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Rev. Darryl Abernethy | Portadown, Northern Ireland
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WHAT A FRIEND WE HAVE IN JESUS !
SUNDAY, JUNE 11, 2006
Posted by: Bethany Free Presbyterian Church | more..
3,960+ views | 700+ clicks | 5 user comments

"WHAT A FRIEND WE HAVE IN JESUS"

This is the amazing and yet oftentimes tragic story of Joseph Scriven, the man who wrote "What A Friend We Have In Jesus." It is sure to touch you as you read these words. Here is a man who knew what he was talking about when he wrote this hymn, (originally as a poem).

I wonder how many people know that Joseph Scriven was born in Northern Ireland ? Yes !! One of the world’s most famous and well-loved hymns was written by a man from our tiny Province !!

Joseph Scriven’s beginnings were of relative comfort, as his parents were quite prosperous. He was born on September 10th, 1819, in Banbridge, Co. Down.

He went to study in Trinity College, Dublin, and his father originally hoped that Joseph would embark on a military career.

It was while studying in Dublin that Joseph came face to face with the Gospel, repented, and was converted.

Joseph Scriven obtained his degree in 1842 and also became engaged to be married. The wedding was scheduled for 1844. Then tragedy struck a cruel blow. On the eve of their wedding day, his bride-to-be was crossing a bridge on the River Bann. She was thrown from her horse, and into the river. It is thought that her head struck a rock and she died almost instantly, by drowning. Poor Joseph was awaiting her on the other side of the river, and saw the whole tragedy unfolding before his eyes.

The following year, Joseph decided on a fresh start, and emigrated to Canada. He made up his mind to give his extra time into being a friend and helper to those who were in need. Many times he gave away his clothing and possessions. He did work for widows and sick people who were unable to afford to pay anyone to do the work, and he refused any payment for it. He got the nickname in the locality where he lived as the "The Good Samaritan of Port Hope." He also preached the Gospel at fairs and marketplaces.

But tragedy was to come into Joseph’s life once more. In 1854 he was to be married to a Miss Eliza Roche, but she caught a chill which developed into pneumonia and she became seriously ill. Joseph helped to nurse her and stayed much by her bedside, but three years after taking ill, she died.

It is thought that through this indescribable grief that the hymn, "What A Friend We Have In Jesus" was born. He also wrote it to comfort his mother who was ill. It was originally a poem, entitled, "Pray Without Ceasing," and at first was in the form of two verses, not three.

There is a short story behind the third verse. Apparently, he was on a visit back to his native Northern Ireland, and because throughout his life he had helped others, and given many possessions and clothing away, he was very shabbily clothed. For this reason, he was snubbed by many people on this visit "home." It is said this is why he added the third verse,

"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."

It is said that rather than becoming embittered by the many cruel blows dealt to him in his life, Joseph Scriven’s devotion to his Saviour became more sweet and intense.

Joseph became ill in the latter years of his life, and a Christian friend kept "an eye" on him when he wasn’t well. One day, while searching the drawers for something that Joseph had asked him to fetch, he came across his poem. He asked Joseph who had written such a beautiful poem, to which he replied, "The Lord and I did it between us !! "

Joseph Scriven died on August 10th, 1886 in very tragic circumstances, by drowning. It is said that he had asked to be buried opposite Eliza, his sweetheart, "feet to feet" , so that when they would be resurrected, they would arise face to face.

Joseph had never intended his poem to be published, but shortly after his death, his poem appeared in his local newspaper. Later, someone was posting a parcel to the USA and they wrapped it in a copy of this newspaper. The recipient of the parcel then noticed he poem on the paper and arranged for it to be published. Later, Charles C. Converse, the composer, came across the words and set them to the beautiful melody, and thus, one of the world’s most famous hymns was complete.

Was it coincidence that the poem came to Charles Converse’s attention in such a "roundabout" way ? I think NOT !

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Please take time to listen to Rev Elliott's latest sermons:

FEATURES OF A PREACHER'S MESSAGE

A MERRY HEART EXAMINED

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Blog Item4/30/10 8:49 PM
Katie Morris | California, USA  Contact via emailGo to homepageFind all comments by Katie Morris
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Hello, I've just found this site. You have a nice write-up for Joseph. My great-great-Grandmother Jane was a little sister of Joseph. I just opened my 1st blog to visit about her, as she seems unknown to the World. Everyone is Welcome to drop by & say, 'Hi'. Best Wishes, Katie
p.s. & a special shoutout to my penpal Irene Holland there

Blog Item8/3/06 7:36 PM
Admin | Bethany FPC Portadown  
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Thanks for the comments Brigand. The Lord has certainly used this powerful hymn as a source of comfort and blessing to many.

Blog Item8/2/06 8:03 PM
Brigand | Ontario, Canada  
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Your message on Joseph Scriven was timely for me indeed. Just last week I had the privelege of visiting the small private cemetary where Joseph Scriven and his sweetheart Eliza Roche lay,toe to toe, awaiting that glorious morning when Christ will appear to claim his Church. For me both "Joseph" and "What a Friend" has much meaning.

What a Friend was my Mother's favorite hymn and was sang at her funeral. Also it is claimed that Joseph Scriven was the first Brethern Preacher to come to Ontario, if not Canada. It is through the Brethern movement that my Father and Mother found their Lord as well as myself and other members of my family. I suppose, since the day of his own conversion, that dispite his own heartache and sorrow, it can be said that either directly or indirectly, as a result of the Brethern movement hundreds of thousand Christians owe their salvation to to this man. I say this not in any way diminish the work on the Cross.

Sincerely;
Brigand


Blog Item6/11/06 6:13 PM
Admin | Bethany FPC, Portadown, Northern Ireland  
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Glad that it was a blessing to you !

Blog Item6/11/06 4:39 PM
Patrick  
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Thank you for this touching story of God's providence and love to His children through the life and ministry of Joseph Scriven. Your account caught our eye as we had just returned from a worship service in which we sang this lovely old hymn.

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