Frances Ridley Havergal was born on December 14, 1836, at Astley, Worcestershire, England. She was the youngest child of the family. Her father, William Henry Havergal, was an influential Anglican clergyman, who spent many years composing and improving hymns, being a noted poet and church musician.
Frances began reading and memorizing Scripture when only four years old. She began writing poems when only seven. She was fearful she would not be one of God’s elect, and each day as a child tried to beg God to be saved. The fear caused bouts of depression and an always bowed head when walking. In her teen years, she was reading the New Testament in Greek, and came to I John 1:7, where she noticed the tense of the verb says that the blood of Jesus Christ, keeps on cleansing the believer from all sin. The result was a powerful change in her life. She was converted, and the fearful stranglehold was over.
Frances was highly educated and cultured in English and German boarding schools. She became a linguist, mastering French, German, Italian, Latin, Greek and Hebrew. As part of her education, she went to Dusseldorf, Germany. There in an art museum, she wrote the poem, “I Gave My Life for Thee.” As with all of her poems, before she ever wrote a line, she first prayed over it, and then gave God credit for the composition.
I believe my King suggests a thought, and whispers me a musical line or two, and then I look up and thank Him delightedly and go on with it. That is how my hymns come.
Writing is praying with me. I never seem to write even a verse by myself, and feel like a little child writing. You know how little child would look up at every sentence and say, ‘And what shall I say next?’ That is just what I do. I ask that at every line He would give me, not merely thought and power, but also every word – even the very rhyme.
Frances lived a consecrated life and her hymns carry this important theme and develop it. Whenever someone had a spiritual or physical need, she had genuine concern for them and would help if she could. She was a frail woman, but an avid student, even as an adult. She memorized most of the New Testament as well as the Psalms, Isaiah and the Minor Prophets. She had a pleasing singing voice, and was sought after as a concert soloist. She also was a well known pianist, skilfully playing the music of the masters: Handel, Mendelssohn, and Beethoven. But she turned away from potential world fame and fortune, to sing and work for the Savior.
During her lifetime, Frances turned down several offers of marriage, and severed friendships that brought her keen pain to renounce, because she felt they hindered full consecration to Christ. Her devotion to the Savior was so great and obvious, it was said that when she entered the room, there was a consciousness that two people entered the room: Frances and the Holy Spirit.
Her favorite title for the Savior was “Master.” “Because it implies rule and submission and this is what love craves. Men may feel differently, but a true woman's submission is inseparable from deep love.”
Most of her life she was an invalid, but her incessant determination surpassed most people in good health in both literary and charity work. Part of her secret was her firm rule to be at her study table by 7 am in the Summer, and 8 am in the Winter for Bible study. Her sister would beg her to do her reading by the fire, where her feet could be warmed, but she refused, saying she would not be able to highlight the treasures she found neatly. To keep this schedule, she refused to keep late hours and talks at night. Early rising and early studying were her rule through life.
Although Frances, being frail, could have used the excuse to avoid attending church, she wrote the following reasons for why she attended:
- God has blessed the Lord’s Day, making no exceptions for stormy days.
- I expect my minister to be there. I would be surprised if he stayed at home because of the weather.
- I might lose out on the prayers and the sermon that would have done me great good.
- For important business, rain doesn’t keep me home; and church is, in God’s sight, very important.
- Bad weather will prove how much I love Christ. True love rarely fails to keep an appointment.
- Those who stay home from church because it’s rainy frequently miss on fair Sundays, too. I mustn’t take one step in that direction.
- Christ said that “where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20).
- I don’t know how many more Sundays God may give me. It would be poor preparation for my first Sunday in heaven to have slighted my last one on earth.
Later, when talking of the decision she made on Advent Sunday, December 2, 1873, she said:
I first saw clearly the blessedness of true consecration. I saw it as a flash of electric light. There must be full surrender before there can be full blessedness. God admits you by the one into the other. He showed me this most clearly.
The following year, in 1874, she visited a house where the people were either unsaved or in need of consecration. She prayed that God would work and all would be converted in the five days she had to spend there. God answered her prayer, and the final night was spent in prayer and thanksgiving, being unable to sleep in thankfulness. During that night she wrote: “Take My Life and Let It Be.” Every December 2 after that she would sing that hymn and make changes in her life to move deeper in consecration to God.
In August, 1878, she was thrilled to give the Lord her “silver and gold” and to do so, sent her jewelry to the church mission house. There were about 50 pieces of fine and valuable treasures surrendered to the Lord’s work. She wrote that she never had so much fun!
She lived the same time the blind poet, Fanny Crosby, of America, being 17 years younger than Fanny. The two ladies never met, being separated by the Ocean, but they had high admiration for each other. Frances wrote Fanny the following:
Dear blind sister over the sea—
An English heart goes forth to thee.
We are linked by a cable of faith and song,
Flashing bright sympathy swift along.
One in the East and one in the West,
Singing for Him whom our souls love best.
Singing for Jesus! Telling His love
All the way to our home above,
Where the severing sea, with its restless tide
Never shall hinder and never divide.
Sister, what shall our meeting soon be
When our hearts shall sing and our eyes shall see?
Two of her publications include the titles: Opened Treasures and Kept for the Master’s Use.
When she was 42, she caught a severe cold, and her lungs were inflamed. She was told that her physical condition was serious and that she did not have long to live. Her reply to her doctor was, “If I am really going, it is too good to be true.” She put her favorite verse at the foot of her bed where she could easily see it: “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.”
On her last day on earth, she asked a friend to read her Isaiah 2. When the friend got to the Isaiah 2:6, where it says “I the Lord have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee,” Frances stopped her friend, and whispered, “Called, held, and kept! I can go home on that!” Then later, as she was dying, she sang clearly but faintly one of her hymns, “Jesus, I Will Trust Thee, Trust Thee With My Soul.” Then she looked up and had a glorious radiance on her face, that nothing less than seeing her Savior could bring. For ten minutes her sister and friends watched her, and then she tried to sing, but after one sweet high note, her voice failed, and her brother commended her soul to the Lord Jesus, and she passed away.
She died while at Caswell Bay, Swansea, Wales, June 3, 1879, at the young age of 43. Her tombstone, by her request, has her favorite verse carved into it: “The blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin.”
About 14 years later, the great writer, Oswald Chambers penned these words in her memory:
My heart is full of love,
My thoughts well in my throat and melt in tears
When seeking to express the power thy words convey.
Thou hast a soul that wraps round mine sweet peace,
That tells me all I need and gives it me;
Thy sweet, cool hand is oft upon my brow,
Thy holy purity inspireth me.
When sadness o’erwhelmeth me, thou art sad,
And sadness mingled giveth sympathy.
When joy shines bright, thy joy shines also,
And rejoices with me—Whence comes this power?
Methinks thou hast been on the mountaintop
And in the valleys. Aye! and through the dark
Thou hast been to the green Hill far away,
And there thy life melted into His, thence
As a ripple from His smile thou’rt come. Hail!
All Hail! the blessing of thy soulful words.
And now thou’rt on the breast of Jesus Christ
Perfectly good—thou knowest now the way
Thou traversed here, but if thou wert still here
I’d long to see thee, clasp thy hand, and pray,
Speechless from love because thou knowest me.
Mayhap strange unto thee things thou wrotest
Might have appeared, but He who knoweth all
Guided thy hand. Thou’rt happy, God be blest.
Nearer to Jesus hath thy poem led
A soul perplexed by thought for him too great.
If thou, O Poet, can behold us here,
O pray that I may like thee be good
And humbly learn of Jesus, that His life
Be manifest in my life and work, and glorified
Even as He was in thine.
Then when morning breaketh, and away
Flee all the shadows, may I grasp thy hand,
Look into thy face, and call thee sister.
A few of her many hymn poems were:
Kenneth W. Osbeck, 101 Hymn Stories (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Publications, 1982), pages 101-102, 239-241.
Kenneth W. Osbeck, 101 More Hymn Stories (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Publications, 1985), pages 127-128.
Kenneth W. Osbeck, Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Publications, 1990), page 10, 108, 256.
Galaxie Software, 10,000 Sermon Illustrations (Biblical Studies Press, 2002; 2002).
AMG Bible Illustrations, electronic ed., Logos Library System; Bible Illustrations Series (Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 2000) “Called! Held! Kept!”
A. W. Tozer, The Tozer Pulpit (Camp Hill, PA: WingSpread, 1994), Vol. 2, pages 102-103.
Edwin M. Yamauchi. “Cultural Aspects of Marriage in the Ancient World.” Dallas Theological Seminary, Bibliotheca Sacra (Dallas: Dallas Theological Seminary, 1978; 2002), Vol. 135, page 250.
F.B. Meyer, edited by Charles Erlandson. How to Read Your Bible, chapter 4. Heritage of Great Evangelical Teaching: Featuring the Best of Martin Luther, John Wesley, Dwight L. Moody, C.H. Spurgeon and Others. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997, c1996).
W. Phemister, “Havergal, Frances Ridley.” J. D. Douglas, Philip Wesley Comfort and Donald Mitchell, Who's Who in Christian History (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House, 1997, c1992), p. 305.
Revisions Dec 1, 2012 from:
A.E.C., Hymns and their Stories (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge: 1896), p. 185.
Frederick Barton, Favorite Scripture Texts of Famous People (Redding, California: Pleasant Places Press, 2005), p. 217.
William Budd Bodine, Some Hymns and Hymn Writers: Representing all who profess and call themselves Christian (Philadelphia: The John C. Winston Company, 1907), pp. 212-214. Drawing of Miss Havergal appears after page 208.
David R. Breed, The History and Use of Hymns and Hymn-Tunes (Chicago: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1903) pp. 245-251.
Oswald Chambers, The Poems of Oswald Chambers (Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1958), “For Frances Ridley Havergal, London, Nov. 1893.
John Davidson, John Julian “Havergal, Fraces Ridley,” John Julian, editor, A Dictionary of Hymnology Setting Forth the Origin and History of Christian Hymns of All Ages and Nations Setting Forth the Origin and History of Christian Hymns of All Ages and Nations (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1892), pp. 496-498.
Duncan Campbell, Hymns and Hymn Makers (London: A. & C. Black, 1898), pp. 137-139.
Robert J. Morgan, On This Day: 365 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1997), “December 2.”