Music composition by Seth Roberts
Lyrics by Frederick William Faber
Seth Roberts has been a member of RRCB since 1986. He minored in music at the College of William and Mary, graduating in 1994. Seth has sung with the RRCB choir since the late 1990s and also has been an amateur composer since about the same time. He was inspired to write a new music composition for the hymn “There’s Wideness in God’s Mercy,” the words of which were written in 1862 by Frederick William Faber.
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The words to “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy” is part of a thirteen-verse poem written by Frederick Faber entitled “Come to Jesus.” It began with the words: “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?” The text was first published in Faber’s collection Hymns, in 1862. The present hymn version uses only stanzas 4, 6, 8 and 13. One of the omitted verses is worthy of interest:
“But we make His love too narrow with false limits of our own;
And we magnify His strictness with a zeal he will not own.”
There are some meaningful spiritual concepts expressed in Faber’s text that are worthy of our contemplation, such as the line “There’s a kindness in His justice which is more than liberty.”
Frederick William Faber was born on June 28, 1814, in Calverley, Yorkshire, England. He was raised as a strict Calvinist, strongly opposed to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. In 1838, he published a work titled The Ancient Things of the Church of England, vindicating the Church of England, declaring the Catholic Church to be unscriptural and guilty of adding falsehood to the sacraments.
Frederick Faber wrote many devotional and theological books, but he is best remembered today for the 150 hymn texts that were written by him and published after he became a Catholic. He worked tirelessly in writing hymn materials that would express the universal Catholic faith and which could be used by the people for their own devotional purposes. Faber had long realized the great influence that hymn singing had in Protestant circles and was determined to provide materials for the Catholic Church in the same manner. His collections of hymn texts included Hymns, published in 1849; Jesus and Mary-Catholic Hymns for Singing and Reading, published in 1849; Oratory Hymns, published in 1854; and another edition of Hymns, published in 1862. Frederick Faber’s most popular hymn today, sung by both Protestant and Catholic congregations, is “Faith of Our Fathers” (101 Hymn Stories, No. 22). In 1854, the Pope honored Faber with an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree in recognition of his contributions to Catholicism.
Throughout his ministry both as an Anglican and as a Roman Catholic priest, Frederick Faber was recognized as a man of personal charm and an eloquent preacher with a great gift of persuasive influence. He died on September 26, 1863, in London, England, at the early age of forty-nine.