The author of the hymn "What A Friend We Have In Jesus" is Joseph M. Scriven. His story is so filled with tragedy I was hesitant to share it. However, his life was one of such selfless service and the words of the hymn so precious I decided I would.
Joseph was born in Ireland in 1829 where he eventually attended Trinity College. The future looked bright. He graduated and was engaged to married. On the eve of their wedding his fiance died in a drowning accident. Filled with grief, Joseph emigrated to Canada.
He taught in schools in Ontario and also tutored Pengally family. It was during this time that he met and fell in love with Eliza Roche, a relative of the family. Tragically, unbelievably, she died a short time before their wedding of pneumonia.
After this second heart-break, Joseph joined the Plymouth Brethren and dedicated the rest of his life to helping the elderly. His own suffering produced in him a heart filled with compassion for the weak and poor. It was said that he lived out the Sermon on the Mount, giving away his money, his service and even his own clothing. He never married.
His famous hymn was originally written as a poem for his mother back in Ireland. It was written to comfort her at a time when she was ill and was originally titled "Pray Without Ceasing." Joseph had no desire to gain any notoriety; it was a friend who discovered the poem and had it published.
There are questions surrounding his death. His body was discovered on August 10, 1886 in the spillway of the grist mill owned by his neighbor. He suffered severely from depression, and his friends were not sure whether his death was accidental or a suicide.
Joseph Scriven's legacy of service and love continues to touch lives today through the words of this familiar and cherished 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.
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.
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."