Posted by: rcottrill | July 20, 2011

What a Friend We Have in Jesus

Words: Joseph Medlicott Scriven (b. Sept. 10, 1819; d. Aug. 10, 1886)
Music: Converse, by Charles Crozat Converse (b. Oct. 7, 1834; d. Oct. 18, 1918)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

This marvelous hymn was written by an obscure man, for his ailing mother, in a town in Southern Ontario, Canada. It has gone ‘round the world, and become one of the best-loved of our sacred songs.

It begins with an exclamation that is found in the Gospels in quite another form. There, it’s a mocking criticism from the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day. The Lord said to them, “The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” (Lk. 7:34). But to those who came to Him in faith (and still do), drawn into the circle of His compassion and care, “What a Friend!”

The focus of Mr. Scriven’s song is on the present ministry of Christ, as our great High Priest in heaven, and the access each believer has to Him, through prayer. As the Bible puts it:

“Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:14-16).

Yet, in spite of this glorious promise, so often our lives are plagued by prayerlessness. When we’re in trouble, prayer is sometimes our last resort, instead of our first refuge. James says, tersely, “You do not have because you do not ask” (Jas. 4:2). Personally, I find another weakness in my praying. I sometimes ask the Lord for help in a particular situation, and He gives it. But I’m prone to forget to say, “Thank You, Lord!” and praise Him for His provision.

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.

“Therefore, pray!” (Matt. 6:9).

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7). “For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we may boldly say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’” (Heb. 13:5-6).

In CH-2, Joseph addresses our need for prayer during “trials and temptations.” We have the assurance that “Jesus knows our every weakness,” and can strengthen and support us in such times. CH-3 calls us to seek the throne of God when we are “weak and heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care.” There may even by times when “friends despise, forsake [us].” That will never be the case with our greatest Friend of all. “In His arms He’ll take and shield [us]; [we] will find a solace there.”

CH-4 is often omitted from our hymn books, but it looks forward to the coming day, in heaven, when “there will be no need for prayer.” The author is likely thinking of seeking help in times of oppression and danger. In that sense, Joseph Scriven is right. There’ll be no pain, sorrow, or death there (Rev. 21:4). But, if we think of prayer in the broader sense of addressing God, which would include our praise and worship, then there will still be a place for prayer in heaven. And who knows whether, in our eternal service for Him (Rev. 22:3), we’ll need His counsel and guidance, even there.

Blessèd Saviour, Thou hast promised Thou wilt all our burdens bear
May we ever, Lord, be bringing all to Thee in earnest prayer.
Soon in glory bright unclouded there will be no need for prayer
Rapture, praise and endless worship will be our sweet portion there.

1) It is mentioned above that prayer is sometimes our last resort. Why is this the case?

2) What are some of the blessings of having such an understanding and reliable friend as the Lord Jesus?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


  1. Just wanted to thank you for the words of encouragement on my blog. I am interested in yours as I often look up hymns and the stories surrounding them. Have a great day and God bless you!

    • Thanks for your kind words, Sheri. Drop by any time! 🙂


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