Meet hymn writer extraordinaire Fanny Crosby

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, March 23, 2005

One of the first Gospel songs I can remember singing as a child is that old favourite "Tell Me the Story of Jesus." Its words have journeyed with me throughout my lifetime vocation as a celebrator of that story, especially through Bible translation. For this Holy Week's column I'd like to tell you the story behind that song, written by Frances Jane Crosby, better known simply by her nickname, Fanny Crosby.

Fanny Crosby is the 19th century American hymn writer responsible for such beloved pieces as "Blessed Assurance," "To God Be the Glory," "Near the Cross," "Draw Me Nearer," "Safe in the Arms of Jesus," "Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior," and over 10,000 other songs that have warmed and challenged the hearts of many.

In all her 95 years, she saw the hope of heaven so clearly, yet from soon after birth this most prolific hymnist was totally blind.

Fanny Crosby is the subject of a recent set of media productions by longtime Cochrane personality Ken Harder, former owner/operator of Poco Loco Pizza and now fulltime Gospel singer, and producer with Panmedia Entertainment Corporation, of Calgary.

The Fanny Crosby Story, available on VHS and DVD, tells in gripping detail her journey from the time a charlatan posing as a doctor caused her blindness when she was only a few weeks old, through her time of memorizing whole books of the Bible at her grandmother's knee, on to her formal education, becoming the first woman to address the United States Congress, and her humanitarian work, especially during the cholera epidemic. And for those who might think life is over at 40, we learn that Fanny didn't even begin to write her vast contribution of hymns till after she turned 40.

Ken has also produced the CD The Hymns of Fanny Crosby, with vocals by the Lost & Found Quartet (of which Ken is a member) and the Legacy Chorus.

Featured on that CD is the song I referred to at the beginning of this column, "Tell Me the Story of Jesus," with solo by Cochrane coffee companion Kerry Johnsen, Ken's daughter.

This wonderful song covers the whole range of Jesus' life: the joy of His birth, the testing and triumph of His ministry, His sorrowful Passion, and His glorious Resurrection. It echoes the theme of sight that appears in many of her hymns: "Love in that story so tender Clearer than ever I see," she wrote.

Blindness for Fanny was not a handicap but an asset, for it sharpened her inner vision and benefited us with words to open our own eyes to the greater journey of life.

I'd like to conclude this Good Friday and Easter column by sharing once more the words of that grand old song by Fanny Crosby:

Tell me the story of Jesus,
Write on my heart every word;
Tell me the story most precious,
Sweetest that ever was heard.
Tell how the angels, in chorus,
Sang as they welcomed His birth,
"Glory to God in the highest!
Peace and good tidings to earth."

Tell me the story of Jesus,
Write on my heart every word;
Tell me the story most precious,
Sweetest that ever was heard.

Fasting alone in the desert,
Tell of the days that are past.
How for our sins He was tempted,
Yet was triumphant at last.
Tell of the years of His labor,
Tell of the sorrow He bore;
He was despised and afflicted,
Homeless, rejected, and poor.

Tell of the cross where they nailed Him,
Writhing in anguish and pain;
Tell of the grave where they laid Him,
Tell how He liveth again.
Love in that story so tender
Clearer than ever I see;
Stay, let me weep while you whisper,
Love paid the ransom for me.

© 2005 Warren Harbeck

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