Fanny Crosby: A Prolific Hymn writer
This is the fifth in a series of posts to celebrate International Women’s Day, and Mother’s Day on Sunday. Check out previous posts here.
By Laura Edwards
Every Sunday morning in my early teens I sat there slumped by the organ, waiting for the congregation to stand so that I could start playing the melody to familiar old hymns. I would eagerly anticipate the end of the older hymns, when, at last, the upbeat ‘worship songs’ would be played! You see, as a child in the 80s and 90s, I had a thirst for new worship songs because, to my mind, they were obviously more relevant for today! But hymns? They just made me yawn. I’d stare longingly at the manuscript waiting for the moment when I could stop playing!
I stand in Church now and often long to open a hymnal to sing the lyrics that once bored me most. As the psalmist said, the Word is “like honey to my lips” and the lyrics to hymns are so often heavily rooted in scripture. There’s something in the rich lyrics of old hymns that pierces through my soul and paints a portrait of my heart before my Saviour. I especially love the lyrics of Fanny Crosby.
Fanny Crosby was a prolific hymn writer. I often walk around the house singing her hymns; I’ve lost count of the number of times I get choked up by their profound lyrics! These easily pull me into worship, even when doing mediocre chores around the house. As Crosby aptly puts it, they represent a “song of the heart addressed to God”. Here is one (of many) of my favourites:
All the way my Saviour leads me,
What have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt His tender mercy,
Who through life has been my Guide?
Heav’nly peace, divinest comfort,
Here by faith in Him to dwell!
For I know, whate’re befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well,
For I know, whater’re befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well.
Fanny Crosby is an inspiration to me because of her own biography. When she was only six weeks old she became unwell with a cold and, due to complications, became blind from the healthcare she received. Can you imagine discovering something like that? Fanny learned that, having had sight as a baby, the poor healthcare she received had taken her vision away for life. I don’t know about you but if that happened to me I don’t think I would happily respond as she did. Yet at the tender age of eight, Fanny wrote,
Oh, what a happy soul am I!
Although I cannot see,
I am resolved that in this world
Contented I will be.
How many blessings I enjoy
That other people don’t;
To weep and sigh because I’m blind
I cannot, and I won’t
For all her lifelong hardship, Fanny’s hopefulness and joy in God were incredibly resilient. She wrote thousands of hymns communicating sincere joy and worship. You know, there are so many times that things have not gone the way I wanted in life, and honestly, at those times I find it challenging to persevere in trusting God. Yet when I read Fanny’s hymns and think about her life experiences, I am reminded that God is faithful, He is sovereign, He is good and He never forsakes. Additionally, she didn’t just write hymns, she went on to teach and was involved in mission work. In so many ways, her life exemplified a living sacrifice to God. Her hardship, rather than being an obstacle to her faith, often fuelled it.
Fanny was born in 1820. Like so many societies, many in Fanny’s era would have looked on her as a ‘have not’. However, she didn’t let her lack of sight stop her from serving purposefully. In her quiet faithfulness, she persisted in worshipping God, writing thousands of hymns depicting her hope in Christ. Little did she know that God was going to use her for greater things. As part of the evangelistic revivals of D.L. Moody, her hymns played a significant role in communicating the good news of Jesus. God used her deeply personal act of worship – writing hymns – to bring thousands into a living relationship with Him. I am inspired by her example to reflect on my life and persevere in serving Him – no matter how insignificant I may think it is- because He uses all things for His glory.
Fanny Crosby’s story reminds me of Jesus’ resurrection appearance to Thomas. It is only after touching Jesus’ flesh wounds that Thomas at last acknowledges him fully: “My Lord and my God!” In response, Jesus commends a different kind of faith:
“Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
To those of us who doubt, like Thomas, Jesus invites us into a deeper trust. Who knows what he may accomplish through our little acts of faith?