“Let us all Thy grace receive”

If there’s anything worse than a linguistic rabbit hole, it’s a theological rabbit hole.

At choir practice on Thursday night, we rehearsed an anthem on the famous hymn Love divine, all loves excelling by Charles Wesley. For the first time, I noticed the ambiguity in the line:

Let us all Thy grace receive.

Is that:

(Let) (us all) (Thy grace) (receive)

or

(Let) (us) (all Thy grace) (receive)

?

Linguistically, there’s no way to decide in this case. Both are grammatical and usual/natural. In both, the word all can be omitted, perhaps with a change of emphasis but not of basic meaning. To the extent that I’d ever thought about it, I had always assumed the first reading.

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“I have good news and bad news …”

Sunday’s gospel reading was Matthew 1:18-25 (Saint Joseph’s dream), and two of the hymns, and the preacher, referred to Luke 1:26-38 (the Announcement). The unnamed angel in the first and Gabriel in the second certainly put the best news first (indeed only): ‘he will save his people from their sins’ and ‘He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High …’. Well, which prospective parents wouldn’t accept that kind of fore-telling? But the angels leave out the bad news: oh, by the way, your son will suffer misunderstanding, opposition, rejection, betrayal and a cruciating death. Which prospective parents would accept that?

(spoiler alert for the movie Arrival)
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