Cymdeithas Dydd yr Arglwydd yng Nghymru

The Fellowship of the Lord’s Day in Wales



Hymn of Hope


A hymn that has given me constant comfort s the hymn written by Joseph Medlicott Scriven, born in 1820 and who died in 1886, and his hymn, O What a Friend We Have in Jesus’ will remain a source of joy to those who have accepted the Lordship of Christ. The explanation for the hymn starts in Ireland, but the words were written in Canada.

Scriven was a promising young man, a fervent Christian, born in Dublin. He graduated from Trinity College, and he had a brilliant future before him. But it all turned into a nightmare. The night before his wedding, his sweetheart drowned in an accident. Scriven was only 25 years of age, and he was never the same person again, the tragedy altering his whole life. Before the tragedy he was weak physically, but from then onwards he was always in pain and discomfort.

He decided to emigrate to Canada. He settled at Rice Lake, and then at Port Hope, Ontario, where he was able to be employed as a teacher, but in his spare time he laboured conscientiously among the poor and the deprived. He fell in love again, and became engaged to Miss Eliza Roche, but before they were married he had to face another tragedy when his fiancée died before the wedding day. Scriven wrote the famous hymn in Canada to comfort his mother, back home in Ireland, when he heard that she was suffering from ill-health.

The hymn was translated by a Welsh Presbyterian Minister in Ammanford, Carmarthenshire. His son, Professor Rheinallt Nantlais Williams, was my tutor in the Philosophy of Religion at the United Theological College, Aberystwyth (1959-1962). He was an outstanding apologetic philosopher for the Faith. His father, Rev'd William Natlais Williams, (1874-1959), was a prolific hymnwriter. I remember seeing him as a child in an Association Meeting held in my home village in Cardiganshire. He had been minister of Bethany Chapel, Ammanford from 1900 till 1944, and in 1904 he came under the influence of the Religious Revival. In that year the fine evangelist, Rev'd Seth Joshua, one of the most outstanding open-air preachers that the Presbyterian Church of Wales have produced, came to Bethany for ten days. The minister himself was converted and rescued from the dead hand of formal religion which happens often to men and women, it was his Revival Experience that made a fervent exponent of the Word of God, and a fine hymnwriter. So we owe a debt to Scriven and to Nantlais.

I would like to say:

1. That Jesus Christ is a Friend to all who accept His invitation to come and follow Him. I am always amazed that there are such a limited number of hymns on the friendship of Christ. Jesus loved people, particularly fishermen and those who tilled the land. It was from the fishermen of Galilee that He called His disciples to be with Him. Jesus was a friend to the widow and to the lepers, the sick, the blind, the deaf and those who had been abused and forgotten. A friend to those who were unable to fulfill their obligations to others, those in marital entanglement like the woman by the well in Samaria. He offered His hand of fellowship to the two criminals who hung each side of Him on Calvary, even inviting them into the Kingdom. To the robber that repented He said "Today thou shalt be with Me in Paradise."

He was a friend to those who had abused Him physically and mentally as they placed Him on the Cross. He forgave them, and asked His Father to "forgive them also for they have no idea what they are doing." no wonder we say that there is no one to compare with our Saviour.

Dom Hélder Camara wrote:

"I can also grasp that in Christ's agony there was not only the anguish of physical pain and approaching death. There was also the vision of the world and the world's sins: self-centeredness in particular, which is the greatest sin of all, and the consequences flowing from self-centeredness. He saw that, His sacrifice notwithstanding, self-centeredness would go on crushing thousands on thousands of millions of human creatures"

A Friend to sinners in all generations.

‘what a friend we have in Jesus,

All our sins and griefs to bear.’

2. Secondly, Jesus is a Friend and Brother in our time of need. I like the saying that "A friend in need is a friend in-deed." Often we are faced with a day of trouble. Joseph Scriven knew of them.

‘Is there trouble anywhere?’

Yes, plenty; ― in the island of Haiti as I write these words ― in many a home that I visit ― in towns and villages where I have Christian friends. There we have a host of carers. Society looks after the afflicted through its network of carers.

Scriven asks: ‘Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?’

What a terrible situation. Letting us down. Turning their backs on us. But I can assure you that Jesus never lets us down.

3. Finally, He is a friend within us, besides us, around us, guiding us and defending us by the Throne of His Father. That is the meaning of what Scriven wrote:

‘Take it to the Lord in prayer.’

God calls us to present our sorrows and failings to the Lord Jesus in the hour of affliction. We need to live in faith and hope, knowing that Jesus, our friend, is with us. We are pilgrims of the Absolute and citizens of the Eternal Kingdom, and disciples of the everlasting Jesus. Our friend asks us to look at every human being, without asking if he speaks Welsh, English or French, or to what race he be-longs to, or what religion he has given his allegiance to.

The follower of Jesus can and has no choice but to say to himself quietly, “Now there is my brother or my sister,” and he can ― and indeed must ― add: “my blood brother or sister, since the same blood of Christ was shed for both of us, as indeed for all people on earth or in heaven.” this is why Easter is a precious time for every believer. This spirit of openness, this fresh responsibility to God Himself, is lived and always realised in our utterances before the Throne of Grace when we address in sincerity "Our Father, who art in heaven." As Dom Hélder Camara said: "Without prayer, there is no current, no Christian respiration.

Jesus Christ is with us. Completely accessible. Always ready to hear our cry. We can come to Him whenever we want, every minute of the day and night, every week and every month. He walks the corridors of our Hospitals, He comes to our loved ones who are far away from us.

Scriven is absolutely right:

‘What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer.’

Remember that word "everything." We have instant access. There is no need for an appointment and we can tell our Friend every concern and tension that is within us. "Everything to God in prayer" Nantlais Williams translated it beautifully when he said ‘mynd â’r cyfan/Yn ein gweddi ato ef.’

Nothing is too small or too big for us to hand over to our Saviour. Never despond, friends.

‘O what peace we often forfeit,

O what needless pain we bear.’

because we do not approach God in His Son in prayer.

Pray with thanksgiving for your Friend Jesus. Pray in joy for the continual presence of Jesus. Pray without ceasing for His caring love which suffered on the Cross of Calvary so that we may be conquerors in Him.

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