The hymn of the week first appeared in a pamphlet published by Charles Wesley entitled Life of Faith and dated 24th May 1740. It is the first part of a massive 85 stanza original, which forms a versified paraphrase of Hebrews 11. (Julian’s Dictionary of Hymnology (1907) states 88 stanzas, but he must have miscounted – I know because I checked it twice.) You can find all 85 stanzas here: http://www.slashdocs.com/tpkhz/life-of-faith-1740.html
The first six verses (i.e. our present hymn) were detached from the remainder when later that same year they were included by John Wesley in Hymns and Sacred Poems (1740). The original subheading suggests that they were inspired by Hebrews 11:1 but it is obvious when comparing them to the scripture that they are more of a meditation and introduction to the entire chapter and the topic of faith than a mere paraphrase of the first verse.
The hymn contains a number of phrases that illustrate Charles Wesley’s love of paradox.. In the first line, the ‘Author of faith’ is also the ‘Word’; faith enables the Christian to ‘ask the gift unspeakable’; and by its ‘realizing light’ (a wonderful example of Wesley’s mastery of the unual and unexpected adjective) the ‘invisible appears in sight’.
The hymn is particularly suitable for this coming Sunday (19th Sunday in Ordinary Time year C) with the Epistle reading from Hebrews 11.
Author of faith, eternal Word,
Whose Spirit breathes the active flame;
Faith like its finisher and Lord,
Today as yesterday the same.
To Thee our humble hearts aspire,
And ask the gift unspeakable;
Increase in us the kindled fire,
In us the work of faith fulfill.
By faith we know Thee strong to save;
Save us, a present Saviour Thou!
Whate’er we hope, by faith we have
Future and past subsisting now.
To him that in Thy Name believes
Eternal life with Thee is given;
Into Himself He all receives,
Pardon and holiness, and Heaven.
The things unknown to feeble sense,
Unseen by reason’s glimmering ray,
With strong commanding evidence
Their heavenly origin display.
Faith lends its realizing light,
The clouds disperse, the shadows fly;
Th’invisible appears in sight,
And God is seen by mortal eye.