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What A Friend We Have In Jesus

Joseph Scriven


One of the most soul-seeking hymns still sung in churches around the world is Joseph Scriven’s hymn on the friendship of Jesus—the comforter and burden-bearer. Born in 1819, Scriven was a native of Dublin, Ireland. His parents had the financial means to afford him and exceptional educational opportunity and at age 16, enrolled him in Trinity College in Dublin. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree then quickly established himself as a teacher. Not long after settling into his new career, he fell in love. Joseph and his fiancé was eager to begin their lives together and scheduled the date to exchange their nuptials. Then the unexpected happened. The day before the wedding, tragedy struck. His soon-to-be bride drowned. In his deep sorrow, Joseph realized that he could only find the solace and support he needed in his dearest friend, Jesus.


Shortly thereafter Scriven left Ireland to start a new life in Canada. He established a home in Port Hope, where he met and fell in love with Eliza Rice. Just weeks before she was to become Joseph’s bride, she suddenly grew sick. Within a matter of weeks, Eliza, Joseph’s second fiancé, succumbed to her illness and died.

A shattered Scriven turned to the only thing that had anchored him during his life: his faith. Through prayer and Bible study he found not just solace, but a mission.


Scriven, at age 25, dramatically decided to change his life. He took a vow of poverty, sold all of his earthly possessions, and vowed to give his life to the physically handicapped and financially destitute. He often gave his clothes and possessions to those in need, and he worked without pay for anyone who needed him. Scriven became known as “The Good Samaritan of Port Hope.”


The story is told that two businessmen stood on a Port Hope, Ontario street corner as a little man carrying a saw walked by. One of the businessmen said, “Now there is a man who is happy with his lot in life. I wish I could know his joy. Perhaps I can get him to cut my winter’s supply of wood.” The other businessman replied, “I know that man. He would not cut your firewood. He cuts wood only for the financially destitute and for those who are physically handicapped and cannot cut their own firewood.”

Ten years after Eliza died, Scriven received word that his mother had become very ill. Because of his vow of poverty, he did not have the financial means to go home to help care for her. Heartsick, and feeling a need to reach out to her, he wrote a comforting letter, enclosing the words of his newly written poem, with the prayer that these brief lines would remind her of a never failing friend she had in Jesus.

Sometime later when Joseph Scriven himself became ill, a friend who came to call on him happened to see a copy of words scribbled on a scratch piece of paper near his bed. After reading the scribbled words the friend asked, “Who wrote these beautiful words?” Scriven’s reply: “The Lord and I did it between us.”

These are those scribbled words…

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!

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.

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 thy friends despise, forsake thee?
Take it to the Lord in prayer;
In His arms He’ll take and shield
Thou wilt find a solace there.

Ironically, in 1886, Joseph Scriven drowned in a Canadian lake. He did not live to see his song carried to every corner of the globe, nor could he had ever imagined that we would be talking about him and those scribbled words today.

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