Suffering Saints Behind Our Hymns

It is astonishing to discover how many authors of our hymns were handicapped in some way. Here is a sampling, listing a few of the hymns they have given us.

Annie Johnson Flint (He Giveth More Grace, God Hath Not Promised) was confined to her room with crippling arthritis most of her life. So was Lydia Baxter (Take the Name of Jesus with You). Fanny Crosby (To God Be the Glory, All the Way My Saviour Leads Me) was blind. So was John Milton (Let Us With a Gladsome Mind), and George Matheson (O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go), and William Walford (Sweet Hour of Prayer), and, later in life, Lelia Morris (What If It Were Today? Nearer, Still Nearer).

Charlotte Elliot was a bedridden invalid when she wrote the great invitation hymn, "Just As I Am." Catherine Hankey (I Love to Tell the Story, Tell Me the Old, Old Story) wrote her hymns while confined to bed to recover from a serious illness. Frances Ridley Havergal (Take My Life and Let It Be, Who Is on the Lord's Side?) was in poor health all her life, and she died at the age of 43. Eliza Hewitt (More About Jesus, When We All Get to Heaven) developed a severe spinal condition and was confined to bed.

Thomas Chisholm (Great Is Thy Faithfulness) served as a pastor for a short time, but frail health forced him to resign. Major Daniel Whittle (Showers of Blessing, Have You Any Room for Jesus?) was a Civil War amputee. William Cowper [pronounced Cooper] (God Moves in a Mysterious Way, There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood) suffered from bouts of suicidal depression. Joseph Scriven (What a Friend We Have in Jesus) seems to have suffered from depression as well.

These are just a few examples. And even when there was not a prolonged disability, many created songs in periods of deep distress, or out of crisis circumstances. Whatever the case, we sense in their message the ring of reality and the richness of their faith.

Perhaps we wonder how or why such beauty and blessing grows from times of suffering. There are many reasons. One is that those limited in some way--perhaps even bedridden--by handicaps or adversity found time to explore new avenues of creativity and service for Christ. (One pastor never knew he could write hymns until he lost his voice and could no longer preach!)

Also, with their focus narrowed, their attention concentrated, they sometimes discovered deeper insights into the ways of God. They learned what it means to truly depend on God. Then, as the Lord blessed them, and blessed others through them in unique ways, they proved with the Apostle Paul what the Lord means when He says, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness" (II Cor. 12:9).