What a friend We have in Jesus - A touching story

What a friend we have in Jesus

Someone once said, "A Christian's practical theology is often his hymnology." Many of us could attest to this truth as we recall some deeply moving experience - perhaps the loss of a dear loved one - and a simple hymn has been used by the Holy Spirit to minister to our needs.

Such a hymn is "What a Friend We Have in Jesus." Though it is not considered to be an example of great literary writing, its simple truths have brought comfort to countless numbers of God's people since it was written in 1857. Many missionaries state that it's one of the first hymns taught to new converts. The very simplicity of the text and music has been its appeal and strength.

Passing through sorrows

Joseph Scriven was born in 1819 of prosperous parents in Dublin, Ireland. He was a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin. Tragedy came early to Joseph, when on the night before his wedding, he was alone while elsewhere, his bride-to-be accidentlly drowned. Later in life, a second engagement ended when his fiancee died of an illness. Also during this time, Joseph Scriven came under the influence of the Plymouth Brethren, resulting in estrangement from his family. Here was a man who truly needed a friend.

A great model

At the age of twenty-five, he left his native country and migrated to Canada. From that time on, Scriven developed a totally different pattern of life. He took the Sermon on the Mount literally. It is said that he gave freely of his limited possessions, even sharing the clothing off his own body, if necessary, and never once refused to help anyone who needed it. Ira Sankey tells of the man who, seeing Scriven in the streets of Port Hope, Ontario, with his sawbuck and saw, asked, "Who is that man? I want him to work for me." The answer was, "You cannot get that man; he saws wood only for poor widows and sick people who cannot pay."

The song

"What a Friend We Have in Jesus" was never intended by Scriven for publication. When he was ill, a friend who came to visit chanced to see the poem scribbled on scratch paper near the bed. The friend asked Scriven if he had written the words. With typical modesty, Scriven replied, "The Lord and I did it between us." In 1869 a small collection of his poems was published. It was simply entitled Hymns and Other Verses.

Joseph Scriven died in 1886, also in a drowning accident. After his death, the citizens of Port Hope, Ontario, erected a monument on the Port Hope-Peterborough Highway, which runs from Lake Ontario, with the hymn text and these words inscribed:

Four miles north, in Pengally's Cemetery, lies the philanthropist and author of this great masterpiece, written at Port Hope, 1857. The composer of the music, Charles C. Converse, was an excellent musician and composer, but his life is best remembered for this simple music so well suited to Scriven's text.


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