Saturday, April 30, 2011

What a friend!


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?

* * *

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


  1. Thank you for sharing...I hadn't read this story, some others hymn stories and yet it was the first song I learned to play with both hands on the piano. What an appropriate song for so many going through the losses this week.
    Thanks for posting...I think I will go try to play it on the piano...haven't played in years.

  2. No one would ever guess that from a life filled with such heartbreak a poem would emerge that would one day become a song so well-known. Very interesting! Hope you are having a beautiful day.

  3. Wow. I had never heard this backstory before. Thanks for sharing! I hope your Spiritual Sunday is blessed.

  4. I've never heard this story before. Tragic yet beautiful. Thanks for sharing...

    Blessings, Debbie

  5. The story adds so much meaning to this wonderful song. Thank you!

  6. What a story you told us! I have always loved that hymn. Thanks for sharing this today. He must have found some comfort writing that hymn. What a tragic life he led. Anne

  7. Love the story behind the hymn. "Oh what peace we often forfit, oh what needless pain we bear. All because we do not carry, everything to God in prayer." I often think of those words when I need God's help.

    Have a joyous Sabbath,

  8. this is a really sad story. It's hard to believe he had all those terrible things happen to him and then he wrote that song. This fascinates me. Thanks for posting it.

  9. I agree with Sarah - so many bad things though brings you to your knees - and either makes your stronger or weaker.

    How did he get to the river do you think?

    I LOVE THAT SONG by the way.

  10. I had never heard that story. I love that hymn. It's my mother's favorite of all, too.

  11. Wow. I have sung this song so many times, but did not know the story behind it. Thank you for sharing.

  12. Amen! What a Friend we Have in Jesus! Praise His Holy Name!

  13. Stopping by to wish you a very happy Mother's Day!

  14. Very interesting background on this favorite hymn. How are you?

  15. Very interesting! Hope you are having a beautiful day.

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