What a Friend!

What a Friend!

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 you ever heard the popular hymn, What a Friend We Have in Jesus? It’s a common tune in many churches, a regular rhythm for those of us who grew up in church. But although I grew up singing this song in church, I hadn’t heard the history of the hymn’s author until recently. In studying the history of this hymn, I’ve discovered that its words are even more magnetic and powerful than I once knew. 


A Troubled Life


Joseph Scriven, an Irish immigrant to Canada, composed the words to the hymn What a Friend We Have in Jesus. Though the hymn is beautifully penned, Joseph faced many difficulties throughout his life. When he was younger, he wanted to join the Irish army, but was unable to pursue his dreams because of health problems. Not only this, but the night before his wedding, his fiancée tragically died in a drowning accident. Eleven years later, when Joseph was engaged again, his second fiancée also died after a brief illness. How tragic! Joseph spent the rest of his life without regular income, using what he did have to help the marginalized. He was an outsider to his neighbors, and he struggled with depression throughout his life. He died at 66 years old by drowning. 


Joseph clearly faced one trial after another throughout his life. He lost two fiancées, faced financial difficulties, and grappled with the loss of many dreams. He faced trouble after trouble, carrying the weight of grief, disappointment, and depression. Even so, he tried to fix his eyes on the truth, finding comfort in the rock of Christ. 


In light of such suffering, it’d be easy to walk away from Jesus, but Joseph Scriven pressed into his faith. Interestingly, Joseph actually wrote the words for the hymn What a Friend as a poem to his mother to comfort her in her suffering, not intending that anyone else would see it. It was only later found and made into lyrical form. 


In light of the great sufferings and background of Joseph Sciven, then, let’s read about the comfort he found in the faithful friendship of Christ. He wrote:


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!


As Joseph experienced, life is not easy. We will all have trials, temptations, and troubles. But even in the midst of these sorrows, Jesus is our faithful Friend who knows our weakness. He carries us and sustains us. We can pour out all of our thoughts, hearts, and emotions to Him in prayer. We can find refuge in Him. Joseph then said: 


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 your friends despise, forsake you?

Take it to the Lord in prayer!

In his arms he’ll take and shield you;

you will find a solace there.


Even in sorrow, Jesus is our faithful friend | TDGC

Through blessing and sorrow, rejection and joy, we can find hope in the rock of Christ. He is our refuge and our salvation. In light of this, we can take all things to the Lord, knowing that God is our Shield, Refuge, and Protector. We don’t need to carry our burdens alone. Our Heavenly Father walks with us and knows our every burden.


God is our shield, refuge, and protector | TDGC
God walks with us and knows our every burden | TDGC

Are you feeling weak today? Are you heavy laden, loaded with many cares? Joseph Scriven concluded his poem by saying that in God’s arms, He’ll take and shield us. We can find solace in Christ, the One who bore our burdens and saved our souls. We can find comfort, friendship, and grace in the everlasting arms of Jesus. 


I do not call you servants anymore, because a servant doesn’t know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have heard from my Father. - John 15:15





Hawn, Michael. “History of Hymns: What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” Discipleship Ministries. February 3, 2021. https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/articles/history-of-hymns-what-a-friend-we-have-in-jesus


Hymnary. “Joseph Medlicott Scriven.” Hymnary. Accessed June 11, 2024. https://hymnary.org/person/Scriven_JM

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