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What a Friend We Have in Jesus

by Ralph Walker, Jr.

Joseph Scriven was born Sept. 10, 1819 at Seapatrick, near Dublin Ireland, into the wealthy family of Capt. John Scriven. Joseph's hopes to follow his father in the military were dashed due to poor health.

In 1835 he entered Trinity College and graduated with a Bachelors degree in 1842. During that time he met a young woman he planned to marry. Tragically, the evening before the wedding, his bride-to-be fell off her horse into a river and was drowned.

Devastated, Scriven emigrated, as did many Irish at that time, to Canada. In 1844, at age 25, Joseph took work as a tutor to the children of the Pengelley family, who lived on Rice Lake near Bewdley, Ontario. One of the Pengelley chlldren later recalled that Scriven rented quarters from an elderly lady named Mrs. Gibson, who lived nearby. Joseph often delivered milk for her early in the morning because she suffered from crippling rheumatism.

Scriven fell in love with another young lady, Eliza Roche. After their engagement, she was diagnosed with tuberculosis and died three years later. For the second time, Joseph Scriven was alone.

He moved to Port Hope, about 10 miles north of Rice Lake. His two great losses drove him to service with the Plymouth Brethren, a group affiliated with the restoration movement in Ireland. He spent the rest of his life as a servant to the underprivileged, the physically handicapped and the destitute. He received meager wages as a carpenter because he mostly worked for widows and the sick, and what litte he made he found opportunity to give away. He lived in a small, white shack and was said to often take in others down on their luck. The townspeople considered him eccentric, but he soon became known as the "Good Samaritan of Port Hope."

Around 1855, he learned tht his mother, back in Ireland was seriously ill. He couldn't get to her, but wrote her a letter and enclosed a poem he wrote especially for her comfort.

That poem was later discovered by a friend who came to Scriven's bedside when he became ill. When he asked Scriven who wrote it, Joseph replied, "The Lord and I did it between us". He had never intended the poem to be read by anyone else, but at his friend's urging, he gave him permission for it to be published anonymously in the local paper.

On October 10, 1896, in a delirium, Joseph Scriven staggered outside his home, stumbled into a creek and drowned.

The poem touched the hearts of readers and it spread from person to person, paper to paper, city to city (Ontario to New York to Erie, Pennsylvania), where it fell into the hands of well-known composer Charles Converse, who wrote a melody suitable to the poem.

It remains today one of the most beloved hymns of all time. What was it Joseph Scriven wrote to his mother? This man, who had experienced so much personal pain and had become such an angel of mercy to so many, sought to console his dear mother's anxiety and fear with these words:

What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear
What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer.
Oh, what peace we often forfeit, oh, 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 praryer.
Do thy friends despise, forsake thee? Take it to the Lord in pray-
In His arms He'll take and shield thee; thou wilt find a solace there.

There was a fourth verse, almost universally omitted from songbooks:

Blessed Jesus, 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 shall be our sweet portion there.

What kind of friend have you proven to be to Jesus? John 15:14.

  1. Life is tough -- Note words in this song -- sins, griefs, pain, trials, temptations, trouble, discouragement, sorrows, weaknesses, heavy burdens, we are despised and forsaken.
  2. We need help (Ecclessiastes 4:9-12). Jesus is that great Friend that can help us through our many problems that life sends our way. He is God, remember: "Everything to God in prayer" "Jesus knows our every weakness" (Hebrews 4:13. Precious Savior (John 15:13) "still our refuge" (Psalms 46:1) shielding us in His arms He can bring peace to our lives (Philippians 4:6,7).
  3. Prayer is a powerful tool: Eight times in this poem we are told to take it to the Lord in prayer. "At all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart" (Luke 18:1).

What wonderful thoughts and encouragement that Joseph Scriven wrote to his dying mother in Ireland that has touched and continue to touch the hearts of millions of people throughout the earth. Truly, "What a Friend We Have in Jesus."