This week’s entry for the series Then Sings My Soul: The Hymns of My Youth was written in Canada in 1855 as a poem by Joseph Scriven for his mother in Ireland. He hadn’t intended the poem to be published, but it circulated under its title, “Pray Without Ceasing.” It was renamed when it was set to music by Charles Converse in 1868, and Scriven only received full credit for its authorship in the 1880s.
Scriven was born Seapatrick, Co. Down, Ireland on Sept.10, 1819 and graduated from Trinity College in Dublin. He was somewhat eccentric but was a born philanthropist and devout in the Plymouth Brethren. He was known to give freely of what money he had, and give his own clothing and services to anyone who needed them.
He became engaged to be married in Ireland, but his fiancée drowned in 1845 on the eve of their wedding. Grief-stricken, he began wandering in hopes of forgetting his sorrow. He finally emigrated to Canada in 1844 at the age of 25, settling in Port Hope, Ontario. He again found love and was due to be married when the young woman contracted pneumonia and died. He took the Sermon on the Mount literally, and devoted the rest of his life to helping others. It is said that a rich man once saw Scriven walking along the street carrying a saw and a sawhorse and said to a friend, “He looks like a sober man. I think I’ll hire him to cut wood for me.” The friend identified him as Joseph Scriven and said, “He wouldn’t cut wood for you. He only cuts wood for those who don’t have enough to pay.”
On the night of August 10, 1886 after spending the evening with others in Port Hope, he disappeared and his body was found in the water nearby, the victim of an accidental drowning. Monuments erected in his memory are inscribed “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” and “In His arms He’ll take and shield thee. Thou wilt find a solace there.”
The hymn is one I’ve always enjoyed, but had never known the story until I looked into its origin for this series. Somehow, like many of the finest hymns, the words spring forth in brand new ways when they are infused with the knowledge of their background. Joseph Scriven wrote to comfort his mother after having experienced much sorrow in his own life, and thereafter dedicated himself to the service of others. The words of the hymn, thus explained, lose any semblance of what we might consider triteness.
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 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.