Monday, July 7, 2008

The Most Beautiful Love Story Everyone Should Know

Yesterday my world changed by a love story I never knew before. It is one of those warm and deeply moving ones that you happen upon in once in a life time. Yet you do not know the whole story as you stare at the simple plaques on the ground.

My mom and I, together with Alida stood at the remote and hidden graveside of Joseph Scriven – the author of the well known hymn, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”.

We started our journey with a ride and picnic in the country – far away from everyone and everything. Our journey took us around the north and then east end of Rice Lake, which is between Peterborough and Lake Ontario. Then we proceeded along the south side of Rice Lake until we arrived at Bewdley, a small tourist town filed with fisherman and fishing derbies.

It was there that we saw the first interesting monument to Joseph Scriven. (I had stopped at the general store to ask if anyone knew any more about the man Joseph Sciven. The young Chinese man behind the counter pointed me to a road where we found the monument…but he was busy selling some vegetables to fishermen…)

We completed our journey around the Rice Lake on the west end then headed North to Peterborough.

After reading the words on Bewdley’s Scriven monument and on a whim, I turned right down a simple, gravel country road… part way we turned left again… the right at the next road just falling a whim… until this road petered out and we could do nothing but turn left again – heading north. The road is remote and only traveled by cottagers that enjoy the north side of Rice Lake.

There on the right in a very unassuming spot is a large blue and gold, official Ontario – Archeological and Historical Sited of Ontario sign with the short story of Joseph Scriven being the author of the hymn…and teacher of the Pengelley Family. Nothing more…except a simple little path way was to the left of the sign…with a small white gate at the end.

We began to walk to our discovery….

But in order to understand you should read of Joseph Scriven… first.

From Christianity Today article(July/August 2004)
More than a century ago, on the streets of Port Hope, Ontario, a man could be seen walking along carrying a saw and a sawhorse. One day a rich man from across the street saw him and said to a friend, "He looks like a sober man. I think I'll hire him to cut wood for me." "That's Joseph Scriven," the friend replied. "He wouldn't cut wood for you. He only cuts wood for those who don't have enough to pay." And that sums up the philosophy of Joseph Medlicott Scriven, a devoted member of the Plymouth Brethren Church, who took the Sermon on the Mount literally.

Scriven was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1819. He fell for a lovely young woman, but on the eve of their wedding she accidentally drowned.

Scriven never recovered from the shock. The Irishman began to wander, hoping to forget his sorrow. At age 25, he finally settled in Canada.

His faith led him to do menial tasks for poor widows and the sick. He often worked for no wages and was regarded by the people of the community as a kind man, albeit a bit odd.

He later fell in love again and planned to marry a wonderful Canadian woman. But again, tragedy struck. His fiance died after contracting pneumonia.

In 1855, a friend visited an ill Scriven and discovered a poem that he had written for his ailing mother in faraway Ireland. Scriven didn't have the money to visit her, but he sent her the poem as an encouragement. He called it "Pray Without Ceasing." When the friend inquired about the poem's origins, Scriven reportedly answered, "The Lord and I did it between us."

Scriven never intended for the poem to be published, but it made its rounds, and was set to music in 1868 by musician Charles Converse, who titled it "What a Friend We Have in Jesus." It has since become one of our greatest hymns.

Scriven died in 1886 (ironically, in an accidental drowning). He was 67 years old.

From Wikipedia…
Joseph Scriven was born at Dublin, Ireland. He graduated from Trinity College, Dublin and embraced the teachings of the Plymouth Brethren. He was known to be eccentric but was a born philanthropist and devoutly religious; he gave freely of what money he had, even his own clothing and his services to all poorer than himself who needed them. He died at Port Hope.
His fiancée drowned in 1845, the night before they were to be married. The grief-stricken young man moved to Canada. There he again fell in love, was due to be married and the young woman suddenly fell ill and died. He then devoted the rest of his life to helping others. After spending the evening with others, he disappeared one night and his body was found in the water nearby.
He wrote a poem to comfort his mother called "Pray Without Ceasing". It was later set to music and renamed by Charles C. Converse, becoming the hymn "What a Friend We Have in Jesus".

Now for the rest of the story that few know…
We walked to the white garden gate and could then plainly see that it was entrance to a small graveyard. The grass had been trimmed neatly. The rustic stone fence that surrounds it has very old cedar root fence topping that. There in the back right corner, tipping slightly to the north is a tall monument with the name “Scriven” inscribed on it. This is where he is buried. The authour of a hymn that comforts so many at almost every funeral for over 100 years.

The actual graveyard is for the Pengelley Family with a number of their grave stones standing around the yard. The love that the Pengelley Family had for their teacher is in front of you so plainly – he is one of them.

All around the tall monument the inscription of three verses of his famous Poem/Hymn is included. It is very moving to read it the words at that point. I wanted to cry…

But the best part was just to the front and literally under my feet. There with the grass growing over it… are two simple, flat stones with more inscriptions on them. In the middle directly in front of the tall monument is the first one… that simply states, “Joseph Scriven”. Then the most powerful one to the right that simply states, “Scriven’s Sweetheart”…no name…only that.

Then tears came to my eyes… the second girl he fell in love with while in his early life in Canada…and had died also before they married… had been move moved by someone that remembered how much he had loved her… they were together after all these years.

I want to cry now…

This simple story is quietly hidden in the forgotten back woods of Ontario – far, far away from 2008’s bustle.

Am I ever glad we found her with him.

The slightly sad part of the mystery is… Scriven’s Sweetheart has no name… for us to know…but she may well be one of the reasons he wrote this great poem/hymn.

~ Murray Lincoln ~

What A Friend We Have In Jesus
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?
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 very 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.



MistiPearl said...

How beautiful...Thank you for sharing that story!
...Love so sweet...

Scott said...

Thank you, not only for the background sketches, but especially your personal investigation and pictures! Scriven has always been an interesting and inspiring brother in the Lord, whose "practical Christianity" shames most of us who claim the name of Christ!

Anonymous said...

Hi Dad
For more info, call Rev. John Sloan who is writing a book about Joseph Scriven. He'll talk your ear off, not just about Scriven, but also about why the bretheren church has ignored him during his life and since his death.

Joe Head said...

Regarding the name of Joseph Scriven's "sweetheart," a Port Hope history website [] identifies her as ELIZA CATHERINE ROCHE, the fading initials on the upright stone being E. C. R.

Joe Head
Marion, NC

Thank you for your story and photos. It has likewise been inspiring for me to visit the graves of my favorite hymnwriters.