Fanny Crosby in older age

Fanny Crosby in older age

Fanny Crosby, the most prominent hymn writer of the nineteenth century, composed the lyrics for some 9,000 songs over the course of her songwriting career, which stretched out for more than fifty years. Through the years a number of fascinating true stories were preserved about how some of those songs came to be written or how they were used of the Lord to bring spiritual benefit to individuals.

Fanny composed over 1,000 hymns for William Howard Doane, a hymn writer and publisher from Cincinnati, Ohio. Not long after Fanny and Doane first met, he stopped by her New York apartment with the declaration, “I have exactly forty minutes before my train leaves for Cincinnati. Here is a melody. Can you write words for it?”

“I will see what I can do,” Fanny replied. She later related: “Then followed a space of twenty minutes during which I was wholly unconscious of all else except the work I was doing.” At the end of that time she recited the words to “Safe in the Arms of Jesus” to Doane, who quickly copied them down before dashing off to catch his train.

William Howard Doane

William Howard Doane

Probably more real-life incidents came to be known involving that hymn than any other song Fanny ever wrote. One of the most touching involved a pastor, Dr. John Hall, who went to see the ailing daughter of one of his parishioners. When the girl’s father came downstairs in tears, the clergyman asked, “My dear friend, what is the trouble? Has the little girl gone home?”

“No,” the father answered, “but she has asked me to do something that I cannot do. Anything that wealth might buy she may have. But I cannot sing ‘Safe in the Arms of Jesus’ for I never sang a note in my life.”

“Oh, I will go up and sing it for her,” the minister responded reassuringly. He did, and the child slipped into eternity just as he sang the hymn’s last two lines:

Wait till I see the morning

Break on the golden shore.

The words from another of Fanny’s best-known hymns, “My Savior First of All,” were once used of the Lord to safeguard a number of people from spiritual deception. A man suddenly appeared in London, claiming to be the Messiah. Charismatic and persuasive, he drew large crowds for many weeks. But one evening as he was speaking in a public square, a small Salvation Army band passed by singing “My Savior First of All” with its closing lines, “I shall know Him, I Shall know Him, By the print of the nails in His hand.”

The sizeable crowd spontaneously joined in singing that chorus. Presently someone pointed at the self-proclaimed Messiah and challenged, “Look at his hands and see if the print of the nails is there.” When no such marks were revealed, the man promptly lost his following.

Fanny Crosby

Fanny Crosby

Money meant little to Fanny. She normally lived in simple apartments, sometimes in a rather poor part of town. She was extremely generous. Often she gave all the money in her possession to help some needy individual, then asked the Lord to provide what she needed for her own food, rent and other basic necessities of life.

One day someone said to her, “If I had wealth I would be able to do just what I wish to do, and I would be able to make an appearance in the world.”

“Take the world but give me Jesus,” Fanny instantly replied. That remark led her to write one of her most famous hymns, which bore those words as its title.

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Women of Faith and Courage by Vance Christie

These and other remarkable hymn stories of Fanny Crosby, along with her fascinating life story, are related in my book Women of Faith and Courage (Christian Focus, 2011). The story of her life is shared in her own words in Fanny J. Crosby, An Autobiography (Baker, 1995, and Hendrickson, 2015). A more comprehensive account of her life and ministry is provided in Edith Blumhofer’s Her Heart Can See, The Life and Hymns of Fanny J. Crosby (Eerdmans, 2005).

Copyright 2017 by Vance E. Christie

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Women of Faith and Courage by Vance ChristieAbout the Book:
Through some of the best-loved heroines of the Christian faith, God’s glory is manifest as He accomplishes significant things through imperfect people. In Women of Faith & Courage readers discover the remarkable stories of Susanna Wesley, Fanny Crosby, Catherine Booth, Mary Slessor and Corrie ten Boom. Their lives spanned three centuries and their circumstances were each very different, but steadfast faith and courage is the constant resounding theme for each. Across the pages of this book, the legacy of these women lives on to inspire and instruct contemporary believers-in living all of life for the glory of God.

Learn more at

Fanny Crosby

Fanny Crosby

When Frances (Fanny) Crosby (1820-1915) was just six weeks old, she developed an inflammation of the eyes as the result of a cold. The regular doctor of their community of Southeast, New York, was away at the time. Another man, who claimed to be a doctor but apparently was more of a quack, offered to treat the infant’s eyes. He put a hot poultice over her eyes, insisting it would draw out the infection. Instead, it all but destroyed the child’s sight. When Fanny’s parents accused the man, whose name is no longer known, of blinding their baby, he fled Southeast, never to be heard from again.

To the end of her long life, which stretched out for some ninety-five years, Fanny Crosby was able to see only bright light and vivid colors, and those but faintly. Other than that she was totally blind, being unable to make out distinct details or even indistinct shapes.

But this seeming tragedy led to her developing an overcoming spirit, an incredibly retentive mind and an exceptional poetic gift. All of which played into her becoming the world’s premiere hymnwriter of her generation. She wrote the lyrics to nearly 9,000 hymns, including a number that are still sung today – to name but a few: “All the Way My Savior Leads Me,” “Blessed Assurance,” “He Hideth My Soul,” “I Am Thine, O Lord,” “Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross,” “Redeemed,” “Rescue the Perishing,” “Tell Me the Story of Jesus” and “To God Be the Glory.”

A Presbyterian by upbringing, Fanny ministered in various denominational settings as an adult. Well into her eighties, she traveled widely, ministering in churches, Bible conferences, rescue missions, YMCAs, patriotic rallies and various other settings. Her songs have been an inspiration and a blessing to untold millions of Christians around the globe from her own day till the present time.

In the final decade of her life Fanny wrote of the accident that took her sight and the individual who was responsible for it: “But I have not for a moment, in more than eight-five years, felt a spark of resentment against him because I have always believed from my youth to this very moment that the good Lord, in His infinite mercy, by this means consecrated me to the work that I am still permitted to do. When I remember His mercy and lovingkindness; when I have been blessed above the common lot of mortals; and when happiness has touched the deep places of my soul – how can I repine?”

Just about everyone faces circumstances and developments in life that seem most unfortunate or even tragic. We wonder why we have to experience them and what good could possibly come from them. But over time we come to see how God uses such hardships to forge within us strong, positive characteristics we otherwise would not have come to possess. He also redeems our challenges of life by leading us into tailor-made ministry opportunities we otherwise would not have had.

For our part, we need to prayerfully seek God’s help to trust Him, even when we cannot yet perceive how He is using our difficulties in these positive ways. And we should endeavor to become, by His grace, stronger and more useful servants of Him through the challenging circumstances He has permitted in our lives.

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A fuller account of Fanny Crosby’s inspiring life is included in my book Women of Faith and Courage. That account includes several examples of how the Lord used her hymn writing and other ministries to greatly bless and help others.

Copyright 2013 by Vance E. Christie

Susanna Wesley

Susanna Wesley

Susanna Wesley (1669-1742) is best known as the godly mother of John and Charles Wesley, founders of the Methodist movement. Her husband, Samuel, was a Church of England minister for forty-five years, thirty-eight of those in the Lincolnshire market town of Epworth.

During 1711 and 1712 Samuel was assisted in the care of his parish by a curate named Inman. Once during that period, when Samuel was away fulfilling denominational duties in London, Susanna initiated a practice with her own household that, surprisingly, came to have a profound positive effect on the entire Epworth congregation.

Inman did not hold an afternoon church service. Ever a strong believer in devoting the Christian Sabbath to sacred focuses, Susanna concluded it was her duty to spend part of the day instructing her family since they had so much time available for such activities. She read them sermons from Samuel’s library and led them in a time of family prayer.

Shortly after she started doing so, others heard of the Sunday evening gatherings in Susanna’s kitchen and asked if they might attend as well. Soon between thirty and forty people were present each week.

Just then one of Susanna’s daughter’s, Emilia, discovered in her father’s study an account of Danish missionaries who had risked their lives and sacrificed all the world holds dear in order to advance the honor of Christ by taking His Gospel to foreign lands. Susanna was greatly inspired by their example and concluded, “ … if my heart were sincerely devoted to God, and if I were inspired with a true zeal for His glory, and did really desire the salvation of souls, I might do somewhat more than I do.”

She resolved to begin with her own children, and thereafter met with them individually once weekly to discuss each child’s spiritual condition and concerns.  Susanna also began discoursing more freely and fervently with the neighbors who attended the Sunday evening gatherings. The results were amazing, for in a short time over 200 people per week were attending the Sunday night readings, which had to be moved to a larger venue.

Inman became envious and annoyed because more people were attending Susanna’s evening readings than his own morning sermons. Early in 1712, he and two other men wrote Samuel, accusing his wife of holding a conventicle, an illegal religious meeting. Alarmed, Samuel wrote from London, asking Susanna to stop her meetings.

In her earnest but measured written response to her husband, Susanna pointed out her primary reasons for thinking the Sunday evening gatherings should continue. No more than three or four individuals were objecting to the meetings. Whereas twenty to twenty-five people used to attend evening services at the church, now between two and three hundred people were coming out for the readings. Some families who formerly seldom went to church were now attending church services regularly. Many people were “very much reformed in their behavior on the Lord’s Day.” Through this ministry Susanna had “an opportunity of exercising the greatest and noblest charity, that is, charity of their souls.”

Epworth Parish Church

Epworth Parish Church

She closed that letter with these compelling words: “If you do, after all, think fit to dissolve this assembly, do not tell me that you desire me to do it, for that will not satisfy my conscience; but send me your positive command, in such full and express terms as may absolve me from all guilt and punishment, for neglecting this opportunity of doing good, when you and I shall appear before the great and awful tribunal of our LORD JESUS CHRIST.”

Samuel raised no further objection, and the meetings continued till his return. At that time he found the moral and spiritual condition of his congregation remarkably improved. Through Susanna’s Spirit-led ministrations nothing less than a touch of revival had come to Epworth.

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A fuller account of Susanna Wesley’s life of devoted service to the Lord, her family and others is included in my book Women of Faith and Courage. May her example encourage us to “do somewhat more” in our own service of Jesus Christ, His people and those who still need Him as their Savior.

Copyright 2013 by Vance E. Christie