Posted by: rcottrill | July 18, 2012

Faith of Our Fathers

Words: Frederick William Faber (b. June 28, 1814; d. Sept. 26, 1863)
Music: St. Catherine, by Henri Frederick Hemy (b. Nov. 12, 1818; d. June 10, 1888)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Frederick Faber wrote this hymn around the time he converted to Catholicism. It’s clear from the original version of the hymn (see the Wordwise Hymns link) that by “our fathers” he meant the persecuted Roman Catholics of generations before. However, the alteration of the third stanza has given the hymn a more universal application.

Writing in 1911, In The Hymns and Hymn Writers of the Church, Charles Nutter and Wilbur Tillett make this sharp comment:

If the “faith of our fathers” was Catholic, the faith of our forefathers was Protestant. In confirmation of this statement we appeal to the history of the church as given in the New Testament.

The term “Protestant,” of course, goes back only as far as Martin Luther, not to the days of the apostles. It speaks of the German princes who “protested” the persecution of Luther by the church of Rome. However, Nutter and Tillett are correct in that the doctrines of Rome drifted away from those of the apostolic church in important particulars.

CH-1) Faith of our fathers, living still,
In spite of dungeon, fire and sword;
O how our hearts beat high with joy
Whene’er we hear that glorious Word!

Faith of our fathers, holy faith!
We will be true to thee till death.

Down the centuries of church history since Bible times, there have been many who exhibited steadfast and even heroic faith in God. Read the Book of Martyrs, by John Foxe (1517-1587) and you will see something of our Christian heritage. These are our “fathers” (and mothers) in the faith. As Christians, we follow in a long line of godly men and women who have shown us the way to stand courageously for the truth.

CH-2) Our fathers, chained in prisons dark,
Were still in heart and conscience free:
How sweet would be their children’s fate,
If they, like them, could die for Thee!

And such persecution is going on still. Though the secular media are slow to report it, today an estimated 100 million Christians, across the globe suffer arrest, interrogation, torture, imprisonment, and death. Many more face cruel discrimination, and alienation by family and friends. In countries such as: North Korea, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Iran, there’s almost no possibility of Christians openly worshiping God.

The Lord Jesus warned of this, early on:

“If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (Jn. 15:19-20).

The apostles experienced it (Acts 5:40), and wrote about it.

“They departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” (vs. 41). “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Phil. 1:29).

Rather than retaliating against such opposition, we’re to show enemies of the gospel the love of Christ (Matt. 5:44; Rom. 12:17-21). And there is a prophesied glorious future for those who are martyred for the cause of Christ: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on…that they may rest from their labours, and their works follow them” (Rev. 14:13).

CH-4) Faith of our fathers, we will love
Both friend and foe in all our strife;
And preach Thee, too, as love knows how
By kindly words and virtuous life.

1) Why are Christians persecuted for their faith in Christ and service for Him?

2) Can you describe an experience where showing love to an enemy for Christ’s sake has had a positive effect?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


  1. Faith of Our Fathers is one of my favorite hymns. I am in the process of reading Eric Metaxas’ excellent biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (if you haven’t read it, let me encourage you to do so!). This hymn puts me in mind of Bonhoeffer, “a man in the grip of God” as one of his congregants described him, and a man who suffered mightily trying to live his faith in Jesus in Nazi Germany.


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