“How in the world could I have lived such a helpful life as I have lived had I not been blind?”
In her lifetime, Fanny Crosby was one of the best known Christian women in the United States. Today, most American hymnals contain some of the over 9000 hymns that she wrote. There probably isn’t anyone who goes to church who hasn’t sung one of her hymns.
Frances Jane “Fanny” Crosby was born in1820 and died in 1915. Though blind ever since a quack doctor ruined her eyesight while treating an eye infection when she was a baby, she never let her blindness make her feel sorry for herself. She turned her blindness into a blessing for millions of others around the whole world who enjoy her many hymns to this day.
While a young child she wrote a poem to put well-meaning, but uncomfortable people at their ease so that they would not feel sorry for her:
Oh, what a happy child I am,
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!
So weep or sigh because I’m blind,
I cannot – nor I won’t.
She told others who felt sorry for her that she was thankful to be blind. For example, a preacher once remarked, “I think it is a great pity that the Master did not give you sight when He showered so many other gifts upon you.” She replied quickly, “Do you know that if at birth I had been able to make one petition, it would have been that I should be born blind?” “Why?” asked the surprised preacher. “Because when I get to heaven, the first face that shall ever gladden my sight will be that of my Savior!”
Fanny’s father died when she was a small child. Her mother hired herself out as a maid and Fanny’s Grandmother took care of her. They had a strong Puritan heritage, and Fanny’s grandmother read and explained the Bible to her. A neighbor of the family, Mrs. Hawley also helped Fanny. She helped Fanny memorize the Bible. Sometimes Fanny memorized as many as five chapters a week!! She knew the Pentateuch, the Gospels, Proverbs, the Song of Solomon and many of the Psalms by heart. Of course this would aid her when she wrote her hymns. She knew the Scriptures so well that she could write a poem in only an hour or two. She often wrote six or seven hymns a day. She was usually paid a dollar or two for each poem; the composers kept the royalties on the songs.
Fanny could write very complex poetry, but her desire was to bring the message of the Gospel to people who would not listen to preaching. So, she would write the lyrics to the songs and pray over each one that God would bring many people to Himself through them.
Fanny received an education at the New York Institute for the Blind. She entered when she was fifteen and stayed on, eventually to teach there for twenty-three years. Of course, she wrote poems for every occasion at the school.
In 1858, Fanny married Alexander van Alystyne, a professor at the Institute. He was a musician and a fine organist. Fanny played the harp and the piano herself and had a lovely soprano voice. Even when she was an elderly, frail lady she would play the piano and sing. She had the ability to play everything from classical to hymns to ragtime. She had great fun playing hymns in a jazzed up style.
Since Fanny was so well known she kept her maiden name when she married. Her husband encouraged her to do this. They had a baby girl, but sadly the child died within a few months.
Among her most well-known hymns are: ” Blessed Assurance,” “All the Way My Savior Leads Me,” “To God Be the Glory, ” “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior,” ” Safe in the Arms of Jesus,” “Rescue the Perishing,” “Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross,” “I Am Thine, O Lord,” and many more.
When she was older she did not write as prolifically as before. She did spend a lot of time speaking around the country. And she was involved in missionary work until the day of her death in 1915. Though she only earned a dollar or two for her works, she often gave much of it to the poor. She showed her genuine concern for the souls of others with her personal evangelization as well as through her hymns.
Most of those 9000 hymns have been forgotten today, but many are sung all around the world. I am sure that she enjoys hearing, and seeing, the Heavenly choir sing her songs around the throne of the Lord.
We can learn so much from the life of this selfless lady. In a day when the least little hardship has people clamoring for attention, or for government largesse, it would be well for more people to learn from her example. She did not let a tragic accident make her bitter, but turned it into something for God’s glory. She never felt sorry for herself, but gave to others less fortunate than she was.
There is another interesting application for us. One of the things that can set churchgoers to squabbling and separating from each other is church music. Some say that we should only have organs or piano’s in church. Some say that there should be no instruments at all. Some say that whatever instruments make people joyful and feel like praising the Lord should be allowed. Some of these groups don’t speak to each other.
I wonder how many who sing Fanny Crosby’s hymns because they are found in an approved hymnal know that the music for some of them comes from common tunes that were sung in the streets? Would these “high-brow” people want those songs removed from their hymnals? We really do need to stop taking up so much time fighting over things that do not matter.
Instead, there are so many injustices going on in the world today, that we should be spending our time working together as the people of God to right the many wrongs that are everywhere.
Let us keep our attention focused on the Savior as Fanny did.
To God be the glory, great things He has done;
So loved He the world that He gave us His Son,
Who yielded His life an atonement for sin,
And opened the life gate that all may go in.