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Frances Ridley Havergal

by E. H. Farrance

Frances Havergal Many suns have risen and set since one December day in 1836, at Astley Rectory, in Worcestershire, Frances Ridley Havergal was born. Her father, the Rev. William Havergal, and her mother (a beautiful woman), were earnest Christians. Her father had a decided musical gift—he composed many hymns and tunes; and doubtless Frances inherited his gift. The death of her mother, of whom she was very fond, when only eleven, nearly overwhelmed her with grief.

As a girl she was very anxious and longed to be a Christian-often would cry herself to sleep over her hopeless condition. But at last, through the earnest persuasion of two of her schoolfellows and the loving counsel of her step-mother, she trustfully yielded herself to her Saviour.

At eighteen she commenced her literary efforts. Her first accepted contribution was her well-known hymn, "I Gave My Life for Thee."

It was suggested to her during a visit to Germany in 1858, through casually sitting down to rest opposite the picture of the Crucifixion which usually bore this motto. The verses flashed upon her like an inspiration, and she at once noted them down on a scrap of paper. But she was not pleased with the result, and tossed them into the fire. As, however, the paper fell out unharmed, she decided to keep it. Some time after she showed them to her father, who was so favourably impressed that he wrote the tune "Baca" specially to go with them.

Then came a bitter disappointment, the pen was laid aside for nine years. The outcome of this time of enforced rest of "coming apart for awhile, " was her first published book, "The Ministry of Song," which has inspired and comforted so many.

Frances was a wonderfully gifted musician and an exquisite pianist. A pupil of Beethoven once pronounced her rendering of the Moonlight Sonata "perfect," and she would play through Handel, much of Beethoven and Mendelssohn, without any notes. When Frances went on a visit to her married sister, Ellen, in Ireland, she made a great impression with her beautiful voice. It was one of her rich gifts, and she had some very definite thoughts about its use, only for God's glory. She believed that "singing for Jesus" was a most personal and direct commission held for her Master.

Although outwardly brimful of life and spirits, she never possessed really good health. She had frequent breakdowns in health and enforced rest. She had a wonderful belief in God's will for her, accepting everything in a spirit of meek submission. It was her custom to pray in private three times a day. She kept a paper in her Bible with the subject of each prayer hour carefully arranged.

Her father died in 1870, and soon after Frances began preparing Havergal' s Psalmody for the press. Frances accepted the thoughts and ideas that came to her as sent direct from God—both in her musical and poetic composition. She told a friend once that she asked that at every line He would give her not merely thoughts and power, but also every word, even the very rhymes. And very often, she said, she had a most distinct and happy consciousness of direct answers. It caused her deep joy to hear that the poems or music were being used and blessed by God, and she fully realised the high privilege that was hers. She wrote much: "The Ministry of Song," her first volume of poetry, published in 1869. "Under the Surface" and "Under His Shadow" are beautiful heart experiences and inspirations. These books have been wonderfully blessed, they have reached a circulation of hundreds of thousands. Her prose works are sweet and uplifting. "Kept for the Master's Use," "My King," "Royal Commandments," "Royal Bounty," etc. And her children's books are favourites: "Little Pillows," being good night thoughts for the little ones, and "Morning Bells," being waking thoughts for the little ones, and many others. Then hymns, sacred songs, and innumerable articles for magazines, booklets, and papers came from her pen. In her private correspondence, in her letters, her intense earnestness and loving reality were very markedly brought out. Her correspondence was voluminous, on all possible subjects. Of course, appeals for spiritual advice were always answered personally and at full length.

Frances Ridley Havergal was blessed in many ways. She travelled much, and kept a diary of these travels, with graphic descriptions of the scenery visited. During these journeys, wherever she went and wherever she stopped, at every opportunity, she spoke of her Saviour. Her whole personality proclaimed her happiness and the joy she possessed in the knowledge of her Lord and Saviour's love. She was ever willing to give not only little books and papers, but her own time and energy—herself—to any who needed her help.

The story of the writing of:

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

is very interesting. Frances went to a friend's house on a little visit of five days. There were ten persons in the house, some unconverted and long prayed for; some converted, but not rejoicing Christians. She prayed: "Lord, give me all this house," and her prayer was answered. Before she left the house every one had got a blessing.

The last night of her visit she was too happy to sleep, and she passed most of the night in praise and renewal of her own consecration; and then the little couplets formed themselves and chimed in her heart one after another till they finished with: "Ever, only, all for Thee."

To her own nephews and nieces she was indeed a guiding, guardian angel. With all her many gifts, Frances was also an accomplished needle-woman; her work was exquisite, from darning to the most delicate lace work and embroidery. She had some decided opinions upon dress. Dress as a lady and as a Christian, unremarkably, yet with a general pleasing effect, then no attention is distracted; and she did not consider it right to spend on dress that which might be spared for God's work. And, too, her tongue and pen "were ever eloquent on the theme of temperance. It was uppermost in her mind during the last weeks of her life.

On May 26th, 1879, she used her pen for the last time. On June 3rd, after acute suffering, following a chill, Frances Ridley Havergal "passed away to be with Christ," Whom she so faithfully loved and served. This loving, gifted woman speaks to us even to-day in her inspiring works, and in her hymns, which are sung world wide. How many have been thrilled and cheered by the verse beginning:

"Lord Jesus, make Thyself to me,
A living, bright reality."

From Twelve Wonderful Women: The Romance of Their Life and Work by E. H. Farrance. London: Pickering & Inglis, Ltd., [19--].

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