Sunday, April 02, 2006

There's a wideness in God's mercy

Frederick W Faber, 1814-63 was a follower of John Henry Newman, who converted to Roman Catholicism in 1846. He published Souls of men why will ye scatter (a hymn of 13 verses, one of which begins "There's a wideness in God's mercy") in his collection Oratory Hymns of 1854.

Here are the 13 verses. I am unsure of the original order but I think it's correct here up to about verse 6.

1 Souls of men! why will ye scatter
Like a crowd of frightened sheep?
Foolish hearts! why will ye wander
From a love so true and deep?

2 Was there ever kinder shepherd
Half so gentle, half so sweet,
As the Saviour who would have us
Come and gather at His feet?

3 It is God: His love looks mighty,
But is mightier than it seems;
’Tis our Father: and His fondness
Goes far out beyond our dreams.

4 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.

5 There is no place where earth’s sorrows
Are more felt than up in Heaven;
There is no place where earth’s failings
Have such kindly judgment given.

6 There is welcome for the sinner,
And more graces for the good;
There is mercy with the Saviour;
There is healing in His blood.

7 There is grace enough for thousands
Of new worlds as great as this;
There is room for fresh creations
In that upper home of bliss.

8 For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of our mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.

9 But we make His love too narrow
By false limits of our own;
And we magnify His strictness
With a zeal He will not own.

10 There is plentiful redemption
In the blood that has been shed;
There is joy for all the members
In the sorrows of the Head.

11 ’Tis not all we owe to Jesus;
It is something more than all;
Greater good because of evil,
Larger mercy through the fall.

12 Pining souls, come nearer Jesus,
and O come not doubting thus,
but with faith that trusts more bravely
his great tenderness for us.

13 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.

Some hymn books print the lines as eight line verses (it depends what tune you want to use whether four line or eight line verses make sense). Some hymn books (including Hymns A and M) have the hymn with its original first verse (so it starts "souls of men why will ye scatter") while many others (including the EH and the NEH) omit the opening verses and start at "There's a wideness in God's mercy". Most hymn books give a maximum of 8 verses; only 7 in the NEH.

The New English Hymnal has also taken the trouble to include the last verse but to corrupt the words for us. Clearly they do not have a sweet tooth, or they think sweetness is bad for our teeth. Faber—doubtless dealing with his poor folk around the Oratory that he established in King William Street in London, and the local schools, for which he composed his hymns—was happy to provide a little beauty and sweetness in their lives. The editors of the New English Hymnal as always prefer to replace something striking with something tedious.

No sunshine, only gladness.

No sweetness, only joy.

Here is the ending of their hymn:

If our love were but more simple,
We should take Him at His word;
And our lives would be all gladness
In the joy of Christ our Lord.

Why not leave that verse out if you don't like what it says? After all there are plenty more to choose from!

Robin has some thoughts on the tune (prompted by Annie) which he may care to share with us. But meanwhile I thought I'd finish by adding an extract from The Guardian of July 14th 2003:

Whoever compiled the order of service for yesterday morning's Eucharist attended by members of the Church of England synod at York Minster - maybe it was "the Management", as senior churchmen tend to call Him Upstairs - clearly has a sense of humour.

The 580 lay, clergy and episcopal members of the synod, deeply divided this weekend over the aborted appointment of Canon Jeffrey John as the church's first openly gay bishop, found themselves singing in nearly perfect harmony the obscure 19th century hymn: There's a Wideness in God's Mercy, Like the Wideness of the Sea.

Its author, FW Faber, could never have realised the relevance his words would have,140 years after his death: "We make his love too narrow/By false limits of our own;/And we magnify his strictness/With a zeal he will not own .../If our love were but more simple/ We should take him at his word;/And our life would be all gladness/In the joy of Christ our Lord."


Well, evidently it wasn't Faber's hymn they were singing but the one in the NEH.

The real one, the one Faber wrote, perhaps is a bit obscure now. But the reason why it's obscure is mostly because it has been obscured by the very widespread use of the corrupt version...
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