Joseph Medlicott Scriven Unsuspecting Hymnwriter

This is the day that … Joseph Medlicott Scriven was born in County Down, Ireland, in 1819.

He entered Trinity College, Dublin, intent on following a career in the army – like his father.

Poor health prevented this.

He fell for a lovely young woman, but on the eve of their wedding she accidentally drowned. He never recovered from the shock. The Irishman began to wander, hoping to forget his sorrow. At age 25, he finally settled in Canada, where he worked as a school teacher.

As a committed Christian connected with the Plymouth Brethren his faith led him to do menial tasks for poor widows and the sick. He often worked for no wages and was regarded by the people of the community as a kind man, albeit a bit odd.

He later fell in love again and planned to marry a wonderful Canadian woman. But again, tragedy struck. His new fiancée, Eliza Roche, died after contracting pneumonia.

“With failing health and meagre income … he became greatly depressed” (Companion to Baptist Hymnal, by W. Reynolds, page 422).

In 1855, a friend visited an ill Scriven and discovered a poem he had written for his ailing mother in faraway Ireland. Scriven didn’t have the money to visit her, but he sent her the poem as an encouragement. He called it “Pray Without Ceasing.” When the friend inquired about the poem’s origins, Scriven reportedly answered, “The Lord and I did it between us.”

Scriven never intended for the poem to be published, but it made its rounds, and was set to music in 1868 by musician Charles Converse, who titled it “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” It has since become one of our greatest hymns.

And at the age of 67 Scriven was found drowned … “whether suicidal or accidental” no-one knows (10 August, 1886).

A monument is erected to his memory in Port Hope, where he lived and wrote his immortal hymn
What a Friend we have in Jesus
All our sins and griefs to bear;
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer …

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.

A.T. Pierson, Spurgeon’s Choice

This is the day that … Dr A.T. Pierson was almost drowned. It was on Vineyard Lake, 1877.

Arthur Tappan Pierson was born on 6 March, 1837, reared in a godly home, and converted during “special revival meetings in the Methodist church”.

At the age of 23 he was ordained in the Presbyterian ministry, and married Sarah Benedict the same year.

It was during his second pastorate that the boating accident occurred. As the boat in which they’d been fishing sank, Pierson and his three small children found themselves in a desperate situation. He could swim … the children could not, at least, not the distance to the shore. For half an hour they clung to the upturned boat, crying to any who might hear them – and committing themselves to God’s keeping. “Finally a woman heard their calls for help and came to the rescue. She had never handled oars and Mr Pierson, with his head just above water, had to direct her how to use them” (Speakers’Bible, “Judges”, page 392).

Safe home Dr Pierson wrote a “Promise to God”, thanking Him for the deliverance and promising to serve Him henceforth. The three children signed it.

In the years that followed Dr A.T. Pierson became a well-known Bible teacher on both sides of the Atlantic.

When Spurgeon took ill in 1891, it was Dr Pierson he requested to fill the Metropolitan Tabernacle pulpit. This he did … and continued to do so for a time after Spurgeon’s death.

This ministry came to a rather bitter conclusion as the congregation was divided as to whether Pierson should continue as pastor (he had submitted to believer’s baptism in the meantime), or whether Spurgeon’s son, Thomas, should come and minister. “The rift in the ranks of the membership went deep,” writes W.Y. Fullerton, “even to the severing of family relationships and sundering lifelong ties” (Thomas Spurgeon, page 155). Dr Pierson was outvoted, three to one.

Back in USA, Dr Pierson lectured at Moody Bible Institute, was a contributor to the notes in the Scofield Reference Bible, editor of the Missionary Review, author of numerous books (including the famous biography of George Mueller), and in demand as a convention speaker.

He was one of the few Americans invited to speak at the Keswick Convention in England.

The story is told of Dr Pierson collecting funds for a special object … and a wealthy man said to him, “If I had to preach your funeral sermon I would take as my text: “And the beggar died,” to which Dr Pierson replied, “I would not object to that … as long as you finish the verse, ‘And he was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom’” (Luke 16:22).

On 3 June, 1911, the angels did just that!

For more detailed information about Dr Pierson go to: http://www.reformedreader.org/rbb/pierson/mrphiladelphia.htm

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.