Son’s letter to his mother offers comfort

Published 12:05 am Saturday, May 2, 2015

Though you may have never heard of Joseph Scriven, almost everyone has heard the words he wrote in a letter to his mother.

Joseph Scriven was born in 1819 to a prosperous family in Dublin, Ireland, and graduated from Trinity College in Dublin. At age 25, he decided to leave his homeland and migrate to Canada – probably because Scriven and his family were estranged. And, sadly, his fiancé accidentally drowned the night before their wedding. So he went to live in Port Hope, Ontario.

From that time, Scriven’s pattern of living changed. He literally lived by the Sermon on the Mount, giving freely of his limited possessions. It is said he never once refused to help anyone who needed it, even sharing his own clothing.

Someone recalled a man who saw Scriven chopping wood and asked about hiring him. He was told, “You can’t hire that man; he saws wood only for poor widows and sick people who cannot pay.”

Joseph Scriven learned that his mother was seriously ill and he didn’t have the money to travel across the ocean to be with her. So in 1857, he wrote her a letter of comfort, enclosing a poem he titled, “Pray Without Ceasing,” as the Bible says in 1 Thessalonians 5:17.

Later, when Scriven himself was ill, a friend came to visit him. The friend noticed the poem scribbled on scratch paper near Joseph’s bed. Upon reading it, he asked Scriven if he had written the words. “The Lord and I did between us,” was his reply.

Joseph Scriven did not pen his poem for publication. But his poem found its way into a small collection of hymns and other verses published in 1869.

Then, a talented composer named Charles C. Converse eventually set the poem to music. Ira Sankey, a well-known musician, discovered the hymn and it was the last song he added to his hymnal printed in 1875.

Ironically, Joseph Scriven died by accidental drowning in 1886. His words, written more than 150 years ago, not only comforted his mother; but millions, like you and I still find comfort in the song.

“What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear! What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer! O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear, All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer!

“Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere? We should never be discouraged. Take it to the Lord in prayer. Can we find a friend so faithful, who will all our sorrows share? Jesus knows our every weakness. Take it to the Lord in prayer.

“Are we weak and heavy laden, cumbered with the load of care? Precious Jesus, still our refuge, take it to the Lord in prayer. Do thy friends despise, forsake thee? Take it to the Lord in prayer; in His arms He’ll take and shield thee. Thou wilt find a solace there.”


– Jan White is an award-winning columnist. She may be reached at