The hymn was penned in 1857 by Joseph Scriven, of Canada, for his widowed mother, Jane Medlicott Scriven of Ireland (she was 70 at the time). She was going through a particularly sorrowful time of illness in Dublin, and he could not come to her side due to financial constraints. He never intended anyone would see it, but a friend saw it scribbled on scratch paper while tending him when he was ill, and it was published soon afterwards. It was titled, “Pray without Ceasing.”
In 1875, Ira Sankey had just returned from England and was working with Philip Bliss on a new song book called, Gospel Hymns, No. 1. After the completed work was delivered to the publisher, Mr. Sankey picked up a small pamphlet of Sunday School hymns that had been published in Richmond, Virginia. Since Charles Converse was a good friend, Mr. Sankey took one of his tunes and put the words with it and name it: “What A Friend We Have in Jesus.” It was the last hymn to be added to the book, but it became the first as a favorite.
To change the focus of the song off of Prayer, the last verse was omitted:
|Blessed Saviour, Thou hast promised Thou wilt all our burdens bear
May we ever, Lord, be bringing all to Thee in earnest prayer.
Soon in glory bright unclouded there will be no need for prayer,
Rapture, praise and endless worship will be our sweet portion there.
Mr. Sankey had published the words using the credit given to them in the pamphlet to the Scottish preacher and hymn writer, Horatius Bonar. Years later, Dr. Bonar told Mr. Sankey that he never wrote the words, and he did not know who did. The actual writer became known 8 years after its publication!