What a Friend We Have in Jesus

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"What a Friend We Have in Jesus"
Composer(s)Charles C. Converse (1868)
Lyricist(s)Joseph M. Scriven (1855)

"What a Friend We Have in Jesus" is a Christian hymn originally written by preacher Joseph M. Scriven as a poem in 1855 to comfort his mother who was living in Ireland while he was in Canada.[1] Scriven originally published the poem anonymously, and only received full credit for it in the 1880s.[2] 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."[3] 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").


In Asia[edit]

In Japan, the hymn's title was originally translated as "Itsukushimi Fukaki" (いつくしみ深き, lit. "Merciful"),[9] 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.[10]

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.[11] This hymn had been translated into Telugu and it is sung during occasions as a song of comfort and solace. It is translated as "Preethi gala mana Yesu" and it is listed in the Andhra Kraisthava Keerthanalu (Andhra Christian hymnals) as hymn No. 407.

In India, the hymn sung in Konkani, "Dulob Jezu", was translated by Felix Paul Noronha of Mangalore.

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.[10] 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 used in Alan Price's song Changes, which was written for the 1973 film O Lucky Man! and later became a hit when used in the 1987 Volkswagen Golf television commercial. 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. A Norwegian version was used in the film Trollhunter. It was sung in the 1984 film Footloose.

Published versions[edit]


  1. ^ Guillet, Edwin C., "Community Life: Religion", The Valley of the Trent, Chapter IX, page 301. The Champlain Society, 1957.
  2. ^ "What a Friend We Have in Jesus". www.hymntime.com. Retrieved 2007-05-03.
  3. ^ Polack, W.G. (1941). Handbook to the Lutheran Hymnal. St. Louis: Concordia. p. 323.
  4. ^ "Washington Phillips discography". wirz.de. Retrieved August 24, 2015.
  5. ^ George Washington Phillips: Jesus Is My Friend at AllMusic. Retrieved August 24, 2015.
  6. ^ "Volkswagen Golf – Paula Hamilton – 1987 – UK Advert". Retro Commercials. March 13, 2010. Retrieved September 26, 2011.
  7. ^ "Pure Hymns overview". Allmusic. Retrieved July 4, 2010.
  8. ^ "Monty Alexander UPLIFT 2". Jazz Legacy Productions. Retrieved January 11, 2014.
  9. ^ "Itsukushimi Fukaki song sheet" (PDF). Retrieved 2007-07-16.
  10. ^ a b "312: What a Friend We Have in Jesus". Retrieved 2008-03-19.
  11. ^ Christhiya Keerthanangal (Christian Hymns). 2007. Hymn 173.

External links[edit]