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Biography Archives ~ Aletheia Baptist Ministries Skip to main content

Frances Jane (Fanny) Crosby (1820 – 1915

Frances Jane (Fanny) Crosby (1820 – 1915)

by Terry Conley

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This hymn has an interesting history of its travels.  To God Be the Glory was written in the United States some time before 1873 but it had not become popular.  Fanny Crosby does not mention it in any of her writings, nor does William H. Doane, the composer of the tune.  Apparently, it first became popular when Moody and Sankey took the song to the British Isles in the 1873 for their campaigns.  The song became very popular there but remained virtually unknown in America.  Many years passed but in 1954 it was “rediscovered” in England when a local Pastor suggested it to Cliff Barrows who was putting together a song book for Billy Graham’s first London Crusade.  Barrows liked the strong words and he agreed.  It became the theme hymn and was sung nearly every night of the London Crusade.  On the team’s return to America, the hymn was reintroduced to the nation where it had been born during the August 1955, Nashville Crusade.

This is a wonderful, joyous song of praise.  The theme and abundant source of all that God has done and will yet do for us as fallen human beings is made possible by the saving work of His Son. That is the central theme of Fanny Crosby’s song.  She exalts the Lord because the multiplied blessings of salvation are “through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever.” (Heb. 13:21)  To God be glory, the Greek word ‘doxa’, has to do with the revelation of God’s distinctive excellence and praising Him for these things.  All that God is and does, and all He has created, reflect glory to Him.  Some of the verses Fanny used as the foundation thought include, but not limited to the following.  Romans 11:36: “For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things: to whom be glory forever.”  The infinite wisdom God has shown, and will forever demonstrate, in doing things as He has, is also forever glorious.  Jude wrote in verse 25: “To the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever.”  To God belongs eternal glory for His preservation of the saints, and for their coming exaltation. As the Apostle Paul was led to write, “And The Lord shall deliver me from every evil work and will preserve me unto His heavenly kingdom: to whom Him be glory forever and ever.  Amen.” (II Timothy 4:18)  And our worship doesn’t stop at death.  John wrote in Revelation 1:6, And hath (v. 5: Jesus Christ) made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.”  And in eternity we’ll praise Him because He “has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (Revelation 1:6)

Fanny was born in Putnam County, New York in 1820.  Hers was not to be an easy, early life.  She became ill shortly after birth.  She was misdiagnosed and the prescribed treatment was ill-conceived by a man purporting himself to be medically trained.  He recommended hot mustard poultices on her eyes.  Her illness eventually became better, but the treatment left her blind.  When the doctor was revealed to be a quack, he disappeared.  A few months later, Fanny’s father died, and her mother was forced to find work as a maid to support the family.  Fanny was mostly raised by her Christian grandmother, apparently the one who provided the early grounding in her education of the Bible.   Shortly before her fifteenth birthday, Fanny’s mother was able to enroll her in the recently founded New York Institute for the Blind.  That would be her home for 23 years, 12 as a student and 11 as a teacher.  It was there that she also met her future husband, Alexander Van Alstine who was an accomplished organist and a member of the Institute, as well as a former pupil.  They were married in 1858.

Her love of poetry began early.  Her first verse, written at age 8, echoed her lifelong refusal to feel sorry for herself: “Oh, what a happy soul I am, Although I cannot see!  I am resolved that in this world Contented I will be.  How many blessings I enjoy That other people don’t, To weep and sigh because I’m blind I cannot, and I won’t!”

While she enjoyed her poetry, she always read and memorized the Bible.  She would memorize five chapters a week.  Even as a child she could recite the Pentateuch, the Gospels, Proverbs, the Song of Solomon, and many Psalms, chapter and verse.  Of course, this would lead her in the direction of her life’s work.

By age 23, Fanny was addressing Congress and making friendships with presidents. In fact, she knew all the chief executives of her lifetime, especially Grover Cleveland, who served as secretary for the Institute for the Blind before his election.

She was under contract to submit three hymns a week to her publisher and often wrote six or seven a day (for a dollar or two each), many became incredibly popular.  When Dwight Moody and Ira Sankey began to use them in their crusades, they received even more attention. Among them are “Blessed Assurance,” “All the Way My Savior Leads Me,” “To God Be the Glory,” “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior,” “Rescue the Perishing,” and “Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross.”  Her favorite type songs were simple, sentimental verses that could be used for evangelism. She continued to write her poetry up to her death, a month shy of her ninety-fifth birthday.  Her desk held what was the beginning of the last song she was working on.  The lyrics showed that she was still thinking and writing about heaven: “You will reach the river brink, some sweet day, bye and bye.”

The most of Fanny’s published hymns have appeared under the name of Fanny J. Crosby or Mrs. Van Alstyne, but quite a large number have appeared under the nom de plumes of Grace J. Frances, Mrs. C. M. Wilson, Lizzie Edwards, Ella Dale, Henrietta E. Blair, Rose Atherton, Maud Marion, Leah Carlton, nearly two hundred different names.  She once said that she used those names so her name did not appear more often than the better writers.

Source:

Biography of Gospel Song and Hymn Writers; J. H. Hall; Fleming H. Revell Company; 1914

Crusader Hymns and Hymn Stories; Cliff Barrows; Hope Publishing Company; 1967

Holy Bible, King James Version, Scofield Reference Bible; Oxford Press; 1996

Music in Evangelism, ; Phil Kerr; Zondervan Publishing House; 1962

The Romance of Women Hymn Writers; F. W. Pitt; Fundamental Truth Publishers

 

John Rippon (1751 – 1836)

John Rippon (1751 – 1836)

by Terry Conley

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Mysteries remain regarding the origin of this wonderful hymn and its tune.  The hymn first appeared in Rippon’s most famous work, A Selection of Hymns from the Best Authors, Intended as an Appendix to Dr. Watts, published in 1787 under the title, Exceedingly Great and Precious Promises.  It was eventually published 27 times.  In early editions the words were accompanied by the letters “K.” or “Kn.”  We do know that Robert Keene was the song leader or precentor in Pastor Rippon’s church. He may, or may not, have supplied the text for this hymn.  The origin of the tune is also obscure.  It comes from A Compilation of Genuine Church Music, published by Joseph Funk in 1832.

In spite of the uncertainty about its origin, this remains one of the greatest hymns in the English language. Almost every line is a quotation of, or allusion to, some text in the Word of God.  Each stanza but the first is a poetic quotation of Scripture giving assurance to the believer.  The first poses the question and is answered in the following verses.  It’s unfortunate that most hymn books limit themselves to using only three or four stanzas.  All are worthy to be included and each adds to the thought.

The modern trend is to shorten our hymns. Sometimes the words of only a verse or two are projected on the wall sometimes with the refrain.  Seven stanzas must seem like far too much work!  But there is an irony to this, since some of the contemporary choruses are sung over and over again, repetitiously.  We should want to hear the entire thought that was laid on the writer’s heart.  By omitting parts of our better hymns, we definitely miss a blessing.

The opening stanza of our hymn reminds us that the Scriptures are trustworthy, and a firm foundation on which to stand. It asks the question: What more can He say than to you He hath said?  The following verses supply the Scripture to support that statement.  When the Bible speaks of the household of God being “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Eph. 2:20), it means that our foundation is the Word of God revealed through them (cf. vs. 5). And since the Lord Jesus is central to that revelation, it’s equally true to say that He Himself is our foundation (I Cor. 3:1).

John Rippon (29 April 1751 – 17 December 1836) was an English Baptist minister.  He was born at Tiverton, Devon, England.  In 1768, at about age 17, he enrolled in and was educated for the ministry at the Baptist College, Bristol.  More than 250 years later (2020), this school is still in existence and educating students.  In 1773, Rippon became Pastor of the Baptist church in Carters Lane and he continued to preach and care for the congregation until his death on December 17,1836.  Pastor Rippon was one of the most popular and influential Dissenting Ministers of his time.  From 1790 to 1802 he issued the Baptist Annual Register, a periodical containing an account of the most important events in the history of the Baptist Denomination in Great Britain and America during that period.  He published another hymnal, Selection of Hymns for Public Worship, in 1787.  In the 1791 edition, and on-going, the names of tunes were prefixed to the hymns which began to establish some consistency in the hymn singing.

After the death of John Gill, he assumed Gill’s pastorate at the Baptist Meeting House in Carter Lane, Tooley Street, Southwark, from 1773 at the age of 20 until his death in 1836.  During these times, the church experienced great growth and became one of the largest congregations in the country. The congregation moved to New Park Street from Carter Lane in 1833. The New Park Street Chapel could seat 1,200 people. Rippon’s church was later pastored by Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  It was under his leadership that the church moved to its current location as Metropolitan Baptist Church in London at Elephant and Castle.  Rippon’s Selection of Hymns was used by the congregation until 1866 when Spurgeon produced an update called Our Own Hymn Book which borrowed much from Rippon and Watts.  Rippon was buried in London’s Dissenter Cemetery, Bunhill Fields, London.

was sung at the funerals of Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.  It was the favorite hymn of Rachel Jackson, wife of President Andrew Jackson, and on his deathbed the warrior and statesman called for it.  It was also sung at the funeral of General Robert E. Lee.

Source:

A Dictionary if Hymnology; John Julian; Dover Publications, 1907, New York

Baptist Hymn Writers and Their Hymns; Henry S. Burrage, D.D.; Brown, Thurston & Co. 1888, Portland, ME

The Story of Hymns and Tunes; Theron Brown & Hezekiah Butterworth; American Tract Society, 1906, Boston, MA

 

 

Frances Ridley Havergal (1836 – 1879)

Frances Ridley Havergal (1836 – 1879)

by Terry Conley

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Frances Ridley Havergal, daughter of the Rev. W. H. Havergal, was born at Astley, Worcestershire, England, December 14, 1836.  Her father, Rev. W. H. Havergal, was a vicar and a hymn writer. The name Ridley came from her Godfather, W. H. Ridley, Rector of Hambleden, who was descended from Bishop Ridley, the martyr.  She was nicknamed “Little Quicksilver,” because she was bright, quick, and clever.  She possessed gifted intelligence and was reading at age three.  Her mother, Jane, died when she was 11 years old and she was sent to various boarding schools.   Intelligent and educated, her life was characterized by a deep, earnest consecration to Jesus.  In August 1850, she entered Mrs. Teed’s school.  In the following year her diary says, ” I committed my soul to the Savior, and earth and heaven seemed brighter from that moment.”  She was confirmed in Worcester Cathedral, July 17,1853.  She died at Caswall Bay, Swansea, June 3,1879, at the age of 43 years.  Her epitaph, as she requested, reads “The blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin”.

Frances’ scholastic achievements were many including several modern languages together with Greek and Hebrew.  She did not claim to be an achieved writer or poet but allowed God to use her distinct individuality to serve her God and Savior.  Simply and sweetly she wrote of the love of God and His way of salvation.  She dedicated her whole life to this end.  Her writings are permeated with her passionate love of Jesus.  The burden of her writings is a free and full salvation, through the Redeemer’s merits, for every sinner who will receive it.  Her life was devoted to the proclamation of this truth by personal labors and her writing.

She wrote many devotional books and hundreds of hymns and poems.  Her religious views are clearly stated in her poems with the main emphasis being a free and full salvation offered through the Savior for every sinner who will receive it.  Favorite hymns of hers include Who is on the Lord’s Side, Lord Speak to me, and Take My Life and Let It Be.  One of Miss Havergal’s best known hymns was written shortly before her death in 1879.  In one of her last letters to a friend who was struggling with life’s issues, she quoted from Romans 5:1 – “We have peace with God” and went on to say it was perfect peace.  Frances was still struggling in her personal life with the results of an earlier bout with typhoid fever.  It was during this time of distress that she felt that the Lord gave her the thoughts that were eventually written as the hymn Like A River Glorious.  She noted that she was burdened by the fact that she could not do all she desired for her God and Savior but that she felt God’s love and power sweep over her while she prayed for those around her.  She wrote: “Like a river glorious is God’s perfect peace, over all victorious in its bright increase.  Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blest, finding, as He promised, perfect peace and rest.”

References:

A Dictionary of Hymnology; John Julian; Dover Publications, 1907, New York

The Hymns & Hymn Writers of the Church Hymnary; John Brownlie, D.D.; Henry Frowde, Publisher OUP, 1911; London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, New York, Toronto and Melbourne

The Romance of Women Hymn Writers; F. W. Pitt; Fundamental Truth Publishers, Findlay, Ohio

 

The Daring Mission of William Tyndale

The Daring Mission of William Tyndale

by Rick Shrader

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This is a 2015 biography from Reformation Trust Publishing. Lawson is the series editor which includes biographies about John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, John Knox, Charles Spurgeon, Martin Luther, Isaac Watts, George Whitefield, and John Owen. This book falls into three parts: Chapter 1 gives a biography of Tyndale’s life, work, and death. Then Lawson departs from the chronology to give a defense of the five points of Calvinism (chapter 2) and how Tyndale defended each. Then, chapters 3-7 come back to the story and fill in the gaps of Tyndale’s translation work, his constant moving to keep from being captured, the details of his translation method, and then finally his capture and martyrdom. John Foxe called Tyndale, “the apostle of England . . . The most remarkable figure among the first generation of English Protestants.” Tyndale graduated from King’s College, Cambridge only a few years after Luther posted his 95 theses in 1517. Determined to see his English people have a Bible they could read, he vowed, “if God spared him life, ere many years he would cause a boy that drives the plough to know more of the Scripture than he does.” History records that William Tyndale was more responsible than any man in giving us an English Bible. Having fled to the mainland of Europe, Tyndale moved about translating and printing various parts of the Bible as he translated them. These were covertly shipped to England where they were bought up faster than they could be shipped. Tyndale was finally betrayed by a spy and sent to burn at the stake in 1536. His last words were, “Lord, open the king of England’s eyes.” Lawson writes, “Less than a year after Tyndale’s death, Thomas Cranmer, who had become the archbishop of Canterbury, and Oliver Cromwell persuaded Henry VIII to approve the publication of an official English Bible. When King Henry saw the Coverdale Bible, he emphatically proclaimed, ‘if there be no heresies in it, then let it be spread abroad among all the people.’” The Coverdale Bible (first printed in 1535) was actually Tyndale’s translation compiled by Miles Coverdale, Tyndale’s protégé. In addition, another student, John Rogers published his English Bible under the pseudo-name The Matthew Bible in 1537. In 1539 Coverdale issued a revised version called the Great Bible (due to its size) which was approved by the King and commanded to be chained to every Anglican pulpit. Even the King James Bible of 1611 continued the tradition begun by Tyndale and his desire to see the English Bible in the hands of the English people.

 

 

Alvah Hovey

Alvah Hovey

by Rick Shrader

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Alvah Hovey (1820-1903) was the long-time professor then President of Newton Theological Institution in Newton, Massachusetts from 1849 to 1899. Hovey was from a Puritan family of farmers whose father was an influential and deeply religious man. Alvah took an early interest in Biblical, historical, and theological matters at an early age. He mastered several languages, reading the Bible more often in Hebrew or Greek than English, and became fluent in German after spending a sabbatical in Europe and taking a profound interest in the language of the German schools. In America Hovey became a leader in the American Baptist movement, the Newton school being originally founded by the American Baptist Churches, USA in 1825. Hovey is best known for being the editor of the American Commentary on the New Testament which appeared in 1885, Hovey writing the volume on John and John Broadus writing the volume on Matthew. Hovey also wrote a theology called Outlines in Christian Theology which first appeared in 1861.

Hovey was one of those rugged theologians who came out of the 1800s and profoundly affected Baptist education and ministry, often rubbing shoulders with men such as John Broadus, A.T. Robertson, A.H. Strong, and others. Hovey lived at a time of theological upheaval. The new liberalism was quickly affecting American schools. At the 75th anniversary of Newton, in 1900, he included these words,

“If anyone is curious to know the conscious attitude of Newton toward the newer learning, I should like to describe it as one of sincere but self-respecting hospitality, as one that recognizes change and progress toward the best in all things human as possible. . . Time was when many scholars were in danger of being inhospitable to new truth, but now some at least are in danger of being unjust to old truth. . . Newton, if I know her creed, now believes and has always believed, that change of faith or of method is not in every case progress. For death is change, as well as birth, degeneration as well as improvement. Her motto has been ‘Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.’” (208)

My favorite paragraph in the book, however, was written by A.N. Arnold of Madison (Colgate) University, after he read Hovey’s writing on divorce,

“I have today received and read your Essay on the Scriptural Law of Divorce. Accept my very sincere thanks for it. I expected to find you agreeing with me in the interpretation of the seventh chapter of the first letter to the Corinthians; but I have reason to congratulate myself that I was disappointed. For had you agreed with me, I should only have gained a confirmation of my belief, whereas I believe I have gained a correction of it. So while you have the best of the argument, I have the best of the bargain. For it is a favorite maxim with me that in every rightly conducted argument the vanquished party is the gainer. On the one side is a barren victory; on the other a fruitful defeat. You see I know how to console myself and to keep you from being puffed up.” (96)

 

 

Isaac Backus

Isaac Backus

by Debra Conley

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Long ago, my husband Terry purchased a little known book, Pilgrims in Their Own Land by Martin Marty. I daresay that many of the saints profiled in the book are little known, yet their impact was great. One descendant of the Mayflower passenger Josiah Winslow broke new ground with other religious separatists in forming the Baptist movement in the colonies.

Isaac Backus was called to preach in the late 1740’s during what was commonly referred to as The Great Awakening, spurred by Jonathan Edwards. Backus had grown up in the Congregationalist church, but as he learned more about his own beliefs, he chose to form a church of separatists. One of his primary reasons for this was his belief that no church ought to be the “official church” of any community or state. The General assembly of Connecticut tried to fine Backus for not paying taxes to the official church, at that time a mix of Puritan and Congregational religions. Backus argued that he was exempt from government interference with religion and won his case. He then moved his group of dissenters to Massachusetts.

It was also during this time of argument with the official church that Backus came to the conclusion that the Baptists held the correct perspective on baptism, that it is a command for the believer, not an act that makes one such. Backus became instrumental in the spread of the Baptist congregations of New England. He was outspoken against any state established religion or practice that even hinted at one. His views on separation are attributed in part to the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution.

He took a firm stand with the colonies’ separation from England following the battles of Lexington and Concord. His support of the war was based on the principle of religious independence and separation of churches.   Backus was too old to serve in the army when the Revolution broke out, but he immediately volunteered as a Chaplain to the troops and according to history, was among many Baptist ministers who faithfully prayed with the troops, preached to them daily, converting many who thought they had to belong to a church in order to receive real salvation. The book hails Backus as the “most influential and outspoken figure in the long battle for religious freedom in Massachusetts.”

 

Robert Charles Winthrop

Robert Charles Winthrop

by Debra Conley

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It is often the case that a prominent man whose great respect for the Word of God is praised for his avenue of prominence but not for his affinity in the Word. In fact, adherence to the Word is seen by the world as a character weakness. Such is the case with some of our early politicians and public servants. Robert Charles Winthrop, a contemporary and close associate of Daniel Webster, was a seventh generation founder in the family line of John Winthrop, Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Upon completion of his term as Speaker of the House of Representatives, and speaking to the Massachusetts Bible Society, Winthrop noted the two distinct philosophies he had observed within that political body he served:

“Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled either by a power within them or by a power without them; either by the Word of God or by the strong arm of men; either by the Bible or the bayonet.”

The notable success of Winthrop is not his political service, which ended bitterly when forces opposing his positions gathered a political army to end his career, but it is the continued faithfulness to the Word he so strongly lived by. For thirty years serving as a founder in the Bible Society, he taught that the principles of the Bible are the necessary tools for a truly free society, that man cannot govern without them, nor can he ignore them and escape calamity. While his ancestor Governor Winthrop was probably too legalistic in the Puritan stronghold of the Bay Colony, he was still a firm proponent of biblical law to hold his colony together. For over 200 years, the family had consistently held the Word of God as the final authority for all matters, especially governing society. Both Winthrops saw the merit of a nation whose God is the Lord. So when Robert Winthrop was drummed out of the Congress by the opposition, he picked up the mantle and carried on, spreading the Word as a lay preacher until his death in 1894.