What a Friend We Have in Jesus: The Story Behind the Hymn


Digging into the history of hymns, we often find people we can relate to.

Today, let’s discover the story behind the hymn, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”  

One of the best known hymns of our time, it offers comfort and strength. We enjoy singing this popular hymn at our church in North Sydney. Although its author was not a famous hymn writer, it has stood the test of time. What is the history behind this hymn

Who Wrote This Hymn?

Its author was a remarkable man named Joseph Scriven. Born in Ireland to wealthy parents, he studied at Trinity College in Dublin and graduated in 1842. The following year, Joseph asked his childhood sweetheart to marry him, and she said yes. The day before their wedding, she rode a horse across a bridge and fell into the rushing River Bann. She was tragically drowned as Joseph watched helplessly from the opposite bank.

Two years later, he fled memories and emigrated to Canada. A member of the local Plymouth Brethren church, he earned a reputation for serving the poor and needy. Often, he worked free of charge to assist widows and the sick. Never idle, Joseph taught school, preached the gospel, and wrote tracts and Christian literature.
At our church in North Sydney, we seek to serve our community, too.
In 1855, he received upsetting news from Ireland. His beloved mother was seriously ill. One day, a friend noticed a tattered sheet of paper lying on a table. He asked Scriven where it had come from. Joseph explained that he had written a poem to comfort his mother called “Pray without Ceasing.” He humbly stated, “The Lord and I did it between us.”
Its simple lyrics call the reader to find comfort in Jesus Christ. Instead of bearing heavy burdens alone, it encourages us to “Take it to the Lord in prayer.”
No matter what trials may come, we can find solace and peace in our relationship with Jesus. 

How Did It Become Famous?

Upon the urging of a friend, Joseph published it unsigned in Horace Hastings’ collection of Social hymns: original and selected (1865). Later, his poem was renamed “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” and set to music by Charles Crozat Converse. It was introduced to Christians across the continent when Ira Sankey published it in Sankey’s Gospel Hymns Number One (1875).
Since then, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” has been translated into several other languages. 
It is particularly popular at wedding ceremonies in Japan and in the Hindi and Malayalam languages of India. 
It has been recorded by notable singers like Bing Crosby and Ella Fitzgerald, as well as pioneer recording artists like Washington Phillipps.
In 2003, this popular hymn was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters’ Hall of Fame.

What Are the Song Lyrics?

Here are the song lyrics to “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”

1. 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!

2. 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.

3. 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 thee,

  Thou wilt find a solace there.

Although Scriven wrote these lyrics over one hundred years ago, they speak truth into our lives today. This hymn encourages us to cast all our cares upon the Lord, because He cares for us. (1 Peter 5:7)

Do you know Jesus as your Friend? Join the friendly church family of Northside Baptist Church on Sundays at 11:00 am to learn more. 

For more information, call (902) 736-6465 or email northside1178@gmail.com