Sunday, 7 February 2010

Ulster hymnwriters (6)

This morning our pastor continued with a series entitled Reality Check [Consider your ways Haggai 1:5] and he spoke on the subject of prayer.  As the final hymn we sang one of the best-known hymns about prayer, What a Friend we have in Jesus, which was written by an Ulsterman, Joseph M Scriven (1819-1886).
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!
Joseph Scriven was born on 10 September 1819 at Ballymoney Lodge, Seapatrick, near Banbridge, in county Down. He was the third and youngest son of Captain John Scriven and his wife Jane.  Scriven was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, and while he was there he heard the Christian gospel and was converted.

After two years at Trinity he decided on a military career and went to Addiscombe Military College in Surrey but poor health compelled him to give up this idea and he returned to Trinity, from which he graduated in 1842. In the same year he was engaged to be married and the wedding was arranged for the summer of 1844 but just before his wedding day his fiancee was accidentally drowned in the river Bann. 

Joseph Scriven, who was then just 24 years old, decided to emigrate to Canada and start a new life there. The reason for emigrating is unknown and some believe it was because he did not want to be near the place where his fiancee had died while others think it was because he had joined the Plymouth Brethren and this had led to strained relations at home. Whatever the reason he settled at Port Hope, Ontario, and was a teacher and a preacher with the Brethren. 

When he arrived in Canada, Scriven became a tutor for a young man in a family near Rice Lake, Ontario, and he lived with different families in Woodstock, Brantford, Hamilton and Bewdley. He also fell in love with a young woman called Eliza Roche but she became ill and after three years of sickness she died in 1855. During that time Scriven spent much time with her and helped with her nursing care. Her body was laid to rest in a small hillside cemetery overlooking Rice Lake, just outside Bewdley in Ontario.  Out of this tragic experience was born the hymn What a Friend we have in Jesus.  At one time Scriven was asked how he had managed to compose it and he replied, ‘The Lord and I did it between us.’ He also said that he had written it to console his mother back in Ulster. 

On 10 October 1886 Joseph Scriven was found drowned in a water-run near Lake Rice and he was laid to rest in the little cemetery beside his sweetheart Eliza. 

The words of What a Friend we have in Jesus were first published anonymously in Horace L Hastings' Social Hymns, Original and Selected in 1865 but Scriven was given credit as the author in Hastings' Songs of Pilgrimage in 1886. A collection of Scriven's verses was published under the title Hymns and Other Verses in 1869 at Peterborough, Ontario.

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