Origin of the Hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”
Written by George Njuguna on February 13, 2022
In 1844 a young Irishman, Joseph Scriven, had completed his college education and returned home to marry his sweetheart. As he was traveling to meet her on the day before the planned wedding, he came upon a horrible scene—his beautiful fiancée tragically lying under the water in a creek bed after falling off her horse.
Later, Scriven moved to Canada and eventually fell in love again, only to experience devastation once more when she became ill and died just weeks before their marriage. For the second time, this humble Christian felt the loss of the woman he loved.
The following year, he wrote a poem to his mother in Ireland that described the deep friendship with Jesus he had cultivated in prayer through the hardships of his life.
The poem was published anonymously at first under the title, “Pray Without Ceasing.” Ten years later, he finally acknowledged this well-loved text had been written by him and his friend, Jesus. In 1868, attorney Charles Converse set the text to a tune and renamed it “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” Ken Osbeck tells the story in his book 101 Hymn Stories.
Instead of thinking God was punishing him, Scriven cherished God’s friendship through all of this hardship—a friendship he discovered in prayer.
May we learn that our relationship with God will grow the same way—in prayer.