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What a Friend We Have in Jesus

Scripture References

Further Reflections on Scripture References

Scriven's text clearly arises from his own experiences in life. Although not great poetry, the text has spiritual appeal and an effective repeated phrase, "take it to the Lord in prayer." Because of its simple encouragement to "pray without ceasing," the text is much loved in many circles of Christendom.
 
Bert Polman, Psalter Hymnal Handbook

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.”

Assurance

Jesus said:
Come to me, all you that are weary
and are carrying heavy burdens,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me;
for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
—from Matthew 11:28-30, NRSV
— Worship Sourcebook Edition Two

Tune Information

Name
BEACH SPRING
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).
 
British hymnals have set Scriven's text to various tunes, including BLAENWERN (416), a fine alternate choice. The choice of BEACH SPRING represents a change from the text's traditional association in North America with CONVERSE, a tune written in 1868 for "What a Friend" by Charles C. Converse.
 
BEACH SPRING was first published in The Sacred Harp (1844) as a setting for Joseph Hart's "Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Wretched." The tune appears in The Sacred Harp (1844) with note values almost identical to those in the Psalter Hymnal but barred in duple rather than triple meter.
 
Benjamin F. White, coeditor of The Sacred Harp (1844), was listed as the composer. The tune is named after the Beach Spring Baptist Church in Harris County, Georgia, where White lived. 
— Bert Polman

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 fiancee 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

Benjamin F. White (b. Spartanburg, South Carolina, 1800; d. Atlanta, Georgia, 1879) came from a family of fourteen children and was largely self-taught. Eventually White became a popular singing-school teacher and editor of the weekly Harris County newspaper.
— Bert Polman
Hymnary.org does not have a score for this hymn.