God creates awesome good out of horrendous tragedy. Joni Eareckson’s diving accident left her with no feeling below her shoulders, yet she inspires millions with her testimony, art, and songs. And then there was Fanny Crosby…
Frances Jane Crosby was born March 24, 1820 in the village of Southeast, New York, the only child of John and Mercy Crosby. While their doctor was away, little Fanny, only six weeks old, developed a bad infection. A young quack treated the baby by applying hot mustard poultices to her eyes. The baby survived, but soon her parents realized she could no longer see. Within the year, a second tragedy hit this family. Fanny’s young father took a chill and died.
Fanny’s 21-year-old mother had to go to work as a maid leaving her baby for long hours with her mother Eunice.
Fanny’s grandmother took her job very seriously. She did not just keep this blind baby comfortable and safe. She stimulated her senses with awareness of her surroundings. As the child grew, she and her grandmother walked and explored. She played with other children. The grandmother spent long hours describing details of leaves and sunsets, rocks and rills. She read to her. She taught her to memorize. By the time Fanny was fifteen she had memorized the first five books of the Bible, the book of Psalms, Song of Solomon, and the four gospels.
Fanny was, by her own testimony, a happy child. She refused to be pitied. At the age of eight she wrote these words:
“Oh, what a happy soul 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! To weep and sigh because I’m blind, I cannot and I won’t.”
Because of her mother’s and grandmother’s diligence, Fanny Crosby was enrolled in the prestigious New York Institution for the Blind when she was only fifteen. One can only imagine the wonders this imaginative young woman explored as she learned braille, interacted with teachers and students and continued to grow as a poet. She was a student for ten years, then stayed on at the Institute as a teacher for ten more years during which time she fell in love with fellow teacher Alexander Van Alstyne who also was blind. He and Fanny both loved music. She learned to play piano, organ, harp and guitar.
Fanny and her husband had only one child who died in infancy, another tragedy in Fanny’s life.
Though she was always religious, Fanny actually became a Christian secure in trusting Jesus for eternity when she was thirty-one. Her poetry became markedly more spiritual after that.
Very likely the most prolific hymn writer ever, Fanny didn’t seriously begin writing hymns until she was in her forties. She met Robert Lowry who teamed with her, writing music for her lyrics. Bigelow and Main Publishing Company published much of her works. By many reports, she received a dollar or two for each hymn. She became so well known for writing hymns that sometimes a musician would bring music to her and ask for lyrics. In one such case, Doane played a tune for her explaining that he needed the song completed in thirty-five minutes. She wrote the words right then to the hymn, “Safe In the Arms of Jesus.”
Fanny wrote 8,000 hymns. Hymn books of many Protestant denominations are full of her them. Here are only a few: “Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross,” “To God Be The Glory,” “Pass Me Not, Oh Gentle Savior,” “Blessed Assurance, Jesus Is Mine,” and “All the Way My Saviour Leads Me.”
Yes, Fanny was blind. But she couldn’t praise her Saviour enough! At one point she is quoted as saying that perhaps if she hadn’t been blind she would have been too distracted by everything around her to have written all those hymns.
Her hymns of praise have lifted the hearts of millions. Remember the chorus to “Blessed Assurance…”? “This is my story, this is my song, Praising my Saviour all the day long; This is my story, this is my song, Praising my Saviour all the day long.” Even as I type these lines, my heart beats faster at the joy resounding in those words.
Remember revivals when we’d sing so jubilantly, “Praise Him! Praise Him! Jesus our blessed Redeemer! Sing, O earth, His wonderful love proclaim!”
But Fanny expressed her dependence on God too. She would have agreed with Joni Eareckson’s quote: “There is nothing that moves a loving father’s soul quite like his child’s cry.” So in “All the Way My Saviour Leads Me” we sing her words, “For I know whate’er befall me, Jesus doeth all things well; For I know whate’er befall me, Jesus doeth all things well.”
She writes of her devotion in “Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross”: “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 raptur’d soul shall find Rest beyond the river.”
In “Rescue the Perishing” Fanny shows her compassion for the lost and, more importantly, His compassion: “Rescue the perishing, Care for the dying; Snatch them in pity from sin and the grave…Rescue the perishing, Care for the dying; Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.”
When Fanny was asked about how her blindness had affected her life, she said that even if she could have chosen as an adult to have sight she would have turned it down. She didn’t want to miss the close walk with Jesus. “His will be the first face I will see!” she said. She used that thought in “My Saviour First of All”: “I shall know my Redeemer when I reach the other side, And His smile will be the first to welcome me.”
Fanny saw her Saviour’s smile face to face when she died February 12, 1915, just short of her 95th birthday.
Both Joni Eareckson and Fanny Crosby have been heard to say they were blessed beyond measure as tools of the Master because of their handicaps. Tragedy hit them–but it could not win!
NOTE: My interest in Fanny Crosby was renewed by a recent article in Mature Living by Greg Asimakoupoulos. You might want to check out the February issue! Also, for further reading there are several books by Fanny Crosby and about her. One is titled, “This Is My Story, This Is My Song.”