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  • Writer's pictureDorcas Burns

Fanny Crosby: 1820-1915by F. W. Pitt

Fanny Crosby was born at Putnam County, New York. Blind from infancy, she began to write verse when eight years old. When I was a boy I remember a popular song called, "Rosalie, the Prairie Flower." I can recall the tune and one or two of the lines, though I only heard it sung in the streets. This, I believe, was one of the secular songs of Fanny Crosby, which she composed before she devoted her genius to sacred poetry. In 1858 she married Alexander Van Alstyne, a blind teacher in a school for the blind.

This marvelous woman, who lived for 95 years, wrote over 7,000 hymns. Think of it! Nearly a hundred hymns every year for 70 years. Her output would fill seven large volumes of a thousand hymns each, and she never appears to have grown weary of her prodigious task.

How is one to select from such an amazing supply? Truly, Fanny Crosby's hymns cannot all be of equal merit. But this is certain, that of the many that are well known there is not one that does not contain some striking thought expressed in graceful language which would entitle it to a place in any evangelical collection of hymns. "Rescue the Perishing"; "All the Way My Saviour Leads Me"; "What a Gathering That Will Be"; are a few that come to mind, each of which is equaled by scores of others of merit.

She owes much of her fame to that fine Christian musician, Ira D. Sankey, who put many of her hymns to music and sang them in his missions with D. L. Moody.

Mr. Sankey himself lost his sight towards the end of his life, and often visited his blind friend after he retired from active service.

It is pathetic, but beautiful, to think of these two servants of God talking together of mercies past and joys to come, while they waited for that day when they, now blind, would see the King in His beauty, of Whom they had written and sung so much on earth.

The two hymns I have selected to represent Fanny Crosby are two of her best known— "Safe in the Arms of Jesus" and "Some Day the Silver Cord Will Break."

Sir Robert Anderson thought "Safe in the Arms of Jesus" was too familiar, and wrote, "Safe in Jehovah's Keeping." It is grand doctrine, reverently expressed, but it does not make swift passage to the heart. But, there are few people who have not been instantly moved, many to tears, by the tender, graceful stanzas of "Safe in the Arms of Jesus." I think it would be impossible to express in better words than Fanny Crosby's the rest of the soul that trusts in Jesus. Mother love is exquisitely gentle, but it is stronger than death. Sound doctrine is undoubtedly a rampart and a refuge for the harassed soul. But a soul needs mothering as well as safety, not only the babes, but those of riper years. This is well expressed by Isaiah 46:4:

"And 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 you."

Therefore I love "Safe in the Arms of Jesus," and I sing it and muse on it with heartfelt gratitude to God for inspiring its authoress to compose the song.

The hymn was written in remarkable circumstances. Dr. W. H. Doane, a distinguished composer of sacred music, called on the blind poetess one day, and said, "I am in a hurry. I have a tune to which I want appropriate words." He went to the piano and played the music. Several times he played it, while Fanny Crosby listened intently. She retired to another room, and in about half an hour came back with the now well-known words, and said, "They seemed to come to me without any effort." It only required Mr. Sankey to sing the lovely words at his meetings, and they went round the world to comfort and save unnumbered souls, and their mission is not yet finished.

Safe in the Arms of JesusSafe in the arms of Jesus, Safe on His gentle breast, There by His love o'er-shaded, 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. Chorus— Safe in the arms of Jesus, Safe on His gentle breast, There by His love o'er-shaded, Sweetly my soul shall rest. 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 its doubts and fears, Only a few more trials, Only a few more tears. Chorus— 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. Chorus—

Fanny Crosby, in her advancing years, composed "Some Day the Silver Cord Will Break," which, with and without the tune written by George H. Stebbins, has wrought joy and peace to hearts longing for the day when, in the words of the haunting refrain, they "shall see Him face to face, and tell the story, saved by grace."

Some Day the Silver Cord Will Break Some day the silver cord will break, And I no more as now shall sing, But, O, the joy when I awake Within the palace of the King. And I shall see Him face to face, And tell the story saved by grace. Some day my earthly house will fall, I cannot tell how soon 'twill be, But this I know, my All in All Has now a place in heaven for me. And I shall see Him face to face, And tell the story saved by grace. Some day, when fades the golden sun Beneath the rosy-tinted West, My blessed Lord will say, "Well done!" And I shall enter into rest. And I shall see Him face to face, And tell the story saved by grace. Some day— till then I'll watch and wait, My lamp all trimmed and burning bright, That when my Saviour opes the gate, My soul to Him may take its flight. And I shall see Him face to face, And tell the story saved by grace.

From The Romance of Women Hymn Writers by F.W. Pitt. Findlay, Ohio: Fundamental Truth Publishers, [n.d.]

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