Posted by: genelnicholsblog | October 7, 2015

his poem lived on

With your permission, I’d like to take a brief detour from our focus on the various men and women of the Bible to consider the story of a modern-day(ish) believer.  I first ran across his story as I searched different hymn histories in preparation for a presentation I had to give.  I started with all my favorites, and among them I found the one I shared with the group and now also share with you.  Here is the amazing story behind “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”

Joseph Scriven was a man well acquainted with grief.  He was born in Ireland and, as a young man, planned to follow in the footsteps of his father, joining the service as a Royal Marine.  Unfortunately, poor health prevented him from being accepted.  Life continued on, and he fell in love with a lovely young girl with whom he planned on building a life together.  Tragically, she drowned the night before their wedding.

Overcome with grief, Joseph decided to start fresh in Canada.  There he fell in love again and was due to be married, when his second fiancée became ill and died before their nuptials.  In his deep grief, Joseph decided to devote his life to serving others and became known for that very quality.

In 1855, at the age of 36, Scriven received word from Ireland that his mother lay dying.  He didn’t have the finances for a trip home, so he sent his mother a letter which included a special poem he wrote in the hope of comforting her.  The poem was called “Pray Without Ceasing,” and began with these words:

What a friend we have in Jesus,
all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
everything to God in prayer!

A friend, sitting with Joseph during an illness, found and later submitted the poem to a Christian journal.  It was published under the title, What a Friend We Have in Jesus. Soon after, Joseph Scriven died.  His poem, however, lived on.

A man by the name of Ira Sankey was the musical director for a simple preacher – maybe you have heard of him – D.L. Moody!  Sankey published the poem (which by that time had been put to music) in a book of hymns and sang it quite often at Moody’s evangelistic meetings.  Soon, the song became one of the best known hymns in America and missionaries began taking it abroad.  It has remained popular for over 150 years!

A young man, who was well acquainted with grief, was also well acquainted with faith.   I was especially touched by the words of the second verse, “We should never be discouraged, take it to the Lord in prayer.”  How could someone who had experienced the losses he had, pen such hopeful and selfless words? The answer is actually quite simple … through Christ, and Christ alone.  May these words encourage and challenge you today:

What a Friend we have in Jesus,
all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
everything to God in prayer.

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged;
take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful
who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness;
take it to the Lord in prayer.

Are we weak and heavy laden,
cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge,
take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do your friends despise, forsake you?
Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In His arms He’ll take and shield you;
you will find a solace there.

Blessed Savior, Thou hast promised
Thou wilt all our burdens bear
May we ever, Lord, be bringing all to
Thee in earnest prayer.
Soon in glory bright unclouded there
will be no need for prayer
Rapture, praise and endless worship
will be our sweet portion there.

Words: Joseph Scriven (1857)


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