December 17, 2023

Call To Worship

What A Friend We Have in Jesus: 730

How does a personal poem written to a mother from a despondent son, recently immigrated from England to a relatively remote section of Canada in the mid-nineteenth century, become one of the most widely sung hymns in the world?

Joseph Medlicott Scriven (1819–1886) was born in Seapatrick, Ireland (now Northern Ireland,) and died in Ontario, Canada. After attending classes at Trinity College, Dublin, he pursued a military career, where he trained for service in India; but had to abandon that ambition because of his poor health. He returned to Trinity and graduated in 1842.

Scriven’s life was full of tragedy. Following the accidental drowning of his Irish fiancée the evening before their wedding, he moved to Woodstock, Canada West (now Ontario) in 1844, where he led a Plymouth Brethren fellowship and taught. Scriven organized a private school in 1850 in Brantford and preached in the area. Some scholars believe that Scriven may have composed his initial draft of “What a Friend” written during this time.

Moving near Clinton in Huron County in 1855, he read the Bible to railway construction workers who were building the Grand Trunk Railway across the Canada West. By 1857, he relocated to Bewdley, supporting himself as a private tutor to the family of Robert Lamport Pengelly, a retired naval officer. Tragedy struck again when his second fiancée, Eliza Catherine Roach, Pengelly’s niece, died in 1860 of an illness shortly before their wedding. Scriven then returned to ministry among the Plymouth Brethren in Bewdley, near Rice Lake (McKellar and Leask, Canterbury Dictionary, n.d.). Hymnologist Albert Bailey noted that Scriven, a selfless person by nature, was known as “the man who saws wood for poor widows and sick people who are unable to pay” (Bailey, 1950, p. 495).

A few days before Scriven’s death, Sackville found the dejected Scriven “prostrate in mind and body and heard him say, ‘I wish the Lord would take me home’” (Cleland, 1895, p. 17). It was never determined if his death was accidental or a suicide. A monument was later erected over his gravesite by friends and neighbors. Joseph Medlicott Scriven’s historical marker was placed in Otanabee-South Monaghan, Ontario, Canada, marking his homestead and burial place.

ORIGINS OF ‘WHAT A FRIEND WE HAVE IN JESUS’

Scriven published a collection of his poetic works, Hymns and Other Verses, which included seventy-one hymns “intended to be sung in assemblies of the children of God on the first day of the week and on other occasions when two or three are met together in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” These were followed by thirty-four scriptural paraphrases “not to be sung in the assembly, but to express truth, as well as convey comfort, instruction or reproof to our hearts, in order that we may walk together in obedience” (Scriven, 1869, Preface). “What a Friend,” the hymn for which he is known, does not appear in the collection, however. Why not?

Some writers have noted that the hymn was written for his mother, who was suffering from illness. Musical evangelist Ira D. Sankey (1840–1908) spread this account (cited in Bailey, 1950, pp. 495–496). This assertion is hard to verify, however. A statement from Scriven’s biography (1895) by James Cleland includes the author’s mother in the dissemination of the hymn but does not clarify other details:

When residing at the house of his friend Mr. Sackville, near Rice Lake, he composed this hymn; making two copies, one of which he sent to his mother, in Dublin, and gave the other to Mrs. Sackville, which the old lady, now over eighty years of age values highly. Probably it was through his mother that the hymn was given to the public (Cleland, 1895, p. 13).

If indeed “What a Friend” were composed as a personal poem, it may explain why it did not appear in the collection the author published in 1869. The personal first-person plural perspective contrasts with other hymns by the author. As one author noted, “almost all of his others are more firmly constructed, without emotional softness, and developed from biblical texts” (Macpherson, “Scriven,” n.d.). Carl Daw Jr. has also noted the differences between “What a Friend” and the author’s published works in Hymns and other verses, supporting the hypothesis that the poem was intended for his ailing mother rather than public use (Daw, 2016, p. 470).

Some commentaries state that the text was first published in J.B. Packard’s Spiritual Minstrel: A Collection of Hymns and Music (1857), but this is erroneous, according to hymnologist Chris Fenner (See Fenner, 2020, n.p.). The hymn appeared as we know it anonymously in three stanzas of eight lines each in Social Hymns, Original and Selected (1865), compiled by Horace Lorenzo Hastings. New England composer and church musician Charles Converse (1832–1918) then included the text in his Silver Wings (1870) with his tune under his pen name Karl Reden, a Germanization of his name (“reden” meaning “to speak” or “converse”). He states that he obtained the text from the privately produced hymnal, “Genevan Presbyterian Church (of Brooklyn) Collection.” No copy of this hymnal appears to be extant. Converse’s tune paired with the text gained prominence with Ira Sankey and spread in his revivals with Dwight L. Moody (1837–1899). Published in Sankey’s Gospel Hymns and Sacred Songs (1875), later known as Gospel Hymns No. 1., Sankey mistakenly attributed the hymn to Scottish hymnwriter Horatius Bonar (1808–1889), an assertion disputed by Bonar.

The text has remained unusually stable with few editorial alterations over the years. Edward Samuel Caswell (1861–1938) published an early manuscript version signed by Scriven that was titled “Pray without Ceasing” (from 1 Thessalonians 5:17) in 1919. It appeared in four quatrains, the first three of which are familiar. The fourth reads as follows:

Are we cold and unbelieving,
Cumbered with a load of care?
Here the Lord is still our refuge:
Take it to the Lord in prayer. (See the manuscript at Fenner, 2020, n.p.)

Of the hymn, Caswell stated that it was “beyond question the best-known piece of Canadian literature” (Macpherson, “Scriven,” n.d.).


Welcome and Opening Prayer
Scripture Reading

God is Love: 180

A song which emphasizes the love that God has had for us is “God Is Love” (#412 in Hymns for Worship Revised and #256 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text is anonymous, and the original source is unknown. It has been attributed to Charles Wesley (1707-1788). It has also been attributed to Charles R. Hurdith (1839-?). And it has been incorrectly attributed with a date of 1876 to How­ard Kings­bu­ry (1842-1878).  However he ar­ranged mu­sic for them in Hap­py Voic­es in 1865.  Some sources say that that the earliest known publication of it was in the 1849 Hymns and Spiritual Songs edited by David Millard and Joseph Badger, but others say but that it came from Millennial Praises in 1812 com­piled by Seth Wells of Han­cock, Mass­a­chu­setts.

     The only thing that we really know for sure is that the text was apparently arranged and the tune we use was composed both by Edmund Simon Lorenz (1854-1942). It first appeared in his 1886 Notes of Triumph for the Sunday School. A minister with the United Brethren, Lorenz, who was born in Stark County, OH, spent most of his adult life in Dayton, OH, where he founded the Lorenz Publishing Company. Many of his hymns, such as “Wonderful Love of Jesus” and “Thou Thinkest, Lord, Of Me,” have appeared in our books, and he provided music for several others, such as “Give Me The Bible” and “So Tender, So Precious.”

     Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, “God Is Love” appeared in the 1935 Christian Hymns (No. 1), the 1948 Christian Hymns No. 2, and the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 all edited by L. O. Sanderson; the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by R. C. Welch; and the 1963 Christian Hymnaledited by J. N. Slater. Today it is found in the 1971 Songs of the Church, the 1990 Songs of the Church 21st C. Ed., and the 1994 Hymns of Faith and Praise all edited by A. H. Howard; the 1978/1983 (Church) Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard; and the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by J. P. Wiegand; in addition to Hymns for Worship, Sacred Selections, and the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat. 


‘Tis Set, The Feast Devine: 644

A hymn which emphasizes the importance of eating the bread and drinking the cup to show the Lord’s death till He come is “’Tis Set, the Feast Divine” (#153 in Hymns for Worship Revised).  The text was written, originally under the penname of Vana R. Raye, and the tune (Raye) was composed both by Lloyd Otis Sanderson (1901-1992).  The song was first published in the 1948 Christian Hymns No. 2 which Sanderson edited for the Gospel Advocate Co., which renewed the copyright in 1976.  Among other hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church for use in churches of Christ, the song has appeared in the 1959 Majestic Hymnal No. 2 and the 1978 Hymns of Praise both edited by Reuel Lemmons; the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 also edited by Sanderson; the 1971 Songs of the Churchedited by Alton H. Howard; the 1978/1983 Church Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard; the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; the 1999 Into Our Hands: Songs for the Church edited by Leland R. Fleming; the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Churchedited by William D. Jeffcoat; and the 2009 Favorite Hymns of the Church and the 2010 Songs for Worship and Praise both edited by Robert J. Taylor Jr.  Sanderson wrote only two stanzas.  Over the years, I have made two attempts to provide a third stanza.  One of these was many years ago, and the other, after I had honestly forgotten the first, was just a few years ago.  I shall share these as well.

The song is obviously designed to help us prepare our minds for partaking of the Lord’s supper.


Communion Meditation

Where He Leads, I’ll Follow: 761

A song which encourages us to follow in the steps of Jesus is “Where He Leads, I’ll Follow” (#498 in Hymns for Worship Revised and #188 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written and the tune (Ogden) was composed both by William Augustine Ogden (1841-1897).  The song was copyrighted in 1885. Ogden produced many other songs in our books, such as tunes for “Come to the Feast” and “Bring Them In,” both text and tune for “Jesus, the Loving Shepherd,” “O If My House Is Built Upon A Rock,” “Seeking the Lost,” and, perhaps his best known song, “He Is Able To Deliver Thee.” Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, “Where He Leads, I’ll Follow,” has been in most. It appeared in the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 edited by E. L. Jorgenson; the 1935 Christian Hymns (No. 1), the 1948 Christian Hymns No. 2, and the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 all edited by L. O. Sanderson; the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater; and the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch. Today it may be found in the 1971 Songs of the Church, the 1990 Songs of the Church 21st C. Ed., and the 1994 Songs of Faith and Praise all edited by Alton H. Howard; the 1978/1983 (Church) Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard; and the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; in addition to Hymns for Worship, Sacred Selections, and the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat.


Sermon

Where He Leads Me, I will Follow: 762

A song which well expresses the idea of denying ourselves, taking up the cross, and following Jesus is, “Where He Leads Me” (#334 in Hymns for Worship Revised and #639 in Sacred Selections for the Church).  The text was written by Ernest W. Blandy, a 19th-century author about whom no other information is available. His name is often misspelled Blandly. The tune (Norris) was composed by John Samuel Norris, who was born on Dec. 4, 1844, at West Cowes on the Isle of Wight in the English Channel off the coast of England, the son of John and Harriet Chalk Norris. Moving to Canada, he was educated there and began to serve as a Methodist minister at Oshawa, Ontario, in 1868. For ten years he served Methodist churches in Ontario, Canada, and Wisconsin.

     In 1870, Norris was married to Elizabeth Ann Hurd in Sunderland, Ontario, Canada, and seven children were born to this home. Several years later, in 1878, he became a member of the Congregational Church and for five years served as a Congregationalist minister in the United States with churches in Wisconsin at Mondovi, Hixton, Grand Rapids, and Shullsburg. Then from 1882 to 1901, he served churches in Iowa at Ames, Webster City, Parkersburg, Peterson, and Tripoli.

     Norris published one collection of hymns, Songs of the Soul, but of the more than 100 hymns which he produced, only “Where He Leads Me” remains in common usage. It is not known exactly when it first appeared, but in many older collections it bears the copyright date of 1890. If this indicates the approximate date of its publication, it occurred during or immediately following the two years that Norris was with the Congregational Church in Webster City, IA. In 1901 Norris moved to Chicago, IL, where he remained until his death on Sept. 23, 1907.

     Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, the song appeared in the 1917 Selected Revival Hymns(where it is titled “The Way of the Cross”) published by F. L. Rowe; the 1921 Great Songs of the Church (No. 1) and the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 both edited by E. L. Jorgenson; the 1935 Christian Hymns (No. 1), the 1948 Christian Hymns No. 2, and the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 all edited by L. O. Sanderson; the 1963
Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch; and the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater. Today it may be found in the 1971 Songs of the Church, the 1990 Songs of the Church 21st C. Ed., and the 1994 Songs of Faith and Praise all edited by Alton H. Howard; the 1978/1983 Church Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard; and the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; in addition to Hymns for Worship, Sacred Selections, and the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat.


Announcements & Closing Prayer