Her love for Jesus and her commitment to the poor helped her overcome her affliction and has blessed generations – with over 3000 hymns!

by John C. Odean

Yesterday our offertory hymn was the classic hymn “Blessed Assurance” by prolific hymn writer Fanny Crosby. It was so beautifully performed by our choir. I wanted to stand up and shout in jubilation. This has been my favorite hymn, since childhood. I remember distinctly the first time I heard it on the car radio when I was 3 or 4 years old. I even remember the parking lot I was in. When I go out to visit my family and drive by it, I often make a mental note that “that’s the place I first heard my favorite hymn so many years ago.” It’s just one of those imbedded childhood memories. “This is my story, this is my song, praising my savior – all the day long.” As a former pastor, I requested it be sung a few times per year in our services. Its melody and lyrics often move me to tears as I reach way down within and line my heart up with the great truths the song portrays. It is also my favorite “shower time” song – throwing my head back and worshipping Jesus with great abandonment as I scrub myself clean.

There always seems to be a story behind the great hymns of faith that resonate so deeply within us. Such is the case of “Blessed Assurance.”

One day Miss Fanny Crosby was in the home of  her friend, Mrs. Joseph F. Knapp. In the Knapp home was installed what was believed to be the largest pipe organ ever placed in a private dwelling. However, all the “nuts and bolts'” had not been added yet to the organ so Mrs. Knapp called Fanny over to the piano to listen to a new melody she had just composed. After playing the tune a few times she asked, “What do you think the tune says?”

“Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine,” answered Fanny, drawing from her phenomenal mental storage of scripture knowledge. She then continued: “Oh what a foretaste of glory divine, Heir of salvation, purchase of God, Born of His Spirit , washed in His blood.” (Written in 1873 “Blessed Assurance” still remains a favorite among Christians everywhere….)

Fanny knew all about “Blessed Assurance”…from six weeks of age until her death shortly before her 95th birthday… Fanny was blind. Sadly the blindness was caused by a medical error when a doctor put mustard poultice on her inflamed eyes from a cold infection… resulting in immediate blindness.

Her widowed mother and grandmother even took her to the famous New York surgeon, Dr. Valentine Mott, but it was too late…the damage was permanent. He was heard to lament as they left the examining room, “Poor little blind girl.” However, Fanny never saw her affliction as anything but a blessing. When she was eight years old she wrote this simple little verse:

Oh, what a happy child I am
Although I cannot see
I am resolved that in this world
Contented I will be.

Further, knowing she was blind gives me a tremendous appreciation for the 2nd and 3rd verses that have to do with sight:

Perfect submission, perfect delight, Visions of rapture, now burst on my sight,
Angels descending, bring from above, Echoes of mercy whispers of love.

Perfect submission, all is at rest, I in my Savior am happy and blest, 
Watching and waiting, looking above, Filled with His goodness, lost in His love.

Once a preacher sympathetically remarked, “I think it is a great pity that the Master did not give you sight when He showered so many other gifts upon you.” She replied quickly, “Do you know that if at birth I had been able to make one petition, it would have been that I should be born blind?” “Why?” asked the surprised minister. “Because when I get to heaven, the first face that shall ever gladden my sight will be that of my Savior!” 

I’ve included a video of the history of Fanny Crosby, which tells of her great work with the poor of her city, and just to mix it up a bit, I’ve added another rendition of Blessed Assurance by CeCe Winans as she pays tribute to the recently late Cicely Tyson at the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors Ceremony. Enjoy!

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