Posted by: rcottrill | April 6, 2012

O for a Faith That Will Not Shrink

Words: William Hiley Bathurst (b. Aug. 28, 1796; d. Nov. 25, 1877)
Music: Evan, by William Henry Havergal (b. Jan. 18, 1793; d. Apr. 19, 1870)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: William Bathurst wrote more than 200 hymns, but this is the only one still in common use. It’s original title was “The Power of Faith.” Of the six original stanzas, many hymn books now print only CH-1, 2, 3 and 6. We can see why the quaint phrasing of stanza CH-5, about faith lighting up a “dying bed,” has been excluded.

A faith that keeps the narrow way
Till life’s last hour is fled,
And with a pure and heavenly ray
Lights up a dying bed.

The Cyber Hymnal offers a number of alternate tunes for this hymn, but I’m most familiar with Evan being used with it. The composer, William Havergal, a Church of England clergyman, was the father of famed hymnist Frances Havergal.

With the title of this hymn, as originally published, was the Scripture reference Luke 17:5, “The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith.’” But the inspiration for the song actually came from First John 5:4, “This is the victory that has overcome the world–our faith.” These are surely two critical things, the plea for faith, and the power of faith. Though it should be noted in connection with the latter that it is not faith’s power that saves and keeps us, but the power of God. Faith is our means of appropriating the resources of heaven, but God is the One who meets our need (Mk. 11:22).

The qualities of faith described in the hymn are ones we should seek to exhibit, by the grace of God (Ps. 71:1; II Cor. 5:7). We want a faith (CH-1) that will not “shrink” (draw back) in times when the enemy attacks, or trials assail us. We want a faith (CH-2) that will not murmur or complain when the Lord chastens us, but will cling to Him, in recognition of His wise and loving purpose (Heb. 12:5-11).

We also aspire to a faith that (CH-3) becomes a shining testimony in times of trouble and danger, and in the dark times of the soul. CH-4 is usually omitted, but it contains some valuable information.

CH-4) That bears, unmoved, the world’s dread frown
Nor heeds its scornful smile;
That seas of trouble cannot drown,
Nor Satan’s arts beguile.

There are times when this godless world opposes the people of God in an overt and open way. There are other times when we are perhaps tolerated, but with a superior smile that breathes contempt. A strong faith is needed in either case. We can also go through “seas of trouble,” or be tempted to compromise our stand by the devil’s clever seduction. Again, we need to cast ourselves upon the Lord and seek His strength.

William Bathurst’s final stanza is a prayer. If the qualities that he has described are ones that need to be exhibited in our faith, then we need to look to God to strengthen our trust in Him (I Cor. 16:13). We pray, like the father who “said with tears, ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!’” (Mk. 9:24). As our faith grows, we’ll gain a foretaste of that deeply enriching fellowship with God that will be enjoyed eternally and in its fullness in our heavenly home.

CH-6) Lord, give me such a faith as this,
And then, whate’er may come,
I’ll taste, e’en here, the hallowed bliss
Of an eternal home.

1) What are some of the means God uses to strengthen and develop our faith?

2) What things does God intend that a stronger faith should accomplish?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


  1. I found this hymn in a lot of hymnals, but it wasn’t until the last couple I looked in that I found it using the tune EVAN. The others used ARLINGTON, AZMON, or PISGAH. I thought PISGAH was particularly lovely.

    • Thanks for the suggestions. This is a Common Metre hymn ( so there are quite a few tunes that suit it. Pisgah is a fine tune, though I’m not sure I’d prefer it with this hymn. The hymn is Common Metre, but the tune isn’t quite. It’s metre is which would require singing two stanzas for each time through the melody, with a bit of adjustment along the way. (A trained choir could do this more easily than a congregation.)


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