I am sure you will all like to hear something about the writer of "Safe in the Arms of Jesus."
Her name is Frances Jane Crosby. She was a blind American lady, who died on February 11, 1915, at the great age of ninety-five. She wrote many of the hymns that we know so well in Sankey's various collections. The following are some of them:
"Safe in the arms of Jesus."
"Rescue the perishing."
"Pass me not, O Gentle Saviour."
"Now just a word for Jesus."
"Thou my everlasting portion."
"I am Thine, O Lord, I have heard Thy voice."
"To the work, to the work."
"Jesus, keep me near the cross."
"Only a step to Jesus."
"Behold Me standing at the door."
"O child of God wait patiently."
"O precious words that Jesus said."
"Hold Thou my hand."
"Jesus my all."
"Saved by grace."
"I shall know Him."
Fanny Jane Crosby was born on March 24, 1820, in the town of Southeast, Putnam County, New York. Her father died before she was a year old. Her mother lived to be over ninety-one. In Fanny Crosby's Memories of Eighty Years, which is her own story of her life and hymns, she speaks most lovingly of her grandmother. She says: "She was a woman of exemplary piety, and a firm believer in prayer. At even time she often used to call me to her dear old rocking-chair, where we would kneel and pray together."
I have already told you that Fanny Crosby was blind. I will give her own account of how she became so. She said: "When I was six weeks old a slight cold caused inflammation of the eyes. Our usual doctor was away from home, so a stranger was called in. He recommended the use of hot poultices, which practically destroyed my sight. When this sad calamity became known, the unfortunate man thought it best to leave the neighbourhood, and we never heard of him again."
"But," she added, "I have not, for a moment, in more than eighty-five years, felt a spark of resentment against him; for I have always believed 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 how I have been blessed, how can I repine?" What a marvelous illustration we have here of the way in which God can enable us to rise above our trials, and can "make all things work together for good to those who love Him."
Fanny Crosby resolved when she was quite a child that her blindness should not make her unhappy, or prevent her from being useful in the world; she never allowed those around her to pity her because she was blind. She wrote: "Darkness may throw a shadow over my outer vision, but there is no cloud that can keep the sunlight of hope from a trustful soul. One of the earliest resolves that I formed in my young and joyous heart was to leave all care to yesterday, and to believe that the morrow would bring its own peculiar joy."
She also wrote these rugged but expressive lines, when she was nine years old:
"Oh what a happy soul I am,
Although I cannot see;
I am resolved that in this world
Contented I will be.
How many blessings I enjoy,
That other people don't;
To weep and sigh because I'm blind,
I cannot, and I won't."
But the great desire of her heart, as a tiny child, was for education. "I used to sigh and wonder," she says, "if I should ever be able to gain anything of the great store of human knowledge. As time went on, my longing for knowledge became a passion, from which there was seldom any rest."
Mrs. Hawley, a Christian lady in whose house they lived, took a great interest in the blind child, and under her teaching she acquired a thorough knowledge of the Bible, learning by heart four or five chapters a week, so that at the end of a year she could repeat the four Gospels, and a large portion of the first four books of the Old Testament.
When she was eleven years old, she definitely asked God, one beautiful night, when kneeling near her grandmother's rocking-chair, to open the way for her to be taught; and, four years later, the answer came. "It was twilight," she says, "and grandmother and I both sat talking in the old rocking-chair. Then we knelt and prayed together, after which she went away. I crept towards the window, and through the branches of a giant oak that stood outside, the soft moonlight fell upon my head like the benediction of an angel. I knelt, and repeated over and over again these simple words, 'Dear Lord, please show me how I can learn like other children.' At that moment the anxiety that had burdened my heart was changed to the sweet consciousness that my prayer would be answered in due time." She shall tell us how the answer came. "Four years later " (it was in November, 1834) "I had been out and on my return mother met me at the gate. I heard a paper rustling in her hand. It was a circular, my mother told me from the New York Institution for the Blind, sent her by a friend. I clapped my hands, and exclaimed, "Oh, thank God! He has answered my prayer, just as I knew He would." That was the happiest day of my life. The dark intellectual maze in which I had been living seemed to yield to hope, and the promise of the light that was about to dawn. I did not crave bodily vision, it was mental enlightenment I sought."
Four months later, before she was quite fifteen, on March 3, 1835, she made the journey to New York. Her suffering at leaving her dear mother was intense, "but," she says, "I was resolved to make any sacrifice to acquire an education; and never have I regretted that decision."
Fanny Crosby had a happy, useful, and eventful time in the New York Institution for the Blind, where she remained for twenty-three years ; eight as a pupil, and fifteen as a teacher. The education given at the Institution was wide and thorough. The pupils were taught to read the Bible, Pilgrim's Progress, and general literature in prose and verse, in the raised characters. Her favourite studies were English history, philosophy, and science. The singing classes were her great delight. She also learned to play the organ, the guitar, and the piano. Two books of her poems were published while she was at the Institute, and a third volume was brought out soon after she left.
The year 1850 was a memorable one, for it was the year of her conversion and consecration to God's service. Revival Meetings were being held in a Methodist Church near by. "Some of us," she writes, "went every evening, but although I sought peace, I could not find the joy I craved, until one evening — November 20, 1850 — I arose and went forward alone. After prayer the congregation began to sing the grand old consecration hymn of Dr. Isaac Watts:
"Alas and did my Saviour bleed?
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred Head
For such a worm as I?"
And when they reached the 3rd line of the last verse:
"Here, Lord, I give myself away;
'Tis all that I can do."
I surrendered myself to the Saviour, and my very soul was flooded with celestial light. I sprang to my feet, shouting "Hallelujah."
Fanny Crosby left the Institution for the Blind on March 2, 1858, and she was married the same year to Mr. Alexander Van Alstyne, who was also blind and whom she had known as pupil and teacher in the Institution for fifteen years. After their marriage it was his wish that her literary name, Fanny J. Crosby, should still be used, as it had become known to the public through her poems. She says of him, "He was a firm trustful Christian, a man of kindly deeds and cheering words. Our tastes were congenial, and he composed the music to several of my hymns. At different times he was organist in two of the New York Churches; he also taught private classes in both vocal and instrumental music. We were happy together for many years."
Alexander Van Alstyne died on July 18, 1902.
Before leaving the Institution for the Blind, Fanny Crosby had written no hymns, but in 1863 she was introduced to Mr. W. B. Bradbury, who had been wishing for years to meet with someone who could write words for his melodies. She thus began her work as a writer of Gospel hymns. The first she wrote for him was the missionary hymn, "There's a cry from Macedonia." She worked with him until his death in January, 1868. She also wrote for Philip Phillips, Hubert P. Main, Dr. Lowry, Dr. W. H. Doane, Ira D. Sankey, Philip P. Bliss, Mr. W. F. Sherwin, and many others.
Fanny Crosby says, in her Memories of Eighty Years: "How many hymns have you written? is a question I often am asked. The exact number has never been recorded, but I have written probably about eight thousand."
The various incidents of the writing of her hymns are most interesting; I can only tell you the story of a few of them as she has recorded them in her Life.
"Hold Thou my Hand." She says, "Hubert P. Main wrote the music for this hymn. For days before I wrote it, all had seemed dark to me. This was an unusual experience, for I have always been most cheerful; and so, in my human weakness, I cried in prayer. 'Dear Lord, hold Thou my hand!' Almost at once sweet peace returned to my heart, and my gratitude for answered prayer sang itself in the lines of my hymn":
"Hold Thou my hand, so weak I am and helpless
I dare not take one step without Thy aid;
Hold Thou my hand, for then, O loving Saviour,
No dread of ill shall make my soul afraid."
After the death of Mr. C. H. Spurgeon," she adds, "his wife wrote for a copy of this poem, and said she had derived great comfort from hearing it sung."
"Safe in the arms of Jesus." Fanny Crosby says, "On April 30, 1868, Dr. W. H. Doane came into my house and said: "I have exactly forty minutes before my train leaves for Cincinnati. Here is a melody. Can you write words for it?' Then followed a space of twenty minutes, during which I was unconscious of all else except the work I was doing. At the end of that time I recited the words, 'Safe in the arms of Jesus' to Mr. Doane. He wrote them down, and had time to catch his train."
"Now just a word for Jesus," was written with the view of influencing people at prayer meetings to give their testimonies, and to give them promptly.
"Rescue the Perishing," was written after a meeting at one of the New York missions. "A few days before, Mr. Doane," she says, "had sent me the subject, 'Rescue the perishing,' and while I sat there that evening, the line came to me:
"Rescue the perishing, care for the dying."
I could think of nothing else that night. When I reached home, I went to work on it at once, and before I retired the entire hymn was ready for a melody. Next day the words were written out and sent to Mr. Doane, who wrote the beautiful and touching music which has brought them fame."
"Jesus my all," was written in 1866. "Some one was singing the old Scottish song, 'Robin Adair,' and I remarked how beautiful it was. Henry Brown said, 'I challenge you to write a hymn to that melody.' I immediately wrote the following words:
"Lord, at Thy mercy-seat,
Humbly I fall,
Pleading Thy promise sweet,
Lord, hear my call;
Now let the work begin,
Oh make me pure within,
Cleanse me from every sin,
Jesus, my all!"
"Saved by Grace." "This hymn," says Fanny Crosby, "was called into being by a thought expressed in a sermon preached by Dr. Howard Crosby, a distant relative of mine. He said, 'No Christian should fear death; for the same grace that teaches us how to live will also teach us how to die.' Not many hours after hearing these remarks," she continues, "I began to write this hymn."
Two years after writing it she was at an Evangelistic Meeting that was being taken by Dr. A. J. Gordon and Mr. Sankey. Mr. Sankey asked her to say a few words, as a message had been sent in by some of those present that they wished to hear her speak. During her remarks she repeated for the first time in public, "Saved by Grace." "Where have you kept that piece?" asked Mr. Sankey, as I returned to my place. A few weeks later George C. Stebbins composed the music for its setting, and thus the hymn was sent forth on its mission to the world." It was a great favourite of Mr. Sankey's. He sang and used it constantly during his services:
"Some day the silver cord will break
And I no more, as now shall sing!
But oh, the joy when I shall wake
Within the palace of the King!
And I shall see Him face to face,
And tell the story, saved by grace."
"I shall know him." "A melody was given to me by Mr. John R. Sweeney, and he requested me," says Fanny Crosby, "to write something 'tender and pathetic.' I prayed that appropriate words might be given me for his music; and the train of thought led me to the sweet consciousness that I shall know my Saviour 'by the print of the nails in His hand.'"
This hymn is so beautiful that I will give you the four verses and chorus:
"When my life work is ended, and I cross the swelling tide,
When the bright and glorious morning I shall see;
I shall know my Redeemer when I reach the other side.
And His smile will be the first to welcome me."
"I shall know Him, I shall know Him,
When redeemed by His side I shall stand;
I shall know Him, I shall know Him,
By the print of the nails in His hand."
Oh, the soul-thrilling rapture when I view His blessed
And the lustre of His kindly beaming eye;
How my full heart will praise Him for the mercy, love, and
That prepares for me a mansion in the sky.
Oh the dear ones in glory how they beckon me to come!
And our parting at the river I recall:
To the sweet vales of Eden they will sing my welcome
But I long to meet my Saviour first of all.
Thro' the gates of the city, in a robe of spotless white,
He will lead me where no tears will ever fall;
In the glad song of ages I shall mingle with delight
But I long to meet my Saviour first of all."
It is interesting to know that our sweet poetess Frances Ridley Havergal, and Fanny Crosby wrote to one another during the last seven years of Miss Havergal's life. In answer to an inquiry about "Fanny Crosby," her friend, Mr. Wm. F. Sherwin, wrote to Miss Havergal, saying, "She is a blind lady, whose heart can see splendidly in the sunshine of God's love." Miss Havergal was deeply touched by this reply, and wrote Fanny Crosby the following beautiful lines:
"Sweet blind singer over the sea,
Tuneful and jubilant, how can it be
That the songs of gladness, which float so far,
As if they fall from an evening star,
Are the notes of one who may never see
Visible music of flower and tree?...
How can she sing in the dark like this?
What is her fountain of light and bliss?...
Her heart can see, her heart can see!
Well may she sing so joyously!
For the King Himself, in His tender grace,
Hath shown her the brightness of His face...
Dear blind sister over the sea!
An English heart goes forth to thee,
We are linked by a cable of faith and song,
Flashing bright sympathy, swift along;
One in the east, and one in the west,
Singing for Him, Whom our souls love best...
Sister! what will our meeting be,
When our hearts shall sing, and our eyes shall see?"
Before we sing our closing hymn, "Safe in the arms of Jesus," I will tell you the seed thought in Fanny Crosby's mind which produced this lovely hymn. I quote this story from "Friendly Greetings" issued by the Religious Tract Society.
"On one occasion in the city of New York there was a great rush of panic-stricken people. No one could tell what might happen; broken limbs, or even loss of life. Amongst the frightened crowd was a mother with a little girl by her side. The child was weak and delicate and terribly alarmed at the noise and commotion around her, and she cried piteously. Lifting her from the ground the mother tenderly folded her to her bosom, whispering as she did so, 'Hush, my little one, you are safe now, in mother's arms.' A simple little incident, and one that would probably soon have been forgotten, but an eyewitness of the mother's action spoke of it to Fanny Crosby, and the scene was ever impressed upon her mind. The thought of the mother folding her trembling and now quieted child to her breast, suggested to her the beautiful idea of Jesus clasping troubled and sorrowful people to His kind heart, and soothing, and healing, and comforting them. A few years later, and this well-known hymn, 'Safe in the arms of Jesus,' came from her gifted mind."
"He gathers the lambs with His arms, and carries them in His bosom." Yes, and not only does the Saviour gather the children, and bear them on His breast, but He will carry us older people, too, if we will let Him.
Listen! These are His words to each of us grown up people to-day: "Even to your old age I am He, and even to hoar hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver. (Isa. 46:4.)
Come then, dear friends, to the dear Saviour today; take refuge within His open, out-stretched arms. Never doubt His willingness to receive or His power to bear. Blessed, thrice blessed, are all those who can say, "The Eternal God is [my] Refuge, and underneath me are the everlasting arms." (Deut. 33:27.)
"Safe in the arms of Jesus,
Safe on His gentle breast,
There by His love o'ershaded,
Sweetly my soul shall rest.
Hark! 'tis the voice of angels
Borne in a song to me,
Over the fields of glory
Over the jasper sea.
Safe in the arms of Jesus,
Safe from corroding care,
Safe from the world's temptations,
Sin cannot harm me there.
Free from the blight of sorrow,
Free from my doubts and fears;
Only a few more trials,
Only a few more tears!
Jesus, my heart's dear refuge,
Jesus has died for me;
Firm on the Rock of Ages
Ever my trust shall be.
Here let me wait with patience,
Wait till the night is o'er;
Wait till I see the morning
Break on the golden shore."
Copied for WholesomeWords.org from Bright Talks on Favourite Hymns... by J.M.K. London: The Religious Tract Society; Chicago: John C. Winston Co., [1916?].
More Information on Fanny Crosby
Hymn Writers and Composers Index