So much to learn from the old saints: Fanny Crosby a blind songwriter
“Mother, if I had a choice, I would still choose to remain blind…for when I die; the first face I will ever see will be the face of my blessed Saviour.”
Blind for all of her life, Fanny Crosby, the greatest hymn writer in the history of the Christian Church, later wrote, “And I shall see Him face to face, and tell the story — Saved by grace.” She saw over 8,000 poems set to music and over 100,000,000 copies of her songs printed. As many as 200 different pen names, including Grace J. Frances, were given her works by hymn book publishers so the public wouldn’t know she wrote so large a number of them.
Fanny gave the Christian world such songs as: “A Shelter in the Time of Storm,” “All the Way My Saviour Leads Me,” “Blessed Assurance,” “Close to Thee,” “He Hideth My Soul,” I Am Thine O Lord,” “Jesus Is Calling,” “My Saviour First of All,” “Near the Cross,” “Pass Me Not,” “Praise Him Praise Him,” “Redeemed,” “Rescue the Perishing,” “Safe in the Arms of Jesus,” “Saved by Grace,” “Saviour “More Than Life to Me,” “Speed Away,” “Take the World But Give Me Jesus,” “Tell Me the Story of Jesus,” “The Lights of Home,” “Thou Mighty to Save,” “Tho’ Your Sins Be as Scarlet,” “‘Tis the Blessed Hour of Prayer,” “To God be the Glory,” “To the Work,” “Will Jesus Find Us Watching?” to mention but a few.
Born in a one-story cottage, her father, John, was never to be remembered by Fanny for he died in her twelfth month. When Fanny was six weeks old, she caught a slight cold in her eyes. The family physician was away. Another country doctor was called in to treat her. He prescribed hot mustard poultices to be applied to her eyes, which destroyed her sight completely! It was later learned that the man was not qualified to practice medicine, but he had left town and was never heard of again. Fanny never felt any resentment against him, but believed it was permitted by the Lord to fulfil His plan for her life.
At the age of eight, she wrote her first recorded poetry:
O what a happy soul am I!
Although I cannot see,
I am resolved that in this world,
Contented I will be.
How many blessings I enjoy,
That other people don’t.
To weep and sigh because I’m blind,
I cannot and I won’t!
Around nine years of age, the family moved to Ridgefield, Connecticut, where she was to stay until age 15. Mother was kind, but busy making a living for both of them, so it was Grandmother who became an unforgettable influence in her life. Grandmother spent many hours describing the things of nature and heaven to her. Also, she introduced Fanny to the Bible and this book now became more familiar to her than any other. She began to devour the scriptures. It is said, that as a child, she could repeat from memory the Pentateuch, the book of Ruth, many of the Psalms, the books of Proverbs,Song of Solomon, and much of the New Testament! This furnished the themes, inspiration, and diction for her imperishable gospel hymns.
Near her 15th birthday came a happy announcement…Mother could send
her to a new school, The Institution for the Blind in New York City. Fanny clapped her hands joyfully and cried, “O thank God, He has answered my prayer, just as I knew He would.” So it was on March 3, 1835, that Fanny boarded a stage for Norwalk and then a boat for New York City. She was to spend the next 23 years of her life there, as a student for twelve years,and then as a teacher for eleven years more.
As a result of this witness, she began to make friends with the great political and religious leaders of her time and no one could forget her once they met her. During her lifetime, she knew all the presidents except George Washington. President VanBuren dined with her and remained one of her warmest friends.She heralded the virtues of William Henry Harrison even though he served but one month.
Romance came into the life of Fanny Crosby, also. As early as age 20 she fell in love with another blind student by the name of Alexander VanAlstyne.Finally, on March 5, 1858, she was married at age 37. Life was just beginning for Fanny Crosby, for her life’s ministry was still ahead.
The marriage was a happy one with VanAlstyne, who lived until 1902. The couple had one child, only to be taken in death while yet a baby. Perhaps this incident helped inspire Fanny to write, “Safe in the Arms of Jesus,” which was to comfort thousands of grief stricken parents suffering a similar fate.
Upon her marriage, she intended to use the name Mrs. VanAlstyne, but her husband insisted that she continue to use her maiden name, which was already quite famous.
”Blessed Assurance” is her most famous hymn, according to a hymn poll
taken some time back by “The Christian Herald.” It placed twelfth in the poll. Of favorite hymns, “The Old Rugged Cross” was number one. One of Fanny’s close friends, wife of the founder of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, was Mrs. Joseph Knapp. On one of her visits to the blind poetess, in 1873, she brought in a melody she had composed. Several times she played it on the piano for Fanny. Then she asked, “Fanny, what does that tune say to you?” Hesitating but for a moment, she replied,”Blessed Assurance, Jesus Is Mine!” One of the greatest gospel songs of all time was born.
”To God be the Glory” was not really discovered until 1954, when it was introduced to Bev Shea in London. It was first sung by Shea and the Billy Graham Crusade Choir in Toronto in 1955. Since then, it has become a beloved hymn of the faith. Sankey did include it in his first hymnbook,published in England in 1873, but not in later subsequent editions published in America.
At 90 she declared, “My love for the Holy Bible and its sacred truth is stronger and more precious to me at ninety than at nineteen.” Asked about her long years, she said her secret was that she guarded her taste,her temper and her tongue. A famous saying through the years was,”Don’t waste any sympathy on me. I am the happiest person living.”