“My Faith, It Is an Oaken Staff”

"…But the just shall live by his faith" (Hab. 2.4)

     INTRO.: A hymn which shows that one aspect of our work as Christians is to live by faith in everything that we do is "My Faith, It Is An Oaken Staff." The text was written by Thomas Toke Lynch, who was born at Donmow in Essex, England, on July 5, 1818, the son of a surgeon, and was educated at Islington and, briefly, at Highbury Independent College, withdrawing due to ill health. Even before reaching his teens, he had composed many poems and hymns with the ambition of having a volume of them published, and his first printed work was Thoughts on a Day in 1844. Beginning his career as an usher, or under-teacher in school, he later became a minister at Congregationalist churches in the London area, serving at Highgate from 1847 to 1849, at Mortimer St., which moved to Grafton St. in Fitzroy Square, from 1849 to 1852, and then at Mornington.

     While there, Lynch produced a hymn collection entitled The Rivulet: Hymns for Heart and Voice in 1855, designed as a supplement to the Hymns of Isaac Watts. It was so named because, he said, "Christian poetry is indeed a river of the water of life, and to this river my rivulet brings its contribution. "My Faith, It Is An Oaken Staff" was first published in The Rivulet. Other Lynch hymns that have been used in some of our books include "Christ in His Word Draws Near" and "Gracious Spirit, Dwell With Me." A great lover of nature, he found in the beauty of God’s world an inspiration to holiness and had a gift of making people think in a new way about such things. However, trying to get this attitude across to people in his hymns provoked a controversy among the Congregationalists because of the hymns’ "personal" quality. Some opposed him while others defended him.

     Because of ill health, Lynch retired from preaching in 1856 for three years, but returned to the pulpit at Gower St. in 1860 and, after the church moved to a new building on Hempstead Rd., London, in 1862, remained there until his death on May 19, 1871, at Camden Town in Middlesex, England. The tune (Muswell Hill or Staff of Faith) has been called both a traditional Swiss melody and an English folksong. It is possible that it originated in Switzerland and found its way to England.  The modern arrangement was made by Carey Bonner (1858-1939). It is dated 1927. Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, the song appeared in the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater. The only other book that I have ever seen it in is the 1930 New Hymnal for American Youth edited by H. Augustine Smith and published by D. Appleton-Century Company Inc. of New York City, NY.

     The song encourage us to walk by faith in the work that we do for the Lord.

I. Stanza 1 talks about our faith
"My faith it is an oaken staff, The traveler’s well loved aid;
My faith it is a weapon stout, The soldier’s trusted blade.
I’ll travel on and still be stirred By silent thought or social word;
By all my perils undeterred, A soldier-pilgrim staid."
 A. The Bible teaches that the Christian is to walk by faith: 2 Cor. 5.7
 B. This faith is like a weapon stout; the sword of the Spirit is the word of God, which is the source of our faith, and that faith itself is
pictured as a shield: Eph. 6.16-17
 C. The reason why we need such a faith to lean upon and use is that we are pilgrims in this world: 1 Pet. 2.11

II. Stanza 2 talks about our Guide
"I have a Guide, and in His steps When travelers lone have trod,
Whether beneath was flinty rock Or yielding grassy sod,
They cared not, but with force unspent, Unmoved by pain they onward went,
Unstayed by pleasures still they bent Their zealous course to God."
 A. This Guide is Jesus Christ who left us a perfect example that we should follow in His steps: 1 Pet. 2.21
 B. He guides those who will follow wherever He leads as they press onward: Phil. 3.14
 C. His aim is to help us bend our zealous course to God by travelling the strait and narrow way: Matt. 7.13-14

III. Stanza 3 talks about the Spirit
"My faith it is an oaken staff: O let me on it lean;
My faith it is a trusty sword: May falsehood find it keen.
Thy Spirit, Lord, to me impart; O make me what Thou ever art,
Of patient and courageous heart, As all true saints have been."
 A. Another reason why we need such a faith is that we are soldiers in the Lord’s army to fight the good fight of the faith: 1 Tim. 6.12
 B. To help us, the Lord has promised to impart His Spirit: Eph. 5.18
 C. Through our faith, the Spirit helps to make us what the Lord is by changing us into the same image: 2 Cor. 3.18

     CONCL.: Without faith it is impossible to please God. Therefore, we are justified by faith, having been saved by grace through faith.  Then as the Lord’s people, we must walk by faith because the just shall live by faith. As I journey through this life looking forward to being with the Lord in heaven, I need to have a strong faith upon which to lean because "My Faith It Is An Oaken Staff."


4 thoughts on ““My Faith, It Is an Oaken Staff”

  1. Growing up at Zion Congregational, I loved the melody of this hymn and have remembered it throughout my life. I still walk by faith and have found God to be ever Faithful! Thank you for your research.

  2. I have a chorale prelude on the tune, but can’t find the actual hymn. Can you please tell me what hymnal you’ve found it in. Thanks.

    • If you read the hymn study, you will find the names of the two hymnbooks in which I have found the hymn. Unfortunately, both of them are long out of print, so I really don’t know what else to tell you.

      • Aha! I found it in “The New Century Hymnal” of the United Church of Christ! It’s #418 and footnotes a hymnal called “Congregational Praise” of 1951.

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