Eric Clapton, the famed Blues guitarist, once stated about the Blues: “My definition of Blues is that it's a musical form which is very disciplined and structured coupled with a state of mind, and you can have either of those things but it's the two together that make it what it is. And you need to be a student for one, and a human being for the other, but those things alone don't do it.” Obviously, the definition for that style of music conveys one of adversity.
The writer of this famous hymn, which is often cited as one of the top then famous hymns of all time, certainly had his fair share of events that would give him the blues too.
Joseph Medlicott Scriven (1819-1886), Lyricist
Joseph Scriven was born September 10, 1819 in Banbridge, County Down, Ireland. He graduated from Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland prior to moving to Canada. His association with the Plymouth Brethren had estranged him from the family. His fiancé had drowned the day after being thrown off her horse over a bridge before their wedding. These two events probably motivated him for a fresh start in Canada. When he settled in Port Hope, Canada he had found another love, but she contracted tuberculosis, then pneumonia after her baptism in Rice Lake, and died. After such tragedies, he devoted his life to teaching and helping those less fortunate. He was known to cut wood for those less fortunate and would accept no compensation for doing so.
He received word that his mother was very ill. He wrote a poem to comfort her which he titled “Pray Without Ceasing” while abroad in Damascus, Syria. The words were the start of the hymn that we have today, but Scriven had not published it since it was for his mother. Ira Sankey added Converse’s music to it making it the hymn we sing today. Joseph M. Scriven published some 115 hymns in 1869.
Tragically, he was struck with depression and an illness which made him delirious. He was found face down in a creek, dead on August 10, 1886. It is unclear if his death was murder, an accident or suicide. He was buried in Pengelly Cemetery in Bewdley overlooking Rice Lake.
“What A Friend We Have in Jesus” has ranked in the top ten of popular church hymns.
Charles Crozat Converse (1832-1918), Composer
Charles Crozat Converse was born on October 7, 1832 in Warren, MA. He was a U. S. attorney who also liked to compose church hymns. He studied both law and music in Leipzig Germany. He also graduated from the Albany Laws School in 1861. He also received his LLD from Rutherford College. The song for this hymn, which was his most popular, was named “Erie” after the town of Erie, PA which was where he practiced law. He died on October 18, 1918 in Highwood, NJ and was buried in Bristol Cemetery in Canandaigua, NY.
What A Friend We Have in Jesus
I can recall it said that no matter how good you are at a given talent, there is always someone better, perhaps. I have also heard it said that no matter how bad your station in life may be, there are others whose condition may be worse. As our lives unfold, we may have friends come and go. Some friends may stay with us through most of our lives. Friendship is a wonderful thing to have, and there is no greater friend to mankind that Jesus.
Jesus told us of His friendship toward His disciples: “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you. These things I command you, that you love one another” (John 15:11-17, NKJV.)
Our friends may know and they may care, but Jesus always knows and He always cares! We may have some burdens that our friends might not fully understand, but Jesus does understand. We often have something happen in our lives that we seek out our friends to share with for comfort and support, but how often do we seek out Jesus through prayer?
John P. Wiegand, Editor, Praise for the Lord, Nashville, TN: Praise Press, 1997.
V. E. Howard, Editor, and Broadus E. Smith, Associate Editor, Church Gospel Songs & Hymns, Texarkana, TX: Central Printers & Publishers, 1983.