Faith of our fathers, holy faith,
We will be true to thee till death!
The word “fathers” is mentioned three times in this hymn (and once in each chorus), while “God,” “Jesus,” “Lord,” the presumptive objects of our faith, and so on appear a grand total of once (“thru the truth that comes from God mankind shall then be truly free”). It might seem like the hymn is buriyng the lede a little, then. Shouldn’t we focus more on the Lord, who is the author and finisher of our faith, rather than those who taught us to love and follow Him? Aren’t we confusing the message with the messenger?
Perhaps, but for many of us, this is where we get our start. Whether we have the gospel taught to us from birth or later in life, at some point we found ourselves novices to the teachings of the Savior. Someone had to show us the way. That might have been a friend who wanted to share something with us that brought them joy, or a missionary spending years in the service of the Lord, or yes, a parent trying to raise their child in the gospel. We sit at their knee, whether literally or figuratively, learning precious truths line upon line. It’s only natural that in our formative phases, our understanding of the truth of the gospel is less an intrinsic one and more a reliance on our mentor. “I know God lives because my mom told me so,” we might say, and at first, that’s enough. In time, we will develop our own convictions as we draw nearer to the Savior, and as He draws nearer to us in turn.
There’s nothing wrong with that reliance. Sometimes our faith is shaky, and it’s good for us to have someone else’s faith to fall back on. One of the more famous stories from the Book of Mormon is that of the 2,000 stripling warriors, who, though young, marched into battle secure in the knowledge that the Lord would protect them if they remained true to Him. Listen to Helaman, their prophet and commander, describe their faith:
Now they had never before fought, yet they did not fear death; and they did think more upon the liberty of their fathers than they did upon their lives; yea, they had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them.
And they rehearsed unto me the words of their mothers, saying: We do not doubt our mothers knew it. (Alma 56:47-48)
These young men surely had their own witness of the Lord, but here they tell us that they were willing to march into battle and face death because of the sureness of the knowledge of their mothers. Their mothers told them that God would protect them if they had faith. I imagine they also taught that even if they were to be taken by death, that was not the end, and that they could be reunited someday, if they would not doubt. And they did not doubt, and the Lord saw them through their war without a single one of them falling in battle.
They did not doubt their mothers knew it, and neither do we. Our mothers know it, as do our fathers, our friends, our missionaries, our church teachers and leaders, and anyone else on whom we rely for a more unshakable witness when ours is not so stable. Our faith is centered in our Lord and Savior, but it is held up by those who helped us to shape and build it. So it’s not that strange that we should sing about the faith of our fathers, nor that we should sing that “in spite of dungeon, fire, and sword… our hearts [will] beat high with joy whene’er we hear that glorious word.” The word is “faith,” but the word is just as much “fathers” that causes our hearts to beat with joy.