From the pen of Dr. Sam Jones
For the month of March, the Spiritual Moments have focused on the theme, “Birth of Selected Spiritual Songs and Hymns.” The focus has been to explain the situation or idea behind the beginning of various songs and hymns that we sing in worship to God. Hopefully, this knowledge will give us a deeper appreciation of them. Today, we will review the aspiration of the lyrics of a hymn written in 1855 by Joseph M. Scriven. The name of the hymn is “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”
This hymn, like so many others, was originally a poem and it was never intended for publication as a hymn. Before I provide the situation that gave birth to this comforting hymn, allow me to tell you a little bit about its author. Mr. Scriven was a man well acquainted with grief. He was born in Dublin, Ireland; as a young boy, he aspired to serve in the Royal Marines like his father. He had a physical health problem that hindered him from being able to serve in the Marines. He eventually fell in love and was engaged to be married, but his girlfriend accidently drowned the night before the wedding.
To put some distance between himself and this tragedy in his life, he moved to Canada. While in Canada, he fell in love again, but tragedy came a second time. His bride to be contracted tuberculosis and she died before they could be married. From that time, he developed a totally new philosophy in life. In his grief, he decided to devote himself to a life of serving others.
One day, he received words that his mother was very sick. He was financially unable to return to Ireland to see her; thus, he decided to write her a poem to comfort her. Below are the first two stanzas of the poem that was later made a hymn.
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.
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!
This hymn sweetly communicates the message of John 15:13-15 that we have an authentic friend in Jesus. Regardless of what comes our way or what hand life deals us, we have a friend in Jesus. Solomon writes the following about a genuine friend, “A friend loves at all times” (Prov. 17:17), and “...there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24). What a joy and privilege it is to have a good friend like Jesus!