Music is the universal language of mankind. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Frederick W. Faber was born at Calverley Vicarage, Yorkshire in 1814 and was raised in the Church of England. He studied at Oxford and took his Holy Orders in 1837, being assigned as Rector of Elton, Huntingdonshire. Growing up in the church, Faber loved to sing the contemporary hymns being written by such creative writers such as John Newton, William Cowper, and, of course, the Wesley brothers.
Brought up as a strict Calvinist, Faber eventually softened some of his theological views, becoming a close friend of John Henry Newman and other leaders in the Oxford movement. Matthew Bridges (the hymn-writer we discussed when looking at Crown Him With Many Crowns) was another member of the Oxford group, all of whom abandoned their leadership roles within the Church of England, to pursue new, creative ways of pastoring within the Catholic Church, which at the time (mid-1800’s), was encouraging young leaders to experiment with fresh new approaches to doing ministry in the changing culture of their times.
Frederick Faber joined the Catholic Church in 1845 and decided that God was asking him to join with eight other men in forming a new Order in Birmingham, England, a community of men living under the common name, Brothers of the Will of God. In 1847, Faber’s friend, John Henry Newman, came to Birmingham and opened a similar Order he called the Oratory (in Latin, oratorium: a place of prayer), and immediately, Faber and his team agreed to join with Newman in this new work God seemed to be doing in their city.
As the Order grew, Newman eventually asked Father Faber to take a few of the brothers and relocate to London in order to establish a new Oratory there. Faber stepped out in faith, finding a former whiskey shop where the team opened a new Oratory (Place of Prayer) to the public in 1849. The ministry flourished and in 1854, the Oratory moved to its permanent location on Brompton Road, where it still stands today!
It was in London, as Faber and his team were ministering with the street people of the day, when the old hymns of Wesley, Newton, and Cowper began playing over and over in Faber’s head. He sorely missed the hymns that he had grown up with and decided that the only way to address this shortage of people’s hymns within his Catholic setting was to write some of his own!
The fruit of his labor brought over 150 hymns over the next nine years (Faber died in 1863), with today’s hymn, There’s A Wideness In God’s Mercy, representing one of his very best. Written in 1854, the same year the London Oratory moved into its new home on Brompton Road, Faber’s hymn was first published as Come to Jesus and had eight stanzas. Later it was expanded to thirteen stanzas, but for the sake of space here today, here’s the six that are most often sung in church settings today:
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in His justice,
Which is more than liberty.
There is welcome for the sinner,
And more graces for the good;
There is mercy with the Savior;
There is healing in His blood.
There is no place where earth’s sorrows,
Are more felt than in heaven;
There is no place where earth’s failings,
Have such kind judgment given.
There is plentiful redemption,
In the blood that has been shed;
There is joy for all the members,
In the sorrows of the Head.
For the love of God is broader,
Than the measure of man’s mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.
If our love were but more faithful,
We should take Him at His word;
And our life would be thanksgiving,
For the goodness of the Lord.
My prayer: Father God, regardless of my church traditions or denominational settings, may I always be fully aware that the universal message of God’s love and mercy is needed wherever I go. Fill me with Your mercy and send me in Your love. For Your name’s sake. Amen.
My questions to ponder: What denominational walls or church traditions need to come down so that the message and ministry of God’s love and mercy can be taken to the masses? Am I doing anything through empty traditions that might be blocking such a breakthrough?
So what is God speaking to you today as we ponder together 30 Great Hymns of Faith?
Between now and Easter 2016, we will be sharing with you this blog series we call Thirty Great Hymns of Faith. In order to keep all 34 blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our Thirty Great Hymns of Faith home page for ease of use. ENJOY!
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