Oh What Peace We Often Forfeit (The Tragedy of the Beloved Hymn)

Joseph Scriven grew up on the Emerald Isle that is Ireland, having been born there in 1820. When he was 20 years of age, he was engaged to be married to a young lady. Sadly, the night before their wedding his fiancée drowned. Scriven was absolutely heart-broken and soon made plans to leave everything behind and set sail to Canada–Port Hope, Ontario. Such an appropriate name for one who lost much and gave everything up. While there, Scriven began to work among the poor and the widows–chopping wood and doing odd jobs that needed to be done. He even preached on occasion.

Some time later, he received word from back home. His mother was going through a very difficult time; a time of extreme heartache. Though he could not be with her, he knew One who was. In response to the letter he received, Joseph Scriven penned a poem to his mother. She was both comforted and impressed with the poem and handed it a friend of hers stating an anonymous authorship. Soon one thing led to another, and it became one of the most famous hymns in history.

Not too long after that, Scriven found love again. And once again, he was engaged to be married. However, this engagement would also end tragically; his soon-to-be wife came down with tuberculosis and died before they could marry. Heart-broken, the unknown poet threw himself into his work among the poor and needy and preaching of God’s Word. At the age of 66, Scriven became ill and in a delirium wandered outside, and having fallen into a creek, he drowned. A couple of years before his death, Joseph Scriven admitted to a friend that it was he who composed the poem that became a hymn.

My favorite line, but most indicting line for me as well, is that which say “Oh, what peace we often forfeit, oh what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.” Tim Keller wrote in his book, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, “Prayer is the way to sense and appropriate this access and fatherly love, and to experience the calm and strength in one’s life that results from such assurance of being cared for,” (New York: Penguin Books, 2014; p. 70).  He is right; there is no other way on earth that we can experience such calm, strength, assurance, or as Scriven wrote: peace.

What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
Oh, 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 a load of care?
Precious Savior, 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.

Blessed Savior, Thou hast promised
Thou wilt all our burdens bear;
May we ever, Lord, be bringing
All to Thee in earnest prayer.
Soon in glory bright, unclouded,
There will be no need for prayer—
Rapture, praise, and endless worship
Will be our sweet portion there.

(Public Domain)

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