Joseph Scriven was born in Ireland in the year 1819. The son of a captain from the Royal Marines, Scriven graduated from prestigious Trinity College in 1842.
Everything in Joseph’s life seemed to be going well. He found work as a tutor. Young and in love, he was engaged to be married to his childhood sweetheart. The day before the wedding, however, his fiancé drowned in a tragic accident in the Bann River.
During this time, Scriven became involved in a Christian movement in Ireland called the Plymouth Brethren. In 1845, he moved to Ontario, Canada to get a fresh start.
In 1850, Scriven was hired as a private tutor for the wealthy Pengelley family in Ontario. During his five years with the family, he once again fell in love, this time with Eliza Catherine Roche, the thirteen year old niece of Mr. Pengelley.
While staying with a friend in 1855, Scriven received news that his mother was terribly ill back in Ireland. He wrote a poem for her called, “Pray without Ceasing.” In it he described the power and peace of prayer. As he faced the tragedies of life, Scriven found strength in the God he considered his closest friend.
Scriven had no idea his poem would eventually be published, let alone become a hymn. In 1868, the composer Charles Crozat Converse put the poem to music and renamed it “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”
What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!
Oh, what peace we often forfeit, oh, what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer!
Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged – take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness – take it to the Lord in prayer.
Are we weak and heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge – take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do your friends despise, forsake you? Take it to the Lord in prayer.
In his arms he’ll take and shield you; you will find a solace there.
In 1859, Scriven and Eliza Roche became engaged. He was 39; she was 22. Eliza agreed to join the Plymouth Brethren and be re-baptized. She was baptized in April of 1860 in the nearly freezing waters of Lake Rice near Port Hope, Ontario. Already suffering from tuberculosis, she developed pneumonia and died four months later.
From that moment on, Scriven dedicated his life to humbly serving others, living in abject poverty. He became known as the Good Samaritan of Good Hope. In his later years, however, Scriven suffered from ill health and depression. The circumstances surrounding his death by drowning are somewhat mysterious. Some believe it to be a tragic accident; others suicide.
The story Joseph Scriven’s life, like many of ours, is a complicated one. His life was a jolting rollercoaster ride of hills and valleys. He found peace in his friend and Savior Jesus who bore all his sins and griefs. In the middle of terrible grief, he found comfort in the arms of his best friend, taking it all to God in prayer. Yet, Scriven still struggled with loss and depression.
Do you struggle with trials and temptations? Are you weak and heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care? Take it to the Lord in prayer. He is listening. He promises to make everything work for your eternal good. Prayer is powerful.
Prayer alone, however, is not enough. It is only a part of our conversation with God. Take the time to also hear your Savior speak to you in his Word. Through his Word, he guides us through the rough seas of this life and gives us the strength we need to face each and every trial and temptation.
Jesus is truly our best friend. So go to him. Talk to him. Take everything to him in prayer. But also take the time to hear him speak to you as well. Open up your Bible. Go to church. Turn to your friend Jesus. In his arms he’ll take and shield you; you will find a solace there.