Hymnlines: “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” Part 1

A beuatiful rose for my beloved friends

A dear friend of mind loves this hymn. It is one of the “ancients” still  found in most hymnals today and has been popular since first written in 1855 by Joseph Scriven.

A modern arrangement is sung by Bette Mittler to the tune of “The Rose”. Bette’s rendition is a haunting melody that does not weaken the beauty, (drives me to tears) but brings it back to mind over and over. Both can be found on YouTube. Each one offers something different. The original hymn was written in the style of the past, but both resonate with those who are acquainted grief or carry heavy burdens.

What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.

To share a little history about Joseph, at age 25, this Irish-born young man was in love and planning to marry. The day before his wedding, his fiancé died in a tragic drowning accident. Heartbroken, Joseph left his homeland and traveled to Canada to start a new life. While in Canada working as a teacher, he fell in love once again and became engaged to Eliza Roche, a relative of one of his students. Unbelievably, Joseph’s hope and dreams were shattered once again when Eliza became ill and died before their wedding could take place.

Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged; take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness; take it to the Lord in prayer.

Although one can only imagine the heartache within Joseph’s heart, history tells us that his faith in God sustained him. Soon after Eliza’s death, he joined the Plymouth Brethren and began preaching. He never married, choosing to spend the remainder of his life giving of his time, means and even the clothes off his back to help someone in need. Above all, he sought in every way possible to spread the Good News about Jesus Christ.

Are we weak and heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge, take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do your friends despise, forsake you? Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In His arms He’ll take and shield you; you will find a solace there.

Around the same time that Eliza died, Joseph received word from Ireland that his mother was ill. He could not travel the distance to be with her, so he wrote a letter of comfort and enclosed one of his poems entitled “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”. Over thirty years later, noted musician Charles C. Converse (1834-1918), put music to poem giving us the beloved hymn we have today.

Blessed Savior, Thou hast promised Thou wilt all our burdens bear
May we ever, Lord, be bringing all to Thee in earnest prayer.
Soon in glory bright unclouded there will be no need for prayer
Rapture, praise and endless worship will be our sweet portion there.

To this day, no one knows for sure if Scriven’s death was accidental or not. A friend said that he had been in serious depression before he died. “We left him about midnight. I withdrew to an adjoining room, not to sleep, but to watch and wait. You may imagine my surprise and dismay when on visiting the room I found it empty. All search failed to find a trace of the missing man, until a little after noon, the body was discovered in the water nearby, lifeless and cold in death.”

Joseph Scriven’s authorship of his poem was discovered by accident shortly before his death in August, 1886. His story would probably have gone unnoticed in church history if it were not for this hymn that ranks among the ten best known and loved hymns of all time.

Perhaps you have a tragic story to tell. Perhaps you, too, survive someone you loved. Joseph’s life story gives us an example of a heart that was open to God’s love, giving back in many ways including the writing of this beloved hymn. Whether our stories are stored in the archives of history or not, they still matter. Every word and action we had with our beloved is treasured in our hearts still pumping with life.

My dear friends, we must love each other. Loves comes from God, and when we love each other, it shows that we have been given new life. We are now God’s children, and we know Him.  1 John 4:7


(Photo credit: Jose Luis Mieza Photography)


2 thoughts on “Hymnlines: “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” Part 1

    • Yes indeed! Digging through history we find pain in the life somewhere. He knew loss and yet out of his loss came great beauty still being sung and shared to this day. It’s one of my favs too.

Share your thoughts....

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s