Joy in Suffering

She was born in southeast New York, on March 24, 1820, and died in Bridgeport, Connecticut, on February 12, 1915, having lived ninety-five years.

Being blinded when six weeks old through an improper medical treatment, she was able, however, to distinguish between day and night. She never considered blindness a handicap, but rather a blessing and always insisted that blind people can accomplish almost everything sighted people can.

She lived a normal, happy childhood and wrote, “I could climb a tree like a squirrel and ride a horse bareback.”

Early in life, she began memorizing the Bible and eventually could repeat, by rote, the entire Pentateuch, all four Gospels, many of the Psalms, all of Proverbs, as well as the entire books of Ruth and Song of Solomon. She stated at the close of her life, “The Holy Book has nurtured my entire life.”

She spent twelve years as a pupil in the New York Institution for the Blind and served as a teacher there from 1847 to 1858, teaching language and history and was known for her musical abilities as well as a talent for writing poetry. She had a fine soprano voice as well as being accomplished in playing the guitar, harp, piano, and organ. Being well-versed in the great classics of music, she wrote some tunes for her texts but generally did not want them used, for she felt that they were too complicated for ordinary people to sing.

She married a blind musician and teacher from the school, Alexander Van Alstyne, in 1858, but very little is told of this marital relationship or of Mr. Van Alstyne other than that he was known as a very capable organist in the New York area. The Van Alstynes had a child born the following year, who evidently died in early infancy. This event was something that Fanny Crosby would never discuss with anyone throughout her life.

Fanny Crosby was very small in appearance, less than five feet tall, and she weighed no more than one hundred pounds. She was said to have been a physically unattractive person—a long face, prominent front teeth with a gap between them, thick, wavy hair parted in the middle and pulled backward in curls that hung to the shoulders and always the dark, rectangular glasses obscuring her sightless eyes. Yet, when she spoke, it is said that there was an unusual charisma about her, as her face lit up with an expression that gave her great charm and attractiveness.

Though always devout and religious from childhood, on November 20, 1850, Fanny Crosby had a dramatic conversion experience at a Methodist revival meeting. “My very soul was flooded with celestial light … for the first time I realized that I had been trying to hold the world in one hand and the Lord in the other.” Years later, when speaking of her November conversion experience, she said, “The Lord planted a star in my life and no cloud has ever obscured its light.” (Adapted from 101 Hymn Stories by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, 239–240.)

This woman, Frances Jane Crosby, had every reason to be unhappy, discouraged, sad and complaining. Having lived a life of misfortune from infancy spanning ninety-five years, she had not much reason to be joyful, yet she led a most outstanding evangelistic/gospel ministry for the better part of her life.

“In the period of 1870 to her death in 1915, it is estimated that Fanny Crosby wrote between 8,000 and 9,000 gospel hymn texts—more than any other known hymn writer. The majority of her lasting favorites were written in her mid-life during the decade of the 1870s. These include such popular hymns, still found in our hymnals, as “Safe in the Arms of Jesus”; “Blessed Assurance”; “Pass Me Not O Gentle Savior”; “Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross”; “I Am Thine, O Lord”; “All the Way My Savior Leads Me”; “Close to Thee”; “Praise Him, Praise Him”; “To God Be the Glory,” and “Rescue the Perishing.” Fanny Crosby’s favorite motto was, ‘I think life is not too long, and therefore I determine that many people will read a song who would not read a sermon.’ ” Ibid., 237.

“Saved by Grace” was one of the choice, later hymns written by Fanny Crosby in 1891, when she was seventy-one years of age. It goes like this:

Some day the silver cord will break,
And I no more as now shall sing;
But O the joy when I shall wake
Within the palace of the King!

Chorus –

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.

Saved by grace, saved by grace! I am convinced that this was the propelling force in the life of Fanny Crosby that kept her ministering for God for the greater part of her life in spite of the unfortunate set-backs, the trials, the obstacles and crippling situations that plagued her.

To be able to say with absolute conviction:

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
O, what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.

Refrain –

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.

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.

The “Blessed Assurance” is the joy that anchors the Christian and keeps him steadfast in any given situation. This is the seeming paradox of the Christian experience, that in the midst of trials and very discouraging situations he/she can be joyful!

For many, many Christians there is something that is destroying their joy, and that something is trial. “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” James 1:2–4.

“Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when His glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part He is evil spoken of, but on your part He is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.” I Peter 4:12–16.

David confesses that, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.” Psalm 119:71.

“When trials come to us, let us not dwell upon the greatness of the difficulties and feel that we cannot have joy in the Lord. It is true we will have changes of feelings. There will come to us times of discouragement and depression. But shall we live by feeling or by faith? When our brethren and friends speak unadvisedly, and cause us grief, let us not be cast down. Let us remember that we are in a world of trial and grief, of sorrow and disappointment. When these experiences come to us, they should drive us to Christ. If they do not, we meet with loss.” The Upward Look, 252.

When tempted to give up under discouragement and difficulty, let us study the life and experiences of Christ. He had to contend against the powers of darkness that He might not be overcome. We have the same battle to fight, the same victories to win. “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16. It is our privilege to lay hold on the strength of One who is able to save unto the uttermost all that come unto God by Him. He invites you to present your case at the throne of grace, and cast your helpless soul on Him.

The purging is not pleasant, but let us remember that Christ came to our world and took humanity that He might bear the afflictions that humanity must bear and be an example of faithful endurance under every form of trial. God wants us to realize that we are a part of the great human family, and that we must bear its tests. Let your humanity lay hold of divinity. Go to the footstool of God’s grace, and say, “Lord, I hang my helpless soul on Thee. Help me to control my speech. Teach me to overcome.” Christ will give you a spirit of overcoming. “They overcame him,” we read, “by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony.” Revelation 12:11.

Why should we not sink under trials?

“Trials are Christ’s workmen to perfect the Christian graces. … These tests are not to sink the believers’ faith, but raise it equal to the occasion, that unto all it may be made to appear more precious than gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire. Every trial permitted is designed to exalt the truth to a higher appreciation, that praise to God alone shall be upon the lips of the true disciple of Christ. And the growth in grace is to the honor and glory of God at the appearing of Jesus Christ, ‘whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls. Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you’ (I Peter 1:8–10).” Ibid., 324.

“We grieve the Spirit of Christ by our complaints and murmurings and repinings. We should not dishonor God by the mournful relation of trials that appear grievous. All trials that are received as educators will produce joy. The whole religious life will be uplifting, elevating, ennobling, fragrant with good words and works.” God’s Amazing Grace, 325.

Ponder these words: “So far from causing grief, persecution should bring joy to the disciples of Christ, for it is an evidence that they are following in the steps of their Master.

“While the Lord has not promised His people exemption from trials, He has promised that which is far better. He has said, ‘As thy days, so shall thy strength be.’ ‘My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Deuteronomy 33:25; II Corinthians 12:9. If you are called to go through the fiery furnace for His sake, Jesus will be by your side even as He was with the faithful three in Babylon. Those who love their Redeemer will rejoice at every opportunity of sharing with Him humiliation and reproach. The love they bear their Lord makes suffering for His sake sweet.” Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, 30.

There is no real joy in disobedience.

“Man is doing the greatest injury and injustice to his own soul when he thinks and acts contrary to the will of God. No real joy can be found in the path forbidden by Him who knows what is best, and who plans for the good of His creatures. The path of transgression leads to misery and destruction; but wisdom’s ‘ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.’ Proverbs 3:17.” Patriarchs and Prophets, 600.

David’s prayer after his great sin.

“Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation; and uphold me with Thy free spirit.” Psalm 51:12.

“The sweetest joy comes to man through his sincere repentance toward God because of the transgression of His law, and faith in Christ as the sinner’s Redeemer and Advocate.” Testimonies, vol. 3, 481.

Three things that constitute the greatest joy.

“To honor Christ, to become like Him, to work for Him, is the life’s highest ambition and its greatest joy.” Education, 296.

“In view of what Christ has done for us, and what He suffered for sinners, we should, out of pure, disinterested love for souls, imitate His example by sacrificing our own pleasure and convenience for their good. The joy set before Christ, which sustained Him in all His sufferings, was the salvation of poor sinners. This should be our joy, and the spur of our ambition in the cause of our Master. In so doing we please God, and manifest our love and devotion to Him as His servants.” Sons and Daughters of God, 150.

Why is it so necessary that we experience this joy that comes from knowing Christ?

Because we are planning to make heaven our home and “Heaven is full of joy. It resounds with the praises of Him who made so wonderful a sacrifice for the redemption of the human race. Should not the church on earth be full of praise? Should not Christians publish throughout the world the joy of serving Christ? Those who in heaven join with the angelic choir in their anthem of praise must learn on earth the song of heaven, the keynote of which is thanksgiving.” Testimonies, vol. 7, 244.

A well known chorus goes like this,

I have the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart, down in my heart, down in my heart.
I have the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart, down in my heart to stay.
I know the devil doesn’t like it but it’s down in my heart, down in my heart, down in my heart.
I know the devil doesn’t like it but it’s down in my heart, down in my heart to stay.

Is the joy of the Lord your strength? Do you have the joy of the Lord down in your heart?

“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.” Hebrews 12:1–3.

Pastor Ivan Plummer ministers through the Emmanuel Seventh Day Church Ministries in Bronx, New York. He may be contacted by telephone at: 718-882-3900.