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Today's Christian, July/August 2004

"What a Friend We Have in Jesus"
How an eccentric but compassionate Irishman wrote one of our great hymns.
By Lindsay Terry

Joseph Scriven

Joseph Scriven's
"What a Friend We Have in Jesus"
What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!

More than a century ago, on the streets of Port Hope, Ontario, a man could be seen walking along carrying a saw and a sawhorse. One day a rich man from across the street saw him and said to a friend, "He looks like a sober man. I think I'll hire him to cut wood for me." "That's Joseph Scriven," the friend replied. "He wouldn't cut wood for you. He only cuts wood for those who don't have enough to pay." And that sums up the philosophy of Joseph Medlicott Scriven, a devoted member of the Plymouth Brethren Church, who took the Sermon on the Mount literally.

Scriven was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1819. He fell for a lovely young woman, but on the eve of their wedding she accidentally drowned.

Scriven never recovered from the shock. The Irishman began to wander, hoping to forget his sorrow. At age 25, he finally settled in Canada.

His faith led him to do menial tasks for poor widows and the sick. He often worked for no wages and was regarded by the people of the community as a kind man, albeit a bit odd.

He later fell in love again and planned to marry a wonderful Canadian woman. But again, tragedy struck. His fiance died after contracting pneumonia.

In 1855, a friend visited an ill Scriven and discovered a poem that he had written for his ailing mother in faraway Ireland. Scriven didn't have the money to visit her, but he sent her the poem as an encouragement. He called it "Pray Without Ceasing." When the friend inquired about the poem's origins, Scriven reportedly answered, "The Lord and I did it between us."

Scriven never intended for the poem to be published, but it made its rounds, and was set to music in 1868 by musician Charles Converse, who titled it "What a Friend We Have in Jesus." It has since become one of our greatest hymns.

Scriven died in 1886 (ironically, in an accidental drowning). In his memory, the town of Port Hope erected a monument with this inscription from Scriven's famous song: In His arms He'll take and shield thee. Thou wilt find a solace there.

Lindsay Terry is the author of Heartwarming Hymn Stories (Sword of the Lord Publishers), from which this article was adapted.

Copyright © 2004 by the author or Christianity Today International/Today's Christian magazine.
Click here for reprint information.

July/August 2004, Vol. 42, No. 4, Page 16



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