Frances Ridley Havergal

We live in a day when more and more people seem increasingly skeptical toward the Christian faith. The positive personal example of Frances Havergal, an eminent nineteenth century English hymnwriter, has a lot to teach us about bearing an effective witness to such skeptics.

Frances Havergal (1836-1879) was a best-selling author of devotional literature, poetry and hymns. She was also a skilled musician who was often asked to sing solos and take a lead in choral ministries. She participated in and promoted a wide range of other ministries including children’s Sunday school and Bible clubs, women’s prayer and ministry groups, meeting the material needs of the underprivileged, community evangelistic meetings, and missionary endeavors.

Frances was an ardent personal evangelist. She actively sought to use her varied ministry opportunities, both public and private, to point people to Christ Jesus.

In April 1872 Frances visited her sister and brother-in-law, Ellen and Giles Shaw, at their country home of Winterdyne near Bewdley, England. One Sunday Frances was unwell so did not attend church with them. When the Shaws returned home from church that day, Giles was surprised to find her at the piano and exclaimed, “Why, Frances, I thought you were upstairs!”

“Yes,” she replied, “but I had my Prayer-Book, and in the psalms for today I read, ‘Tell it out among the heathen that the Lord is King’,” (citing Psalm 96:10). She continued on to explain: “I thought, what a splendid first line! And then words and music came rushing in to me.” Motioning to a sheet of newly-composed lyrics, along with a complete set of melody and harmony lines, she concluded, “There it’s all written out.”

Winterdyne House near Bewdley, England

That song was subsequently published with the title of “Tell It Out!”  Frances often used it to bear witness to others of her Savior and King, Jesus Christ, and to encourage her fellow Christians to do the same.

On one such occasion at a social gathering she visited with a young man who was a strong opponent of religion and denounced it as “all humbug and mere profession.” Rather than being put off by him, Frances later said, “I had no end of fun with him, and got on thoroughly goods terms.”

Then she was asked to sing for the gathered guests. She afterward reported of her musical witness and its effect on the young skeptic:

Frances Ridley Havergal

“I prayed the whole time I was singing and felt God very near and helping me. After a Handel song or two which greatly delighted him, I sang ‘Tell It Out!’ I felt the glorious truth that He is King, and couldn’t help breaking off in the very middle and saying so, right out! Then I sang, ‘Whom having not seen, ye love,’ and felt as if I could sing out all the love of my heart in it.”

“Well, this young infidel, who had seemed extremely surprised and subdued by ‘Tell It Out!’, completely broke down, and went away to hide his tears in a bay window. And afterwards we sat down together, and he let me ‘tell it out’ as I pleased, and it was not hard to speak of Him of whom I had sung. He seemed altogether struck and subdued, and listened like a child. He said, ‘Well there is faith then. You have it anyway—I saw it when you sang. And I could not stand it, and that’s the fact!’ He was anxious for me to come again.”

May our faith in Jesus Christ and our love for Him similarly be so strong that they will shine through us to others, leading us to readily testify about Him to them. Such a compelling, winsome witness will be used of the Lord to soften even some skeptical hearts and to draw unbelievers to Himself.

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This Perspective is based on information gathered from Janet Grierson’s substantive biography Frances Ridley Havergal, Worcestershire Hymnwriter (The Havergal Society, 1979). Copyright 2023 by Vance E. Christie