Sunday, February 12, 2012

February 11 - Commemoration of Fanny Crosby

Ps. 108:16
Isaiah 42:10–12,16
1 Peter 1:3–9
John 9:35–39

I made acquaintance with Fanny Crosby long before I knew her name or her story. In the church of my childhood, there was plenty of singing, lots of songs of praise, comfort and hope featuring a loving God, a gentle shepherd, and the joys of redemption. There were plenty of songs about sin and the need for repentance too, sometimes even in the same hymn along with any of the other elements. Most were very sentimental and flowery of language, the usual poetry and prose of the Victorian era in which Fanny lived. Still, congregations loved singing them and even children could learn them by heart and consider the message they brought. They still do; my neighbor next door, a member of the same denomination in which I grew up, assures me they are sung often and much loved.

One of the ones that I remember most clearly was one called "Blessed Assurance":

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood,


This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior, all the day long;

This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior, all the day long.
Perfect submission, perfect delight,
Visions of rapture notw burst on my sight;
Angels descending bring from above
Echoes of mercy, whispers of love.
Perfect submission, all is at rest
I in my Savior am happy and blest,
Watching and waiting, looking above,
Filled with His goodness, lost in His love.
 The music was credited to Phoebe P. Knapp and the lyrics to Fanny Crosby. Reading Fanny's biography, I found that the name I knew from the hymnbook was really quite a person. She wrote thousands of hymns, some of which are present in many Protestant hymnals (but not Hymnal 1982). Many of the most prominent composers of hymns of the day came to her with music already composed, asking her to fill in the lyrics. She would hear the music several times and, usually in very short order, would have a set of lyrics to go with it.

The hymns became important to camp meeting revivals and the Holiness movement as they were to the Sunday morning services. Fanny was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1975, 60 years after her death. I'd never really considered her music to be "gospel", but the evangelical expressions and tone were unmistakable.

The readings for today, Fanny's commemoration in the Episcopal Church, speak of many of the same things of which Fanny wrote so frequently: hope, faith, belief, praise, thanks, salvation and mercy. The readings also mention blindness and the release from blindness. Fanny may not have had a physical curing of her blindness but she truly seemed to walk in a higher light than the sun could provide. She walked unafraid in prisons and less-than-desirable neighborhoods, speaking and preaching the love and mercy of God. The glory wasn't for her but rather for God. Many were attracted to and acknowledged God as a result of her words.

Thou the Spring of all my comfort,
More than life to me,
Whom have I on earth beside Thee?
Whom in Heav'n but Thee? **
 *  Lyrics by Fanny Crosby, accessed from the Cyberhymnal
** "Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior", verse 4, lyrics by Fanny Crosby, accessed from The Cyberhymnal

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café  Saturday, February 10, 2012.

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