Friday, July 6, 2012

Blessed Assurance

These are trying times in which to live. We naturally want to ground our lives on things that are certain, reliable, and true, yet modern culture insists that everything we would put our faith in--especially anything pertaining to religion and morality--is doubtful, untrustworthy, and relative. It's hard not to feel lost in all the confusion--unless you have a strong faith in the Rock of our salvation, Jesus Christ!  With all the "change and decay" around us, He is the One "who changeth not" (see the timeless old hymn Abide With Me).  Ever sure are the hope and the promise He brings the believer--of comfort and guidance in time of trouble, of peace and joy, and of eternal salvation with Him. It is the "hope within us" (1 Peter 3:15) that gives the believer the strength and confidence to overcome even the greatest challenges in life, praising God all the while.

Scripture often sums up these truths in the term "assurance." Modern dictionaries define it both as the act of assuring--that is, a declaration or other act tending to inspire full confidence--and the state of being assured: firm persuasion; full confidence or trust; freedom from doubt; certainty.  God provides assurance of many things, in different ways. For example, the prophet Isaiah states that "the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever." (Isaiah 32:17)  In the Book of Acts we are told that God "hath given assurance unto all men" that the Lord will come again to judge the world in righteousness. (Acts 17:31)  The faithful believer is given "the full assurance of understanding" (Colossians 2:2) and of the power of the Holy Spirit. (1 Thessalonians 1:5)  Diligence in following Christ brings "the full assurance of hope unto the end" (Hebrews 6:11), and a pure, true heart a "full assurance of faith." (Hebrews 10:22)

Fanny Crosby
These truths are celebrated in one of the most beloved of Christian hymns, Blessed Assurance. The text was written in 1873 by America's most prolific and inspiring hymnist, Frances Jane "Fanny" Crosby (1820 - 1915). Her very life was a testament to the "blessed assurance" that a follower of Christ enjoys, as she wrote more than 8000 sacred songs and hymns over a life of almost 95 years, all while completely blind due to a doctor's mistake in treating a cold when she was six weeks old. However, Fanny never felt resentment against the doctor and at an early age resolved to not to be defeated by her handicap, believing that it had been permitted by the Lord in order to fulfill His plan for her life. She is reported to have said, "if I had a choice, I would still choose to remain blind . . . for when I die, the first face I will ever see will be the face of my blessed Savior." She eventually became a household name, a friend of Presidents, and the "mother of modern congregational singing in America."

Phoebe Knapp
The story behind the composition of Blessed Assurance is both simple and intriguing. Fanny (her married name was van Alstyne) was visiting her friend Phoebe Palmer Knapp while a large pipe organ was being installed in the Knapp home (Mrs. Knapp lived in a luxurious mansion, while Fanny lived in the Manhattan slums and worked in rescue missions). Since the organ was incomplete, Mrs. Knapp played on the piano a new melody she had composed and asked her friend, "What do you think the tune says?"  "Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!", answered Fanny almost instantly. Fanny soon provided the rest of the text, and the hymn was published in the July 1873 issue of Palmer's Guide to Holiness and Revival Miscellany, a magazine printed by Mrs. Knapp's evangelist parents. This printing, though perhaps not the first, helped to popularize what eventually became one of the most beloved hymns of all time. Because of its close association with Crosby's lyrics, the tune is now called "Assurance."
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.

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.

Some have noted the many references to sight in this hymn ("visions," "sight", "watching"), even though Fanny had never been able to see--proof that there is no blindness in a soul so well-attuned to our Lord.  No other hymn or song I know of so perfectly captures the thankfulness, confidence, and joyful anticipation that comes from the "perfect submission" of faith!

Those raised in church-going Protestant families have probably been familiar with Blessed Assurance since childhood. My upbringing was in a different tradition, so my first exposure to this hymn was in what became one of my favorite movies, the beautiful and moving Places in the Heart (1984), about a young widow's struggle to survive as a cotton farmer in 1930s Waxahachie, Texas.The film opens with a small church congregation singing the hymn behind scenes of everyday life there, and gives the viewer a remarkably true feeling for a place, a people, and a time perhaps closer to God.  Here is a clip of that portion of the movie:

Blessed Assurance has also proven very adaptable to more contemporary arrangements (though I love the traditional best). Here is one, with moving images and lyrics, by the Christian artist Jadon Lavik:

Here is another good contemporary rendition from Spring Harvest, with a short introduction and postscript providing more details about Fanny Crosby and the writing of this beautiful hymn:

May you, too come to know the blessed assurance that faith in our Savior brings!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing the details behind the creation of 'Blessed Assurance'! Fanny Crosby had such great faith, in spite of her blindness (I'd no idea it was because of medical malpractice....). One wishes all Christian believers had such unswerving faith--including myself! Excellent pictures and videos, too. Well done!