What A Friend We Have In Jesus

Joseph Scriven

Joseph Scriven

Joseph Medlicott Scriven
In Dublin, Ireland, September 10, 1819, Joseph Scriven was born, the second son of well-to-do John Scriven, a Captain in the Royal Marines who served in Canada during the War of 1812, and Jane Medlicott. He was a good student, graduating from Trinity College in Dublin. After spending two years at Addiscombe military school in England it became evident that his health was not sufficient for a career in the military. Scriven took a position as a tutor and found a young lady that he wanted to marry, but his fiancé fell from her horse while crossing a bridge as Joseph stood on the other side watching her drown. He was brought to Christ as a result of this tragedy when he became involved with a religious separatist group called the Plymouth Brethren.
In 1847, Scriven moved to Canada taking a position there as a tutor and lay preacher in the Woodstock and Clinton area where a Plymouth Brethren group had been formed. He established a home in Rice Lake where he met and fell in love with Eliza Rice. Just weeks before she was to become Scriven’s bride, she suddenly grew sick. In a matter of weeks, Eliza died. A shattered Scriven turned to the only thing that had anchored him during his life-his faith. Through prayer and Bible study he somehow found peace and a mission. The young man vowed to give his life to the physically handicapped and financially destitute. It was a vow he never broke. Scriven died at Port Hope on Lake Ontario in 1886. His hymn “What a Friend we have in Jesus” was discovered by a neighbor, sitting up with him during his illness. The neighbor happened to see a manuscript of “What a Friend we have in Jesus” on a nightstand. When he questioned Mr. Scriven about it, he said he had composed it for his mother to comfort her in a time of special sorrow, not intending anyone else should see it. This sweet little song that had its origin from tragedy and sorrow is a hymn for sufferers of all kinds, but especially for those who have had to face mysterious happenings, which have been permitted in their lives, and that are hard to interpret. No one knows how or why, but Joseph Scriven drowned in a Canadian lake in 1886.

Charles Converse

Charles Converse

Charles Converse
Having returned from England in 1875, Mr. Ira Sankey was working on publishing a new song book called Gospel Hymns, No 1. After the book was completed and sent to the publisher, Sankey found Joseph Scriven’s poem in Sunday School pamphlet. Sankey, being a friend of Charles Converse, took one of his pieces of music and put Scriven’s words with it, calling the new song “What a friend We Have In Jesus.” It became the last song in the new hymn book. To change the focus of the song away from prayer, the last verse was omitted.

In the new hymn book Mr. Sankey gave authorship credit for “What A Friend We Have In Jesus” to a Scottish preacher, Horatius Bonar. Years later, Dr. Bonar told Mr. Sankey that he never wrote the words and did not know who did. Eight years after the hymn book was published, it became known that the true author was Joseph Scriven.

Lyrics to What A Friend We Have In Jesus

  1. What a friend we have in Jesus,
    All our sins and griefs to bear!
    What a privilege to carry
    Everything to God in prayer!
    Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
    Oh, what needless pain we bear,
    All because we do not carry
    Everything to God in prayer!
  2. 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.
  3. 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 shield thee,
    Thou wilt find a solace there.
  4. Blessed Savior, Thou hast promised
    Thou wilt all our burdens bear;
    May we ever, Lord, be bringing
    All to Thee in earnest prayer.
    Soon in glory bright, unclouded,
    There will be no need for prayer—
    Rapture, praise, and endless worship
    Will be our sweet portion there.

Click below to watch the story behind the song:

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