F.W. Faber 1814-1863 was an Anglican Clergyman, who became a Roman Catholic in the 19th Century “Catholic Revival” in England.
We heard one of his hymns at All Angels on Longboat Key this morning. More about this later.
Faber (even as a Roman Catholic) was capable of the most evangelical sentiments.
For instance take this text from his hymn known either as “Souls of Men why will ye scatter, like a crowd of frightened sheep?” or “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy.
For the love of God is broader than the measure of man's mind,
and the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind.
But we make his love too narrow by false limits of our own;
and we magnify its strictness with a zeal he will not own.
Magnifying the strictness of God’s love is the besetting sin of both Catholic and Evangelical expression of Christianity. Faber got it right!
But Faber could also be very sentimental. See for example the last four lines of “Souls of Men".
If our love were but more simple,
we should take him at his word:
and our lives would be all sunshine
in the sweetness of our Lord.
Of course, no lives are ever all sunshine in the sweetness of the Lord. Modern hymnals have improved Faber’s sentiment by rendering the last two lines thus:
“and our lives would be thanksgiving
for the goodness of the Lord.
That’s more realistic!
Faber hits a wonderful tone in a verse from his “My God, how wonderful thou art”
No earthly father loves like Thee,
No mother, e’er so mild,
Bears and forbears as Thou hast done
With me, Thy sinful child.
But then he gets all sentimental again in the concluding stanza
“Father of Jesus, love’s rewards
What rapture will it be,
Prostrate before they throne to lie
And gaze, and gaze on Thee”
Sounds very uncomfortable to me! And eternity of prostration - really!
Faber also wrote “Faith of our Fathers”, which as recently as the mid seventies of the 20th Century, was a favourite in Episcopal Church.
We would sing:
“Faith of our Fathers, faith and prayer
Shall win all nations unto thee”
We did not know that Faber wrote:
“Faith of our Fathers, Mary’s prayers
Shall win our nation unto thee”
In other words, the prayers of the Blessed Virgin Mary would return England to the Roman Catholic faith!
Back at All Angels this morning the soloist and choir sang a Communion Anthem by F.W. Faber, with a tune by Henry Smart.
I was immediately transported back some 40 years when I last sang the hymn. I remembered most of the words, and all of the harmonies.
Back then it was one of my favourite hymns.
Now I see it as sentimental rubbish.
But I was glad to be taken back this morning to my early 20’s, when my faith was much more assured than it is today.
Here is the text.
Hark! hark, my soul! angelic songs are swelling,
o'er earth's green fields and ocean's wave-beat shore:
how sweet the truth those blessèd strains are telling
of that new life when sin shall be no more.
Refrain:Angels of Jesus, angels of light,singing to welcome the pilgrims of the night!
Onward we go, for still we hear them singing,
"Come, weary souls, for Jesus bids you come";
And through the dark, its echoes sweetly ringing,
the music of the gospel leads us home.
Far away, like bells at evening pealing,
the voice of Jesus sounds o'er land and sea;
and laden souls, by thousands meekly stealing,
kind Shepherd, turn their weary steps to thee.
Rest comes at length: though life be long and dreary,
the day must dawn, and darksome night be past;
faith's journeys end in welcome to the weary,and heaven,
the heart's true home, will come at last.
Angels, sing on, your faithful watches keeping;
sing us sweet fragments of the songs above,
till morning's joy shall end the night of weeping,
and life's long shadows break in cloudless love.