Who was the selfless, blind author of 8,000 hymns who lived in not much more than a slum?

Wikimedia CommonsFanny Crosby

Fanny Crosby (1820-1915) was a wonderful Christian woman who probably wrote more hymns than anyone else in history.

From the age of about six weeks she was blind – one story is that a doctor treated an eye infection with a mustard poultice that caused irreparable damage. She went to a school for the blind and became an expert musician, and she was a very, very gifted writer. Fanny Crosby had a phenomenal memory: at the age of 10, she was memorising five chapters of the Bible each week.

No one knows how many hymns she wrote, though it was certainly over 8,000. Among them were hymns we know and love today: Blessed Assurance, Pass Me Not, O Gentle Saviour, and Jesus Is Tenderly Calling You Home. Her problem was volume; publishers didn't want too many in their hymn books by the same person, so she wrote under pseudonyms. One of them was Frances van Alstyne,but she used several other pseudonyms and no one knows how many. A couple of years ago some famous modern singers produced and album of new songs by her; a forgotten archive of 2,700 were found in her publisher's files and set to new tunes.

Writing about her blindness, she said: 'It seemed intended by the blessed providence of God that I should be blind all my life, and I thank him for the dispensation. If perfect earthly sight were offered me tomorrow I would not accept it. I might not have sung hymns to the praise of God if I had been distracted by the beautiful and interesting things about me.'

She lived a long life and not a particularly easy one. She was married; her husband Alexander van Alstyne was blind too. They had a daughter, who died in infancy. After that they grew apart and lived separately, but they remained on good terms.

'He had his faults – and so have I mine, but notwithstanding these, we loved each other to the last,' she wrote.

She could have made a fortune from her work, but gave it all away, and lived in not much more than a slum. Her publishers, on the other hand, did very well from her work.

Fanny Crosby was a great saint of God who lived a selfless life to his praise and glory. We benefit from her gifts and self-sacrifice today.

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