Growing up, our family went to church services twice on Sunday. One on Sunday morning and once in the evening. The evening service started at 6:30pm and often included either a hymn sing, a missionary presentation, short sermon, or perhaps a visiting choir performance. My grandparents came from a culture and time when music was woven into the fabric of their daily lives and worship. Almost everyone could sing and harmonize. Everyone knew all 8 stanzas to every hymn and the voices blended upward into a unified chorus of passionate proclamation. I remember hearing one story of a group of Mennonites who were fleeing Eastern Europe in the early twentieth century. The group was waiting on a train platform. Fearful and tired, they began to sing the hymns of the faith. These hymns gave great depth of comfort as men, women, and children sang songs that spurred on their faith and gave them hope. We are called to speak and sing truth to one another, at all times and in all ways, giving glory to our Father in Heaven.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
I would sit in church on Sundays in the second or third row, on the right hand side of the sanctuary. I clearly remember holding my hymnal and flipping through the pages, studying the words, the names of authors, and finding hymns based on certain topics. It all intrigued me very much. Songs like Be Thou My Vision, Fairest Lord Jesus and The Old Rugged Cross became oases of living water.
Countless hymns settled into my heart, and laid a foundation of sacred music that shaped and formed me. One of the names that appeared frequently was the name of Fanny Crosby. Others were Isaac Watts, William Kirkpatrick, Frances Havergal, Augustus Toplady, Robert Lowry, Charles Wesley, and John Newton.
When praying about who to write about for the summer issue of Wildflowers Magazine, I decided to read about and research Frances Jane Crosby, otherwise known as Fanny Crosby. There are many things that stand out to me from her life.
The first is that she had a loving mother who had to raise her on her own as her father died shortly after she was born. With a supportive family, her mother received help from Fanny’s grandmother in raising her. There were many people who helped to educate her, especially since she was blind and at that time, there weren’t many educational opportunities for the blind. Her mother and grandmother, and others who came into her life nurtured her in God’s Word and in a warm and loving home. From Fanny’s mother’s example, I see a commitment to training her child to follow God. Fanny’s story wouldn’t be the same without her mother, Mercy, and grandmother, Eunice, teaching her diligently to know God in His Word.
The second thing that stands out from her life is that she was eager to serve the Lord. As a child, she asked the Lord if there was some work that he had for her to do. It seemed she always had faith like a child. Surely, God used her weakness as her greatest strength, and through it Fanny depended on the Lord. Although she was well known as the Blind Poetess throughout evangelical Christianity at that time, she regularly went to prisons and shelters to tell small audiences about Jesus, the Son of God. One could walk into a gathering of the “undesirables” of life and see a little, old woman, wearing a black dress and holding a black book, speaking about God’s love, grace, and forgiveness. She quietly served, taught and loved those who were not lovable, and she showed them the depths of God’s love for each of them.
It will be amazing to see one day, the masses of people who were brought to Jesus through her humble hymns.
My husband and I are part of a collaborative music group called Gateway Hymns. While reading and researching about Fanny Crosby, I thought how wonderful it would be to record some of her hymns as part of this written biography. So with some friends, we recorded this short album, The Songs of Fanny Crosby. (There are only three on the album, but she probably wrote over 9,000 throughout her lifetime!) You can download this collection at www.gatewayhymns.bandcamp.com, The Songs of Fanny Crosby.
To read a little about Fanny’s life, you can check out the summer issue of Wildflowers Magazine!