Samuel Longfellow (1819-1892), the younger brother of the more famous poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, was educated at the Harvard Divinity School and served as a Unitarian pastor for many years. In his later years, he refused to be known as Unitarian, and simply labeled himself as theistic.
Longfellow either wrote or collaborated in the publication of three books of hymnody—A Book of Hymns and Tunes, A Book of Hymns for Public and Private Devotion, and Hymns of the Spirit. He wrote more than two dozen hymns, but this is the only one that is in general use today.
It seems odd that a person with Longfellow’s religious beliefs would be able to write a hymn that traditional Christians would feel comfortable singing, but that was the case with this hymn. He was able to do that, because he understood “Holy Spirit” one way and traditional Christians understand that title in a very different way.
Nevertheless, most Christians would find the words to this hymn quite comfortable to sing. The verses address the Holy Spirit as “Truth divine” (v. 1), “Love divine” (v. 2), “Power divine” (v. 3), and “Right divine” (v. 4). The hymn is a prayer for the Holy Spirit’s guidance. At the end, it holds out the promise of being “forever free” (v. 4).
(NOTE: Check the verses in your hymnal and make adjustments if the words are different.)
Copyright 2014, Richard Niell Donovan