“Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine”, penned Fanny Crosby in one of her more famous and beloved hymns. While these words have given comfort and hope to so many throughout the years, the life of Fanny herself is also one of great hope. At the age of 6 weeks Fanny lost her eyesight during a spell of sickness. But this never seemed to hold her back. At the age of 15 she entered the New York Institution for the Blind where she received her education. She became a teacher in the institution in 1847 in the subjects of English grammar, rhetoric and American history. She continued her work until March of 1858 when she married Alexander Van Alstyne, a musician, who was also blind.
Crosby was visiting her friend Phoebe Knapp when Phoebe was having a large pipe organ installed. The organ was incomplete, so Mrs. Knapp, using the piano, played a new melody she had just composed. When Knapp asked Crosby, "What do you think the tune says?" Crosby replied, "Blessed assurance; Jesus is mine,” and so this famous hymn was born and received its equally well-known tune.
This song reflects Crosby’s walk of faith, as expressed by the Apostle Paul in Philippians 1:21: For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Fanny loved her work. The secret of her contentment dates from her first composition at the age of 8 years. “O what a happy soul am I. Although I cannot see, I am resolved that in this world contented I will be.” This remained her philosophy throughout life.
Fanny combines so many wonderful affirmations of our faith into this hymn. For Fanny the very fact that Jesus had been with humanity on this earth was a sign of the divine glory that one day we would see perfectly. She knew that she had been granted salvation because of Jesus because God had bought her life back from sin and separation and she knew that she had not only been born in the flesh but more importantly she had been in the Spirit and that all her sins had been washed away by the blood of Jesus.
These affirmations led Fanny to know that she could give herself fully to God in Jesus. Her delight in life was now perfect as visions of rapture burst on her sight. In spite of her blindness she could imagine angels descending to the earth and bringing with them the mercy and love of God.
And for Fanny, no matter what might happen in this life, she was happy and felt blest. She could watch and wait, looking above for the return of her Lord because she knew his goodness and was filled with his love.
Indeed this is her story and her song, praising her Saviour all the day long. I am sure Fanny would want everyone who ever sings this hymn to believe that this is their story and their song as well as she would encourage everyone to praise the Saviour all the day long.
Our second hymn today was written by Maltie Babcock and set to a traditional English melody. Babcock was ordained to the Presbyterian ministry and was pastor of churches in Lockport, NY, Baltimore, Maryland and New York City. While the words we sing today are different than the ones first penned by Babcock, their meaning remains strong.
This hymn celebrates the nurturing and sustaining nature of God as the Father oversees the creation and we can reflect on the hand of God present in the shaping of the whole creation around us. Babcock encourages us to take time to see the world that we live in not just as an inanimate presence but for all its beauty. For him everything in creation has a music and a song. Having morning coffee sitting on the deck I can hear the music of the world in the many birds and the movement of the leaves on the trees. The world is alive and there is always something celebrating being alive.
The second verse celebrates the specific task of creation as we are reminded that we – like all creation - need to give thanks for the world in which we live. For Babcock, God speaks to him through everything that he sees.
In the last verse, he reminds us that we are destined not just to live within this world but to live in it as the people of God. For those who have accepted the call of God in Jesus Christ, this is the Saviour’s world and we who are God’s people are to live as those who recognize that God is the ultimate ruler of the world. And even though we are tempted, we are to remember that the end of our lives and all creation lies with God in Christ. So we are to order our lives according to the will and example of the One who is our Saviour.
Our third hymn today was composed by Timothy Dudley-Smith who is an English hymnwriter and a retired bishop of the Church of England.
As water to the thirsty fits well with the theme of our second hymn and is a wonderful fit to our closing hymn. The hymn gives us a great vision of what Christ means to the author. Think of how precious water is when we are thirsty, how feeling strong is such a relief when we are feeling weak, as relieving it is to hear the truth instead of lies; to know calm in place of strife, peace after pain, meeting a good friend again after a time of being apart. Every image that Timothy gives us helps us to envision what his relationship to Jesus means to him.
As we sing this hymn, may we reflect on the images he paints and imagine if we will how our living Lord is present in our lives.
Our final hymn today really cannot be effectively sung to any other tune than Endless Song. It is the only hymn with this tune and while it may be challenging to sing, the words are also challenging. Written by another one of our modern hymn writers, We cannot own the sunlit sky reminds us that we cannot lay exclusive claim to any part of this earth.
Ruth Duck has spent most of her life as a Professor of Worship at a theological seminary in Evanston, Illinois. She is most interested in subjects such as baptism, liturgical healing, liturgy and culture, and feminist study of liturgy. These interests have led her to think beyond the bounds of denomination and see the church of God in Jesus Christ in broader terms. It has also caused her to reflect on the purpose and meaning of Christian community and Christian faith.
We who have been so blessed in our lives need to remember that the world in which we live is not our possession but that it is God’s. The issues of justice and fair distribution of resources is a theme of this hymn as we are encouraged to recognize that the vision of God is not just abundant life for some but for all. The challenge for all faith communities as we move into the future is to realize that we no longer can live isolated in our communities but that we will need to embrace others enduring peace is ever to come to this world.
Today our hymns have taken us from a focus on our lives individually with Jesus to a celebration of the created order in which we live and finally to a vision of the future where our Christian faith and life will lead us to realizing an abundant life for all. As we go forth to love and serve the Lord, may we be mindful of the assurance we have from the presence of God in our lives, the blessing of the creation that has given us life and the call to be a people who see beyond the confines of our community to a vision of a world that can truly embrace peace as abundant life comes to all.