Anglican Morning Devotion for 20 March 2022 Anno Domini
a ministry of 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 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:
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!