Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 1:13)

Joseph Scriven - Part II

Sunday, November 09, 2008
pray without ceasing...

Four whole years ago (my... oh... my... how time flies...), I put up this short account of Joseph Scriven life (originally written by a fellow called Lindsay Terry):

"More than a century ago, on the streets of Port Hope, Ontario, a man could be seen walking along carrying a saw and a sawhorse. One day a rich man from across the street saw him and said to a friend, "He looks like a sober man. I think I'll hire him to cut wood for me." "That's Joseph Scriven," the friend replied. "He wouldn't cut wood for you. He only cuts wood for those who don't have enough to pay."And that sums up the philosophy of Joseph Medlicott Scriven, a devoted member of the Plymouth Brethren Church, who took the Sermon on the Mount literally.

Scriven was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1819. He fell for a lovely young woman, but on the eve of their wedding she accidentally drowned. Scriven never recovered from the shock. The Irishman began to wander, hoping to forget his sorrow. At age 25, he finally settled in Canada. His faith led him to do menial tasks for poor widows and the sick. He often worked for no wages and was regarded by the people of the community as a kind man, albeit a bit odd.

He later fell in love again and planned to marry a wonderful Canadian woman. But again, tragedy struck. His fiance died after contracting pneumonia.

In 1855, a friend visited an ill Scriven and discovered a poem that he had written for his ailing mother in faraway Ireland. Scriven didn't have the money to visit her, but he sent her the poem as an encouragement. He called it "Pray Without Ceasing." When the friend inquired about the poem's origins, Scriven reportedly answered, "The Lord and I did it between us." Scriven never intended for the poem to be published, but it made its rounds, and was set to music in 1868 by musician Charles Converse, who titled it "What a Friend We Have in Jesus." It has since become one of our greatest hymns.

Scriven died in 1886 (ironically, in an accidental drowning). In his memory, the town of Port Hope erected a monument with this inscription from Scriven's famous song: In His arms He'll take and shield thee. Thou wilt find a solace there."

Well, this summer, my family and I made a stop in Port Hope, Ontario, and drove up to a small town just north of Port Hope where Joseph Scriven lived and is now buried. Here are some of the pictures we took:

The path the leads to Joseph Scriven's house and the Pengelley family graveyard.

The province of Ontario put up this plaque with some details about Joseph Scriven. Note the words "a deeply religious man"... oh brother. If the Ontario Government hadn't mentioned his hymn, you'd hardly know he was a Christian!

A humble little house... isn't it? I suppose that there are plenty of bachelor apartments today that aren't much bigger!

A view of the other side of Scriven's house.

A view of the west side of the Pengelley graveyard. Most of the gravestones on this side were of the Pengelley and Northey families.

The Eastside of the Pengelley graveyard. As you can see, this is where Joseph Scriven was buried. It is also where a monument was erected in his honour.

A close-up of the front side of the Scriven monument. You can see the first verse of his most famous hymn. Did you know that the original poem, Pray Without Ceasing, wasn't only published in the Port Hope newspaper, it actually got published in the New York Times! (Somehow, I don't think "the Times" would publish such a poem today... how terribly sad...)

The same monument viewed from a different angle. You can see the second verse of "Pray Without Ceasing", or "What a Friend We Have In Jesus".

Yet another picture of the Scriven monument. You can see the third and final verse of his poem/hymn here.

The actual grave stones of both Joseph Scriven and "his sweetheart", who died of pneumonia. It would seem that Scriven's Canadian fiancee's name was lost; as you can see, only the initials "L.C.D." and "Scriven's Sweetheart" identify the grave.

My little girl having a closer look at the grave stones of some of the Pengelleys. It would seem a number of them were in the ministry. Nearly all of the stones (except for the more recent ones) had Scripture on them.

A picture of Rice Lake, visible from the graveyard. This is the lake Scriven drowned in.

Final Thoughts: I really enjoyed visiting this historical site. What I find absolutely wonderful about Scriven's story is that he is remembered for his Christian conversation, or way of life. Not some great sermon or some great secular or spiritual feat. He professed faith in Christ Jesus, and he practiced his faith with great zeal. Makes you wonder: "when our days come to an end, will the world remember us for our faithful walk with the Lord?"


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