897

What a Friend We Have in Jesus

Scripture References

Confessions and Statements of Faith References

Further Reflections on Confessions and Statements of Faith References

Belgic Confession, Article 26 provides the foundation for all our praying: “We believe that we have no access to God except through the one and only Mediator and Intercessor ‘Jesus Christ the righteous,’ who therefore was made human, uniting together the divine and human natures, so that we human beings might have access to the divine Majesty. Otherwise we would have no access.” We offer our prayers, therefore, “only on the basis of the excellence and dignity of Jesus Christ, whose righteousness is ours by faith.” Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 46, Question and Answer 120 verifies this privilege when it says, “Through Christ God has become our Father, and…just as our parents do not refuse us the things of this life, even less will God our Father refuse to give us what we ask in faith.”

Tune Information

Name
CONVERSE/ERIE
Key
F Major or modal
Meter
8.7.8.7 D

Hymn Story/Background

Joseph M. Scriven wrote "What a Friend" to comfort his sick mother in Dublin, possibly right after the death of his second fiancée. When asked by a neighbor about his writing of the text, Scriven modestly commented, “The Lord and I did it between us.” The text was published anonymously in Horace Hastings's Social Hymns, Original and Selected (1865), but Scriven was given proper credit in Hastings's Songs of Pilgrimage (1886). Ira D. Sankey included the text, set to the familiar tune by Charles C. Converse, in his various hymnals (from 1875 on).
 
A member of the Plymouth Brethren, Joseph Scriven wrote these words to comfort his mother (and no doubt himself) following the death of his second fiancée; his first had died some years earlier. Converse composed the music for these words; the union of text and tune were cemented in Gospel Hymns and Sacred Songs (1875) compiled by Philip Bliss and Ira Sankey.
 
CONVERSE (also called ERIE, named for the city in Pennsylvania where the composer lived for many years) was written in 1868 and published two years later in his Silver Wings under the pseudonym Karl Reden. The tune has also been called "Friendship."
— Bert Polman

This hymn text is one of the most loved from the 19th century and still published in most North American hymnals to the tune CONVERSE. Some hymnals, including Lift Up Your Hearts, have also combined the text with other tunes, especially BEACH SPRING. The 1987 Psalter Hymnal decided to publish this text only to BEACH SPRING, a combination that has also become loved. But the decision not to include CONVERSE as well was soon regretted, resulting in possibly more complaints than all other complaints combined about changes from the earlier edition of the Psalter Hymnal.
— Emily Brink

Author Information

Joseph M. Scriven (b. Seapatrick, County Down, Ireland, 1819; d. Bewdley, Rice Lake, ON, Canada, 1886), an Irish immigrant to Canada, wrote this text near Port Hope, Ontario, in 1855. Because his life was filled with grief and trials, Scriven often needed the solace of the Lord as described in his famous hymn.
Educated at Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland, he enrolled in a military college to prepare for an army career. However, poor health forced him to give up that ambition. Soon after came a second blow—his fiancée died in a drowning accident on the eve of their wedding in 1844. Later that year he moved to Ontario, where he taught school in Woodstock and Brantford. His plans for marriage were dashed again when his new bride-to-be died after a short illness in 1855. Following this calamity Scriven seldom had a regular income, and he was forced to live in the homes of others. He also experienced mistrust from neighbors who did not appreciate his eccentricities or his work with the underprivileged. A member of the Plymouth Brethren, he tried to live according to the Sermon on the Mount as literally as possible, giving and sharing all he had and often doing menial tasks for the poor and physically disabled. Because Scriven suffered from depression, no one knew if his death by drowning in Rice Lake was suicide or an accident.
— Bert Polman

Composer Information

In 1855, Charles Crozat Converse (b. Warren, Massachusetts, October 7, 1832; d. Highwood, New Jersey, October 18, 1918) went to Leipzig to study law, philosophy, music theory and composition. While there he made the acquaintance of Franz Liszt and Louis Spohr. He returned to the United states in 1859 and graduated from Albany Law School two years later. He moved to Erie, Pennsylvania, where he practiced law and headed the Burdetta Organ Company. He was closely associated with other gospel song writers like Ira Sankey and William Bradbury, and edited and published many song collections.
— Laura de Jong
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