Growing up in rural Scotland during the 1950s in a family of born again Christians who were stalwarts of the local Gospel Hall, I quickly became familiar with the hymns and songs of great writers such as Isaac Watts, D.L. Moody, Ira Sankey, Charles Wesley and Fanny J Crosby.
Known as the ‘Queen of Gospel Song Writers’, Fanny J Crosby (1820-1915) stands tall within that group of great hymn writers. With over 8,000 hymns and gospel songs to her credit, Crosby’s career is even more remarkable because she was blind from the age of six weeks.
Some of Crosby's best-known songs include "Blessed Assurance", "Pass Me Not, O Gentle Saviour", "Jesus Is Tenderly Calling You Home", "Praise Him, Praise Him", "Rescue the Perishing", and "To God Be the Glory".
Crosby revolutionised sacred music, broadening its appeal in order to bring the Gospel to a much wider audience. Some commentators argue that Crosby’s songs were a major contributing factor in the success of the Moody and Sankey evangelistic campaigns of the 1870s.
Today Fanny Crosby stands in stark contrast to the pampered celebrity Christian artistes who have become fabulously wealthy from their song writing, performing, and recording efforts. Her lifestyle could only be described as modest. She had a ‘horror of wealth’ and gave away royalties and honorariums to individuals and organisations involved in poor relief.
Crosby set a goal of winning a million people to Christ through her hymns. On writing a hymn, a song or a poem, she always prayed it would have the effect of bringing people to Christ.
My favourite Fanny J Crosby song is, ‘Jesus Keep me Near the Cross’ which sums up the core of the Gospel in a song.
Jesus, keep me near the cross,
There a precious fountain—
Free to all, a healing stream—
Flows from Calv’ry’s mountain.
In the cross, in the cross,
Be my glory ever;
Till my raptured soul shall find
Rest beyond the river.
Near the cross, a trembling soul,
Love and Mercy found me;
There the bright and morning star
Sheds its beams around me.
Near the cross! O Lamb of God,
Bring its scenes before me;
Help me walk from day to day,
With its shadows o’er me.
Near the cross I’ll watch and wait
Hoping, trusting ever,
Till I reach the golden strand,
Just beyond the river.
“The famous evangelist Dwight L. Moody was said to have asked Crosby the following question toward the end of her life: ‘If you could have just one wish granted, what would it be?’
Moody expected her to ask for sight. Sensing this she is said to have replied, ‘If I could have one wish, I’d wish that I might continue blind the rest of my life.’ Moody was taken back and asked, ‘How can you say that?’ Crosby was said to have responded, ‘after being blind for all these years, the first face I want to see now is the face of Jesus.”
Because Fanny Crosby lived her life near the Cross, she was able to write so vividly about her relationship with the Lord Jesus.
Christians owe a great debt to these song writers of days gone by. We must strive to keep their inspiring music alive as an integral component of worship in our churches and gatherings today.