What a Friend We Have in Jesus
DESCRIPTION: "What a friend we have in Jesus, All our sins and griefs to bear! What a privilege to carry Ev'rything to God in prayer." The singer describes all the ways in which God can help with life's troubles and burdens
AUTHOR: Words: Joseph Medlicott Scriven (1819-1886) / Music: Charles Crozat Converse (1832-1919)
EARLIEST DATE: Words written 1855, tune 1870 (Johnson)
KEYWORDS: religious nonballad Jesus
FOUND IN: US(SE) West Indies(Trinidad)
REFERENCES (5 citations):
Warren-EveryTimeIFeelTheSpirit, pp. 264-265, "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" (1 text)
Silber/Silber-FolksingersWordbook, p. 364, "What A Friend We Have In Jesus" (1 text)
ADDITIONAL: Charles Johnson, One Hundred and One Famous Hymns (Hallberg, 1982), pp. 182-183, "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" (1 text, 1 tune)
Ira D. Sankey, _Sankey's Sacred Songs and Solos_ [1200 Hymns] (London} Collins, 1921?), #319 (1880 #117), "What a Friend We Have in Jesus"
Caravans, "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" (States S-128, n.d.)
Mississippi John Hurt, "What a Friend We Have In Jesus" (on MJHurt04)
Moving Star Hall Singers, "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" (on USSeaIsland02)
E. R. Nance Singers, "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" (ARC, unissued, 1930)
Old Southern Sacred Singers, "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" (Brunswick 172, 1927; Supertone S-2117, 1930)
Frank Welling & John McGhee, "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" (Broadway 8136, c. 1931)
Henry Williams, Henry Thomas, Margaret Wright and Edna Wright, "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" (on WITrinidadVillage01)
When This Bloody War is Over (File: DalC182)
Chinese Maiden's Lament (File: Tawn046)
Hymn to Cheeses (Pankake/Pankake-PrairieHomeCompanionFolkSongBook, p. 12)
What a Friend We Have in Congress (on PeteSeeger39, PeteSeeger44)
Dump the Bosses Off Your Back (by John Brill; DT, DUMPBOSS)
NOTES [714 words]: According to Johnson, author Joseph Medlicott Scriven had two fiancees die shortly before marriage. He ended up writing this, in 1855, for his mother. According to Stulken, p. 469, it was first published in Social Hymns, Original and Selected in 1865.
Stulken, p. 470, says that Scriven was subject to depression, and at one time tried to devote his entire life to Christian service (not a rare thing for the depressed). His death in 1886 was the result of drowning; it is possible that he committed suicide, but this cannot be proved or disproved. It is perhaps noteworthy that one of the women he hoped to marry also perished by drowning (Rudin, p. 50).
The 1819 date of his birth is the one I have most often encountered (e.g. McKim, p. 281), although Ira D. Sankey gave it as 1820, according to Julian, p. 1700, and Rudin, p. 49, accepts this date. Sankey also said that the song was "discovered" by a neighbor who was sitting up with Scriven while the latter was sick. Scriven had not intended to publish (another sign of depression, perhaps), but it would seem the neighbour's delight in the song may have changed his mind.
Reynolds, p. 422, says that Scriven was born in County Down, Ireland, and in 1835 went to Trinity College, Dublin, but two years later joined the military, only to give it up due to poor health and return to Trinity, where he earned a degree in 1842. He moved to Ontario, Canada in 1844, and worked as a teacher and tutor, as well as devoting time to the handicapped and destitute. It was in Ontario that he drowned himself forty years later.
According to Reynolds, p. 238, the tune "CONVERSE, sometimes called ERIE, was composed by Charles C. Converse in 1868, and first appeared in Silver Wings, compiled by Karl Reden (Boston, Oliver Ditson, 1870, No. 98), where the tune is credited to Reden, a pseudonym of Converse." (It looks to me as if "Karl Reden" is German for "Charles Converse," as "Wurzel" is German for [George F.] Root; Karl of course is German for Charles, and the root "Rede" (which still survives in English as an archaic word for "counsel") can mean "CONVERSation.")
Rudin, p. 50, claims an ironic coincidence: When Sankey was editing the hymnbook containing this song, his final decision was between two songs. One was this text, and the other was a song by Charles Converse, who wrote the tune for this one! Obviously Sankey chose "What a Friend...."
Converse, according to Reynolds, p. 287, was born in Warren, Massachusetts, in 1832 and educated in Elmira, New York. He visited Germany in the late 1850s, where he studied music. He gained a law degree in 1861 (McKim, p. 281, says he graduated law school in 1861 but that he received his Doctor of Law degree in 1895; he had refused a Doctor of Music degree). In addition to hymn tunes, he wrote two symphonies and sundry oratorios and lesser classical works. He died in Highwood, New Jersey, in 1918. If he ever did anything worth remembering other than write this tune, I haven't found it.
McKim, p. 404, says that the hymn is extremely popular in Korea (i.e. presumably South Korean Christian churches) -- so much so that the Korean text has been included in American Presbyterian hymnals. - RBW
I believe the note to USSeaIsland02 mislabels two tracks. It assumes "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" morphs into a song called "I Love Jesus," which continues as "I Love Jesus" on the next track. The singing does not stop and the tune does not change. I believe that, as far as the singers are concerned, both tracks are the same song. As Dargan notes, the USSeaIsland02 tune is "Restoration" and not the tune usually associated with this song. The USSeaIsland02 version begins with the usual first verse -- "What a friend we have in Jesus ... All because we do not carry Everything to God in prayer" -- and continues with "I love Jesus" (3x) / "Yes I do." "Coming for to rescue me" (3x) / "Yes I do," and "We need Jesus"(3x) / "One more road" [see: William T. Dargan, Lining Out the Word (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006), pp. 41, 47; Benjamin Franklin White, E. J. King, et al, Original Sacred Harp (Atlanta, 1911 ("Digitized by Google") (correction and enlargement of 1869 edition copyright J.S. James)), p. 312, "Restoration," especially the chorus]. - BS
Last updated in version 5.2
- Julian: John Julian, editor, A Dictionary of Hymnology, 1892; second edition 1907 (I use the 1957 Dover edition in two volumes)
- McKim: LindaJo H. McKim, Presbyterian Hymnal Companion, Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993
- Reynolds: William Reynolds, Companion to Baptist Hymnal, Broadman Press, 1976
- Rudin: Cecilia Margaret Rudin, Stories of Hymns We Love, John Rudin & Company, 1934 (I use the fourteenth printing of 1951)
- Stulken: Marilyn Kay Stulken, Hymnal Companion to the Lutheran Book of Worship, Fortress Press, 1981
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