Bicentenary of composer of ‘What a friend we have in Jesus’


Bicentenary of the birth of Joseph Scriven composer of What a Friend we have in Jesus.

This weekend marks the bicentenary of the birth of one of the finest hymn-writers, Joseph Scriven who penned “What a friend we have in Jesus.”

Joseph needed a friend in his troubles. Born in Banbridge on 10th September 1819, his prospects seemed favourable. He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin and engaged to be married. Then tragedy struck. His fiancé drowned on the evening before their wedding.

This was the first of many misfortunes that led him to consecrate his life and property to Christ’s service.

He emigrated to Canada, where he taught and tutored to make his living. Again he became engaged, to Eliza Roche. Once again tragedy struck. Shortly before the couple were to marry, the girl became ill and died.

His own sorrows seemed to make him more aware of the suffering of the poor and weak and he attempted to live out the Sermon on the Mount, giving or lending to anyone who asked and sympathising with all who were more unfortunate than himself. He helped those who needed assistance, comforting the poor and the mentally distressed.

Joseph wrote his famous hymn in 1855 to comfort his mother who still lived in Ireland. He did not seek to be noticed for it. The fact he wrote it was only discovered by accident shortly before his death on 10th August 1886.

Ira Sankey added a tune to the words;

What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.

On Sunday 15th September, the bicentenary of his birth, many churches in Ireland and further afield will sing ‘What a friend we have in Jesus.”

Exhibitions are being held in Banbridge Library this week until 15th September as well as a Community Service in Holy Trinity Church at 6.30pm on Sunday 15th September to honour the memory of their celebrated famous son.