Today’s Journey Through Scripture Readings: Job 28-29; Acts 13:1-25
There are only so many hours in a day and I am finding I am running out of them. As many of you know, I am making a career change and will begin teaching government and economics when the fall semester begins. I am spending time reading the lessons for those courses. I also have a certification exam to prepare for. With an upcoming “VBS for Grown-ups” event in my church later this month and regular sermons to prepare Sunday mornings between now and the end of the month. Something has to give. I am not going to drop the blog but I am going to do some of the writing I need to do for VBS for Grown-Ups and use it in the blog. The Scripture readings for Journey Through Scripture will still be above as they have been all year.
Francis Jane “Fanny” Crosby wrote the lyrics to more than 9,000 hymns, some of which are among the most popular in Christian history. She wrote so many hymns she used pen names. Some hymnals threatened to be overwhelmed with her name. Yes, other names would have been there but, Crosby’s name would have predominated the index.
Fanny was born on March 24, 1820, to parents John and Mercy Crosby. Her home was in Southeast, Pullman County, New York.
Many had no idea this woman was blind and when they found the truth, were shocked that a blind woman could be the prolific writer we see in Crosby. One preacher said, “I think it is a great pity that the Master did not give you sight when he showered so many other gifts upon you.” Today we would think such a remark would be insensitive but in her day such remarks were the norm rather than the exception.
Not to be outdone, Crosby often responded when she heard this type of comment, “Do you know that if at birth I had been able to make one petition, it would have been that I was born blind? Because when I get to heaven, the first face that shall ever gladden my sight will be that of my Savior.”
When she was only two months old, Crosby became sick. Crosby’s regular doctor was away. Another man substituted for him and treated the infant with a commonly used practice of the day by applying a hot mustard poultice. The man, however, was not a licensed physician. He put the poultice directly on the girl’s eyes.
Mercy Crosby held the fingers and hands of her daughter as the child cried out in pain. She asked, “Doctor, are you sure you have to do this to her?” Mercy asked through her tears of anguish.
“Mrs. Crosby, I know it’s hard to hear Fanny scream like this. I know it is painful, but we must draw out the infection from her eyes. These hot mustard poultices are the best way to do it.”
“But she’s so small, only six weeks old,” Mercy cried. “Maybe we should wait until our regular doctor returns to town.” Mercy tried to shut out Fanny’s screams, but it proved too difficult. If anything, her screams were increasing in volume.
The traveling doctor replied impatiently. “Mrs. Crosby, as I told you, waiting would only make the infection worse. I know the treatment hurts Fanny, but it’s much better to treat the infection immediately. You never know what could happen if an eye infection is left untreated.”*
Knowing little else to do, Mercy accepted the doctor’s diagnosis. Although Fanny’s screams eventually subsided to a pitiful whimper, Mercy would never forget. The infection in Fanny’s eyes did disappear. So did the would-be doctor, but her corneas were burned in the treatment. Scars formed and the woman who would become “America’s Hymn Queen, was blind.
A few months later, Crosby’s father died and her mother no real alternative than to find work where she could to support her family, especially her blind little girl. The work most commonly available was as domestic help, as a maid. Because the little blind girl could not be left alone, she was mostly raised by her religiously devout grandmother.
Her grandmother surrounded her daily with great verse. From early in her life, Fanny developed a love for poetry. She wrote her first poem when she was only eight years old. Her rhyme was rooted in her own story. One can see that even at such an early age she refused to feel sorry for herself. Her blindness was simply a part of her life.
Oh, what a happy soul I am,
although I cannot see!
I am resolved that in this world
Contented I will be.
How many blessings I enjoy
That other people don’t,
To weep and sigh because I’m blind
I cannot, and I won’t!
Without question, poetry was something that was both important and enjoyable to Fanny. But, more important to her was the Bible. She studied rigorously and memorized vast parts of the Bible. It is something that would serve her well throughout her life. =
Just before her 15th birthday, Fanny left home and enrolled in the New York Institute for the Blind. She was a student at the school for twelve years. When she completed her studies she became a teacher for the next eleven years.
By the time Crosby was 23 years old, she had become quite well known. She addressed Congress and was making friends with congressional leaders and presidents alike. She got to know many presidents, especially Grover Cleveland, who served as secretary for the Institute for the Blind before his election.
In 1858 Crosby married New York organist Alexander van Alstine. The relationship put to music many of Crosby’s poems.
Fanny’s work did not lead to self-pride for Crosby. Her writing, what the public expected of her was but a small part of what she had begging release from her soul, words proclaiming God and Heaven. Fanny wrote out of a desire to lift people’s hearts toward Jesus. She didn’t want to mislead them with false feelings.
Traveling and teaching began taking a toll on her health. After a period of rest, she went back to teaching and hosting the occasional poetry reading. She taught until 1858 when she and Alexander married. Alexander was also a teacher at the blind institute and was as blind as Fanny herself. For the first year, Fanny thrived in the role of a housewife. But then, she felt the restlessness to once again engage in God’s work.
After losing her only child in infancy, Fanny battled depression. For the remainder of her life, Fanny would not talk much about this period in her life. Crosby and Alstine, though married, led very separate lives, even living in different places. Such a living arrangement freed them to pursue their own careers and interests. Hymn writing would always be the most important element in Fanny’s life because it was how she showed her devotion to God.
Friend and musician William Doane brought a tune he had written to Crosby. Doane wanted to use the song at a meeting he would be attending and had only a few minutes before he had to catch his train. He begged Crosby to put words to the tune. Doane sat at the piano and played the song. When he finished Fanny said, “Your music says, ‘Safe in the Arms of Jesus.'” She scribbled out words to the hymn quickly and sent Doane on his way to hurriedly catch his train. The hymn became one of her most famous works.
For the most part, despite her own musical talents on several instruments including guitar, piano and more, she was responsible for putting music to only a few of her poems. She shared in the work. She was the lyricist and others put music to her words.
It is difficult to imagine church music without the hymns of Fanny Crosby. Where would Christian worship be without hearing “Blessed Assurance,” “To God Be the Glory,” “Rescue the Perishing,” “In the Cross,” “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior,” “All the Way My Savior Leads Me,” to name only a few.
To write her 9000 hymns, Crosby would need to write three hymns per week for over 50 years. That was the terms of her contract. The requirement was to write three hymns per week and she would receive a dollar or two for each. In reality, Crosby wrote six or seven poems per day. When evangelists of her day began using her work in their crusades and revivals, she received even more attention for her work.
Crosby was extremely talented both in her literary work as well as musically. She could write lyrics and music in a classical genre. Crosby, however, preferred to write simple words for simple tunes that could be used for evangelical purposes. She could be successful with the former, she was successful with the later.
Fanny Crosby passed away one month before her 95th birthday. She was writing verse all the way up to her death. The last stanza she wrote read, “You will reach the river brink, some sweet day, bye and bye.”
Fanny Crosby brought incredible talent and dedication to sacred music. Her work continues to bless people of faith to this day.
Have a blessed day in the Lord.
Copyright 2018, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved