David Johnson

(Transcribed from the Words of Life Radio Program)


One of the ways that we worship the Lord, of course, is in song. But there are other ways to worship the Lord.  And we can worship him in our prayer and certainly in our works as we are good and faithful servants of the Lord. That can be a form of worship as we do it in Jesus’ name. And the title of the lesson, a devotional on some of the great hymns in our song book. The title is  “Good and Faithful Servant.”
Let’s pause as we pray. Father, we do thank you for our voices, for our desire to worship as our spirits have been quickened, made alive in Christ Jesus that we can truly worship you in Spirit and in truth.  It is our prayer in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Good and faithful servant.  The hymnist that we are going to feature in this message is truly a good and faithful servant, someone who has blessed us with many hymns, dozens of hymns.  Does the name Fanny Crosby ring a bell?  She was a wonderful poetess and hymn writer who lived a few generations back.  And she was truly greatly talented of the Lord and not only with physical talents, but with spiritual gifts as a believer, as a born again believer. And you understand that we all have some physical talents and we all have some spiritual gifts, but we do not always exercise our physical talents and spiritual gifts as we should before the Lord. This woman, who had some physical disabilities, in spite of that was a very good and faithful servant.

As I share a little bit about her and some of her hymns, think about what she must have had to overcome in her life.  She is an example for us when we have a lot of obstacles and a lot of barriers and a lot of physical set backs and other problems, yet we can still overcome, as did she, with the Lord Jesus and by the Holy Spirit.

Fanny Crosby was born in 1820. She died in 1915. If you do the math she lived 95 years. She was a poetess and became a beloved hymn writer. She was blind from the age of six weeks old.  And she was blinded through the negligence of her doctor that applied hot poultices to her inflamed eyes when she was only six weeks old.

Later in life Fanny Crosby could have become rather bitter, but instead she knew she was blessed and became a good and faithful servant of the Lord. She wrote thousands of poems, and even today there are dozens of her beautiful hymns of worship that are still popular and widely sung, even in the 21st century.

We will feature just three of her hymns that are in our song book, the Great Songs of the Church. She wrote either the words or the lyrics. For example, let’s look at number 21 in our song book.  My very favorite hymn happens to have words written by Fanny Crosby, the song, Blessed Assurance.

Remember, Fanny Crosby was blind, was blinded at six weeks old. I want you to note the second stanza and her words, the second verse or stanza of Blessed Assurance.  It says there:

Perfect submission, perfect delight,

Visions of rapture now burst on my sight;

Angels descending, bring from above

Echoes of mercy, whispers of love.

Beautiful words and especially beautiful and meaningful to a hymn writer who probably never remembered—having been blinded at six weeks old—never remembered what it was like to see the day, the sun, the dawn, the sunrise, the sunset.  And yet she could write what was in her own mind. Perfect submission, perfect delight, visions of rapture. When she would be caught up to meet the Lord in the air which she hoped, and we all hope, we will experience, rather than to be raised up from the dead. Visions of rapture now burst on my sight. Don’t you know that Fanny Crosby was so looking forward to sight?  Even though she lived by faith, and we all live by faith and not by sight in this life, yet for her it had even more meaning, never having been able to see since the age of 6 weeks.   She was blind, but she was not bitter. She considered herself blessed and truly was a good and faithful servant to the Lord.

Let’s look at another of her hymns in our song book.  Number 214 is Some Day the Silver Cord will Break. Does that sound familiar? That is taken almost directly from Scripture, probably from the King James Version, even though the words are different since she lived in the 1800s.  But the title is taken from Ecclesiastes chapter 12 and verse six where in the NIV version we find these words.  Remember him that is the Lord, before the silver cord is severed, as Solomon wrote.  In other words, poetically, it is referring to the cord, first of all, literally, that held the golden bowl or the lamp. And if it was severed this light would perish, would go out, suggesting in this context in Ecclesiastes chapter 12 and verse six how fragile this human life really is. Unless the Lord appears, and we are caught up to meet the Lord in the air, we are all going to eventually perish and our physical lights go out, as it were, poetically. That is what it is talking about.  But note the chorus in number 214. Now you know, as will Fanny Crosby, having been blinded at six weeks old, we are all going to eventually see him face to face, but you can be sure that this had an especially significant meaning to her. She penned these words:    And I shall see Him face to face and tell the story— Saved by grace.

She was blind but she was not bitter. She focused, instead, on God’s grace, knowing his grace is sufficient, and was a good and faithful servant of the Lord.

Let’s look at number 225, another one by our great poetess Fanny Crosby, Take the World but Give Me Jesus.  What a wonderful title.  Note now the second stanza, the words that she wrote.

Till with clearer, brighter vision.

Face to face my Lord I see.
Do you think it is a coincidence that she focused so much on vision and seeing and sight and looking upon the face of the Lord? I don’t think so. I think that in the deepest recesses of her soul and her spirit she knew the glorious truth of the future for her and for all of us, how it will be when we finally see the Lord – face to face.

You understand she doesn’t even remember seeing her father, her human father, her mother or anyone else, because she was blinded at six weeks old. And yet she was not bitter. She was blessed and knew she was blessed.   In fact, Fanny Crosby later in life wrote these words.  Quote, “I have not felt a spark of resentment against the doctor for I have always believed that the good Lord in his infinite mercy by this means, blindness, consecrated me, set me apart to the work I am still permitted to do.” And she lived 95 years.

You understand Fanny Crosby was not only blinded at six weeks old, but just as all of us, if we live a long life, she was faced with a lot of trials, with a lot of troubles. Some of the other things that FannyCrosby had to deal with, when she was eight months old her father died.  And in those days especially, women did not work outside the home, and her mother couldn’t support them and they were not wealthy.  Her mother, because she had to, hired herself out as a servant, so Fanny, the blind infant, had to be raised by her grandmother. And later, when her mother and her grandmother were gone, Fanny had to be cared for by her landlady, whom she paid.

Fanny was certainly a woman that had great courage and great fortitude and great faith.  Fanny Crosby, with God’s enabling and her dedication, had a tremendous memory.  It is recorded that Fanny Crosby memorized the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers word for word. She memorized all four of the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. She also memorized the words in the many chapters of the book of Proverbs, the book of Ruth, and the book of the Song of Solomon or the Song of Songs. And she memorized most of the Book of Psalms.
Now why did she do that? Besides the fact that she had such a tremendous memory and such dedication, she was blind.  She couldn’t read. So she memorized much of the Bible word for word so that she could meditate on the Scripture and also be able to write these beautiful hymns. Think of the discipline that it took, the time that it took and since she was blind she would recite these books from memory out loud. She said, regarding writing her hymns, “Most of my poems have been written during long night watches when distractions of day could not interfere with the rapid flow of thought. Then I would commit stanzas to memory, return to sleep and then awake and dictate them.  She would memorize what she had creatively decided she wanted to be a hymn, a poem, and she would go back to sleep and then dictate the words to a secretary the next day.

A most remarkable woman, most remarkable perseverance. Fanny Crosby was also a gifted guitarist. She was a gifted story teller.  She was a gifted teacher to the blind, and later she mastered the instruments of the organ and the harp. Remember, she is blind. Poetry poured from her even though someone else’s pen would record them. She wrote eulogies. She wrote songs. She wrote cantatas. She wrote concert pieces and she didn’t start writing gospel hymns until she was age 44. But how long did she live?  Ninety five years.

By the 1870s Fanny Crosby was known as the queen of hymn writers. It is estimated that she wrote close to 9000 hymns and poems.  But that is not all. After the age of 60, Fanny Crosby worked in the slums with the homeless, with the slum dwellers, with alcoholics, with prisoners. She wrote that it was an opportunity for her to show the love of Christ.  And she did it all for the Lord. And she was blind.  But that didn’t slow her down.  Fanny Crosby gives flesh and blood to the Scripture.  As we look at Matthew chapter 25 and verse 21, think about Fanny Crosby.   His master replied, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful with a few things.  I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness.”

Do you remember that this was at the end of the parable of the talents?  Whatever it is that God gives to us we must use faithfully, whether it is financial resources, physical talents, talents of gold, talents of spiritual gifts, whatever it is, because God has prepared us in advance to do good works in his name. And so we should do likewise, and be inspired by someone like Fanny Crosby.


David Johnson is minister of the Sellersburg Church of Christ, Sellersburg, Indiana