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Fanny Crosby's Life Story

Greetings All,

     Everyone loves an inspiring story!   I came across the story below while preparing for my Sunday School class on, "100 Must Know Christians From Church History."  It is about Fanny Crosby the well-known hymn writer (well-known, at least, to those who attend churches that did, or still do, sing hymns - since many don't)!  I have taken material from three sources to create the account below, the major source being, "50 People Every Christian Should Know - Learning From Spiritual Giants of the Faith" by Warren Weirsbe.  Should you desire to look at a far more extensive recounting of her life, it can be found in her autobiography, "Fanny Crosby's Life Story," or  Edith Blumhofer's book, "Her Heart Can See."  Enjoy.

     "I believe myself still really in the prime of my life!" wrote Frances Jane Crosby at the age of eighty-three. She lived twelve more years (1820-1915)...  Donald P. Hustad has called Fanny Crosby "the most prolific and significant writer of Gospel songs in American history." She wrote more than 8000 songs, most of which are now forgotten.  But many continue to minister to people: "To God Be the Glory," "Blessed Assurance," "Praise Him, Praise Him," "Jesus keep Me Near the Cross," "All the Way My Savior Leads Me," “Safe in the Arms of Jesus,” “Rescue the Perishing,” “Savior, More Than Life to Me,” “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior,” and many others. 
     When Fanny was only six weeks old she developed a minor eye inflammation and the doctor's careless treatment left her blind. "It seemed to be intended by the blessed Providence of God that I should be blind all my life," she wrote in her delightful autobiography Fanny Crosby's Life Story, "and I thank Him for the dispensation."  The doctor who destroyed her sight never forgave himself and moved from the area, but Fanny held no ill-will toward him. "If I could meet him now," she wrote, "I would say "Thank you, thank you -- over and over again -- for making me blind."  In fact, she claimed that if she could have her sight restored, she would not attempt it. She felt that her blindness was God's gift to her so that she could write songs for his glory.  "I could not have written thousands of hymns," she said, "if I had been hindered by the distractions of seeing all the interesting and beautiful objects that would have been presented to my notice." 
     Fanny was greatly influenced by her mother and grandmother (her father died when she was very young). When the family moved to Connecticut a neighbor (Mrs. Hawley) read to her from the Bible and taught her Bible stories.  It seems unbelievable, but by the time Fanny was ten years old, she could recite (from memory) the first four books of the Old Testament and the four Gospels!  She could also repeat "poems without number."  She sometimes compared her mind to a writing desk, with little drawers and compartments filled with information readily available. In 1835 (at the age of 15) her mother took her to the famous "Institution for the Blind" in New York City for formal education  She proved an excellent student in everything except mathematics. In rebellion against the subject she wrote the following poem:  "I loathe, abhor, it makes me sick; To hear the word arithmetic!"  Before long, she became the resident poet for the school, and the superintendent was concerned that the growing praise might go to her head. So he called her into his office and warned her to beware of pride. He also urged her to use her gifts to the glory of God.  "His words were like bombshells," she would later write, "but they did me an immense amount of good."
     In 1845 (at the age of 25) Fanny, who was somewhat frail in health and had experienced loss through the death of loved ones, became increasingly concerned about the state of her own soul.  She had been so busy learning, teaching and nursing that she had forgotten something very important: She realized that she did not have a true love for God in her heart. She began to attend numerous churches of varying denominations in her quest to find what she needed from the Lord.  She attended Congregationalist, Episcopalian, Dutch Reformed, and Methodist Episcopal churches, as well as Wesleyan camp meetings. Her concerns intensified after an interesting dream: She dreamt one night that a friend was on his deathbed, and he asked her quite pointedly (in the dream) if she would meet him in heaven.  She responded "yes" in the dream, but when she awoke the next morning she felt uneasy about the state of her soul.  Five years later, in November of 1850, she attended revival meetings at the Broadway Tabernacle Methodist Church in New York City.  She went to altar twice, yet it was not until the singing of, "Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed? that she went forward a third time while the words of the last verse, "Here, Lord - I give myself away! 'Tis all that I can do" were being sung.  This line took hold in her heart and she began to shout!  She had been born again, and finally had the personal assurance she had been searching for.  This, needless to say, led to one of her most famous songs: "Blessed Assurance."  "My very soul was flooded with celestial light," she said. "For the first time I realized that I had been trying to hold the world in one hand and the Lord in the other." After this experience, she boldly testified about Christ and never shied away from praying in public. 
     In 1851 she published her second volume of poems, where she makes reference to her declining health in the preface -- though she would go on to live another 64 years!  In 1858 she wrote her third volume of poems -- the same year she married Alexander Van Alstyne, who had also been a student at the school for the blind and, like Fanny, had taught there upon graduating. He was a gifted musician and a perfect partner to the poetess.  The turning point in her life came in 1864 when she met William Bradbury, the famous hymn writer and publisher. "For many years I have been wanting you to write for me," he told here.  "I wish you would begin right away!"  She did begin, and the result was her first gospel song, "Our Bright Home Above." Little did anyone realize that God would use her to pen over eight thousand songs in the next fifty-one years.  How did Fanny write her lyrics?  "I never undertake a hymn," she explained, "without first asking the good Lord to be my inspiration in the work I am about to do." She would pray and meditate until she was in the right mood. Sometimes she would quote other hymns to prime the pump. Then the ideas would come and she would develop the song in her mind and commit it to memory.  At times, she would have as many as forty different songs stored away in her mind. She would let each song lie still for a few days before dictating it to a friend, who would then send it off to the publisher.
     In her day she was one of the best known women in America  In fact, on the occasion of her 85th birthday, Grover Cleveland, President of the United States, wrote to her:  "My dear friend:  It is more than fif­ty years ago that our ac­quaint­ance and friend­ship be­gan; and ev­er since that time I have watched your con­tin­u­ous and in­ter­es­ted la­bor in up­lift­ing hu­man­i­ty, and point­ing out the way to an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of God’s good­ness and mer­cy..."
     Fanny was just a few weeks away from her 95th birthday when she was called home -- a hope she had written about often in her songs. For the first time she could see, and, best of all, she could see her Savior.  Have you ever noticed how often she wrote about "seeing" in her lyrics?  Watch for the references the next time you sing a Fanny Crosby song. "Saved by Grace" is just one example, where she writes: "And I shall see Him face to face, And tell the story -- Saved by Grace; Yes we shall see him face to face, And tell the story -- Saved by Grace."  It was said of another blind hymn writer, George Matheson, that God made him blind so he could see clearly in other ways and become a guide to others.  The same tribute could be applied to Fanny Crosby, who triumphed over her handicap and used it to the glory of God."
     It's hard to summarize such a profound life of 95 years in a few simple paragraphs without leaving out many pertinent details.  Maybe the lengthy autobiography and other biographies would fill in the holes, answering such questions as: Were there brief times when she wished she could see, or struggled with the limitations brought about by her blindness?  What truths of Scripture helped her remain so grateful, joyful and positive?  What would her attitude have been if she hadn't been given parents and others who poured themselves into her in regards to her faith?  And what about the amazing gift of her near photographic memory and immense poetic skills, since we know not all are blessed with such awesome abilities?  How did such extraordinary graces help her when it came to accepting the doctor's blunder in causing her blindness?  Did he ever come to forgive himself?  So many questions and many surely without answers this side of eternity!
     For hymn lovers like myself, Fanny Crosby's songs have been an inspiration and great spiritual help.  My favorites are Blessed Assurance and To God Be the Glory.  They have always uplifted me, both the music and the words. For who could say it better?
To God be the glory great things He has done,
So loved He the world that He gave us His son,
Who yielded His life an atonement for sin,
And opened the life gate that all may go in.

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord let the earth hear His voice!
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord let the people rejoice!
O come to the Father through Jesus the Son,
And give Him the glory great things He has done

O perfect redemption the purchase of blood,
To every believer the promise of God.
The vilest offender who truly believes,
That moment from Jesus a pardon receives

Great things He has taught us great things He has done,
And great our rejoicing through Jesus the Son.
But purer and higher and greater will be,
Our wonder our worship when Jesus we see.

In His Grace, Pastor Jeff