While I've always loved "What a Friend we Have in Jesus", I never stopped to consider the back-story. Sobering, wouldn't you agree?
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“What a Friend We Have in Jesus” emerged from a life assaulted by and associated with much grief and pain and loss which make the words of this familiar hymn all the more genuine and authoritative.
Its author, Joseph Scriven, born in 1819 of prosperous parents in Dublin, Ireland, had graduated from college, and began his life untroubled facing a promising future. Then, the night before his marriage, his bride was found in a pool of water where she had accidentally drowned. He never recovered from the loss.
He emigrated to Canada and became associated with the Plymouth Brethren. He freely gave of his possessions, even his own clothes. His life focused on the poor with whom he was close in times of trouble and sickness. He repaired their homes and chopped their wood. He performed menial tasks for the handicapped, the sick, and the poor.
He never had a home of his own, moving from place to place. He again fell in love, but his second fiancée contracted pneumonia and died.
In 1857 he learned that his mother was seriously ill. Due to his poverty, he was unable to travel to her and bring comfort. He wrote her a letter and enclosed a poem.
Some years later, he himself was seriously ill and a visiting friend happened to see a copy of the poem he wrote his mother.
During his illness in October, 1886, he left his house and was found dead the next morning, drowned in a nearby lake in what was a strange parallel to the death of his sweetheart forty years earlier.
The poem he had sent his mother is the hymn, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” While not particularly literary, there are few hymns that prove to be as great a source of solace and comfort to those distressed and burdened!
--Pastor Ray William Stubbe