ABIDING FAITH: Stories of Tragedy & Triumph Behind the Hymns

It is difficult not to despair in the face of adversity. We are humans and sometimes we do forget – we forget the abiding hope that resides in a deep faith in One who is able to do “exceedingly abundant and above all we can ask or even imagine” and the strength that we have when we throw ourselves, in faith, on Him, who is ABLE! So many who have gone before us found the peace that resided in a firm faith in God and they shared in poems and verse that, have today, become some of our most loved hymns. Perhaps they resonate with us because they were borne out of a faith journey that was often punctuated with various trials as we do, today.

1.Hymn: All Hail The Power Of Jesus’ Name

The author of this hymn, Edward Perronet (1726 – 1792), would probably have fallen into obscurity had it not been for this story that relates to his hymn: Reverend E. P. Scott was a missionary, living in India during the 1800s. One day Rev. Scott met a native Indian tribesman in traditional costume. After earnest inquiry he discovered that the native was from a ferocious mountain tribe which rarely came to the city. Feeling the need to visit the tribe to share the gospel, Rev. Scott after much prayer set out with a few meager provisions and his violin. After travelling for two days, Rev. Scott suddenly found himself surrounded by a party of warriors from the very tribe he sought with their spears pointed to his heart. Fearing that this was the end for him, he pulled out his violin and began to play. Closing his eyes tightly he sang ‘All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name’ in their native language. When he came to the stanza ‘Let ev’ry kindred, ev’ry tribe…’ he cautiously opened his eyes. He was astonished to see that the spears had been withdrawn and several of the warriors were in tears! For the next two and a half years Rev. Scott lived with this tribe teaching them the way of salvation. When poor health forced him to take a leave of absence, the natives followed him nearly 40 miles, entreating him to return to them soon. This he did, spending the last days of his life with the people whose hearts had been opened by ‘All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name’.

 All hail the power of Jesus’ name!
Let angels prostrate fall;
bring forth the royal diadem,
and crown Him Lord of all. B

ring forth the royal diadem,

and crown Him Lord of all.

Let us bless the Lord and worship Him in whose Name dwells the power to change lives! He has changed our lives and caused us to live for Him!!

2. Hymn: It Is Well With My Soul:

Horatio Spafford (1828-1888) was a wealthy Chicago lawyer with a thriving legal practice, a beautiful home, a wife, four daughters & a son. He was also a devout Christian & faithful student of the Scriptures.  His circle of friends included Dwight L. Moody, Ira Sankey and various other well-known Christians of the day. At the very height of his financial and professional success, Horatio and his wife Anna suffered the tragic loss of their young son. Shortly thereafter on October 8, 1871, the Great Chicago Fire destroyed almost every real estate investment that Spafford had.

In 1873, due to the fact that the deal fell through on the sale of his property, Spafford scheduled a boat trip to Europe in order to give his wife and daughters a much needed vacation. Spafford sent his wife and daughters ahead of him on a luxury steamer named the S.S. Ville du Havre. While in the middle of the Atlantic, the ship was rammed by a British iron sailing ship, the S.S. Lockhearn. In just 12 minutes the steamer sank; 226 people lost their lives.

Being kept afloat by a piece of debris, an unconscious Anna was one of the passengers that were rescued. Spafford lost his four daughters while he remained in Chicago to take care of some unexpected last minute business. Spafford was planning to join his family in Europe where he expected to meet up with D. L. Moody and Ira Sankey on one of their evangelistic crusades. While wrapping up his affairs, Spafford received a horrible telegram from his wife stating: “Saved alone.” With a heavy heart, Spafford boarded a ship that would take him to his grieving Anna in England. Spafford stood hour after hour on the deck of the ship grieving over the loss of his precious daughters. When the ship passed the approximate place where they had drowned, Spafford received sustaining comfort from God that enabled him to write the words of this hymn: ‘When sorrows like sea billows roll … It is well, it is well with my soul.’



When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,

When sorrows like sea billows roll;

Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,

It is well, it is well with my soul.



As we reflect on this story and hymn, in spite of what we may have to face, let us say with Horatio Spafford “It is well, it is well with my soul!” “…Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, It is well with my soul.”~ Many of us have crossed over many difficult times in our lives and we question how we got over. He (God) was there with us just like He was with Spafford. “Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come, let this blessed assurance control. That Christ has regarded my helpless estate…”

3. Hymn: All The Way My Saviour Leads Me.

This great hymn was written by Fanny Crosby (1820–1915). When Fanny was 6 wks old, she caught a slight cold & had inflamed eyes. The family physician was away. Another country doctor was called in to treat her. He prescribed hot mustard poultices to be applied to her eyes, which destroyed her sight completely! It was later learned that the man was not even qualified to practice medicine. Fanny never felt any resentment against him, but believed it was permitted by the Lord to fulfill His plan for her life. This is what she said to her mother one day: “Mother, if I had a choice, I would still choose to remain blind … for when I die; the first face I will ever see will be the face of my blessed Saviour.”

Fanny’s spiritual development came from her grandmother who cared for her while her mother worked as a maid. Her father died when she was 12 months old of an illness. A landlady, Mrs. Hawley, helped Fanny memorize the Bible. Often she learned 5 chapters a week!  She entered the New York City Institution for the Blind around 1835, completed training, and taught there from 1847 to 1858. In 1858 she married a musician, Alexander Van Alstyne, who was also blind. Under her own name, as well as under a curious assortment of initials and pen names, she wrote over two thousand hymns, including: “I Am Thine, O Lord”; “Praise Him, Praise Him”; “Sweet Hour of Prayer”; “Blessed Assurance”; “Safe In The Arms Of Jesus “; “To God Be the Glory”. 

“All The Way My Saviour Leads Me” was written in 1874. Fanny needed five dollars one day and she just knelt down and told the Lord about it. Soon after a stranger knocked at her door as he just wanted to meet her. As he left, he pressed a five dollar bill into her hand. “I have no way of accounting for this” she said, “except to believe that God put it into the heart of this good man to bring the money”. “My first thought was that it is so wonderful the way the Lord leads me, and I immediately wrote the poem”.

All the way my Savior 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’er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well;
For I know, whate’er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well.

What comforting words to start the day with! May the Lord guide and bless you as you let Him lead you through this day and always.

4. Hymn: O Love That Will Not Let Me Go

George Matheson (1842 – 1906) was born in Glasgow, Scotland, with only partial sight. By the time he was college age, he was totally blind but graduated with honors from the University of Scotland. Earlier, Matheson had been engaged until his fiancé learned that he was going blind and there was nothing the doctors could do. She told him that she could not “go through life with a blind man” and broke of the engagement. He went blind while studying for the ministry and his sister was the one who then took him under her wing and became his eyes. She learned Latin, Greek and Hebrew in order to help him study. He had been a brilliant student and some say that if he hadn’t gone blind he could have been the leader of the Church of Scotland in his day.

George Matheson lived with his beloved sister while he turned to the pastoral ministry. He was blessed by the Lord with the responsibility of St. Bernard’s Parish Church in Edinburgh, Scotland, where he regularly preached to over 1500 people each week. But he was only able to do this because of the continued care of his sister. Finally though, the time came for her to get married. Who would care for him now, a blind man? Not only that, but his sister’s marriage brought fresh reminder of his own heartbreak, over his fiancé’s refusal to “go through life with a blind man.” “O Love That Will Not Let Me Go” was written on the evening of Matheson’s sister’s marriage. His whole family had gone to the wedding and had left him alone at home. “I was alone in the manse, the night of my sister’s marriage. Something happened to me which is known only to myself and which caused me the most severe mental suffering. The hymn was the fruit of that suffering. It was the quickest bit of work I ever did in my life. The whole work was completed in five minutes.”(June 6, 1882). What was the “severe mental suffering” that caused Matheson to write words that express such a longing for deep love? He did not tell. However, as we read the hymn, we see him express that the only love that lasts a lifetime is Gods’ perfect love.

O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

5. Hymn: What A Friend We Have In Jesus

Irish born Joseph M. Scriven (1819-1896) was 25 years old, in love and to be married. The day before his wedding his fiancée 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 rela

tive of one of his students. Once again, Joseph’s hopes and dreams were shattered when Eliza contracted tuberculosis 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. From that time on Scriven developed a totally different life pattern. He took the Sermon on the Mount by Jesus literally, giving to him who asked and not turning away from him that would borrow. 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. He was especially known for carrying a bucksaw and cutting firewood for people in need.

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

Many years later a friend was sitting with Joseph, as he was very ill. During this visit, the friend was very impressed when he ran across Scriven’s poems. As a result of this visit, almost 30 years after his letter of comfort to his mother, Joseph’s poems were published in a book called Hymns and Other Verses. Soon thereafter, noted musician Charles C. Converse (1834-1918) put music to one of those poems: “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”

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.
What more is there to say, indeed what a friend we have in Jesus! Let us start the day by carrying everything that burdens our hearts to Him in prayer. May His Peace rule our hearts.