Blind Hymn Writer
1820 – 1915 A.D.
Always blind, except the first six weeks of her life, much that others depend upon for enjoyment was denied to her. Her dear grandmother instructed her in religious truth and the glories of nature. The Holy Bible became the meat and drink of her soul. She said: “When I was a child, this Book had a practical place in both home and nation. During these many years my love for the Holy Bible has not waned. Its truth was not only born with me; it was bred into my life. My mother and grandmother took pains that I knew the Bible better than any other book. All that I am, and all that I ever expect to be, in literature or in life, is due to the Bible. This holy book nurtured my early life.”
Biblical characters and incidents furnished the theme and impulse of many of her poems and hymns. Flowers, trees, and grasses whispered poetic strains to her soul. Birds caroled of Divine hand that made them. Rivers and rills rippled of streams of grace Divine. Early she began to give expression in rhythm to her spirit’s visions and intuitions.
At the age of fifteen, her prayer was answered for an educational opportunity, and she was admitted to the Institution for the Blind in New York. Here she remained twenty-three years, as a student, then as a teacher. Here she met Alexander Van Alstyne, a lover of music, also blind. They were happily married, and to them was born an infant, which the angels soon took to heaven.
Fanny Crosby cultivated a sunny disposition. She made up her mind that she would not allow her blindness to darken her life, render her useless and dependent, and sour her nature. Everywhere she went she scattered sunshine. This made her a welcome visitor in many homes. “I never let anything trouble me, and to my implicit faith, and to my implicit trust in my Heavenly Father’s goodness, I attribute my good health and long life. It’s worth a thousand dollars a year to look on the bright side of things. Many a storm has beaten on this old bark of mine, but I always enter the harbor singing.”
Moreover, she was always industrious. Every day at ten she retired to her room, thought out a poem, with all its details, until she was ready to dictate it to some assistant. When not otherwise employed, she would be busy knitting wash-rags to give to her friends.
She had to depend so absolutely upon her memory that her ability to repeat exactly large portions of Scripture, her own hymns (numbering about eight thousand), very many gems of literature, and facts gathered from a broad field of study, was most remarkable. She often addressed large audiences in churches, Y.M.C.A. gatherings, and missions. She invariably held a small booklet in her hand at such times, spoke readily and appropriately, and always pointed her hearers to the Lord.
One evening in a mission meeting she felt impressed to urge any wandering youth present to return to his mother’s God. A young man came forward, stated course was leading the other direction. They prayed with him until he found soul rest. Fanny went home, and before retiring composed “Rescue the Perishing,” now sung around the world in various languages.
Mrs. Joseph F. Knapp composed a melody, played it over two or three times on the piano, then asked Fanny what it said. She replied:
“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.”
February 11, 1915, she seemed in usual health. At nine p.m. she dictated a letter and poem of comfort to a friend bereft of a loved daughter. In the night a little noise in her room roused Mrs. Booth, with whom she lived. She hastened to her, but in a few minutes the sightless singer slipped off to heaven before the doctors arrived. Thus closed her ninety-four beautiful years. Many call her blessed, and her ministry of living song continues.
Reference: Men and Women of Deep Piety by Mrs. Clara McLeister. Edited and published by Rev. E.E. Shelhamer. ©1920.