Fanny Crosby is easily one of the most recognized, well-loved, and influential hymn writers in history. You've probably sung many of her hymns. "Blessed Assurance," "Praise Him, Praise Him, Jesus Our Blessed Redeemer," "To God Be the Glory," "All the Way My Savior Leads Me," and "Rescue the Perishing" are just a few from her vast repertoire. You may be less familiar with her story and how she found a place in the hearts of those who so joyfully sing her songs.
Frances Jane Crosby was born in 1820 and lost her eyesight in infancy. While most families would be devastated by such a crippling disability, Fanny's family saw the loss as a divine act of providence. Her mother, Mercy Crosby, taught her "that sometimes Providence deprived persons of some physical faculty in order that the spiritual insight might more fully awake[n]."1 The family knew God as their "source of true pleasure and believed that all they had—meager or abundant—came from God's hand."2
Fanny's grandmother challenged her to fight for her education. She spent countless hours reading to young Fanny long selections of literature and poetry and, most frequently, the Bible. As Fanny listened, she memorized whole chapters and long portions of both Old and New Testament writings. As a child she was able to commit the first five books of the Bible to memory in their entirety.
At the age of fifteen, Fanny's prayers for a formal education were answered when she was admitted to the New York Institution for the Blind. It was here, in New York City, where a whole new world of opportunities would open up for her.
A Life of Opportunities
Fanny thrived under the instruction of the acclaimed institution. She was a model pupil and was given countless opportunities to excel in her blossoming giftedness as a poet. A natural at composing verse, she wrote stanzas as a diary for herself, as gifts or letters for friends, for classes, school chapel assemblies, and the institution's large public events and celebrations.
Our Father loves us and wants to use us for the work of His kingdom, despite our limitations.
She quickly developed a reputation among the staff and many visiting celebrities that came to see the famous school, which led to invitations to write and speak for even more prestigious venues. She had the honor of being the first woman to address the Congress of the United States and also was invited to dine several times at the White House. During her lifetime, she rubbed elbows and formed friendships with around twenty Presidents of the United States of America.
Because of Fanny's prolific ability to write poetry and verse, she was introduced to and privileged to work with several very influential composers. Each noted her uncanny ability to hear a melody and quickly match deep and thoughtful lyrics to their tunes. Through these key relationships and the forging of friendships, Fanny found a home with many hymn publishers and a vast audience for her faith-filled lyrics. Over the course of her life she churned out over 8,000 hymns, publishing many under a variety of pen names. Fanny's hymns have stood the test of time and to this day are known, loved, and sung in churches.
Fanny's hymns swelled in popularity because they were relatable. Her faith was simple, honest, and rejoiced in proclaiming the gospel. Her comforting words connect deeply with singers because she wrote from life experience, from the comforting vantage point of biblical truth. She most often wrote songs centered around the themes of salvation, personal devotion to God, service to God, and heaven. Songs like "Safe in the Arms of Jesus" connected with others who were grieving because she was able to put words to the personal pain she and her husband experienced after their baby died, while offering the hope of looking Heavenward. Her words brought comfort to countless hearers.
Fanny's success and popularity as a writer and hymnist never kept her from living a life that reflected the beliefs she so frequently penned. She loved volunteering in homeless shelters around New York City, serving the destitute, praying for the lost, and teaching children's Sunday school. During the cholera outbreak, she risked her own life to tend to the bedsides of the sick and dying. Because of the love and compassion the Lord had shown her, she delighted in showing others His love.
What Can We Learn from Fanny?
Fanny never saw her blindness as a slight from God. Instead, she openly thanked Him for the ways her visual impairment opened doors for her to serve Him in ways she felt she otherwise couldn't have. She hadn't set out to become a prolific hymn writer; she simply wanted an education so she might be "useful." God took her offering and used it for the edification of His church body.
Fanny's ability to think of herself as a capable servant allowed her to excel in the strengths God had given her, never being held back by self-pity. Fanny followed God's lead, humbly stewarded her God-given talents, and walked through each open door of opportunity with joy in her heart. Her life is a true example of walking by faith and not by sight.
How might we serve the Lord more passionately and effectively if we focused on utilizing our gifts, rather than hiding behind our limitations? Whether our hindrances are physical or emotional barriers, real or self-inflicted ones, we must recognize God's sovereignty in our situations and know that we were "created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand" (Eph. 2:10). Our Father loves us and wants to use us for the work of His kingdom, despite our limitations. Like Fanny, we must learn to trust Him and let our lives of worship and service become a sweet echo of her famous lyrics:
This is my story, this is my song
Praising my Savior all the day long.
Want to learn more about Fanny Crosby? If so, we recommend reading Fanny J. Crosby: An Autobiography.
1 Blumhofer, Edith L., Her Heart Can See: The Life and Hymns of Fanny J. Crosby (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2005), 16