A Hymn Devotion for Tuesday before Easter, 30 March 2021 Anno Domini (In the Year of our Lord), the Anglican Orthodox Communion Worldwide
“A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24; all scripture quoted is from the King James Version)
“This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. 13Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. 14Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. 15Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you. 16Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you. 17These things I command you, that ye love one another.” (John 15:12-17)
WHAT A FRIEND WE HAVE IN JESUS, is one of the simplest, but most beautiful, of all hymns of the latter days of hymnology. It is about the Lord Jesus Christ as the greatest Friend any could be blessed to have. The introductory text from the Gospel of St. John clearly defines the impulse that moved in the heart of the composer, Joseph Scriven (1819-1886) – LOVE! Joseph was an especial friend to widows and orphans and labored in providing them with wood for the hearth which he chopped and delivered himself. His story deserves some explanation to grasp the full nature of his heart in writing this hymn.
Joseph Scriven was born in Bainbridge County Down in Ireland to wealthy parents in 1819. He graduated Trinity College in Dublin (1842) and was engaged to be married to the lady who held sway over his heart in 1843. The night before the wedding, his beautiful fiancée was riding along the River Bann to meet Joseph. Her horse shied at some unexpected rush of birds and she was thrown into the edge-water of the river, knocked unconscious, and drowned in less than a foot of water. This tragedy had an overwhelming effect on Joseph. He could no longer abide the beautiful rolling hills and green mountains of Ireland. He departed Ireland, heartbroken, for Canada where he tutored students, preached and labored for the poor who could not afford wood for heat. He settled in Port Hope, Canada, where he was known as the Good Samaritan of Port Hope (owing to his charitable work for widows and orphans).
Scriven’s mother became seriously ill in Ireland in 1855. Scriven sat down and wrote a poem for her which was a manner of prayer for her in praising Jesus, WHAT A FRIEND WE HAVE IN JESUS. Charles Crozat Converse read the poem as published in an Irish periodical and wrote the tune to the hymn, by which it is sung, in 1868 (CONVERSE). The hymn was first credited to the famous hymn-writer, Horatius Bonar, but Bonar denied having written it. Later, the original poem was found in the estate of Scriven’s mother and he was finally given credit for his work in 1880. The hymn has retained the exact wording as written by Scriven.
In 1857, Scriven again was engaged to be married to the daughter of a sea captain, but this lady, too, died suddenly of pneumonia. Scriven continued his work of preaching and charity until his death in 1886 – broken-hearted, but trusting in His best Friend. The following are published articles about Scriven:
“A tall obelisk was built upon his grave with the words from the song and the following inscription:
This monument was erected to the memory of Joseph Scriven, B.A., by lovers of his hymn, which is engraved hereon, and is his best memorial. Born at Seapatrick, Co. Down, Ireland, 10 Sept.1819, emigrated to Canada 1844. Entered into rest at Bewdley, Rice Lake, 10 August 1886, and buried here. Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.
“A plaque can be found on the Port Hope-Peterborough Highway with the following inscription:
Four miles north, in the family Pengelley Cemetery, lies the philanthropist and author of this great masterpiece, written at Port Hope, 1857. The composer of the music, Charles C. Converse, was a well-educated versatile and successful Christian, whose talents ranged from law to professional music. Under the pen name of Karl Reden, he wrote numerous scholarly articles on many subjects. Though he was an excellent musician and composer with many of his works performed by the leading American orchestras and choirs of his day, his life is best remembered for this simple music so well suited to Scriven’s text.”
Easter is a fitting time to consider the depth of love the best Friend men and women of faith have ever had in our Lord Jesus Christ:
WHAT A FRIEND WE HAVE IN JESUS
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 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?
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
Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In his arms he’ll take and shield thee
Thou wilt find a solace there
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 you considered lately the bond of friendship you share with the Lord Jesus Christ? As our Proverbs text says, “A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24) If we have Jesus as our best friend, we must show ourselves friendly to Him. We must have placed our trust in His redeeming grace. If we have done, we can share every burden and grief with Him who is the bearer of those burdens for His friends. It is the privilege of the cross that enables us to carry EVERYTHING to God in prayer. We pray in faith – not for what we WANT – but for what He knows is best for our needs. Many Christians suffer grief needlessly when they fail to communicate in prayer those griefs to One who laid down His life on their behalf.
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. Certainly, we all have trials and temptations else we cannot identify as Children of the Living God! There is one thing that is uniformly scattered throughout the globe – TROUBLE! Knowing that these are not some strange experience that only we can have, we have a Friend who has conquered every problem and trial. He is able to intercede for us. He may not remove the impediment that confronts our path, but, if not, He will strengthen us to overcome it. He knows our frailty, and has experienced every pain (and more) that we can know. He was faithful to the end. “Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.” (1 Thessalonians 5:24) and “Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.” (John 13:1) This last passage is one upon which our hearts should be fixed during this Holy Week before the Sunrise at Easter – He loved them unto the end.
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 thy friends despise, forsake thee? Take it to the Lord in prayer! In his arms he’ll take and shieldthee. Thou wilt find a solace there. Are we not dust, and less than dust, without God our Savior? Were the very worlds not created by His Word, and all that is? We are less than the clay of the Potter before Him; but His loving hands gently mold and shape us into the vessel of His love and bearing whether of wood, clay, or precious metals. Even if we were made a vessel of wood, that would be a glorious vessel beyond the Gates of Splendor with our Redeemer and Lord. Yes, our friends have oft forsaken us. So did every friend our Lord had during His earthly ministry forsake Him and flee at the crucial moment of danger in the Garden at Gethsemane. Even at the cross, we are told that they watched from afar – all except the three Mary’s and the beloved disciple, John. Have you oft found a solace in the loving arms of our Lord? I have done many times. There are times when Christ has called me to walk to Him in faith. This walk I began in faith, but, like Peter, when I looked into the turbulent waters of the sea of life (taking my eyes off my Savior), I began to sink. On the stormy seas of life, there is only One upon whom we can call to save us – the Lord Jesus Christ who is Master of the Ocean Seas.
When the morning begins to dawn toward the first day of the week (Easter Sunday) and it is yet dark, let us walk with Mary Magdalene to the open Tomb and find it empty for us, too. Joseph Scriven did so, and countless multitudes of others whom we shall meet on Resurrection Day at the last Trump – that final Easter Day of Rejoicing!
“I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year,
‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’
And he replied, ‘Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be better than light, and safer than a known way.’”
Minnie Haskins 1908 (quoted by King George at beginning of Second World War in1939)