Frances Havergal was a gifted pianist, soloist and composer of sacred hymns and poems. The hymns she penned were simple and clear, but full of theological truth. One writer describes her theology as “the theology of the Pilgrim’s Progress”. Frances lived a life of consecration to the Lord – a quality which was often reflected in her hymns.
Frances also wrote books for children, one of which was entitled, “Little Pillows”. “Just as we want ‘a nice soft pillow to lay our heads down upon at night,’ she wrote, so our hearts want ‘a pillow too, something to rest upon some true, sweet word that we might go to sleep upon happily and peacefully.’ In a companion book, ‘Morning Bells’, she presented ‘little chimes of Bible music’ for children to wake up by” (www.cslewisinstitute.org/Frances_Ridley_Havergal).
Though frail in health for most of her life, Frances spent her time caring for the spiritual and physical needs of others. “It is impossible, in the short time we have, to tell you anything of her busy life. Brain, hands, feet, all were used for the Master. She spoke, she taught, she sang, she visited, she prayed, she wrote for Him, at home and abroad, and most marvellously was she used. This glad and strenuous labour was broken into at times by seasons of sickness and pain, but in suffering, as in works, she was ever ready to do God’s will.”
What prompted Frances to pen the hymns which have so richly blessed Christians all over the world? Let us look at the inspirational story behind one of her best known hymns:
“I gave my life for thee”
I gave My life for thee,
My precious blood I shed
That thou might’st ransomed be,
And quickened from the dead.
I gave My life for thee;
What hast thou given for Me?
She wrote this hymn – thought by some to be her first and the best – on 10th January 1858 when she was staying at a pastor’s house in Germany. Hanging in the study was a picture of the crucified Christ. Under the picture was the caption: “I did this for thee. What hast thou done for Me?”
“She had come in weary, and sitting down before the picture the Saviour's eyes seemed to rest upon her. She read the words, and the lines of her hymn flashed upon her. She wrote them in pencil on a scrap of paper. Looking them over, she thought them so poor that she tossed them into the stove, but they fell out untouched. Some months after she showed them to her father, who encouraged her to preserve them and wrote the tune ‘Baca’ specially for them”.
When she was 42, Frances caught a bad cold which caused an inflammation of her lungs. When told that death was imminent, she responded cheerily: “If I am really going, it is too good to be true!”
Her sister wrote of her dying moment: “And now she looked up steadfastly, as if she saw the Lord; and surely nothing less heavenly could have reflected such a glorious radiance upon her face. For ten minutes we watched that almost visible meeting with her King, and her countenance was so glad, as if she were already talking to Him! Then she tried to sing; but after one sweet, high note, her voice failed; and, as her brother commended her soul into her Redeemer’s hand, she passed away.” On her tombstone was engraved her favourite Scripture text: “The blood of Jesus His Son cleanseth us from all sin”.
Frances Ridley Havergal devoted her whole life to proclaiming the Gospel through her hymns and sacred writings. Rejecting worldly fame, she used her gifts of music and writing for the glory of God. Despite her failing health, Frances spent her time helping and serving the needy.
Let us follow the fine example of this faithful servant of the Lord. May we consecrate our lives to God and use our gifts for His glory and the blessing of His people.
(Unless otherwise stated, all other quotations are from www.wholesomewords.org/biography/bhavergal.)