Frances Jane (Fanny) Crosby (1820 – 1915)
by Terry Conley
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.
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