What a Friend We Have in Jesus

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"What a Friend We Have in Jesus"
Language English
Composer Charles C. Converse (1868)
Lyricist Joseph M. Scriven (1855)
Language English
Performed by the Onward Brass Band

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"What a Friend We Have in Jesus" is a Christian hymn originally written by Joseph M. Scriven as a poem in 1855 to comfort his mother who was living in Ireland while he was in Canada. Scriven originally published the poem anonymously, and only received full credit for it in the 1880s.[1] The tune to the hymn was composed by Charles Crozat Converse in 1868. William Bolcom composed a setting of the hymn. The hymn also has many versions with different lyrics in multiple languages. The Handbook to the Lutheran Hymnal notes, "In spite of the fact that this hymn, with its tune, has been criticized as being too much on the order of the sentimental gospel type, its popularity remains strong, and the hymn retains a place in modern hymnals."[2] In some settings, the lyrics have been matched to other tunes such as the Welsh "Calon Lân" (originally wedded to the Welsh poem translated as "A Pure Heart").


Aretha Franklin recorded a live version the song for her album Amazing Grace (1972). It also appeared on Ike & Tina Turner's 1974 gospel album The Gospel According to Ike & Tina. The John Tesh Project covered the song from the album Pure Hymns.[3] Ronnie Milsap did a cover for his album Then Sings My Soul (2009).

Alan Price used the tune for his song "Changes" in the 1973 film O Lucky Man!, which was reused in a Volkswagen commercial with Paula Hamilton in the 1980s.[4]

Brad Paisley recorded a solo acoustic guitar instrumental version on his album Play (2008). Jazz pianist Monty Alexander included the tune in his album Uplift 2 (2013).[5]

In Asia[edit]

In Japan, the hymn's title was originally translated as "Itsukushimi Fukaki" (いつくしみ深き?, lit. "Deep Affection"),[6] which is what it is best known by. In 1910, Daisui Sugitani re-wrote the lyrics in Japanese and changed the title to "Hoshi no Yo" (星の界?, lit. "World of Stars"). Another version was written by Ryūkō Kawaji with the title "Hoshi no Sekai" (星の世界?, lit. "World of Stars"). It is also known by the title "Tsumitoga o Ninou" (つみとがをにのう?, lit. "To Bear Sin"). The hymn is popular at wedding ceremonies in Japan.[7]

In Indonesia, the hymn is known as "Yesus Kawan yang Sejati" and is sung in Indonesian or Batak (the indigenous language of North Sumatra) in Manado, Maluccan, and Protestant churches (around 6% of the population). Statistically, the majority of Indonesians are Muslim (around 76%) but native religion elements have up to 90% of the total population and consequently the hymn is widely known only among musicians, scholars and Indonesia's Christian community. However, prior to when Suharto seized power in 1967, the same music was adopted for a popular patriotic song titled "Ibu Pertiwi".

In Hindi, the hymn is a very important song and is sung as "Yeshu kaisa dost pyara". In Marathi, the hymn has been translated as "Kon Mitra Yeshuwani" By Mary Bessel.The song is common during solemn services (Passion week and burial). In Malayalam, the hymn as "Enthu Nallore sakhi Yesu" is sung to comfort and as an invitation to Christ.[8]

In popular culture[edit]

A version was sung during World War I with the line "When this bloody war is over" in place of the original title.[7]

The tune was used in the 1969 film, Oh! What a Lovely War with the title "When This Lousy War Is Over".

The tune was in the labor protest movement due to its wide popularity. "Dump the Bosses Off Your Backs" (words by John Brill) was published in the IWW "Little Red Songbook" and has been recorded by dozens of artists including Utah Phillips, Anne Feeney, and Joe Glazer.

Published versions[edit]


  1. ^ "What a Friend We Have in Jesus". Retrieved 2007-05-03. 
  2. ^ Polack, W.G. (1941). Handbook to the Lutheran Hymnal. St. Louis: Concordia. p. 323. 
  3. ^ "Pure Hymns overview". Allmusic. Retrieved July 4, 2010. 
  4. ^ "Volkswagen Golf – Paula Hamilton – 1987 – UK Advert". Retro Commercials. March 13, 2010. Retrieved September 26, 2011. 
  5. ^ "Monty Alexander UPLIFT 2". Jazz Legacy Productions. Retrieved January 11, 2014. 
  6. ^ "Itsukushimi Fukaki song sheet". Retrieved 2007-07-16. 
  7. ^ a b "312: What a Friend We Have in Jesus". Retrieved 2008-03-19. 
  8. ^ Christhiya Keerthanangal (Christian Hymns). 2007. Hymn 173.

External links[edit]