[Adapted from the Archives]
Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith… Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. – Hebrews 10:22a, 23
America’s Hymn Queen. Fanny Crosby (1820-1915) was an American songwriter. In fact, she’s considered American’s “hymn queen“. She wrote the lyrics to more than 8000 hymns. Many in church today do not sing the hymns of old, but even my millennial era children know all the words to Crosby’s Blessed Assurance.
The history of the hymn is a quick glimpse into Fanny Crosby’s life. She was visiting in the home of a composer friend who had just written a melody. The friend, Phoebe P. (Mrs. Joseph K.) Knapp, asked her what came to mind upon hearing the melody, and Fanny responded immediately, “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine.” She then completed the rest of the lyrics shortly thereafter.
Fanny wrote both secular and sacred music and taught school. She was also profoundly concerned for the urban poor and lived most of her life in and around the poorest neighborhoods of New York City. She was a vocal protestor against slavery and testified before the U.S. Senate in support of education for the blind.
Blind all her life. Her physical eyes were dark but her spiritual vision was crystal clear. She commented often how if she’d been sighted she might have missed the depth of awareness of God and His nearness to her. [Autobiography of Fanny Crosby]
Her songs communicate strong emotion and deep devotion. I am thankful to have grown up attending summer revival meetings and church camps where these hymns were regularly a part of the program. Some of my favorites are: I Am Thine, O Lord; Jesus is Calling; Praise Him, Praise Him, Jesus our blessed Redeemer; Redeemed how I Love to Proclaim it; and To God Be the Glory. Just remembering the titles of these great old hymns takes me back – to warm summer nights; women fanning themselves with paper fans advertising the local funeral home; preachers making passionate appeals as if a matter of life and death; singing “one more verse” of one of those Crosby hymns.
Or at church camp, by a lake, around a huge crackling fire popping and sending sparks up to the dark night sky; all of us circled around, singing and praying…for our sinful teen-aged selves or for the friend on either side of us. Those were experiences deeply imprinted in my life’s story – those experiences, Crosby’s hymns, and the God of those hymns.
Some of my contemporaries write about those “contrived” experiences as emotional ploys to bring some weak soul to a public profession of faith. All I know is that God grabbed hold of me in a very real way through the music of those old hymnists like Fanny Crosby.
She was one who knew God – who saw Him with eyes that couldn’t see anything else. And at some point, early in her life, she became one who only had eyes for Him…and that intimacy is reflected in her hymns. God Himself is marvelously magnified in her hymns. Blessed assurance.
Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long;
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long.
Perfect submission, perfect delight,
Visions of rapture now burst on my sight;
Angels descending, bring from above
Echoes of mercy, whispers of love.
Perfect submission, all is at rest,
I in my Savior am happy and blest;
Watching and waiting, looking above,
Filled with His goodness, lost in His love.*
In Christ Alone – a contemporary hymn by Stuart Townend and Keith Getty