Fanny Crosby 1820–1915 Hymn Writer, Poet, Teacher, Mission Worker, Musician

I find it very difficult to answer the question “What is your favorite hymn?” I love to read, sing, and play many hymns and cannot easily select one as my most cherished. I find, however, that many of the hymns I am drawn to and hold dear were written by Fanny Crosby.

Frances Jane Crosby was born in Southeast, Putnam County, New York, on March 24, 1820, the only child of John and Mercy Crosby. In infancy, Fanny developed an infection of the eyes and as a result of mistreatment of the infection, she became blind. She was only six weeks old. Before her first birthday, Fanny lost her father to an illness, which forced her mother to work outside of the home. As a result, Fanny spent much of her time in the care of her godly maternal grandmother, Eunice.

At fifteen years of age, Fanny began attending the New York Institution for the Blind (NYIB), where she later taught. While teaching at NYIB, she met Alexander van Alstyne, a music scholar and teacher. The two were married on March 5, 1858. Fanny left NYIB at the time of her marriage and from that point made writing hymns her vocation. It has been said that at times she would write up to eight hymns a day.

In addition to the approximately eight thousand hymns that she wrote, Fanny also published many volumes of poetry, wrote several books, became an accomplished pianist and vocalist, and worked tirelessly for several rescue missions. She died in Bridgeport, Connecticut, on February 12, 1915, at the age of 95.

Fanny was known to say, “Had it not been for my affliction I might not have so good an education, nor so great an influence, and certainly not so fine a memory.” She had committed to memory the first four books of the Old Testament and the four Gospels before she was ten years of age!

In her hymns Fanny expressed heart-felt devotion to the Saviour and a sincere desire for a life consecrated to Him. Many of her hymns are written in the first person (e.g., “I Am Thine, O Lord,” “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Saviour,” “Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross”), demonstrating her own personal relationship with the Lord and drawing the reader into this relationship as well.

A recurring theme in many of Fanny’s hymns is consecration—total and absolute surrender to the Lord. Such consecration is clearly illustrated in the hymn “I Am Thine, O Lord” written in 1875. Fanny wrote the hymn while visiting the home of friend William H. Doane, who later composed the music to go with the words. On the night of Fanny’s visit, the topic of conversation was the blessing of enjoying the nearness of God during times of dark shadows. True to her form, in sudden inspiration Fanny began reciting the words to this beautiful hymn:

Consecrate me now to Thy service, Lord, By the pow’r of grace divine; Let my soul look up with a steadfast hope, And my will be lost in Thine

She never for a moment harbored any resentment for her infirmity, but rather claimed, “ I have always believed that the good Lord, in His infinite mercy, by this means consecrated me to the work that I am still permitted to do. When I remember how I have been blessed, how can I repine?” What a marvelous illustration we have of the way God can enable us to rise above our trials and can “make all things work together for good to those who love Him.” Oh, that this would be the song and prayer of our hearts as well.

Pina D’Addurno is the wife of Rev. Anthony D’Addurno, the minister of Barrie FPC in Barrie, Ontario.

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