Heartfelt Story Behind ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus’: From Tragedy to Timeless Hymn

what a friend we have in jesus hymn story

The hymn ‘What A Friend We Have In Jesus‘ holds a special place in Christian worship for its comforting lyrics during times of sorrow. Yet, the story of its author, Joseph Medlicott Scriven, is less well-known.

Joseph Scriven’s tragic life

Joseph Scriven was born into a wealthy, devout family in Northern Seapatrick, Ireland, in 1819. He completed his education at Trinity College, Dublin. Scriven’s life took a tragic turn in 1844, just before his marriage. His fiancée was thrown from her horse and drowned in the River Bann, the day before their wedding. Overwhelmed by grief, Scriven left Ireland for Canada in 1845, settling in Port Hope, Ontario.

A life of service

In Canada, Scriven committed his life to God and service. At 25, he vowed poverty, sold his belongings, and helped those in need. He preached and read the Bible in community gatherings, taught school, and even cut wood for those who couldn’t pay. His commitment to service was noted by hymnologist Albert Bailey, who called him “the man who saws wood for poor widows and sick people who are unable to pay.

Another loss and unwavering faith

A decade after his first fiancée’s death, Scriven fell in love with Eliza Roach, niece of naval officer Robert Lamport Pengelly. However, tragedy struck again when Eliza died from pneumonia in 1860. Despite these losses, Scriven’s faith remained unwavering.

The creation of a beloved hymn

In 1855, Scriven penned a poem titled ‘What is this Friendship for Which We Long?’ to comfort his ailing mother in Ireland, never intending it for public eyes. However, after its publication with the music of Charles Converse in 1865 as ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus,’ it became one of the most beloved hymns worldwide.

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!

A mysterious death and enduring legacy

Joseph Scriven drowned near a friend’s home in 1886, under mysterious circumstances. His life, marked by service and sorrow, earned him the nickname “The Good Samaritan of Port Hope.” Despite the uncertainties surrounding his death, Scriven’s hymn continues to inspire millions with its message of divine friendship and support in times of distress.

Cast your burden on the LORD, and He will sustain you; He will never permit the righteous to be moved.” – Psalm 55:22

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Eileen Redmond
Eileen Redmond

We really do have the BESTEST friend- our beloved Jesus and God bless this man- Scriven for giving us this beloved song – Thank you for all these uplifting stories.