What a Friend we have in Jesus

Written by on 14-06-2019

This first line of Joseph Scriven’s great hymn almost sounds like something you might expect in a Hallmark card. Printed wording on greeting cards, however sweet, is usually quite generic and often clichéd. But the line ‘What a Friend we have in Jesus’ has nothing generic about it. Friend Jesus is a very specific kind of friend to a specific kind of people through all of life’s actual situations.


Jesus is not who most people think He is. He is not a benign grandfather figure who can be coaxed and manipulated. Jesus is the Creator of heaven and earth. He is Almighty God. The elderly Apostle John on the island of Patmos saw a vision of the glorified Jesus.

I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstand was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to His feet and with a golden sash around His chest.  The hair on His head was white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In His right hand He held seven stars, and coming out of His mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. Rev 1:12-16

When John saw Jesus in this vision, how did he react?

When I saw him, I fell at His feet as though dead. . . Rev 1:17

I fear we have become too accustomed to the mention of Jesus that we have lost the ability to revere Him. He is King—King Jesus—King of kings, who is far above our world’s presidents and prime ministers.

Oh, and we must not forget His holiness. See what Isaiah’s experience of seeing the preincarnate Christ was.

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above Him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.” Isa 6:1-3

Notice that the seraphim were not calling out “Love, love, love,” but “Holy, holy, holy.” Isaiah understood something of God’s holiness, and in his own words, this is how he reacted.

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” Isa 6:5


Jesus is not automatically a Friend to everyone. He is a friend to His people, who He redeemed from the slave market of sin. We know how this redemption was achieved, don’t we?

This great and holy God gave His life for us, and we who were slaves of sin became slaves of Jesus. But to us His slaves, Jesus says these amazing words on the night before He was betrayed:

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. Jn 15:13

"No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. Jn 15:15

Are you a friend of Jesus? Can you say that you have been redeemed from sin by His blood? If not, do not delay but come to Him quickly.

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. Jn 6:37


If we are friends of Jesus, we will find in Him a Friend most true. He is with us in the good times and also in the bad times. Will we have bad times? Will we feel lonely sometimes? Of course!

Man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward. Job 5:7

Shortly after having the Last Supper with His disciples, Jesus comforted them by pointing out the reality of heaven to them. This continues to be our comfort too.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in Me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am." John 14:1-3

So we must not forget that the here and now is not our best life yet, and we will have our share of hardship here. Life is harder for some than for others, but if Jesus is our Friend, He will stay close to us through His Holy Spirit and give us grace and strength. Jesus is like the friend we read about in the Proverbs.

A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother Prov 18:24

What a friend we have in Jesus,

All our sins and griefs to bear!

What a privilege to carry

Everything to God in prayer!

O what peace we often forfeit,

O what needless pain we bear,

All because we do not carry

Everything to God in prayer.

This is possibly the most well loved of all the hymns in the English language. Like many other great hymns of faith, this one too was written from an understanding of deep grief and anguish. Joseph Scriven, a young Irishman was returning after completing his studies to marry his childhood sweetheart. Sadly, on the day before they were to be wed, his bride died in an accident just moments before he reached her side. Such was his sadness that he could not bear to remain in Ireland. So he made a new life for himself in Canada, where he grew in his faith. More than 10 years later, he fell in love again, but just before he got married, this bride also died, this time of pneumonia. He was plunged into grief once more, but this time, he found much comfort in His Saviour Jesus. Shortly after that, back in Ireland, his mother was going through a period of deep sorrow, and to comfort her, Joseph wrote the words of this beautiful hymn, ‘What a Friend we have in Jesus,’ and sent it to his mother in a letter. He had not meant for it to be read by others, leave alone by generations of Christians all over the world.

Have we trials and temptations?

Is there trouble anywhere?

We should never be discouraged;

Take it to the Lord in prayer.

Can we find a friend so faithful?

Who will all our sorrows share?

Jesus knows our every weakness;

Take it to the Lord in prayer. 

The Christian’s life is not supposed to be trouble free and pain free. On the contrary, the going is often hard. But our home and inheritance is certain and glorious. Let us not buy into the world’s philosophy that we must live life to the fullest today. Instead, let us throw our lives into His service now and walk with fresh courage.

Are we weak and heavy laden?

Cumbered with a load of care?

Precious Saviour, still our refuge;

Take it to the Lord in prayer.

Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?

Take it to the Lord in prayer!

In his arms he'll take and shield thee;

Thou wilt find a solace there.

What a Friend we have in Jesus! Amen.

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Reader's opinions
  1. Pearl Anita Purushotham   On   20-06-2019 at 15:42

    Thanks for this lovely message…a reminder of our loving Saviour and Lord Jesus Christ. Creator, Master and Ruler of all there is.
    Let’s keep up the relationship.


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