What A Friend We Have In Jesus


O what peaceWords: Joseph Scriven; Music Charles C. Converse

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 Saviour, 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 Saviour, 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.

“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” ( John 15:13)

You may be surprised to know that this hymn arose out of a tragedy, though there was a long space of time between the actual tragedy and the completion of the hymn. There is not a great deal of information regarding Joseph Scriven the writer of the hymn, but such as we have I must write, because I feel sure that this story will touch some readers very deeply, and may lead them in the path in which Joseph Scriven was led. It is a hymn for sufferers of all kinds, but especially for those who have had to face mysterious happenings, which have been permitted in their lives, and that are hard to interpret.

Joseph Scriven wrote the hymn in his last illness as he thought of his mother whom he had to leave behind. We may say it arose from a Christian’s desire to explain his own secret with a view to helping someone else who was very dear to him. Not long before Scriven was called Home, he was visited by a neighbour who saw it written on a sheet of paper which lay on a table at his bedside. “Are you the author of this lovely poem?” asked the visitor. “The Lord and I did it together” was the reply. What a lovely explanation of the origin of this moving hymn, and maybe of most hymns, “The Lord and I did it together”. Do not these words let us into a great secret of Christian living? What needless pain we bear because we try to do it on our own, and things go wrong, and we give way to self pity. Do you remember what was said of Joseph in prison? Whatsoever was done there, he was the doer of it! Joseph is a type of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Joseph Scriven was a man acquainted with grief. He died in 1886 at the age of 66, after a varied life filled with difficulties such as many a settler has known. He was brought to Christ as a result of losing his bride-to-be on the eve of their marriage. Irish born Joseph M. Scriven (1819-1896) was 25 years old, in love and to be married. The day before his wedding his fiancé died in a tragic drowning accident. Heartbroken, Joseph sailed from his homeland to start a new life in Canada. While in Canada working as a teacher, he fell in love again and became engaged to Eliza Roche, a relative of one of his students. Once again, Joseph’s hopes and dreams were shattered when Eliza became ill and died before the wedding could take place.

Although one can only imagine the turmoil within this young man, history tells us that his faith in God sustained him. Soon after Eliza’s death Joseph joined the Plymouth Brethren and began preaching for a Baptist church. He never married, but spent the remainder of his life giving all his time, money and even the clothes off his own back to help the less fortunate and to spread the love and compassion of Jesus wherever he went.

Around the same time that Eliza died, Joseph received word from Ireland that his mother was ill. He could not go to be with her, so he wrote a letter of comfort and enclosed one of his poems entitled What a Friend We Have in Jesus.

What an indescribable grief! How easily it might have led him in the opposite direction to unbelief and bitterness and hardness of heart. I always think of this when I come to the last lines of verse three: “In His arms He’ll take and shield thee; Thou wilt find a solace there”.

It appears that the hymn was written a long time before it was seen by anyone save himself and his mother. It was written to comfort his mother in a time of great sorrow, and we can imagine what it meant to her after her son had died. How many hearts it has comforted since, no one knows but the Lord.

The subject of the hymn is the friendship of Christ, which is a very precious one, especially to the lonely and those in need. There is a haunting refrain eight times repeated, “Take it to the Lord in prayer”. “Everything to God in prayer” comes first; and then detail after detail for ever afterwards, “Take it to the Lord in prayer”.

Couple of comments on the lyrics:

“Take it to the Lord in prayer”. We can summarize the three verses as follows: ‘our sins’, ‘our sorrows’, ‘our sighs’. Are we facing ‘dispeace’, ‘discomfort’, ‘distress’? The same remedy suits every situation. The wording takes the form of question and answer, and everyone who searches his heart with these interrogations will soon find the solution. The note of intimate fellowship is seen throughout, fellowship between Christ and His friends. The Saviour carries our sins and knows our weaknesses and shields our hearts. Simplicity rather than profundity characterises this beautiful hymn which will ever be a favourite with children and all in need. Is there anything in the hymn which a child cannot understand? No words need explanation here! How easily this hymn might have been lost in oblivion if that single piece of paper had been inadvertently destroyed. Isaiah 48:18. Proverbs 18:24. Matthew 11:28.

All our sins and griefs to bear – If there was anybody that experienced grief in their life, I would say Joseph Scriven qualifies.  He experienced the death of two of his fiancees.  He was thousands of miles from home and estranged from his family because of his religious beliefs.  However, he found the source of strength that can help through those problems – a friend like Jesus.  The Bible says “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.”  Mr. Scriven experienced grief in his life.  However, he had a Friend who helped bear those griefs and pains – the pain of loss, the pain of rejection by family and friends, the pain of being alone.  That Friend had experienced, to a much greater degree, those same feelings of loss and being alone and forsaken.

Peace we often forfeit – The word forfeit means to lose or be deprived of (property or a right or privilege) as a penalty for wrongdoing. How often have we lost peace or forfeited peace and gone on to struggle alone just because we did not take the issue to God in prayer? Are we forfeiting God’s peace because we don’t carry everything to God in prayer? Do not lose peace for nothing, go to God in prayer.

We should never be discouraged – To be honest,  I had a problem with this particular line when I thought about it.  Isn’t discouragement a natural emotion and a natural part of life?  Aren’t we entitled to have a time of sadness, grief and discouragement?    One of the definitions of discouragement is “a state of hopelessness.”  If we think about this statement from that perspective, the author is right.  As Christians, we have a hope.  Our hope is an eternal salvation.  That hope may seem far off in the midst of our circumstances, but the truth is we should never be discouraged (without hope) because of what God has promised us.

Jesus is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.  He is a friend that will be with you throughout the seasons of life. Jesus is the greatest friend you will ever have or need.  Just call out His name, and know that He will come running to be the friend you need, like He was for Joseph Scriven.  “What a friend we have in Jesus!!!!!”

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