Monday, January 4, 2010

What a Friend We Have in Jesus

Joseph Scriven watched in shock as the body of his fiancée was pulled from the lake. Their wedding had been planned for the next day. Reeling from the tragedy, he made up his mind to immigrate to America. Packing up his belongings in Dublin, Ireland, he sailed for Canada, leaving his mother behind. He was about 25 years old.

Ten years later, in 1855, he received word that his mother was facing a crisis. Joseph wrote this poem and sent it to her. Mrs. Scriven evidently gave a copy to a friend who had it published anonymously, and it quickly became a popular hymn, though no one knew who had written it.

Meanwhile, Joseph fell in love again. But tragedy struck a second time when his bride, Eliza Catherine Roche, contracted tuberculosis and died in 1860 before their wedding could take place.

To escape his sorrow, Joseph poured himself into ministry, doing charity work for the Plymouth Brethren and preaching among the Baptists. He lived a simple, obscure life in Port Hope, Canada, cutting firewood for widows, giving away his clothes and money to those in need. He was described as “a man of short stature, with iron-gray hair, close-cropped beard, and light blue eyes that sparkled when he talked.” Ira Sankey later wrote:

Until a short time before his death it was not known that he had a poetic gift. A neighbor, sitting up with him in his illness, happened upon a manuscript copy of “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” Reading it with great delight and questioning Mr. Scriven about it, he said that he had composed it for his mother, to comfort her in a time of special sorrow, not intending that anyone else should see it. Some time later, when another Port Hope neighbor asked him if it was true he composed the hymn, his reply was, “The Lord and I did it between us.”

On October 10, 1896, Joseph became critically ill. In his delirium, he rose from his bed and staggered outdoors where he fell into a small creek and drowned at age 66. His grave was arranged so that his feet were opposite those of his lost love, Eliza Catherine Roche, that at the resurrection they might arise facing one another.

(From “Then Sings My Soul”, 250 of the world’s greatest hymn stories.)

“...the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 4:6-7


  1. My name is Paul Scriven and I was searching for " scriven" blogs and came across this one. I have heard of the hymm but never knew that a Scriven was the source. I must admit that I am taken back at the story, and will tell all of my realtives about it. thank you for putting it on lline. I am listening to Radio Dublin via the net and it jsut seems right that i would stumble across this message

  2. Hi Paul,

    I'm so glad you ran across this post when you did. How great that you now know the origin of this wonderful hymn!



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