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Frances Ridley Havergal:
Devotional Writer, Poetess and Hymn Writer

by Stephen Ross

Frances HavergalFrances Ridley Havergal was a Christian devotional writer, poetess, hymn writer and musician who was born December 14, 1836, into a cultured, religious family at Astley, Worcestershire, England. She was the youngest child of William Henry Havergal, a Church of England minister and noted poet and church musician who authored about 100 hymns.

At the age of 3, Miss Havergal could read; at the age of 4, she began reading and memorizing the Bible; at 7 she began writing verse.

When she was eleven, her mother died after a long period of suffering.

Miss Havergal was converted and committed her life to Christ in 1851, at the age of 14. She said, "I committed my soul to the Saviour ... earth and heaven seemed brighter from that moment; I did trust the Lord Jesus."

Educated at home and in private schools in Worcester, England, and in Dusseldorf, Germany (1852-53), her scholastic achievements included proficiency in several modern languages, in addition to Latin, Greek, and Hebrew.

Miss Havergal had a thorough training in linguistics and music and was a pianist and singer.

She was also a devoted Bible student, memorizing the New Testament as well as the Psalms, Isaiah, and the Minor Prophets.

Although highly educated and cultured, she maintained a simple faith and confidence in her Lord. She lived a disciplined prayer life and it is said that she never wrote a line without first praying over it.

"I believe my King suggests a thought, and whispers me a musical line or two, and then I look up and thank Him delightedly and go on with it. That is how my hymns come."

"Writing is praying with me. You know a child would look up at every sentence and say, 'And what shall I say next?' That is just what I do; I ask Him that at every line He would give me not merely thoughts and power, but also every word, even the very rhymes."

Quite early in life, her poems were published in "Good Words" and other religious periodicals. Her poems are permeated with the fragrance of her passionate love for Jesus.

In 1870, her father died suddenly.

After 1873, she literally carried out her now famous couplet,

"Take my voice, and let me sing,
Always, only, for my King."

and she sang nothing but sacred music of the love of God and His way of salvation. Her life's mission was to sing and work for Jesus. She had both a great taste for music and a good knowledge of harmony, a natural and inherited turn for melody, a ringing touch on the piano, a beautiful and well-trained voice. These gifts she now entirely devoted to Christ; whether at home or in mixed society she always "sang for Jesus."

Her hymn of consecration, "Take My Life and Let It Be" was written by Miss Havergal in 1874. She gives the following account:

"Perhaps you will be interested to know the origin of the Consecration hymn 'Take my life.' I went for a little visit of five days [to Areley House]. There were ten persons in the house, some unconverted and long prayed for, some converted, but not rejoicing Christians. He gave me the prayer 'Lord, give me all in this house!' And He just did! Before I left the house every one had got a blessing. The last night of my visit after I had retired, the governess asked me to go to the two daughters. They were crying, &c; then and there both of them trusted and rejoiced; it was nearly midnight. I was too happy to sleep, and passed most of the night in praise and renewal of my own consecration; and these little couplets formed themselves, and chimed in my heart one after another till they finished with 'ever only, ALL FOR THEE!'"

Her prayer, "Take my silver and my gold; not a mite would I withhold," in the same hymn was not lightly stated. In August, 1878, Miss Havergal wrote to a friend,

"The Lord has shown me another little step, and, of course, I have taken it with extreme delight. 'Take my silver and my gold' now means shipping off all my ornaments to the church Missionary House, including a jewel cabinet that is really fit for a countess, where all will be accepted and disposed of for me ... Nearly fifty articles are being packed up. I don't think I ever packed a box with such pleasure."

Some hymns for which she wrote the words include:
"Another Year Is Dawning" (written 1874)
"I Gave My Life for Thee" (written when she was 22 years old in 1858 just prior to an extended illness during which she did little or no writing for nine years)
"Lord, Speak to Me" (written 1872)
"Like a River Glorious" (written 1876?)
"Who Is on the Lord's Side?" (written 1877)
"True-Hearted, Whole-Hearted, Faithful and Loyal" (written 1878)
"Golden Harps Are Sounding" (written 1871)
"I Am Trusting Thee, Lord Jesus" (written 1874; said to be her favorite of all her hymns, a copy of the text was found in her personal Bible after her death).
"Take My Life and Let It Be" (written in 1874)

She wrote some of her own tunes for her hymns and her father wrote the music for others.

Miss Havergal also wrote many small devotional tracts and narratives in prose and numerous little books of poems and hymn texts, all marked by the same earnest and practical piety. Themes for her writings were faith, consecration, and service.

Frail in health all of her life, Miss Havergal one day caught a severe cold which caused inflamation of the lungs. When told that her life was in danger, she exclaimed, "If I am really going, it is too good to be true!" At another time she responded, "Splendid! To be so near the gates of heaven." At the very end, it is reported that she sang clearly, but faintly, another of her hymns, "Jesus, I Will Trust Thee, Trust Thee with My Soul." Then, according to reports by her sister,

She looked up steadfastly, as if she saw the Lord; and surely nothing less heavenly could have reflected such a glorious radiance upon her face. For ten minutes we watched that almost visible meeting with her King, and her countenance was so glad, as if she were already talking to Him! Then she tried to sing; but after one sweet, high note her voice failed, and as her brother commended her soul into the Redeemer's hand she passed away.

Frances Ridley Havergal died at Caswall Bay, Swansea, Wales, June 3, 1879, at the age of forty-two. She never married.

On her tombstone at Astley, Worcestershire, is engraved her favorite text, 1 John 1:7-- "The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin."

Her entire life was characterized by spiritual saintliness. In spite of being frail in health, she lived an active and productive life until her death.

She has been referred to as "hymnody's sweetest voice," "the sweetest voice of hymnody," and "the consecration poet."

Her autobiography was published in Memorials of Frances Ridley Havergal, by her Sister, M. V. G. Havergal, 2nd edition, 1880. Another memorial by her sister was Frances Ridley Havergal: the Last Week, [1879].

Frances Havergal was a contemporary of Fanny Crosby (1820-1915). Although these two gifted women never met, each was an admirer of the other. In a letter sent by Miss Havergal to Fanny Crosby, she wrote:

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.
Singing for Jesus! Telling His love
All the way to our home above,
Where the severing sea, with its restless tide
Never shall hinder and never divide.
Sister, what shall our meeting soon be
When our hearts shall sing and our eyes shall see?

Writings of Frances Ridley Havergal:
Devotional works
My King, or Daily Thoughts for the King's Children. [1876?].
Royal Commandments, or Morning Thoughts for the King's Servants. [1878].
Kept for the Master's Use. [1879].
Loyal Responses, or Daily Melodies for the King's Minstrels. 1879.
Red Letter Days: a Memorial and Birthday Book. [1879].
Echoes from the Word for the Christian Year... 1880.
Royal Bounty, or Evening Thoughts for the King's Guests. 1880.
The Royal Invitation, or Daily Thoughts of Coming to Christ. 1882.

Poetical works
The Ministry of Song. 3rd ed. 1872.
Under the Surface, or Our Work and Our Blessings. 1874.
Under His Shadow: the Last Poems of Frances Ridley Havergal. 1881.
The Poetical Works of Frances Ridley Havergal (compiled by Frances Anna Shaw and Maria V. G. Havergal). [188-?]

Children's works
The Four Happy Days. 1876.
Morning Bells, or Waking Thoughts for the Little Ones. 1876.
Morning Stars, or Names of Christ for His Little Ones. 1879.
Little Pillows, or Goodnight Thoughts for the Little Ones. 1880.
Bruey: a Little Worker for Christ. [1880?]
Sources:
101 Hymn Stories by Kenneth W. Osbeck. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, ©1982.
101 More Hymn Stories by Kenneth W. Osbeck. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, ©1985.
Wycliffe Biographical Dictionary of the Church by Elgin Moyer. Revised and enlarged by Earle E. Cairns. Chicago: Moody Press, ©1982.
A Dictionary of Women in Church History by Mary L. Hammack. Chicago: Moody Press, 1984.
A Dictionary of Hymnology... New York: Charles Scribner's, 1892.
Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. XXV. London: Smith, Elder, & Co., 1891.
More Information on Frances Havergal
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