Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine

with ASSURANCE (or BLESSED ASSURANCE)

Origins. Fanny Crosby (1820–1915) was a prolific writer, to the extent that very few of her hymns have special stories. “Blessed assurance” is one of the few for which Crosby later recalled the circumstances of its composition, but not in great detail. In her autobiography, Memories of Eighty Years (1906), pp. 168, 180-181, dictated to an amanuensis, she offered these insights:

In a successful song, words and music must harmonize, not only in number of syllables, but in subject matter and especially accent. In nine cases out of ten, the success of a hymn depends directly upon these qualities. Thus, melodies tell their own tale, and it is the purpose of the poet to interpret this musical story into language. Not infrequently a composer asks, “What does that melody say to you?” And if it says nothing to you the probability is that your words will not agree with the music when an attempt is made to join them. “Blessed Assurance” was written to a melody composed by my friend, Mrs. Joseph F. Knapp; she played it over once or twice on the piano and then asked me what it said to me. I replied,

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine,
O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His spirit, washed in His blood:
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Saviour all the day long.

The hymn thus written seemed to express the experience of both Mrs. Knapp and myself.

“Blessed Assurance” was written in 1873. The music was composed by Mrs. Joseph F. Knapp, who became known to me as early as 1868, and who has also written the notes to several hymns of mine, including “Nearer the cross,” and “Open the gates of the temple.” An English religious weekly gives the following account of how soldiers use “God be with you” and “Blessed assurance” for passwords. When one member of the Soldiers’ Christian Association meets a comrade he says “494” which is the number of “God be with you till we meet again” in Sacred Songs and Solos; the latter replies “6 farther on,” that is 500, which is the number of “Blessed Assurance.” Of this custom, the secretary of the Association writes, “These hymns are constantly being used by our members as greeting and response; and I do not think any member of the Soldiers’ Christian Association ever writes without putting them somewhere on the letter or envelope.”

Another account exists in an earlier autobiography, Fanny Crosby’s Life Story (1903), p. 126, which was actually written by her friend Will Carleton as if Crosby were speaking in first person[1] (and thus these are not Fanny Crosby’s own words, even if they received her approval):

“Blessed Assurance” was made in this manner. My dear friend, Mrs. Joseph F. Knapp, so well known as a writer and singer of most exquisite music, and as an aid and inspiration to all who know her, had composed the tune, and it seemed to me one of the sweetest I had heard for a long time. She asked me to write a hymn for it, and I felt, while bringing the words and tones together, that the air and the hymn were intended for each other. In the many hundred times that I have heard it sung, this opinion has been more and more confirmed.

This hymn by Fanny Crosby and Phoebe Palmer Knapp (1839–1908) was published three times in 1873, including John R. Sweney’s Gems of Praise, No. 1 (Philadelphia: Methodist Episcopal Book-Room, 1873 | Fig. 1), in three stanzas with a refrain; on the back page of an issue of Guide to Holiness (NY), a periodical edited by Knapp’s parents, Walter C. Palmer and Phoebe Worrall Palmer; and in Bible School Songs (1873), edited by Knapp and J.H. Vincent.

 

Fig. 1. John R. Sweney, Gems of Praise, No. 1 (Philadelphia: Methodist Episcopal Book-Room, 1873).

 

The hymn was modified for inclusion in Gospel Hymns No. 5 (Chicago: Biglow & Main, 1887). In the first stanza, “purchased” became “purchase,” and in the second stanza, “rapture burst” became “rapture now burst.” The harmonization differs in some respects. This version of the hymn has become the standard form adopted into hymnals.

 

Fig. 2. Gospel Hymns No. 5 (Chicago: Biglow & Main, 1887).

 

Analysis. A fine extended analysis of the hymn, textually and musically, can be found in the work of blogger David Russell Hamrick, posted 29 January 2011. Below, he strikes at the heart of the hymn:

Crosby may have had Hebrews 10:22 in mind, “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.” The last line of the stanza expands on the source of assurance, likely referencing John 3:5 and Jesus’s statement to Nicodemus that we must be born again “of the water and of the Spirit.” Having that new birth through baptism into Christ and regeneration by the Holy Spirit, we are thus “sealed with the Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:13-14). …

And because of this reality—being washed in the blood of Christ, reborn through the Spirit, “bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 7:23) out of slavery to sin, to become heirs of God’s rich inheritance He has planned for us—we have a “full assurance.” It is no wishful thinking; our faith stands upon the promises of God, and “we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before Him at his coming” (1 John 2:28). We have “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). This is not a “hope” in the sense that I “hope” my car will start in the morning, or I “hope” my job will continue. This is a hope for the future based on a present assurance, founded on immutable truths.[2]

by CHRIS FENNER
for Hymnology Archive
23 January 2019


Footnotes:

  1. Edith L. Blumhofer, Her Heart Can See: The Life and Hymns of Fanny J. Crosby (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), p. 347.

  2. David Russell Hamrick, “Blessed Assurance,” David’s Hymn Blog (29 January 2011): http://drhamrick.blogspot.com/2011/01/blessed-assurance.html

Related Resources:

Ira D. Sankey, “Blessed assurance,” My Life and the Story of the Gospel Hymns (Philadelphia: Sunday School Times, 1906), pp. 136-139.

Hugh T. McElrath, “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine,” Handbook to the Baptist Hymnal (Nashville: Convention Press, 1992), p. 100.

Carlton R. Young, “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine,” Companion to the United Methodist Hymnal (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993), pp. 237-238.

Bert Polman, “Blessed assurance, Jesus in mine,” Psalter Hymnal Handbook (Grand Rapids: CRC, 1998), p. 659.

Carl P. Daw Jr. “Blessed assurance,” Glory to God: A Companion (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2016), pp. 801-802.

“Blessed assurance,” Hymnary.org:
https://hymnary.org/text/blessed_assurance_jesus_is_mine

J.R. Watson, “Blessed assurance,” Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology:
http://www.hymnology.co.uk/b/blessed-assurance,-jesus-is-mine