A zeal he does not own

There is a wonderful, thought-provoking text by the hymn writer Frederick W. Faber (1814-1863) titled “There’s A Wideness In God’s Mercy.

It speaks to this generation perhaps even more powerfully than to his own. It is not sung as often as it should be these days, and this is a tragedy — for it speaks great truth that we should be hearing and singing in times like this.

You may remember the first stanza:

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy

Like the wideness of the sea

There is kindness in His justice

Which is more than liberty

I’m prone to think about justice and liberty not only as they relate to our country but also to the church. God, in his tender mercy and grace, has great kindness in his justice and liberty.

God doesn’t desire to see these characteristics trampled by people who think, because of their position, they have the freedom to disregard these things in favor of their own agenda.

The third stanza is often omitted from hymnals:

But we make His love too narrow

By false limits of our own

And we magnify His strictness

With a zeal He does not own

I fear this stanza might be left out of some hymnals on purpose. The message may be entirely too close to what is going on in churches today. It might be uncomfortable for people to sing this stanza, think on their own and be reminded that some of the things we do are from “a zeal He does not own.”

I don’t have to list these overzealous actions or false limits, because you are already thinking of those that affect your life. I also do not need to list specifics, for they are too many and too varied.

Jesus would not want to be part of our narrow love, false limits and magnifying his strictness with a zeal he does not own.

Perhaps, if we began to include this great hymn — all five stanzas — on a regular basis in our worship experiences, we might begin to see our congregational leadership begin to take a fresh look at this “zeal” and see who really owns it.

This article originally ran on the ABPnews site on November 6, 2012.

Bob Burroughs

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About the Author
Bob Burroughs is a composer and arranger who directed the Florida Baptist Convention church music department until his retirement in 2002. He is author of What Think Ye?: Essays for Twenty-First Century Leaders, Pastors, and Church Musicians.

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