ccc logo


Fanny J. Crosby

Hymn: "To God Be the Glory"

To God be the glory, great things He has done;
So loved He the world that He gave us His Son,
Who yielded His life an atonement for sin,
And opened the life gate that all may go in.
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,
Let the earth hear His voice!
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,
Let the people rejoice!
O come to the Father, through Jesus the Son,
And give Him the glory, great things He has done."

Fanny J. Crosby

Fanny Crosby's legacy lives on through her many songs, 8000 according to her own recollection. Many of her hymns still, after almost a century, are remembered and sung weekly in services around the world. They shook the spirits of thousands of worshipers in great evangelistic meetings of such men as D. L. Moody to Billy Graham and were even intermingled with the awesome worship music that came out of the last three revivals (Toronto Blessing, Brownsville Revival, Smithton Outpouring). In all her songs there is an innocence and intimacy that pulls you deeper into communion with the Lord during worship. Two hymns, "Safe in the Arms of Jesus" and "Saved by Grace", have been documented with thousands of conversions on hearing them the very first time. Not all her songs survive today, many have passed into oblivion but when you write as many hymns as she did, publishers would be hesitant to print a hymnal with one author. So Woodman Bradbury supplies us with the answer to that problem:

"She (Fanny) recognized the fact that so large an output would lower the value of her name; and her eight thousand hymns have appeared under a hundred or so different pseudonyms! If the reader comes across the names of Rose Atherton, Florence Booth, Ella Dale, Frances Hope, Ruth Harmon, Victoria Frances, let him pay mental homage to Fanny Crosby; and he will be surprised to learn that the same homage is due when he sees the names of James Apple, James Black, Rian J. Sterling, W. Robert Lindsay and others...The theology of her hymns is uniformly Evangelical. The author believes humanity to be sinful and in need of salvation; and she magnifies the love of God, the grace of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit...her songs form an appropriate atmosphere for evangelistic preaching: they produce conviction of sin and conversion."

In her own words Fanny calls herself "a worshiping soul" and her hymns are "the incense." Fanny's talent was an inspiration from God. She never wrote out her hymns but totally completed each one in her mind and then dictated it to a secretary. It is said that she could thus compose a dozen or more hymns and carry them around in her head days at a time before finally committing them to paper complete with verse and music. With as many as two hundred different pen names over one million copies of her music were printed. An amazing feat for someone but especially for her, you see, Fanny Crosby was blind. Blind all of her life is it any wonder that, Fanny Crosby, the greatest hymn writer in the history of the Christian Church would one day write in song, "And I shall see Him face to face, and tell the story---saved by grace."

Frances Jane "Fanny" Crosby was born in a town called Southeast, Putnam County, New York, on March 24, 1820. She would never remember her father who died before she was a year old her mother lived to be 91. When Fanny was six weeks old, she caught a slight cold in her eyes. The regular family physician was out of town so her father asked another country doctor to treat her. He prescribed hot mustard poultices to be applied to her eyes, which destroyed her sight completely! An outcry arose against the ill-educated doctor and before he could be prosecuted he fled town never to be heard of again. Fanny, always noted for her happy and cheerful disposition never harbored any resentment for the doctor but believed it was a plan of the Lord for her life. When she was in her eighties she recalled her feelings for the poor doctor:

"...I have not, for a moment, in more than eighty-five years, felt a spark of resentment against him; for I always believed that the good Lord, In His infinite mercy, by this means consecrated me to the work that I am still permitted to do. When I remember how I have been blessed, how can I complain?" Blindness cannot keep the sunlight of hope from the trustful soul. One of the easiest resolves that I formed in my...heart was to leave all care to yesterday, and to believe that the morning would bring forth its own peculiar joy."

One day a preacher sadly 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." Fanny quickly replied, "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!"

When Fanny was five years old, neighbors and friends raised money to send her to the best eye specialist in the country, Dr. Valentine Mott. After an examination the doctor sadly said, "Poor child, I am afraid you will never see again." While her mother took the news with sorrow it never once bothered young Fanny. At the age of eight she wrote her first recorded poetry:

"O 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 her mother was busy making a living for the family, Fanny was influenced most by her grandmother, who spent many hours describing the things of nature and heaven to her. At night her grandmother would call Fanny to her rocking chair and the two would kneel in prayer together for hours. Fanny, through her grandmother, acquired a thorough knowledge of the bible, studying and learning by heart four or five chapters a week. Before long she could repeat from memory the first four books of the old testament, Ruth, most of the Psalms, the Book of Proverbs, Song of Solomon and the four Gospels. It was through this knowledge of the Scriptures that she would develop the themes and inspiration of her many hymns.

At the age of fifteen one of Fanny's dreams came true she was admitted to the New York Institute for the Blind. So on March 3, 1835 she left for New York City and stayed at the school for the next 23 years. Twelve years as a student and eleven as a teacher. From her early childhood Fanny had felt the urge to write poetry, now here, at the institution, her abilities began to assert themselves with renewed force. She received little encouragement from her teachers but visitors gave her all she needed. The school was world famous and the upper crust of society was always touring the school. The famous poet William Cullen Bryant visited the school one day and gave Fanny much encouragement, after chancing to read some of her verses. She said afterwards, "He never knew how much he did for me by those few words." Then one day, Dr. Combe of Boston came to examine the heads of the blind students. As he felt Fanny's head, he exclaimed, "And here is a poetess. Give her every possible encouragement. Read the best books to her and teach her the finest that is in poetry. You will hear from this young lady some day." This was the pat on the back that she needed. Poetry began to flow from her heart and mind in abundance. It wasn't long before her work was becoming well known.

An unpleasant episode of her life happened about this time. There was a cholera outbreak in New York City. The epidemic spread throughout the city, and the cry of "Bring out your dead" could be heard nightly. Many of the blind caught the infection and died. Fanny herself had the initial symptoms one afternoon. Bravely she kept the news to herself, took the medicine, practiced the precautions and committed herself to God in prayer. When she woke the next morning, she was perfectly well.

In the autumn of 1843, she was a representative of the Institute before the Congress of the United States in hopes of receiving an appropriation to continue its work. Fanny, although blind, said she could fell the stern stares of these men of politics as she took the podium. She paid tribute to Congress in an original verse she wrote then began paying tribute to the Lord. Words such as these had never before been spoken within these walls of this "Hall of Meeting." As one visitor recalls:

"She delivered no stirring oration, nor pathetic story but simply recited her original poems about the tender care of a loving Savior. She spoke with conviction, as though she had seen the Savior face to face."
Those present at the notable assembly that day were names that are forever etched in American history such as; John Quincy Adams, Thomas E. Benton ( of whom Calhoun County was originally named), Hamilton Fish, Henry A. Wise, Alexander Stevens, Jefferson Davis and Robert Toombs. As Fanny spoke a silence fell upon the attendees and the presence of the Lord filled the room. Before long sobs could be heard coming from these renowned men and tears were glistening on their cheeks as her message brought a healing to many of their souls. Of course, the appropriation was obtained.

Fanny was thrust into the lime-light almost overnight. Throughout her life she made friends with many of the great political and religious leaders of her time and every one of them remarked that once you met her you could not forget her. President Martin Van Buren dined with her many times and remained one of her closest friends. She would always talk about the virtues of another friend President William Henry Harrison, unfortunately he served but one month. When President Tyler came to visit the Institute, Fanny welcomed him with an original poem. Her friendship with President Polk was close and inspiring. She also enjoyed a close friendship with President Cleveland for more than half a century, for at one time he was the secretary of the Institute while she was teaching there. She had a close friendship with the great statesman Henry Clay and numerous times they could be seen weeping together as she shared with him those special intimate moments she had with her Savior. Her closest and dearest friend was that of Jesus. Even though her life revolved around the Lord she always felt something was lacking in her walk. It was a complete conversion, a sanctification, with her Lord that she lacked and in 1851 at the age of 31 the Holy Spirit suddenly poured into her life. This "glorious happening" occurred at a revival service held at the John Street Methodist Church in New York. Recalling the incident years later, she said:

"Some of us went every evening, but although I sought peace, I could not find the joy I craved, until one evening I arose and went forward alone. After the prayer the congregation began to sing that grand old consecration hymn, ‘Alas, and did my Savior bleed?' And when they reached the third line of the fifth stanza, ‘ Here, Lord, I give myself away,' I surrendered myself to the Savior, and my very soul was flooded with celestial light. I sprang to my feet, shouting "Hallelujah!"

In 1858 Fanny married Alexander Van Alstyne, also a blind teacher at the Institute. The marriage was a happy one and lasted forty-four years until Alexander's death in 1902. The couple had one child who died while still a baby. It wasn't long after the death of their child that Fanny wrote one of her most famous hymns, "Safe in the Arms of Jesus" which was to become a comfort to thousands.

"Pass Me Not" was her first hymn to win world-wide attention. Fanny composed this in 1868 after a prison service. As she spoke to the prisoners , one cried out, "O Lord, don't pass me by!" She was so moved that she went home and wrote her famous plea. Ira Sankey said, "No hymn was more popular at the meetings in London in 1875 than this one." One hard drinking Englishman heard the crowd singing it and whispered to himself, "Oh, I wish He would not pass me by." The next night the service began with the same hymn and he was saved. He began carrying a copy of the hymn with him every day and forty years later, as a successful businessman in America, he met Fanny and ran to her and hugged her until her eyes were about to pop.

Even though Fanny rubbed elbows with some of the most prominent men of her time, the two men she considered the greatest were the preacher and the song-man...the evangelistic duo of Moody and Sankey. D. L. Moody and Ira D. Sankey traveled the world together bringing the gospel to thousands. Moody did the preaching and Sankey did the singing. Fanny writes:

" In the thought of Christian people everywhere throughout the world the names, Moody and Sankey, are linked together; and I have been not a little honored in having these great evangelists among my dearest friends...So strong was the friendship existing between Mr. Moody and Mr. Sankey that we used to call them ‘David and Jonathan'; and I am sure that the modern church has not known two men more devoted to the work of Christian evangelism; and so they went far and near, telling the old, old story in sermon and in gospel song, until the influence of their meetings spread through all classes of society."

Fanny remembers a time during the revival Moody and Sankey held in Northfield, Illinois during the summer of 1894:

"My own recollections of Northfield bring back many incidents...while Mr. Moody was holding a series of evangelistic services in England, I helped with the services here at home. One evening Mr. Sankey came to me and said, ‘Will you say something tonight. There is a request from the audience that you speak. I felt I was not prepared for the occasion and so I said, ‘Oh, Mr. Sankey, I cannot speak before such an array of talent.' ‘Fanny, do you speak to please man or to please God?' Sankey said. ‘Why I hope to please God,' I replied. ‘Well then,' he said, ‘Go out and do your duty.' During my remarks that evening I repeated for the first time in public the words to ‘Saved by Grace,' although the hymn had been written by me more than two years before that summer, but it had never been published or used in any way. ‘ Where have you kept that piece?' asked Mr. Sankey, when I returned to my seat. I told him that I had kept it stored away for an emergency. There was a reporter present that evening; he copied the hymn as I gave it; and a few weeks later it appeared in a religious paper...and thus the hymn was sent forth on its mission to the world."

Some day the silver cord will break,
And I no more as now shall sing;
But oh, the joy when I shall wake
Within the palace of the King!
And I shall see Him face to face,
And tell the story-Saved by grace.
And I shall see Him face to face,
And tell the story-Saved by grace.

Fanny writes after the death of Moody:

"Dwight Lyman Moody was a wonderful man; and he did his own work in a unique way, which was sometimes no less daring than original. The following passage from the Holy Book is in my mind as I think of his blameless life:
‘ Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth. Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors, and their works do follow them.'

It is a blessed joy that his companion, Mr. Sankey, has been spared to the present hour; and that during the last twenty-five years he has been a close associate of mine in writing gospel hymns... The friendship of this talented man is one of my priceless jewels."

Another interesting incident in Fanny's walk with God makes one chuckle:

"Among the great number of hymns that I have written. Eight thousand perhaps, it is not always possible for me to remember even the best of them. For this reason I have made laughable mistakes. One morning, for example, at the Northfield revival the audience sang ‘Hide me, O my Savior.' But I did not recognize this hymn as my own production; and therefore I may be pardoned for saying that I was much pleased with it. Turning to Mr. Sankey, I asked, ‘Where did you get that piece?' He paid no particular attention to my question, for he supposed I was merely was again used at the afternoon service; and then I was determined to know who wrote it. Mr. Sankey,' I said. ‘ now you must tell me who is the author of ‘Hide Me, O My Savior.' ‘ Really,' he replied, ‘ don't you recall who wrote that hymn? You ought to remember, for you are the guilty one."

Fanny's hymns were popular world-wide. Soldiers in battle would use the titles of her hymns or their stated number in hymnals as passwords. When Bishop James Hannington was brutally murdered by savages in Uganda, Africa his diary was recovered. In it, he tells of being dragged away to be murdered while singing "Safe in the Arms of Jesus." Another story was during the World War One in 1918. A Finnish engineer tells of capturing a town and taking a number of prisoners. Seven of them were to be shot at dawn the next day. One of the doomed men began to sing, "Safe in the Arms of Jesus" after another his comrades fell to their knees and began to sing. They asked to be allowed to die with their faces uncovered. Then with hands raised to heaven, they sang this song as the execution shots rang out. The Officer in charge met Christ himself that very hour as a result of that witness.

"Safe in the Arms of Jesus" was one of the first American Gospel hymns to be transcribed into foreign languages. Mr. Ira Sankey remembers:

Once when preaching in London, I went to Basel, Switzerland, for a few days' rest. The evening I got there I heard under my window the most beautiful volume of song. I looked out and saw about fifty people, who were singing "Safe in the Arms of Jesus" in their own language. I recognized the tune and spoke to them through an interpreter. The next evening, rest was forgotten, and I held a song service in an old French church in that city. The church was packed with people and many stood outside on the street."

The hymn we started out this story with, "To God Be the Glory"(ED NOTE: It has always been one of my favorite hymns) was written in 1873. Sankey published it in his first hymnbook in 1873 but it was not found in later editions. It was discovered in 1954 and it was sung by George Beverly Shea and the Billy Graham Crusade Choir in Toronto in 1955. Since then, it has become one of Fanny's most beloved hymns.

Ira Sankey did more than any other single individual to popularize Fanny's songs. The thousands upon thousands that flocked to the Moody-Sankey revivals sang her songs until they became a heritage of that generation.

Fanny wrote hymns up to her last day. Her latter days were spent in Bridgeport, Connecticut with an old friend Mrs. Booth. On her last night she dictated a letter of comfort to a sorrowing friend, whose daughter had recently died. At three o'clock the next morning, Mrs. Booth, going to wake Fanny for prayer, found her unconscious. And so Fanny died "Safe in the Arms of Jesus", just short of her ninety -fifth birthday. Her funeral filled the church and her minister, George M. Brown closed the services with:

"There must have been a royal welcome when this queen of sacred song burst the bonds of death and passed into the glories of heaven."

A royal welcome indeed. I am sure that celebration will be noted in the annals of eternity as Fanny stood before her Lord and Savior, with her eyes wide open staring in wonderment at His face. And not being able to withhold her excitement burst into song with the choirs of angels all singing her favorite and most popular hymn of adoration:

"Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of his Spirit, washed in His blood.
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long;
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long."

Psalm 100:1-2 "Make a joyful shout to the Lord, all you lands! Serve the Lord with gladness; come before His presence with singing."

JJ (Dark) Di Pietro
Cane Creek Church