Summary: Sermon #3 in the Hymn-writers series deals with Ira Sankey and Fanny Crosby, one of the most prolific hymn-writers of the 1800’s

Fanny Crosby 1820-1915

Singing the Gospel

CHCC: July 13, 2008


This Summer I’m preaching a few sermons based on Psalm 149:1-3: "Praise the Lord! Sing to the Lord a new song. Sing his praises in the assembly of the faithful." In the first sermon we talked about Isaac Watts who wrote over 600 hymns in the late 1700’s including WHEN I SURVEY THE WONDROUS CROSS and O GOD OUR HELP IN AGES PAST.

In the second sermon, we talked about song writers who came soon after Watts --- Charles Wesley who wrote almost 7,000 hymns --- songs like JESUS, LOVER OF MY SOUL and CHRIST THE LORD IS RISEN TODAY. And John Newton who wrote AMAZING GRACE.

This may be totally new information to some of you. For others it probably seems like a “trip down memory lane” The point I want us to see is that hymns we think of as so staid and traditional were once NEW SONGS. Watts & Wesley were the Tomlins & Redman’s of their day.

Much of their music has gone by the wayside after 250 years. But a few hymns have such timeless value that we still sing them today. It’s good for us to appreciate our heritage of Christian music. But it is much MORE important for us to be open to the new songs that speak to people here and now.

The challenge we face in the 21st century is the same challenge Christians have faced in every Century. How can we open the way for a new generation of Christian music --- music that will reach people with God’s timeless message in the here and now?

Nostalgia is nice … but it’s not what the Church needs to offer. We don’t come to church to relive the good old days. Church is a place where we can worship our God TODAY --- We want our words and our music to make sense to people who NEED to know about God TODAY.

So … having said that … we’re going to move on in our “music history lessons” --- into the middle of the 1800’s. By this time, the Colonies had become the United States of America. Our nation came out of a painful Civil War still intact. Soon after this, a businessman named Dwight L. Moody began to hold Evangelistic Campaigns in America.

These crusades used the same methods the Billy Graham crusades would use a hundred years later. They started with house-to-house canvassing; local churches of all denominations were invited to participate; and some large, central building was rented for the meetings.

Moody believed MUSIC was important to Evangelism. After he heard a man named Ira Sankey sing at a YMCA, he invited Sankey to join him in his meetings. Both Moody and Sankey left successful business careers and gave the rest of their lives to evangelistic efforts.

Sankey sang a new kind of music that fit the needs of that day. He used melodies that sounded like the popular music of the day. He sang songs using language that sounded like the way people talked in that day. And he often accompanied himself on a little pump organ.

By the way, there were plenty of church folks who disapproved of using an organ to accompany the singing. They associated the pump organs with the Theater. So they complained that Church was no place for playing the Organ! (Hard to imagine, isn’t it?)

The kind of music Sankey chose for these crusades was what you could call testimonial music. It was music that invited people to make a personal decision for Christ. This new music spoke of a personal relationship with Jesus. It was what Sankey called “Singing the Gospel.” One of the hymnbooks he published was called “Gospel Hymns.” This hymn book had the largest circulation of any hymn book before or since.

One song writer stands out in this time period. This one lady wrote over 9,000 hymns in her life time. So many of her hymns were in the song books of that day, that she used a pen-name so the hymnals would not be filled front-to-back with her name. Even today, her songs remain among the most popular across all Christian denominations.

Her name was Francis Jane Crosby. If you look in the last hymn book our church used, you’d find 16 of her songs, including:








And the best-known of all her hymns, BLESSED ASSURANCE

Fanny Crosby had a brilliant mind. Even as a child she had memorized big portions of the Bible. She could recite the Pentateuch, all 4 Gospels, Proverbs, and the Song of Solomon. She had natural musical aptitude and could play the harp, piano, and guitar. She preferred to write simple, heart-felt verses that could be used for evangelism, but she was a brilliant poet and was capable of composing complex music with a classical structure.

And she was blind. Just two months after Fanny Crosby was born … in 1820 … she became ill. The family doctor was out of town, and another man treated her. Later on he was exposed as a “quack” who was only pretending to be a doctor. This quack’s treatment was hot mustard poultices applied to the tiny infant’s eyes. When Fannny recovered from the illness, she was completely blind.

A few months later, her father died. Her mother was forced to find work as maid in order to support the family. Fanny was raised by her grandmother. You would think someone with this background would have every reason to be angry and bitter about the harsh trials in her life. Next time YOU are tempted to feel sorry for yourself, remember this little poem that Fanny wrote when she was only 8 years old:

O, what a happy soul I am,

Although I cannot see!

I am resolved that in this world

Contented I will be.

How many blessings I enjoy

That other people don’t

To weep and sigh because I’m blind

I cannot, and I won’t!

By the age of 23, this exceptional young lady was invited to address Congress and meet the President. In fact, Fanny Crosby knew all the Presidents who served during her lifetime. In that respect she was like the “Billy Graham” of her day.

A well-meaning preacher once told her, “I think it a great pity that the Master did not give you sight when he showered so many other gifts upon you!”

Here was Fanny’s response … not just to him, but to anyone who commiserated with her for her blindness. “Do you know that if at birth I had been able to make one request, I would have asked to be born blind? Because when I get to heaven, the FIRST face that shall ever gladden my sight will be that of my Savior.”

Her music often referred to the sense of “sight,” as in this chorus:

And I shall see … Him face to face … and sing the story, “Saved by grace!”

And I shall see … Him face to face … and sing the story, “Saved by grace!”

Here is another song that talks about her desire to see her Savior. It’s called MY SAVIOR FIRST OF ALL.

In her day, Fanny Crosby’s songs may have attracted as many people to Jesus as Dwight L. Moody’s powerful preaching. But there’s another reality that went on at the same time. In churches all over America and Europe, there were people who complained about this new kind of music.

Sankey wrote about one of his first meetings where he used the pump organ and new music of Fanny Crosby and others. He said that he sang several solos because he couldn’t get the people to sing with him. They just weren’t used to the kind of songs he was singing. But as time went on, thousands and thousands of people began to join into the singing of those songs.

Even then, he said it was not unusual for people to storm out in the middle of the music crying out “You’re singing human hymns! Human hymns!” These were people who believed the appropriate music for church was to sing the Psalms … or Isaac Watts’s music … which they’d now come to accept as “kosher.”

It seems strange to us now. Who could possibly be scandalized by BLESSED ASSURANCE? How could they be offended by an ORGAN in church? It’s easy to judge them for their narrow-mindedness. But think how YOU feel when you’re in a service where you don’t know any of the music.

I’m really proud of our Congregation for being willing to change and stretch a little when it comes to “how we do church.” I know some of you have sacrificed your own musical preferences … and you feel like things are changing too fast.

I know others of you are stretching your own patience … because you feel like things are not changing fast enough!

Sacrifice and Patience … for the sake of Unity … those strike me as Christ-like attitudes. Those are the attitudes that help us stay unified … when so many churches have split right down the middle over what we could call the “worship wars.”


There’s one other thing I want to point out about Fanny Crosby. She was not a one-woman show. When you look at Fanny’s songs you often see that she wrote the words and someone else wrote the music. Her efforts were a collaboration between herself and other gifted Christians.

That is a picture of what Jesus intends for His Church. Look at what the apostle Paul told the church in Romans chapter 12: Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. Romans 12:4-5 NLT

When we work together, we can accomplish great things… Especially when we don’t care who gets the credit! I’m proud of our music team because they have that Spirit of collaboration where everyone gives what they have without caring about getting credit.

I’m proud of our church for the same reason. CHCC is full of people with a servant’s attitude … people who use their time and talents with no thought of getting attention. When we all work together for God’s Glory, The way I see it, that’s the most beautiful “MUSIC” the church can ever offer to God.