Gabriel's Horn, Pastor George Weaver, November, 2018

posted Oct 31, 2018, 7:39 AM by Lois Kerchner

A Truly Memorable Musician

One of the most prolific and best known Protestant Christian hymn writers and lyricists of all time lost her sight at six weeks of age. Her blindness occurred due to an eye infection and poor medical care. From the age of 15 until 23 she attended the New York Institution for the Blind in New York City where she later served on the faculty. In 1841, at 21 years of age, she contributed a poetic eulogy on President William Henry Harrison to the New York Herald. Subsequently, she published verses in other newspapers, and in 1844 she published her first volume, “The Blind Girl and Other Poems.”

It wasn't until about twenty years later at the age of forty-four that she began writing hymns. It is estimated that Frances Jane Crosby (Fanny Crosby) wrote between 5,500 and 9,000 hymns during the next fifty years of her lifetime (she lived to almost ninety-five). The exact count is uncertain due to the numerous pseudonyms (as many as 200, according to some sources) which she used to preserve her modesty and because some publishers were hesitant to have so many hymns by one person included in their hymnals.

Her hymns were especially popular in the Methodist Church, which for a time observed an annual “Fanny Crosby Day.” Some of the best known hymns written by Fanny J. Crosby include “Blessed Assurance,” “To God Be the Glory,” “Rescue the Perishing,” “Praise Him, Praise Him,” “Savior, More Than Life to Me,” and “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior.” Seven of her hymns are still included in The United Methodist Hymnal.

Living most of her life in New York City, Fanny was a lifelong Methodist and the wife of blind musician Alexander Van Alstyne. She supplied texts for the most popular gospel hymn composers of her day. These included Robert Lowry, Ira Sankey, Wm. H. Doane, Wm. J. Kirkpatrick, and Wm. B. Bradbury. During her lifetime she was one of the best known women in the United States. Fanny became deeply involved in working with the poor and was devoted to serving others above herself.

Many consider Fanny Crosby to be among the greatest Christian hymn writers of all times. Her lyrics memorably invoke within the hearer long forgotten times and experiences and have power to express the truth of God's work and love. Her songs remain so intricately woven within American spiritual life that rarely is there any hymnal that does not include one of her memorable pieces.

Frances Jane (Fanny) Crosby, who was born in 1820 and died in 1915, has been dead and gone for over one hundred years. But she still lives on in her music, even though we may sometimes fail to recognize it. Perhaps the next time you see Fanny J. Crosby at the bottom left hand corner of a hymn you are singing, it will bring to mind something of this remarkable person who devoted her life to telling the story of the God who has reached out to us in mercy and love. How could one not be impressed by this unusual person, who although blind since infancy, overcame great prejudice, to live an extraordinary life characterized by great spiritual depth and profuse creativity. I applaud her every time we sing “Blessed Assurance” or some other work attributed to her name.

George Weaver, Pastor of Maturing Ministries