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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 peace we often forfeit,
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?
Jesus knows our every weakness.
Take it to the Lord in prayer!

Are we weak and heavy laden,
Cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Saviour, 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 shield thee;
Thou wilt find a solace there.

There are very few hymns as comforting, as widely sung and as greatly loved as this one. It has never failed to bring great consolation at the loss of a dear one. It has never failed to bring faith and hope in times of spiritual need and loneliness. It is a masterpiece simply because its lyrics and music are simple and yet strong. It appeals to all people of all ages throughout the years! It has brought strength and courage to countless hearts in their times of trouble. It simply unveils this basic truth that Jesus is our wonderful Friend! This amazing message rings throughout the hymn.

Joseph Medlicott Scriven wrote the lyrics of this beloved hymn. He was born in Ireland, near the village of Banbridge, on September 10, 1819. His family was wealthy. His father was Captain John Scriven of the Royal Marines, and also the Church Warden of Seapatrick Parish Church. His mother was Jane Medlicott, the sister of a Wiltshire Vicar, Rev. Joseph Medlicott.

Joseph Scriven was well educated. As a young man, he spent two years at Addiscombe Military College in Surrey with the intention to join the East India Company. In 1842, he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Trinity College in Dublin.

Joseph fell in love with a girl in Banbridge. Within two years, they were engaged. They could have lived happily thereafter. But tragedy struck. On the eve of their wedding day, his bride-to-be died. While crossing a bridge over River Bann, she was thrown off from her horse, and was drowned. This happened in the full view of her lover who was lovingly waiting for her on the other side of the river. This was just the beginning of his sorrows.

Joseph then consecrated his life to serve Christ. He adopted some of the teachings of the Plymouth Brethren. The Plymouth Brethen movement was started during the winter of 1827-28 by four Christian men, namely, John Nelson Darby, Edward Cronin, John Bellett and Francis Hutchinson. For some time, they had been troubled about the condition of the professing churches. They agreed, after much prayer and conference, to come together on the Lord's Day. There and then they remembered the Lord Jesus in the breaking of bread, as the early Christians did, counting on the Lord to be with them. Their first meeting was held in Francis Hutchinson's house in Dublin, Ireland. As they continued to meet, others in Dublin and elsewhere were added to their number. Among the many gatherings, one sprang up at Plymouth, England. The people in the region began to call them "brethren from Plymouth." This naturally resulted in the designation "Plymouth Brethren."

Joining this group resulted in some strains and tensions in Joseph's relationship with his family. He then migrated to Canada. He first settled at Rice Lake in Ontario, and later at Port Hope where he taught and tutored to make a living. He was a private tutor to several of the local families there. He gave himself completely to his students and the community.

He joined the local Plymouth Brethren, and ministered to the needs of their elderly. Through his own experiences, he became very aware and conscious of the sufferings of the poor and weak around him. He endeavored to live out the teachings of Jesus, especially the Sermon on the Mount. Even though his possessions were limited, he was giving or lending to anyone who asked him for assistance, comforting and encouraging those in plight. He even shared the very clothes he was wearing whenever the need arose. He had never failed to help the people who came to him. He sawed wood for the stoves of the physically handicapped and widows who were unable to pay. He also comforted the poor and the mentally distressed. He became known as a Good Samaritan throughout the region surrounding Port Hope.

Another tragedy happened in 1854. Joseph was going to marry Eliza Roche. But Eliza caught a chill after immersing herself in Rice Lake. She became seriously ill, and died three years later. Nobody could understand the degree of depression and despondency that Joseph was undergoing. This was in the year of 1857 that Joseph wrote the inspirational words of this famous hymn.

Ten years after he had left his home, Joseph came to know that his mother had fallen seriously ill in Ireland. As he was unable to return to his homeland, he wrote a letter of comfort to his mother. The words of his newly written poem about prayer was enclosed in that letter, reminding his mother of a Heavenly Friend Who never fails to listen to prayers!

In 1869, a small collection of his poems was published. It was simply entitled "Hymns and Other Verses." His famous poem was published in a local newspaper. It was set to music by Charles C. Converse, and gained international recognition under the renowned title "What A Friend We Have In Jesus." In 1875, Ira Sankey discovered the hymn just in time to include it into his famous collection, Sankey's Gospel Hymns Number One. Sankey later wrote, "The last hymn which went into the book became one of the first in favor."

The origin of this hymn was only discovered shortly before Joseph's death. It was originally entitled "Pray Without Ceasing." The last few years of Joseph were plagued by sickness, poverty and depression. James Sackville took care of Joseph during his last days. It was James who discovered Joseph's copy of the hymn while searching a drawer on his behalf. When asked how he came to write such a beautiful hymn, Joseph simply replied, "The Lord and I did it between us."

Joseph Scriven's death in August 10, 1886 was due to drowning. Until today, nobody knows for sure if his death was accidental or suicidal. He was depressed at the time of his death. A friend testified, "We left him about midnight. I withdrew to an adjoining room, not to sleep, but to watch and wait. You may imagine my surprise and dismay when on visiting the room I found it empty. All search failed to find a trace of the missing man, until a little after noon the body was discovered in the water nearby, lifeless and cold in death."

For many years, the grave of Joseph Scriven remained unmarked. But on September 10, 1919, during the centenary of his birth, a pilgrimage of clergymen visited the grave. They joined hands surrounding it, and sang the hymn - the very song that had brought so much comfort, uplifting and consoling hearts and souls whenever the music was sung.

Under the leadership of Rev. W. D. Lee of the Millbrook Presbyterian Church, the Joseph Scriven Memorial Committee was formed to erect a monument to his memory. The words of the hymn were enscribed on a white granite monument, standing 13 feet high and overlooking the shining waters of Rice Lake. It was dedicated on May 24, 1920. Six thousand people gathered, including the Premier of Ontario, E.C. Drury.

In paying tribute to Scriven, the Premier said: "He did not build a railway or amass a fortune. But he did more than that; he contributed a thought that will outlive railroads and fortunes. It will go on enriching the lives of men, when other things of material nature have crumbled and perished. On this occasion, tributes were paid by many people who had known Scriven personally. He lived the life of our Saviour. His life was a living example of the principle: The Son of God came not to be ministered unto but to minister."

Below are some of the testimonies and tributes given to the life of Joseph Scriven:

"He lived a truly unselfish life, going among the afflicted and comforting the sorrowing, sharing his little with the poverty-stricken."

"I remember the times when one of the families lost their cow. They were dependent on that cow for much of their living. Mr. Scriven expressed his sympathy, and desire to help out, but regretted that he had no money, so offered his watch for the family to sell."

"Through the years, Scriven became known as the man with bucksaw and axe who went to homes of widows and aged folk to chop their wood."

"For several years, he lived in Port Hope in a small cottage isolated in the woods, which still stands at the corner of Strachen and Thomas Streets. In his zeal for presenting the gospel, he preached on street corners in Port Hope and Bewdley and among the farmers."

Joseph Scriven"As a member of the Brethren who renounce worldliness, Scriven would not have his picture taken, for to him it was a form of vanity. However, the Rev George A Osborough of Belfast located a great-nephew of Joseph, Dr W. H. Scriven, who possessed a photograph which he believed was an authentic picture of Joseph."

"On first writing, the hymn which he titled "Pray without Ceasing" only verses one and two were included. The third verse was added following a visit to Ireland. Because he had come back a poor man with rather shabby clothes, he had the bitter experience of being snubbed and slighted. This led to the third verse which begins: "Do thy friends despise, forsake thee," expressing the pain at his rejection."

Today, on the east side of Highway 28 just south of Bewdley stands another monument beside an orchard of evergreens. It was erected with funds collected by a devoted friend, Rev E. S. Kidd-Byrne. But Joseph was not buried there. His body was in the cemetery on the Pengelly farm two miles east of Bailieboro. The Ontario Architectural and Historical Sites Board in Bailieboro had placed distinctive markers to lead the visitors to the site of the cemetery.

Back in his homeland in Ireland, the Banbridge District Council had also put up a monument at Downshire Place. A stained glass window was dedicated to Joseph Scriven. The dedication service was carried out by Bishop Scriven, who was then the Bishop of Europe. He was the great-great grandnephew of Joseph Scriven. (Joseph had two younger brothers and one sister: George, John and Catherine Anne Mary. Their dates of birth were 1821, 1823 and 1825 respectively.)

This man who wrote about a Friend was a friend to his neighbours around him. As he had freely received, he freely gave. He was truly a man of no reputation. He was a rich man's son but became poor for the sake of the high calling of God. A man found not worthy by worldly standards but was greatly esteemed in heaven.

Somewhere along the river of life, his hymn continues to captivate and move the hearts of those seeking a Friend Who is closer than a brother! As near as the mention of His name and as near as the singing of this hymn. What a Friend we have in Jesus!

Please view a pictorial presentation of this hymn:
What A Friend We Have In Jesus (1.0 MB)

Written On:
26 January 2005