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FRANCES RIDLEY HAVERGAL (1836 - 1879): A Hidden Secret Disclosed

By Roger Salter
Special to Virtueonline
September 28, 2022

Henry William Havergal (1793-1870) was an Evangelical Anglican clergyman of Reformational conviction who wrote hymns, composed tunes and chants for reverent divine worship, and also published sermons and pamphlets in proclamation of the gospel.

He possessed a library, that among a variety of titles, included the writings of John Calvin, Richard Hooker, and various Puritan authors. His daughter, Frances, was the youngest of his six children and her middle name was given in honor of the martyred 16th century Reformation Bishop of London Nicholas Ridley. Henry was a man, a fine preacher and pastor, of strong Reformed Anglican credentials, hence Frances was nurtured Christianly under the influences of a sound Evangelical heritage that led to a clear consciousness of conversion to Christ and a winsome piety.

Frances was gifted, from an early age, with a talent for languages; contemporary European such as Italian and French, and the biblical languages Hebrew and Greek.Evidently, she was of considerable intellectual prowess. As her gift of poetic composition developed as a maturing believer, Frances dedicated this ability to the service of the Lord and the cause of the gospel. Her evangelistic concern was eloquently manifest through her wide range of eminently Scriptural hymns. Her constant conviction was aired thus: "Every line and word and rhyme comes from God."

Miss Havergal possessed a calm, confident and joyful piety in the disappointments and sufferings of life as the following extracts from The Thoughts of God charmingly evince:

They say there is a hollow, safe and still,
A point of coolness and repose
Within the centre of a flame, where life might dwell
Unharmed and unconsumed, as in a luminous shell,
Which the bright walls of fire enclose
In breachless splendour, barrier that no foes
Could pass at will.

There is a point of rest
At the great centre of the cyclone's force
A silence at its secret source;-
A little child may slumber undistressed,
Without the ruffle of one fairy curl,
In that strange central calm amid the mighty whirl.

So in the centre of these thoughts of God,
Cyclones of power, consuming glory-fire,
As we fall o'erawed
Upon our faces, and are lifted higher

By this great gentleness, and carried nigher
Than unredeemed angels, till we stand
Even in the hollow of his hand,--
Nay more! We lean upon his breast --
There, there we find a point of perfect rest

And glorious safety. There we see
His thoughts to us-ward, thoughts of peace
That stoop to tenderest love; that still increase
With increase of our need; that never change,
That never fail, or falter, or forget.
O pity infinite!
O royal mercy free!
O gentle climax of the depth and height
Of God's most precious thoughts, most wonderful, most strange!
'For I am poor and needy, yet
The Lord himself, Jehovah, thinketh upon me!'

A refined, delicate mind conceived these expressions of sweet intimacy with God, yet underlying them is a robust and courageous foundation of dogged trust that also endures the dark side of Christian hardship and trial: "Even in very painful spiritual darkness it has sometimes comforted me to think that God might be leading me through strange dark ways so that I might be his messenger to some of his children in similar distress." To a grieving mother shedding tears beside her daughter's grave Frances gently offered these words of comfort, "Think of the meeting, not of the parting." A rare pastoral deftness characterized the sympathetic soul of the skilled hymn writer. Her piety was humanely practical. For her ministry of mercy her mother's warning of her imminent death braced Fanny for the approaching sadness of her heartfelt loss, words that tenderized her heart to all human affliction - "Fanny dear, pray God to prepare you for all He is preparing for you." Some degree of earthly misery is unavoidable. Frances' warning and woe inclined her to compassion for others.

Havergal's hymns are expansive over almost every facet of Christian faith and obedience: the gospel word and testimony, atonement, consecration, Christian hope in life, suffering, and death, glorious resurrection of the children of God. Approximately 50 of her hymns are still included in various compilations of sacred song the world over, but at least fifteen are commonly known in contemporary worship including: O Saviour, precious Saviour, Just as I am, without one plea, Lord speak to me, that I may speak, Take my life and let it be Consecrated Lord to Thee, Another year is dawning, I am trusting thee, Lord Jesus, Who is on the Lord's side? Thou art coming, O my Saviour.

The precious blood-shedding of the Redeemer and its benefits are extolled in the hymn "I gave my life for thee" suggested by a painting viewed in Germany depicting Christ's agony on the cross with the legend "All this I did for thee. What hast thou done for me?"

Verse one:
I gave my life thee,
My precious blood I shed,
That thou mightst ransomed be
And quickened from the dead;
I gave, I gave my life for thee,
What hast thou done for me?

Verse three:
I suffered much for thee,
More than thy tongue can tell,
Of bitterest agony,
To rescue thee from hell;
I've borne, I've borne it all for thee
What hast thou borne for me?
And I have brought to thee,
Down from My home above,
Salvation full and free,
My pardon and My love;
I bring, I bring rich gifts to thee,
What hast though brought to me?

Frances Ridley Havergal's evangelicalism as an Anglican is impeccable. What is concealed from most churchgoers who delight in her hymns is the fact that, like her father, Fanny was a moderate Calvinist (election is thereby faithfully affirmed without defining grace as distinguishing in its distribution, a la the early Johann Bullinger, Swiss Reformer (1504-1575). Yet the fact that grace is particular is an undoubted biblical truth. This fact of adherence to sovereign electing love is almost omitted from all popular reference to her; by those who portray her life. It is doubtful that the following hymn finds a place in any well-known hymnal. It displays the noble theology of the English Reformation and especially that of the man whose name she bears - Nicholas Ridley, a guiding hand to the composition of The Thirty-nine Articles, the Anglican Confession of Faith.

Church of God, beloved and chosen
Church of Christ for whom he died,
Claim thy gifts and praise the Giver,
Ye are washed and sanctified.
Sanctified by God the Father,
And by Jesus Christ his Son,
And by God the Holy Spirit,
Holy, Holy, Three in One.

By his will he sanctifieth,
By the Spirit's power within;
By the loving hand that chasteneth
Fruits of righteousness to win;
By his truth and by his promise,
By the Word his gift unpriced,
By his own blood, and by union
With the risen life of Christ.

Holiness by faith in Jesus,
Not by effort of thine own,
Sin's dominion crushed and broken
By the power of grace alone.
Christ, the holiness within thee,
His own beauty on thy brow;
This shall be thy pilgrim brightness,
This thy blessed portion now.

He will sanctify thee wholly;
Body, spirit, soul shall be
Blameless till thy Saviour's coming
In his glorious majesty!
He hath perfected forever
Those whom he hath sanctified;
Spotless, glorious and holy,
Is the Church, his chosen Bride.

"To the great loss of the church," Frances Havergal, "has left these lower choirs to sing above. Miss Havergal, last and loveliest of our modern poets, when her tones were most mellow and her language most sublime, has been caught up to swell the music of heaven." - Charles Haddon Spurgeon

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