‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus’

By Lucy N. Adams | Oct 30, 2013
Joseph Scriven, who wrote ‘What a Friend We have in Jesus,’ graduated from Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland and pursued a career in teaching.

It was just a short poem but it was a loving attempt to comfort his dying mother far away in Ireland.  And, now, “What a Friend We Have In Jesus” is one of the cornerstones of gospel truth.

Christians all over the world are reminded that we are to have a personal relationship with God and it is possible because of Jesus Christ.

The words were scribbled on scratch paper by Joseph Scriven in 1857 after tragedy had touched his life many times. His dream of service in the military had abruptly ended because of his poor health.  However, he was able to complete Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland and begin a teaching career.

Wedding plans were soon in progress with his childhood sweetheart.  But the day before the wedding, she was thrown from her horse into a lake and drowned.

Discouragement sent him to a new land at age 25.  In Canada he became the personal tutor for a family.

But grief entered his life again with the death of the second woman he had planned to marry.  Several years later, when he received news of his mother’s illness in Ireland, he wrote these familiar words.

“What a friend we have in Jesus. All our sins and griefs to bear.  What a privilege to carry. Everything to God in prayer.”

A few days later a friend was visiting Scriven and saw the little piece of paper on which the 12-line poem was written. The friend asked, “Who wrote these beautiful words?”  The humble author replied. “The Lord and I did it between us.”

The poem was published under the title, “Pray without Ceasing.” An outstanding composer who read it, Charles Converse, was struck by the dynamic faith expressed in the words.

So he put aside his usual work with large choirs and orchestra arrangements and quickly wrote a simple melody that matched these simple words. The product is one of the most profound hymns that we sing.

These words are a testimony to the undying faith of a quiet Christian man.  Joseph Scriven never preached great sermons but he lived his life as one. It has been said that he had “iron-gray hair, a close cropped beard, light blue eyes, that sparkled as he talked, and a face like an angel.”

After he died in 1886, the people he served and loved in Port Hope, Ontario, erected a monument in his memory.  The verses of the famous hymn are inscribed on it, and the last line underscores Scriven’s serenity and security:

“In His arms he’ll take and shield thee. Thou wilt find a solace there.”

The words of Jesus in John 16:33 give assurance of this fact. “In this world you will have tribulation.  But be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.”  Joseph Scriven understood how to overcome life’s tragedies.

For more Song Stories, visit www.52hymns.com.