Rose: Hymns – What a Friend We Have in Jesus

Joseph Medlicott Scriven was in 1819 born to John and Jane Scriven of Banbridge, Ireland. Joseph had a rather turbulent life even from a young age. He had wanted to serve in the military, but his poor health led to him studying at Trinity College, which he graduated from in 1842. A year later, his fiancée drowned the night before their wedding. This, along with religious convictions, prompted him to leave Ireland for Canada in 1845. Here, he met another woman to whom he became engaged, but she died in 1860.  While in Canada, he lived a life of service, though he was often overlooked. He gave freely of his time, property, and skill. Ironically, many who knew Joseph thought him “eccentric” because of the way he lived and many friends left him. Still, those he cared for appreciated his selflessness and charity.

It was in 1855 that he penned the well-loved hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” then fittingly first called “Pray Without Ceasing,” for his ill mother back in Ireland. This hymn was not among the lyrics he published. In fact, the hymn was hardly known until Charles Crozat Converse found the lyrics and put them to music in 1868.

Sadly, Scriven’s life ended in sickness and despondency. While a friend cared for him in the fall of 1886, Scriven, quite ill, went out into the night and disappeared. By the time he was found in a nearby body of water, Joseph Scriven was already dead. Despite his tragic life, Scriven dedicated everything his did and said to caring for others, even down to a poem for his sick mother that brings many people comfort to this day.

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!

Unlike our earthly friends, we have a Friend who bore our sins on the cross, understands suffering, and hears our prayers (Mat. 8:17, Luk. 5:20, 7:34, John 15:13-15, Isa. 53). This should not be something that we take lightly or approach in a careless manner. This is a privilege that we can approach the throne of grace and take our every need and care to Christ, our Lord, Savior, and God (Heb. 4:15-16, Jas. 5:13-14). This is a privilege offered to us without hesitation, and yet we so often think that we are enough to bear our own burdens and do not need Christ (Mat. 7:7-11, Luk. 18:1, Eph. 6:18). This is why the author points out that we forfeit peace and bear pain needlessly because we are to stubborn or prideful to cast our burdens on Christ, who cares for us immeasurably (Eph. 3:17-19, 1 Pet 5:7, Psa. 55:22). How often we forfeit peace and let ourselves fall into despair because our first thought is not to turn to our Father! In prayer, God’s peace fills us, for He is a friend who can truly bring comfort to an aching soul (Phil. 4:6-7).

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged;
take it to the Lord in prayer!
Can we find a friend so faithful
who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness;
take it to the Lord in prayer!

Do we have trials and temptations? (1 Pet. 4:12-13) Of course! But we do not lose heart, for Scripture reminds us that we should take everything – worry and joy – to the Lord (Jas. 5:13-16, 1 Pet. 5:7, Eph. 6:18, Rom. 12:12). And why should we do this? Besides the fact that it is a spiritual discipline and Christ has modeled it for us. He is our friend who is faithful and able to sympathize with us because He came in Flesh to dwell in us (Heb. 2:17-18, 4:14-16). What could we take to Him that He could not bear? He already bore our sins and knows our nature (Isa. 53:2-7, 1 Pet. 2:24, Eph. 3:12). Moreover, He cares for us. Take your troubles to Him!

Are we weak and heavy laden,
cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge–
take it to the Lord in prayer!
Do your friends despise, forsake you?
Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In his arms he’ll take and shield you;
you will find a solace there.

We are told in the Gospels that we will have trouble in this world and that our sin is heavy upon us. But we should not lose heart, for God bears our burdens and has overcome the world – He is our refuge that we turn to (Mat 11:28-30, Jhn. 16:33, Psa. 18:2, 28:7, 68:19-20). Even in spite of our troubles, of abandonment, in spite of hatred and ruin, Christ is our ever-present help, so we can take everything to Him in prayer (Psa. 27:10, 41:9, 46:1-3, Pro. 18:24, 1 Pet 3:12, 1 Jhn 5:14-15). This world will not bring us peace, but God loves us and has saved us. In prayer, we find peace and comfort with God (Isa. 26:1-4, Psa. 3:1-6). This hymn is a reminder that our God loves us, cares for us, and is always there to hear our every need. This is why He is a friend, and this is another reason why we should always pray.

Blessings to you and yours,


Works Referenced

Scriven, Joseph Medlicott

“What a Friend We Have in Jesus”

101 Hymn Stories


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