“Give Me the Wings of Faith”


“Lord, increase our faith” (Luke 17:5)

     INTRO.:  A hymn which encourages us to ask the Lord to increase our faith is “Give Me the Wings of Faith.”  The text was written by Isaac Watts (1674-1748).  It was first published in his Hymns and Spiritual Songs of 1709.  Philip Doddridge, himself a hymn writer best remembered for “O Happy Day,” wrote the following to Watts.  “I was preaching in a barn last Wednesday, to a company of plain country people. After a sermon from Heb. vi. 12, we sang one of your hymns, ‘Give me the wings of faith to rise,’ and had the satisfaction to see tears in the eyes of several of the auditory. After the service some of them told me they were not able to sing, so deeply were their minds affected with it; and the clerk in particular told me he could hardly utter the words of it. These were most of them poor people who work for their living.’

     Several tunes have been used with Watts’s hymn.  One (Beatitudo) was composed in 1875 by John B. Dykes and is most often associated with William Cowper’s “O For a Closer Walk with God.”  Another (Ballerma) was composed by Francois H. Barthélémon, adapted by Robert Simpson, and in our books used with Charles Wesley’s “O For a Heart to Praise My God.”  Still another (Critchlow) was composed  some time before 1911 by Thoro Harris.  The traditional tune (Bingham) is an anonymous melody from an unknown source.  The modern arrangement is attributed to Dorothy Howell Sheets, who was born in 1915.  She began piano study with her father at age five, and also studied the violin.  Following her graduation from Peabody Conservatory of Music, she served as an organist and choirmaster in New Jersey.

     The hymn talks about what true faith will do for us.

I. Stanza 1 says that it will help us see the joys of the saints above

“Give me the wings of faith to rise

Within the veil, and see

The saints above, how great their joys,

How bright their glories be.”

 A. “Wings of faith” suggests the kind of implicit faith that an eagle has that it will be able to fly upwards: Exo. 19:4

 B. To rise within the veil means to see with spiritual eyes that which is in the heavenly realm: Heb. 6:19

 C. What we can see there by faith is the joys and glories of the saints above as they fall down before the throne of God: Rev. 4:10-11

II. Stanza 2 says that it will remind us that past saints have suffered

“Once they were mourning here below,

And wet (drenched) their couch with tears:

They wrestled hard, as we do now,

With sins, and doubts, and fears.”

 A. All on earth, even the saints, experience times of mourning in life, but Christ promises comfort to His disciples: Matt. 5:4

 B. Sometimes this mourning involves drenching their couch with tears: Ps. 6:6

 C. Thus, even for the God’s people, life is not easy but consists of wrestling with sins and doubts and fears in heavenly places: Eph. 6:12

III. Stanza 3 says that it will help us understand how they gained the victory

“I ask them whence their victory came:

They, with united breath,

Ascribe their conquest to the Lamb,

Their triumph to His death.”

 A. The saints above are the ones who have gained the victory that comes by faith: 1 Jn. 5:4

 B. How did they gain it?  They ascribe their conquest to the Lamb: Rev. 7:13-14

 C. Thus, their triumph was made possible by His death: Rev. 5:12

IV. Stanza 4 says that it will encourage us to follow in their steps

“They marked the footsteps that He trod,

His zeal inspired their breast;

And following their incarnate God,

Possess the promised rest.”

 A. In order to achieve this victory, they marked the footsteps that He trod: 1 Pet. 2:21

 B. They were also inspired by His zeal: Jn. 2:17

 C. And they determined to follow Him as the incarnate God: Rev. 19:14

V. Stanza 5 says that it will motivate us to praise our Leader and show us the path to heaven

“Our glorious Leader claims our praise

For His own pattern given;

While the long cloud of witnesses

Show the same path to Heaven.”

 A. Jesus Christ is our glorious Leader, the captain of our salvation: Heb. 2:10

 B. We are encouraged to look to His pattern by the great cloud of witnesses: Heb. 11:1

 C. Together, they show us the path to heaven where our eternal hope rests: 1 Pet. 1:3-5

     CONCL.:  Some books have only “two stanzas” because take stanzas 1 and 2 as a single stanza and stanzas 3 and 5 as a single stanza and set them to a melody that is a common meter double tune.  This is one of Watts’s lesser known hymns. Some may think that it does not rise to the same standard of “Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed,” “Come We That Love the Lord,” and “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.”  However, even the forgotten works of great masters still have some merit.  Since we as Christians must walk by faith and not by sight, I should ask the Lord to “Give Me the Wings of Faith.”


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