“There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy”

"Thou, O Lord, art a God…plenteous in mercy and truth" (Ps. 86:15)

     INTRO.: A hymn which identifies the Lord as being plenteous in mercy and truth is "There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy." The text was written by Frederick William Faber (1814-1863). Produced perhaps as early as 1849, it was first published as part of a hymn beginning "Souls of men, why will ye scatter?" in his 1854 Oratory Hymns, and he revised it to its present form in his 1862 Hymns. Faber is best remembered for his hymn "Faith of Our Fathers." The tune (Wellesley) most often used with "There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy" was composed by Lizzie Shove Tourjee Estabrook, who was born on Sept. 9, 1858, at Newport, RI, the daughter of Dr. Eben Tourjee, founder of the New England Conservatory of Music.  Educated at the high school of Newton, MA, she produced this melody around 1876 just before her graduation from high school as her class song. It was first published in the 1878 Hymnal of the Methodist Episcopal Church with Tunes. Briefly attending nearby Wellesley College for one year in 1877 and 1878, she married Franklin Estabrook, a Boston industrialist, in 1883 and raised two sons. Spending the rest of her life in Auburndale, MA, as a music teacher and organist, she died there on Dec. 28, 1913.

     There were also an Elizabeth (Lizzie) Estabrook born in 1873, the daughter of Clarence Estabrook, and a Lizzie Estabrook Evans who published From Summer to Summer: A Novel at Minerva, NY, in 1892, but these references apparently have no direct relationship with the composer of the tune. Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord the song appeared in the 1921 Great Songs of the Church (No. 1), and the tune was used with John Bowring’s "God Is Love, His Mercy Brightens" in the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 both edited by E. L. Jorgenson. Faber’s song with Estabrook’s tune also appeared in the 1948 Christian Hymns No. 2 and the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 both edited by L. O. Sanderson; and the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater. Today the text may be found with another tune (In Babilone) in the 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forrest M. McCann; and the song with the Estabrook tune is found in the 1992 Praise for the Lord (where the same tune is also used with Bowring’s hymn) edited by John P. Wiegand.

     The song talks about several characteristics of God and what our response to them should be.

I. Stanza 1 speaks of His mercy and justice
"There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in His justice, Which is more than liberty."
 A. God’s mercy is wide like the sea because it is over all His works: Ps. 145:9
 B. We must not forget God’s justice or righteousness which not only saves the faithful but executes wrath upon the wicked: Rom. 1:16-18
 C. However, in that justice there is a kindness which is more than liberty because it offers us freedom from sin: Rom. 6:17-18

II. Stanza 2 speaks of His compassion
"There is no place where earth’s sorrows Are more felt than up in heaven;
There is no place where earth’s failings Have such kindly judgments given."
 A. Earth’s sorrows are felt up in heaven because we have a High Priest who can be touched with our infirmities having been tempted in all points as we are: Heb. 4:14-16
 B. The wording "There is no place where earth’s" does not fit well with the music, so some books have "There’s no place where earthly." Certainly, we are aware of earth’s failings because all responsible human beings have sinned: Rom. 3:23
 C. Yet, in heaven kindly judgments are given because redemption or forgiveness of sin is made available through Christ’s blood: Eph. 1:7

III. Stanza 3 speaks of His welcome and healing
"There is welcome for the sinner, And more graces for the good;
There is mercy with the Savior, There is healing in His blood."
 A. There is welcome for the sinner who repents as the father welcomed back the prodigal son who came to himself and returned: Lk. 15:20-24
 B. For those who have already been made "good" or cleansed from sin, there is more grace for our needs: Jn. 1:16-17
 C. The reason why these things are so is that there is healing through the blood of the Savior: Mal. 4:2

IV. Stanza 4 speaks of His love
"For the love of God is broader Than the measures of our mind;
And the heart of the Eternal Is most wonderfully kind."
 A. The love of God is broader, longer, deeper, and higher than the mind of man and thus passes knowledge: Eph. 3:18-19
 B. We must recognize that His ways are not our ways and the thoughts of His heart are higher than our thoughts: Isa. 55:10-11(most recent books change the second line to "of man’s mind)
 C. God’s love is manifested in a kindness that makes salvation from sin possible: Tit. 3:4-5

V. Stanza 5 speaks of His strictness
"But we make His love too narrow By false limits of our own;
And we magnify His strictness With a zeal He will not own."
 A. It is true that the way to life is a strait and narrow one: Matt. 7:13-14
 B. However, we must not make His love more narrow that He intended by false limits of our own, binding where God has not bound or loosing where God has not loosed: Matt. 16:19
 C. Nor should we magnify His strictness with a zeal that He will not own, overemphasizing neither His goodness nor His severity, but keeping both in proper perspective and balance: Rom. 10:2-3, 11:22

VI. Stanza 6 speaks of His sunshine
"If our love were but more simple, We should take Him at His word;
And our lives would be all sunshine In the sweetness of the Lord."
 A. We need to love others as God loves all mankind: Matt. 5:43-48
 B. When we do this, then we would take Him at His word, using the scriptures as our only guide: 2 Tim. 3:16-17
 C. The result would be that our lives would be sunshine as we walk in the light as He is in the light: 1 Jn. 1:5-7

     CONCL.: Faber originally wrote thirteen stanzas. It has been said that most editors have agreed in omitting the original stanzas 1 and 2, the latter of which is:
"Was there ever kinder shepherd Half so gentle, half so sweet,
As the Savior who would have us Come and gather at His feet?"
These were thought to destroy the unity of the hymn. Nearly all have united on stanzas 1, 3, 4, and 6 as given above. Another stanza sometimes used is:
"There is grace enough for thousands Of new worlds as great as this;
There is room for fresh creations In that upper home of bliss."
We must be careful that we do not turn the grace of God into lasciviousness or mistake His love for indulgence. But since all of us have sinned, do not deserve heaven, and need forgiveness, it is good to know that "There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy."


2 thoughts on ““There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy”

  1. S. Ferguson refers to stanza 2 of this hymn in one his sermon on the Apostles' Creed (Faith Matters: I Believe in the Forgiveness of Sins). Your site came up first when I Googled to find the hymn. I'm taking your work with me to church to meditate on in preparation for worship. Thank you.


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