The Story Behind the Hymn

THE STORY BEHIND THE HYMN : “What A Friend We Have In Jesus

            The story behind one of Christendom’s most beloved hymns, What A Friend We Have In Jesus, is quite interesting. The words to the hymn were written by Joseph Scriven, a man dedicated whole-heartedly to serving his Lord Jesus Christ during his lifetime.

            Interestingly, as a young boy, Scriven was raised in a wealthy environment, received a good education, had a devoted family, and enjoyed life in his native country of Ireland. After obtaining his university degree from Trinity College in London, he had ambitions to enroll in a military college and prepare for a military career. However, health issues forced him to give up that ambition; instead, he became a teacher, fell in love, and made plans to settle down.

            However, the night before his wedding, tragedy struck when his fiancĂ©e drowned. Filled with deep, deep sorrow, Scriven knew he could only rely on Jesus for comfort. Shortly thereafter, he left Ireland and settled down in Port Hope, Canada, where he again fell in love with a woman named Eliza Rice, who agreed to become his bride. Sadly, just weeks before their wedding, she contracted pneumonia and died.

            Stricken with grief and sorrow, Scriven turned again to the only one who could provide the comfort he needed: his Lord Jesus Christ. At the young age of 25, Scriven dramatically changed his lifestyle. He took a vow of poverty, sold all his possessions, and promised to devote his life to the physically handicapped and the financially destitute. He was even known to give away his own clothing to those who needed it, and worked without pay for anyone who needed it. He became known in the area as the “Good Samaritan of Port Hope“.

            Ten years later, Scriven received word that his mother, still living in Ireland, had become gravely ill. Because of his vow of poverty, Scriven did not have the financial means of going to her to care for her. His heart was broken, and so he wrote her a very comforting letter, including the words to a poem that he had written just for her, with the prayer that these words would always comfort her and remind her of the loving, true and never-failing Friend she would always have in Jesus. And so he sent off the letter to her.

    Sometime later, when Scriven himself had become seriously ill, a friend came by to visit him, and happened to spot a piece of paper next to Scriven with some words scribbled on it. Little did his friend know that these were the words to the poem that Scriven had written and sent to his mother. After reading the words, he asked Scriven, “Who wrote these beautiful words?”, to which Scriven replied, “The Lord and I did it between us”.  Scriven never expected to see this poem become the beautiful song that it has, as he died before the song became known.

  It is unclear how the words got into the hands of an attorney named Charles Converse, but it is Converse who took the words to this beloved song and put it to music, to become the now beautiful hymn, What A Friend We Have In Jesus. Here are the words to the first verse.

What a friend we have in Jesus, All our sins and griefs to bear;
What a privilege to carry, Everything to God in prayer.
Oh, what peace we often forfeit, Oh, what needless pain we bear;
All because we do not carry, Everything to God in prayer.

Click on the link to see and hear the Statler Brothers sing this beautiful song!

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