Joseph M. Scriven's 'What A Friend We Have in Jesus' is a well-known hymn written in the mid-nineteenth century. Today, it is widely used in a number of Christian church services and has even found its way into popular culture. This article tells the story of the famous hymn; from its early history to its appearances in both sacred and secular life today.
Joseph Scriven penned the poem What a Friend We Have in Jesus in 1855 to comfort his mother, from whom he was living away. The work was originally published anonymously and Scriven was only credited with its authorship in the 1880s. The music for the hymn was written by American composer Charles Crozat Converse in 1868. Since its creation, numerous versions have been written, with alternative lyrics in a number of languages. The hymn remains a standard inclusion in many Christian church services including weddings and funerals.
Around the world
The famous hymn is widely used in religious services across Asia. It has been translated and rewritten in Japanese several times, using the titles Deep Affection or World of Stars. The hymn is very popular in Japanese wedding ceremonies.
The hymn has also been translated into Indonesian, under the title Yesus Kawan Sejati, but for much of last century, it was only known amongst Indonesia's small protestant population. However, when President Suharto came into power in 1967, he adopted the same music for a popular patriotic song, Ibu Pertiwi.
The hymn is also widely used in India. Entitled Yeshu kaisa dost pyara, it is used in solemn services such as burial ceremonies.
Pop culture uses
Twentieth and twenty-first century pop-culture has seen the appearance of the What A Friend We Have In Jesus hymn in different guises. During World War I, the hymn was used with the line "When This Bloody War is Over" sung in place of its original title. It has also been recorded by many popular artists including Aretha Franklin, Dolly Parton and The John Tesh Project.
Quotes and recordings of What A Friend We Have in Jesus have also been used frequently in a number of films. The music features in the soundtracks of films including True Grit and Driving Miss Daisy, while quotes from the lyrics are used in films such as Metal Skin and Footloose.
Full lyrics and a MIDI recording for the hymn can be found at Hymnsite.com.