Hymn Story: What A Friend We Have In Jesus

Some of our best-loved hymns were written in times of great sadness. “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” is one such song.

Despite the pain, many hymn writers were able to find comfort in the arms of Jesus and point others to this source of unshakable joy with their music.

Read a story from Carl Price’s One Hundred and One Hymn Stories about the tragedy which spurred the hymn writer to pen these lyrics.

One of the most helpful hymns in popular use is Joseph Scriven’s hymn on the friendship of Jesus, the comforter and burden-bearer. Scriven (1820-1886) was a native of Dublin, Ireland, born in 1820. He graduated from Trinity College in his native city. At the age of twenty-five he emigrated to Canada, and lived there until his death at Port Hope on Lake Ontario, October 10, 1886.

When a young man, he was engaged to be married to a lady whom he had known and loved for a long time. All preparations had been made for the wedding ceremony and the date had been fixed. But shortly before the wedding day arrived his promised bride was accidentally drowned, and he was plunged into the deepest sorrow. From this sad experience came a deep sense of his dependence upon Christ and of the great truth so helpfully expressed in his lines:

What a Friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!

Out of the intense sympathy wrought in his heart by this experience, he wrote the hymn to comfort his mother in her own sorrow and sent it to her in Ireland. How it came to be first published is not known, as he had not intended it for general use. Indeed, for some time after it was printed its authorship was unknown, being sometimes incorrectly attributed to Dr. Horatius Bonar. After Scriven’s death, however, he became recognized as the author of the hymn that has blessed so many thousands of believers.

The Lyrics to “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”

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 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.


Hymn Story taken from One Hundred and One Hymn Stories by Carl F. Price; Hymn 79, page 87.

 

Clayton Kraby
Written by Clayton Kraby
I'm a Pastor in North Dakota and created ReasonableTheology.org to help make theology accessible for the everyday Christian. You can find me on Twitter @ClayKraby.