Joseph Scriven: The Hymn Writer of Compassion and Comfort

Joseph Scriven (1819-1886), an Irish poet and hymn writer, left an indelible mark on Christian hymnody through his poignant and heartfelt compositions. His life story, marked by personal tragedies and a deep commitment to service, gave rise to hymns that continue to offer solace, hope, and inspiration to generations of believers. This article delves into the life, hymns, and enduring legacy of Joseph Scriven, a compassionate soul who found solace in the arms of his Savior and shared that solace through his poetic expressions.

Early Life and Spiritual Journey

Joseph Medlicott Scriven was born on September 10, 1819, in Banbridge, County Down, Ireland. He came from a family of comfortable means and received a classical education. However, his life took a tragic turn when he was a young adult. His fiancée, Eliza Roche, tragically drowned on the eve of their wedding. This devastating loss had a profound impact on Scriven’s life and faith.

Scriven’s personal faith journey led him to seek solace and comfort in his relationship with God. He found refuge in the Christian message of hope and redemption, and this newfound faith became the cornerstone of his life’s purpose.

Compassion and Service

In the wake of his personal tragedy, Joseph Scriven committed himself to a life of service and compassion. He worked as a tutor and cared for the sick and needy in his community. His deep empathy for others, born out of his own experiences of suffering, endeared him to those around him.

Scriven’s acts of kindness and compassion were a natural outflow of his Christian convictions. His life echoed the teachings of Christ to love one’s neighbor as oneself, and his actions resonated with the message of sacrificial love and care that is central to the Gospel.

The Hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”

The hymn for which Joseph Scriven is best known, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” was penned as a heartfelt expression of his personal faith and a source of comfort to a friend who was experiencing a time of difficulty. Originally titled “Pray Without Ceasing,” the hymn has since become a cherished and enduring part of Christian worship.

The hymn’s lyrics offer a powerful reminder of the believer’s privilege to bring every care and concern to the Lord in prayer. It emphasizes the profound truth that Jesus is not only a Savior but also a faithful and compassionate friend who walks with us through life’s trials and tribulations.

Spiritual Themes and Reflective Hymnody

Joseph Scriven’s hymns often delved into themes of trust, surrender, and the unfailing presence of God. His hymn “O God, What E’er of Earthly Bliss” reflects his understanding of the transitory nature of earthly joys and the eternal significance of God’s love. The hymn encourages believers to find their ultimate fulfillment in Christ alone.

In “When We See Christ,” Scriven contemplates the glorious moment when believers will see Christ face to face and be united with Him for eternity. The hymn captures the eschatological hope that is central to the Christian faith and reminds us of the eternal reward that awaits those who follow Christ.

Legacy and Enduring Influence

Joseph Scriven’s legacy extends far beyond his lifetime. His hymns have been embraced by believers of various denominations and have been translated into numerous languages. The universal themes of faith, comfort, and trust that permeate his hymns have made them a source of solace and inspiration to individuals facing life’s challenges and uncertainties.

“What a Friend We Have in Jesus” has become a beloved anthem of Christian devotion, cherished for its simple yet profound message of God’s abiding presence and unfailing love. The hymn’s timeless melody and lyrics continue to resonate with hearts and minds, offering reassurance and hope to those in need.


Joseph Scriven’s life and hymnody encapsulate the power of faith to transform personal pain into a source of comfort and inspiration for others. His compassionate spirit, fueled by his own experiences of suffering, led him to offer a message of hope and healing through his poetic expressions. As we engage with Scriven’s hymns, we are reminded of the enduring truth that even in the midst of life’s trials, we have a friend in Jesus who walks beside us, offering His love, grace, and unending companionship. In celebrating Joseph Scriven’s legacy, we find ourselves drawn into the tapestry of faith, joining generations of believers who have found solace and strength in his words of comfort and assurance.