Crosby made music for God

Published 11:59 pm Friday, May 1, 2009

When you hear a song, do you ever wonder who wrote it and under what circumstances? I have noticed a lot of songs in the United Methodist Hymnal written by Fanny Jane Crosby.

I had read about her, one of Christendom’s most prolific writers. The most I remembered was that she was blind almost from birth. I turned to my husband’s library of religious books to find out more about her. I found that her blindness occurred when she was only 6 weeks old. An unlicensed doctor placed an application of mustard poultices on her eyes as treatment for a cold. What a tragedy.

Despite her handicap, she began writing poetry when she was 8 years old. Her first poem addressed her blindness, but it wasn’t a sad one. In the first line she said that she was a happy child. The last lines were, “To weep and sigh because I’m blind, I cannot, and I won’t.” She believed that God had allowed her blindness in order to set the course of her life. She harbored no ill feelings toward the physician.

Her grandmother introduced her to the Bible and described nature to her. Apparently, this was the inspiration for much of her religious verse in the years that followed. Upon her death at 94 in 1915, she had written an estimated 8,500 religious verses.

She enrolled at the New York Institute for the Blind when she was 15. When she completed her studies, she stayed on as a teacher. In 1858, she married a blind musician, Alexander Van Alstyne.

She was a lifelong Methodist and spent most of her life in New York City.

One publishing company published almost 6,000 of her poem-hymns. She used over 200 pen names, probably because her publishers did not want the public to know she had so many works.

Time after time, composers played their music to her and she wrote the verse to match it right on the spot. “Fanny, what does this say to you?” Mrs. Joseph Knapp said, as she sat down and played some music she had composed. “Blessed Assurance, Jesus Is Mine,” Fanny answered. Those inspiring words written that day are the same verses we find in our hymnals today.

Her songs have provided inspiration throughout the years. as they still do today. One bishop went to his execution by savages singing her hymn, “Safe in the Arms of Jesus.” There are numerous stories of how the words composed by this blind woman have changed the lives of people over the world.

Truly, an amazing woman was Fanny Crosby. Next time you pick up your hymnal, check out the name above the music on the left-hand side of the page. More than likely, you’ll find such old favorites as “Jesus is Tenderly Calling,” “Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross,” “Rescue the Perishing” and others with the name of Fannie J. Crosby on the page.