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No Eyes Yet See

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.
Then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the dumb sing.
For waters shall burst forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert.
Isaiah 35:5-6

Francis Jane Crosby was probably the most prolific and creative hymn writer in history. Her love for her Savior inspired her to write more than 8,000 hymns. Taken altogether, her hymns could fill more than 15 complete volumes of hymnals. Being humble, she chose to publish many of her works under 200 pseudonyms so that her real name would not monopolize the hymnbooks. In her lifetime, Fanny was one of the best known women in the United States. Today, many of her hymns had been lost and forgotten, but a large number remain ageless as evergreen favorites of Christians all over the world.

Fanny Crosby was born into a family of strong Puritan heritage on March 24, 1820 in Putnam County, New York. As a baby, she had an eye infection. Unfortunately, her family doctor was away. Another man, pretending to be a certified doctor, prescribed the treatment by placing hot mustard poultices on her red and inflamed eyelids. The illness subsided but scars were inflicted on her eyes. Fanny lost all of her sight two weeks after her birth.

A few months later, Fanny's father died. Her mother, Mercy Crosby, became a widow at the young age of 21. She supported the family by hiring herself out as a maid. Fanny was primarily raised by her Christian grandmother, Eunice Crosby.

Grandma Eunice took great care of her little granddaughter. She provided every one of her needs including food, drinks, clothings, medical care and also education. She became the eyes of the little girl, vividly describing every detail of the surrounding physical world with all its beauty and splendour. Her loving ways of teaching helped to train and develop Fanny's creative abilities.

Not only that, Grandma Eunice also nurtured Fanny in the Christian faith. She read the Bible to her daily, carefully explaining the Holy Scriptures to her. She always emphasized the importance of prayer. When Fanny was depressed as she could not do or learn as other children did, her grandma would teach her how to pray to God for guidance, strength, wisdom, knowledge and understanding.

Mrs. Hawley was the landlady of the Crosbys. She also played an important role in Fanny's life. She helped Fanny to memorize the Bible by teaching the young girl five chapters a week. Through her, Fanny knew the Pentateuch, the Gospels, Proverbs, the Song of Solomon, and many of the psalms by heart. She developed a fantastic memory that often amazed her friends who could see. As her heart was strengthened by the Word of God, Fanny believed that she was no different from other normal people. Her blindness had not only forced her to develop a powerful memory and focused lifestyle; it also deepened her relationship with God.

Blindness was not a terrible thing after all. At the age of eight, Fanny composed this little poem:

Oh, what a happy child I am,
Although I cannot see!
I am resolved that in this world
Contented I will be!
How many blessings I enjoy
That other people don't!
So weep or sigh because I'm blind,
I cannot - nor I won't.

Fanny Crosby had an amazing outlook for her life, full of faith and hope. Her blindness never gave birth to self-pity in her little heart. In her adult years, she would often say, "It was the best thing that could have happened to me" or "How in the world could I have lived such a helpful life as I have lived had I not been blind?"

In 1834, Fanny learned of a recently founded New York Institute for the Blind. She knew that this was the answer to her prayer for a proper education. Shortly before her fifteenth birthday, Crosby was sent to the Institute. That became her home for 23 years - 12 years as a student, and 11 years as a teacher.

Fanny became somewhat of a celebrity at the school. She was called upon to write poems for almost every conceivable occasion. As the time went by, the principal asked her to avoid such "distractions" and to concentrate on her teaching duties. He said to her, "We have no right to be vain in the presence of the Owner and Creator of all things."

A traveling phrenologist changed the mind of the principal and again ignited Fanny’s passion to write. Phrenology is the study of the shape and irregularities of the skull for insights into the character and mental capacity of the person. Though this science is now being ridiculed and disputed, the words of the phrenologist proved to be very prophetic: "Here is a poetess. Give her every possible encouragement. Read the best books to her and teach her the finest poetry. You will hear from this young lady some day." His words came true!

By age 23, Fanny was writing poetry for presidents and paupers. She was addressing Congress and making friendships with presidents, especially Grover Cleveland, who had served as secretary for the Institute for the Blind before his election. When she was 30, she dedicated her life to Christ at a revival meeting. From then onwards, her writing took a new spiritual direction.

Her first book of poems was published in 1844. It was called "The Blind Girl and Other Poems." In 1858, she published a book called "A Wreath of Columbia's Flowers." It was a collection of secular stories and poems filled with the same emotional and sentimental tones that she had given to her hymns. Her last book "Memories of Eighty Years" was published in 1906 when she was 86.

On March 5, 1858, Fanny was married to Alexander van Alstine, another member of the same institute. He was also a former pupil at the New York Institute for the Blind. Alexander was a great musician. Considered to be one of the finest organists in New York, he wrote the music to many of Fanny's hymns. Fanny was herself an excellent harpist. She also played the piano and the guitar, and she had a lovely soprano voice. Though she could play a few instruments, Fanny put music to only some of her hymns. Very often, the musicians would come to ask her for the lyrics to their music.

Fanny lived beyond 90 years. Even as an elderly woman, she would sit at the piano, playing almost everything from classical pieces to hymns to ragtime. Sometimes she even jazzed up the old hymns, bringing new life to the ancient melodies. One biographer wrote this of her:

...in her day, she was considered by most people to be the greatest in America. As Johann Strauss reigned in Vienna as the "Waltz King", and John Phillip Sousa in Washington as the "March King", so Fanny Crosby reigned in New York in the later nineteenth and early twentieth century as the "Hymn Queen"….

After her marriage, Fanny left her teaching post at the Institute. Within a few years, she found her true vocation in writing hymns. She was under contract to submit three hymns a week to her publisher, Bigelow and Main. They would then use the new hymns in their Sunday School publications. Fanny would sometimes write six or seven hymns a day. She was usually paid only one or two dollars for each poem. Those who composed the tunes usually kept all the rights for the entire hymn.

Fanny could write complex poetry as well as improvise classical music. But she opted for simplicity by writing music for the common people. Her hymns were aimed at bringing the message of the Gospel to people who could not understand complicated preaching. Whenever she wrote a hymn, she would pray to the Lord that He would use it to lead many souls to Himself.

When the evangelistic team of Dwight L. Moody and Ira D. Sankey began to use her hymns in their crusades, her popularity grew. Her hymns was instrumental in drawing multitudes to acknowledge and confess Jesus Christ as their personal Savior and Lord. Some of them were:

  • Blessed Assurance
  • All the Way My Savior Leads Me
  • To God Be the Glory
  • Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior
  • Safe in the Arms of Jesus
  • Rescue the Perishing
  • Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross
  • I Am Thine, O Lord

Her hymn writing abilities declined in her later years. But Fanny was still very active in the ministry. She had speaking engagements, and did missionary work among the urban poor in America - almost until the day she died in February 12, 1915. Her grave was in Bridgeport, Connecticut. There was a simple little headstone with the name "Aunt Fanny" and these words:

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine.
Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine.

Eliza Hewitt memorialized Fanny’s passing in a poem:

Away to the country of sunshine and song,
Our songbird has taken her flight,
And she who has sung in the darkness so long
Now sings in the beautiful light.

Fanny had led many people to Christ not only through her music and hymns but also through her personal life and testimony. She continued to write up to her death, a month shy of her 95th birthday. Her last stanza was "You will reach the river brink, some sweet day, bye and bye."

Fanny’s true heart desire, before she died, was perhaps penned in one of her later hymns:

When my lifework is ended and I cross the swelling tide,
When the bright and glorious morning I shall see,
I shall know my Redeemer when I reach the other side,
And His smile will be the first to welcome me.

I shall know Him, I shall know Him,
And redeemed by His side I shall stand!
I shall know Him, I shall know Him
By the print of the nails in His hand.

Once a well-meaning preacher sympathetically remarked, "I think it is a great pity that the Master did not give you sight when He showered so many other gifts upon you." Fanny replied quickly, "Do you know that if at birth I had been able to make one petition, it would have been that I should be born blind?" "Why?" asked the surprised clergyman. "Because when I get to heaven, the first face that shall ever gladden my sight will be that of my Savior!"

About her blindness, Fanny said: "It seemed intended by the blessed providence of God that I should be blind all my life, and I thank Him for the dispensation. If perfect earthly sight were offered me tomorrow, I would not accept it. I might not have sung hymns to the praise of God if I had been distracted by the beautiful and interesting things about me."

One of Fanny Crosby's hymns was so personal that for years she kept it to herself. Kenneth Osbeck was the author of several books on hymnology. He said that its revelation to the public came about this way:

One day at the Bible conference in Northfield, Massachusetts, Miss Crosby was asked by D.L. Moody to give a personal testimony. At first she hesitated, then quietly rose and said, "There is one hymn I have written which has never been published. I call it my soul's poem. Sometimes when I am troubled, I repeat it to myself, for it brings comfort to my heart." She then recited while many wept:

Someday the silver cord will break,
And I no more as now shall sing;
But oh, the joy when I shall wake
Within the palace of the King!
And I shall see Him face to face,
And tell the story--saved by grace!

Saved by grace, no eyes yet see, poor but so rich! This is her story, this is her song, praising her Savior all the day long! Blessed and assured!

Written on:
30 August 2004