“What a Friend We Have in Jesus”

"In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of Him" (Eph. 3.12)

     INTRO.: A song which talks about the access that we have with God because Jesus is our Friend is "What A Friend We Have In Jesus" (#69 in Hymns for Worship Revised, and #63 in Sacred Selections for the Church).  The text was written by Joseph (some of our books mistakenly have George) Medlicott Scriven, who was born on Sept. 10, 1819, at Seapatrick in County Down, Ireland, near Dublin, into the wealthy family of Capt. John Scriven. However, his life was filled with tragedy and disappointment, as well as physical illness. His hopes to follow his father in a military career had to be abandoned because of ill health. So in 1835 he entered Trinity College where he graduated with a B. A. degree in 1842.  However, his intended bride was accidentally drowned the evening before their wedding. To help recover from the shock, Scriven emigrated in 1844 at the age of 25 to Rice Lake near Bewdley, Ontario, Canada, where he taught school at the Pengelley estate. There, he fell in love again and became engaged to Miss Eliza Catherine Roche. Again, disaster struck. A short time before they were to be married, Miss Roche contracted pneumonia and died.

     Scriven then moved to Port Hope, about ten miles north of Rice Lake, where he joined the Plymouth Brethren group and became a servant to the underprivileged by helping those who were physically handicapped and financially destitute. Making his living as a carpenter, he received meager wages because he worked mostly for the widows and the sick, seldom for anyone able to pay, and what little he did make he often gave away to the needy. The townspeople considered him eccentric, but he was respected and became known as "the Good Samaritan of Port Hope." Around 1855, he learned of his mother’s serious illness, and since he could not be with her in far-off Dublin, he her sent a letter of comfort which contained the words of this hymn. In 1857, when Scriven himself was ill, a friend with whom he was staying, James Sackville, found a copy of the poem and asked who penned it. Scriven replied, "The Lord and I did it between us." Sackville secured permission to publish it, and it first appeared anonymously in Horace L. Hastings’s 1865 Social Hymns, Original and Selected.

     The tune (Erie or Converse) was composed for this text in 1868 by a well-known musician of that day, Charles Crozat Converse (1832-1919).  The hymn was later included in a collection of Scriven’s poems published in 1869 simply entitled Hymns and Other Verses, and then made its way into an 1870 Sunday school hymnbook Silver Wings published in Richmond, VA, although Scriven’s authorship was not publicly established until around 1875 when the song received world wide attention by its inclusion in Gospel Hymns No. 1 edited by Ira David Sankey (1840-1908). The 1878 Methodist Hymnal appears to be among the first American collection to match the text with the tune. In 1886, Scriven returned to Rice Lake for a visit, became ill, and on the cool morning of Aug. 10, 1886, was found dead in a nearby stream by the friend with whom he was staying. Some have conjectured that his death was intentional, but others maintain that it was accidental. Sometime after his death, his neighbors erected a monument to his memory in Pengelley’s Cemetery on the Port Hope-Peterborough Rd. that includes an inscription of his famous hymn.

     Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, the song appeared in the 1921 Great Songs of the Church (No. 1) and the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 both edited by E. L. Jorgenson; the 1935 Christian Hymns (No. 1), the 1948 Christian Hymns No. 2, and the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 all edited by L. O. Sanderson; the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch; and the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater.  Today it may be found in the 1971 Songs of the Church, the 1990 Songs of the Church 21st C. Ed., and the 1994 Songs of Faith and Praise all edited by Alton H. Howard; the 1978/1983 Church Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard; the 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forrest M. McCann; and the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; in addition to Hymns for Worship, Sacred Selections, and the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat.

     We can find relief when we take our burdens to the Lord, our Friend, in prayer.

I. Stanza 1 tells us that Jesus is a true friend who cares for us.
"What a Friend we have in Jesus, All our sins and griefs to bear;
What a privilege to carry Everything to the Lord in prayer.
O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry Everything to the Lord in prayer."
 A. Jesus is truly a Friend who sticks closer than a brother: Prov. 18.24
 B. He showed that He is our Friend by bearing our sins and griefs when He gave His life for us: Jn. 15.13-15
 C. Our Friend then encourages us to carry everything to the Lord in prayer: Phil. 4.6-7

II. Stanza 2 suggests that because Jesus is a friend we have access to God through Him in times of trials and temptations
"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."
 A. All of God’s people do experience trials and temptations from time to time: Jas. 1.2-3, 12
 B. However, we should never be discouraged but can rejoice even in our tribulations because we have access to God through Christ: Rom. 5.1-4
 C. It should be of great comfort to us to know that Jesus will share all our sorrows because He knows our every weakness and aid us in all our temptations: Heb. 2.17-18

III. Stanza 3 reminds us that because we can go to God in prayer through this Friend, we can find refuge and solace in Him
"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 thy friends despise, forsake thee? Take it to the Lord in prayer;
In His arms He’ll take and shield thee, Thou wilt find a solace there."
 A. Jesus calls to all who are weak and heavy laden to come to Him: Matt. 11.28-30
 B. Those who are cumbered with a load of care are invited to cast it all on the Lord: 1 Pet. 5.7
 C. When we "take it to the Lord in prayer" we can find grace to help us in time of need: Heb. 4.16-18

IV. Stanza 4, almost universally omitted, describes heaven as a place where praise will replace prayer
"Blessed Jesus, 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 Shall be our sweet portion there."
 A. As long as we live upon this earth, we can cast our burdens on the Lord in earnest prayer: Ps. 55.22, Jas. 5.16
 B. However, someday we shall be in glory where there will be no need for prayer because we shall be in the very presence of God Himself: Rev. 22.3-4
 C. Rather, rapture, praise, and endless worship will be the lot of the redeemed who in this life had learned to "take it to the Lord in prayer": Rev. 4.8-11

     CONCL.: Some have been critical of this hymn because they do not consider it good poetry. However, the criticism is muted by the great service that it has rendered in providing comfort to countless individuals. The author once said that he wrote it "in a time of special sorrow, not intending that anyone else should see it." We can be glad that his original intention was not achieved. Anyone can easily understand the thought of this hymn, simply worded but profoundly true.  We are encouraged to practice prayer and find our loads more bearable as we sing, "What A Friend We Have In Jesus."


Leave a Reply

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