writing songs that speak deep, profound truth.  It's been so sad to me that these beautiful lyrics have been somewhat forgotten, especially by my generation.  And I find it almost tragic that this hymn is rarely sung anymore in many churches.

That is the very thing that prompted me to write Measureless.  One day, my friend Sean and I were on video chat trying to figure out what kind of song we wanted to write. I had just been reading through these lyrics, and the word "Measureless" jumped off the page. I said to Sean, "What if we could breathe new life into this old hymn? We could change some of the old English to more common language that's easy to understand, write a fresh new melody that's easy for people to sing and maybe add a bridge or something.” That turned into the next two to three hours chasing ideas and crafting what would become Measureless.

I hope churches can really embrace this song because I believe its concept is timeless and life-changing. Many of us may find ourselves in a similar state of desperation as the patient in that asylum who wrote those lyrics on his cell wall. And what's so beautiful is that 100 years later, those words still ring with truth and application for our lives today.
 God’s love for us is absolutely unfathomable.  If we could truly grasp it, we would never even think of pursuing all the empty things this world has to offer.

I am so excited to finally share with you this brand new song, Measureless! Enjoy!

Original Hymn Text by Frederick Lehman (1917)
New Words & Music by Shelly E. Johnson & Sean Hill

Verse 1
The love of God is greater than
A tongue or pen could tell
It reaches to the highest star
Beyond the depths of hell

Verse 2
If we could fill the seas with ink
Make pages of the sky
To write the love of God above
Would drain the oceans dry

Oh, the love of God, How rich and pure
How boundless, oh how strong!
Forevermore it will endure
How measureless is His love

Verse 3
The sons of Adam lost in sin
By God’s great love were found
When on the cross, He fought for us
To win us Glory’s Crown

Oh, the love of God, How rich and pure
How boundless, oh how strong!
Forevermore it will endure
How measureless is His love

Beyond the highest of heights
Beneath the depths of the sea
Nothing on earth can contain
His endless love for me

Categories: Articles, Song Stories