Posted by: rcottrill | November 20, 2010

Today in 1850 – Fanny Crosby Converted

Frances Jane (Fanny) Crosby was blind from infancy, due to a doctor’s mistreatment of an eye infection. But not only did her blindness not seem to hinder her, she actually came to view it in a positive light. She said:

It seemed intended by the blessed providence of God that I should be blind all my life, and I thank him for the dispensation. If perfect earthly sight were offered me tomorrow I would not accept it. I might not have sung hymns to the praise of God if I had been distracted by the beautiful and interesting things about me.

Graphic Fanny Crosby youngMiss Crosby, who later became Mrs. Alexander Van Alstyne, was the most prolific gospel song writer ever. The exact total of these selections may never be known, since she wrote under a bewildering array of pen names. (It is likely somewhere between 8,500 and 9,000 songs.)

Some hymn historians speak disdainfully of her output, saying most of it isn’t worth much. However, many of her songs have stood the test of time, and continue to appear in hymnals. (Often more of her songs are included than those of any other writer.) And it is still possible to discover lovely gems among the thousands that have not been recently published.

With that many songs to her credit, it may come as a surprise that Fanny was not converted until she was 30 years old, and did not begin writing hymns for another 14 years! (She had written poetry since childhood, and produced a number popular songs, but no hymns before 1864.) This means she had to average writing about four hymns each week from then on! And that is simply an average. Some weeks the total was several times that.

Fanny Crosby put her faith in Christ at a Methodist revival meeting, and it was a hymn that God used to awaken her heart to Him. The congregation was singing Isaac Watts’s Alas, and Did My Saviour Bleed?, and the last stanza says:

But drops of grief can ne’er repay
The debt of love I owe;
Here, Lord, I give myself away;
‘Tis all that I can do.

Fanny says as the last line was sung, “I surrendered myself to the Saviour, and my very soul was flooded with celestial light.” She was captivated by the love of Christ.

Then, when she was 44 years old, she met gospel music composer William Bradbury. (Bradbury gave us the tunes for Just As I Am, He Leadeth Me, Sweet Hour of Prayer, and many more.) He said, on meeting Fanny Crosby, “I thank God that we have at last met, for I think you can write hymns, and I have wished for a long time to have a talk with you.” He challenged her to come back in one week with a hymn he could set to music, and she did. Here is how Fanny Crosby’s very first hymn begins:

We are going, we are going
To a home beyond the skies,
Where the fields are robed in beauty
And the sunlight never dies.
Where the fount of joy is flowing
In the valley green and fair,
We shall dwell in love together,
There shall be no parting there.

William Bradbury was thrilled, and determined to use the song in the hymn book he was presently editing. Then, he gave Fanny a test–without telling her he was doing it. He said he needed a patriotic song to go with a melody he had written. The tune he played for her was a tricky and complicated one, but he wanted to see whether she could handle it.

Fanny returned a day later with the song requested, presenting it to Bradbury’s secretary. The latter responded in open-mouthed astonishment, “How in the world did you manage to write that hymn? Nobody ever supposed that you, or any mortal, could adapt words to that melody!” (The rest, as they say, is history!)

(2) Today in 1871 – Charles Weigle Born
Charles Frederick Weigle, a friend of Billy Sunday’s, was an itinerant gospel musician and evangelist, preaching here and there, as the Lord opened the door.

In researching his life, I came across a sermon he preached in 1903 called “The Three Hells.” (Eye-catching title!) The first was hell in the heart, about the sad state of a debauched life; the second was hell in the home, about sin-riddled disfunctional families; the third was hell in the hereafter, concerning the eternal judgment faced by all those outside of Christ.

As well as preaching, Charles Weigle wrote about a thousand gospel songs. One from 1903 is Living for Jesus (not to be confused with Thomas Chisholm’s song with the same title). Weigle’s hymn says:

Living for Jesus—O what peace!
Rivers of pleasure never cease.
Trials may come, yet I’ll not fear.
Living for Jesus, He is near.

Help me to serve Thee more and more.
Help me to praise Thee o’er and o’er;
Live in Thy presence day by day,
Never to turn from Thee away.

Living for Jesus—O what rest!
Pleasing my Saviour, I am blest.
Only to live for Him alone,
Doing His will till life is done!

Living for Jesus everywhere,
All of my burden He doth bear.
Friends may forsake me; He’ll be true.
Trusting in Him, He’ll guide me through.

Mr. Weigle had little of this world’s material things, but he believed what he was doing was of eternal worth. However, he returned home from one particular preaching mission to discover a devastating note from his wife of many years.

Charlie, I’ve been a fool. I’ve done without a lot of things long enough. From here on out, I’m getting all I can of what the world owes me. I know you’ll continue to be a fool for Jesus, but for me it’s goodbye!

She had taken their little daughter and moved to a distant city, seeking glamour and excitement. It was the darkest time of Weigle’s life. He was 61 years old and alone in the world. The temptation arose to commit suicide. He thought to himself, “Your work is finished. No one cares whether you’re dead or alive.”

But in his despair a Voice seemed to whisper in his soul, “Charlie, I haven’t forgotten you. Charlie, I care for you.” And he knelt down and asked the Lord’s forgiveness for not trusting Him. He took up his ministry again.

Meanwhile, in that distant place after less than five years of worldly pleasure, his wife lay dying. To someone at her bedside she said, “I wish I had my life to live over.” She told her daughter to try to find her father and “ask him to pray for me.” But word did not reach him in time.

Once again, in deep sorrow, Charles Weigle sought the comfort of the Lord, and he wrote a song as his personal testimony, called No One Ever Cared for Me Like Jesus.

I would love to tell you what I think of Jesus,
Since I found in Him a friend so strong and true;
I would tell you how He changed my life completely,
He did something that no other friend could do.

No one ever cared for me like Jesus,
There’s no other friend so kind as He.
No one else could take the sin and darkness from me.
Oh how much He cared for me.

Without trying to judge Mr. Weigle in particular, I do wonder about what’s behind this troubled time in his life. Is there another way of looking at it? Is there perhaps more to the story? I have put down some thoughts about this in a topical article called Doesn’t Ministry Begin at Home?

(3) Today in 1872 – I Need Thee Every Hour sung
On this date in 1872, Annie Hawks’s hymn I Need Thee Every Hour was sung for the very first time by the 3,000 delegates at the National Baptist Sunday School Convention, in Cincinnati, Ohio. It became an instant favourite. (For more about Mrs. Hawks and her hymn, see the second item under Today in 1819.)

I need Thee every hour, most gracious Lord;
No tender voice like Thine can peace afford.

I need Thee, O I need Thee;
Every hour I need Thee;
O bless me now, my Saviour,
I come to Thee.


Responses

  1. Loved your blog about Fanny Crosby! I wonder if she ever dreamed how much joy others would find through her songs.
    Blessings….

    • I’m sure she didn’t–though she received many testimonies of this in her later years. But now she must surely have a fuller picture of the eternal value of her ministry. Paul says to the Thessalonian Christians, “What is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming” (I Thess. 2:19). Can you not picture various ones coming up to Fanny in the heavenly kingdom to tell her the Lord used one of her songs to bring them to Christ?

  2. Thank you so much for giving the correct link for “Pass Me Not”. I have already edited the links.

    I am so blessed with your post about Fanny Crosby and I wish to add a link of your blog to my post. As my family and I learn new hymns, I would be visiting here often.

    Thank you and blessings!

    • Thanks so much for linking to my blog. The more blessing I can be to more folks the happier I am. Each day I try to post something from our hymns that will either be informative, or helpful, or enjoyable. God bless.

  3. […] (2) Today in 1868 – Safe in the Arms of Jesus written The author of the words of this song is Frances van Alstyne. We know her better as Fanny Crosby, but ten years before she had married a musician named Alexander van Alstyne. Amazingly, both of them were blind. It is estimated that Fanny Crosby wrote close to 9,000 hymns. The exact total may never be known, because she used a bewildering assortment of pen names. Dozens of them. For instance, if you see hymns by Carrie Bell, or Louise W. Tilden, or Leah Carleton, or Edna Forest, you are looking at the work of Fanny Crosby! For the story of her life and conversion, see Today in 1850. […]

  4. […] learn about the first time this hymn was sung, see the second item under Today in 1850. The Mormons have a beautiful rendition of this hymn. For congregational use, it is sung a little […]

  5. […] Wordwise Hymns The Cyber Hymnal (Charles […]

  6. […] Wordwise Hymns (Fanny Crosby’s conversion) The Cyber […]

  7. I did not know anything about Fanny Crosby, until when I had to write a research paper on traditional and contemporary gospel music.I had to compare and contrast Fanny and Isaac Watts and this article was helpful

    • Sounds like an interesting project! Glad I could be of help. God bless.


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