Eminent Christians: 2. Fanny Crosby

Through such well-known hymns as “Blessed Assurance”, “To God be the glory”, “Jesus, keep me near the cross” and “All the way my Saviour leads me,” Fanny Jane Crosby (1820-1915) has had a profound influence on American Evangelicalism. She was born in the state of New York on March 24, 1820. When she was only six weeks old she was accidentally blinded due to a mistreatment by an ill-qualified doctor. Her father having died when she was but one, she was raised by a godly mother and grandmother. At an early age they encouraged her to memorize Scripture, which would become a rich source of inspiration for her hymns later in her life. It would also help her develop a phenomenal memory. At one point, when she was an adult, she had stored in her mind up to forty poems she had composed before she wrote them down! At the age of fifteen she went to the New York School for the Blind where she lived and later taught till her marriage in 1858 to Alexander van Alstyne (1831-1902). They had one child who died while but an infant. It was also in New York that she found assurance of her salvation while attending an evangelistic meeting at the Methodist Broadway Tabernacle on November 20, 1850.

During the American Civil War, in 1863, Fanny composed her first hymn for a worship service at the Dutch Reformed Church at 23rd Street. The pastor of the church later put her in touch with a composer, William B. Bradbury (1817-1868), with whom she worked for four years. After his death in 1868, she wrote hymns for the largest publishing firm of gospel music of that day, Biglow and Main Company. This proved to be a turning-point in her life. She would later look back and say that it was at that time “the real and most important work of my life” commenced.

During her most productive period of hymn-writing, between 1864 and 1889, she was averaging three or four hymns per week, for which she was paid $2.00 a hymn. Though this remuneration was increased somewhat later in her life, she stayed committed to a frugal lifestyle.

She worked with some of the best tunesmiths of her day, including Robert Lowry, Charles H. Gabriel and D. L. Moody’s co-worker, Ira D. Sankey. There is little doubt that Moody and Sankey’s use of Fanny’s hymns in their evangelistic campaigns were a key reason in the growing popularity of the hymns. Most of her 8,000 or so hymns (estimates of the number of hymns she wrote range up to 9,000) are focused on Christian experience. Today roughly sixty of them are in regular use in hymnals.