Faith Matters || 200 years since birth of Frances Jane Crosby

2020 has been a year of hardship and uncertainty. From drought to fire to pandemic, there has been no shortage of trials for us to endure.

This year also marked the 200th anniversary of the birth a remarkable lady, whose own life story was an example of irrepressible hope in the face of great personal trials.

Frances Jane Crosby was born in the village of Brewster, New York, on 24 March 1820. She was to be no stranger to tragedy throughout her life. At just six weeks old she fell ill. The family doctor was away, and another man-pretending to be a certified doctor-treated her by prescribing hot mustard poultices to be applied to her eyes. While she survived her illness, the "treatment" had left her blind. A few months later, Crosby's father died. Her mother was forced to find work as a maid to support the family, and Fanny was mostly raised by her Christian grandmother.

We may expect such circumstances to be a source of bitterness to Crosby. However her blindness was something for which she was profoundly grateful and which would shape her entire life.

She would even say: "It seemed intended by the blessed providence of God that I should be blind all my life, and I thank him for the dispensation. If perfect earthly sight were offered me tomorrow I would not accept it. I might not have sung hymns to the praise of God if I had been distracted by the beautiful and interesting things about me."

A quick glance at her life shows that Crosby really believed these words!

Shortly before her 15th birthday, Crosby was sent to the recently founded New York Institute for the Blind, which would be her home for 23 years: 12 as a student, 11 as a teacher. This experience lead her to throw great energy into becoming an effective and high profile champion for education of the blind. It was in this capacity that in 1846, she became the first woman to speak in the United States Senate. Shortly afterwards, she addressed a joint session of the United States Congress.

Yet it is the Christian Hymns which she penned for which he is best remembered today. A prolific writer, Crosby is credited with having written some 9000 hymns. It was in these hymns which she most clearly expressed the source of the irrepressible hope which guided her life.

Arguably the most well known today is "Blessed Assurance" in which we sing:

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine

Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine

Heir of salvation, purchase of God

Born of His spirit, washed in His blood

Perfect submission, perfect delight,

Visions of rapture now burst on my sight;

Angels, descending, bring from above

Echoes of mercy, whispers of love.

While blind in this temporary life, Crosby longed and lived for the first vision she would have in the life to come; that of Christ Jesus, her saviour. She longed for that world in which Jesus promised that "The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised".

For Fanny Crosby only one thing truly mattered. That she know the great love of Jesus, and that she grasp hold of what he promised her. She would happily lose her sight, or anything else, if only she had him. And it is this hope which sustained her through her troubled 95 years of life. My own hope is that with ever increasing conviction, I may learn to sing with Fanny Crosby.

Take the world, but give me Jesus;

In His cross my trust shall be,

Till, with clearer, brighter vision

Face to face my Lord I see.

David Robinson is vicar of Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Glen Innes