When a lifeless body was pulled from the dark waters of a lake near Dublin, Ireland, Joseph Scriven’s world turned upside down. It was his fiancée, the woman he was supposed to marry the following day. This tragedy – and plenty like it – plagued him most of his life.
But out of his woes came a song that has encouraged millions around the world.
Reeling from the heartbreak caused by his fiancée’s death, the 25-year-old Scriven left his family behind and set sail for Canada, hoping to build a new life in a new land. He filled his days in Port Hope by cutting firewood for widows, giving away clothes and money to the poor, and preaching in Baptist churches.
It wasn’t long before he met Eliza Roche, a friend of a friend, with whom he fell in love. The two were engaged, and a date was set for the wedding. But as unlikely and unthinkable as it may sound, this young lady also died (from tuberculosis) before the two of them could be wed!
To make matters worse, while he was burying his second fiancée, he received news from Ireland that his mother was also sick. Being a man of meager means, he gave his mother all he could: encouragement he’d received from the Lord during his own suffering. The simple poem he composed and sent to her is now one of the Church’s most famous hymns:
What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear
What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer
Oh, what peace we often forfeit
Oh, what needless pain we bear
All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer
But that stanza – and the others accompanying it – now found in almost every hymnal published, was almost completely lost to history. In the fall of 1896, Joseph was stricken with an awful sickness, and confined to bed. A neighbor that had volunteered to take care of him in his plight happened upon a copy of the poem and marveled at its wonderful message. The neighbor asked about its origin and Scriven’s answer revealed his humility: “The Lord and I did it between us.”
Sadly, Joseph Scriven would not survive his dreadful illness. On October 10th, he rose from his bed in a state of delirium and staggered outdoors where he fell into a small stream and drowned at the age of 66.
The Apostle Paul knew the Jesus that Joseph Scriven called Friend. In Philippians 4:4-7, he wrote:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
And like the Apostle Paul, Joseph Scriven made this Friend known to others.
Then Sings My Soul by Robert J. Morgan. Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003, Pages 130-131.
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(Resource cataloged by David R Smith)