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Frances Ridley Havergal, 1836-1879

by Norman Mable

Frances HavergalTake my life and let it be.

Frances Ridley Havergal was the daughter of the Rev. W. H. Havergal, rector of Astley, Worcestershire. Her father was an able musician and a composer of many hymn-tunes. She also had considerable musical talent, and at one time thought of following the musical profession. But her literary inclinations prevailed, and she ultimately gained high reputation for her prose and poetry.

Miss Havergal was born at Astley in 1836 and died in 1879, but in those forty-three years she wrote many hymns, among the best-known being, Who is on the Lord's side, I bring my sins to Thee, and Tell it out among the heathen. The one which has become most popular, and, indeed, is perhaps the most beautiful, is:

Take my life, and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee.

The author herself has given an account of the interesting circumstances in which this hymn was written on 4th February 1874. She says:

'I went for a little visit of five days to a house in which were living ten persons, 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 everyone 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. 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 consecrating; and these little couplets formed themselves and chimed in my heart one after another, till they finished with "Ever, only, ALL for Thee".'

Unlike most poets, Miss Havergal was very practical. At one time she used to take her nieces for a walk, and while waiting for them each day she learnt the Italian language, in which she became proficient. French, German, Latin, Hebrew and Greek were also among the acquirements of this scholarly and profoundly Christian lady.

In her Memoirs she gave 'Twelve reasons for attending church on a wet Sunday,' which are well worth repeating:

  1. God has blessed the Lord's day and hallowed it, making no exceptions for hot or cold or stormy days.
  2. I expect my minister to be there. I should be surprised if he were to stay at home on account of the weather.
  3. By staying away I may lose the prayers which may bring God's blessing and the sermon that would have done me great good.
  4. My presence is more needful on Sundays when there are few than those days when the church is crowded.
  5. On any important business, rainy weather does not keep me at home, and Church attendance is, in God's sight, very important.
  6. Such weather will show me on what foundation my faith is built; it will prove how much I love Christ. True love rarely fails to meet an appointment.
  7. Though my excuses satisfy myself, they still must undergo God's scrutiny, and they must be well grounded to do that.
  8. There's a special promise that where two or three meet together in God's name He will be in the midst of them.
  9. An avoidable absence from the church is an infallible evidence of spiritual decay. Disciples first follow Christ at a distance, and then, like Peter, do not know Him.
  10. My faith is to be shewn by my self-denying Christian life, and not by the rise and fall of the barometer.
  11. Such yielding to surmounting difficulties prepares for yielding to those merely imaginary, until thousands never enter a church, and yet think they have good reason for such neglect.
  12. I know not how many more Sundays God may give me, and it would be a poor preparation for my first Sunday in heaven to have slighted my last Sunday on earth.'

Miss Havergal once wrote to a friend describing her feelings when writing hymns. She said:

'Writing is praying with me, for I never seem to write even a verse by myself, and I feel like a little child writing. You know, a child would look up after every sentence and say, "What am I to say next?" That is just what I do. I ask that at every line He would give me not merely thought and power, but also every word even the very rhyme. Very often I have a most distinct and happy consciousness of direct answers.'

From Popular Hymns and Their Writers by Norman Mable. 2nd ed. London: Independent Press, Ltd., 1951.

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