The Dedicated Life of Frances Ridley Havergal

by Bernard R. DeRemer

In 1874 Frances Ridley Havergal become greatly burdened for the ten residents of a home she was visiting. Some were unsaved, though for many years they had been prayed for, and others were not fully committed to Christ.

"Lord, give me all in this house!" she prayed vehemently.

He did just that. Before she left, everyone in the home had yielded to the Lord. The last night of her visit, sleep escaped Frances as she spent the night in prayer, and in renewing her own consecration.

Then she composed "Take My Life and Let It Be," perhaps her most widely-used hymn, which has blessed multitudes over the years. It was a fitting climax for the historic visit.

Frances Ridley Havergal was born in 1836 at Worcestershire, England, where her father was a rector. She was proud to be descended from Bishop Nicholas Ridley (1500-1555), the famous reformer and martyr.

By age 2, she was so precocious that she "spoke with great fluency and variety of language," for such a tender age. She became proficient in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, as well as modern languages.

Frances R. HavergalBecause of her delicate health, she was educated at home as well as at private schools in England and Germany.

Though she was brought up in a godly home, and influenced for Christ from the earliest, she went through years of doubt and seeking. Her mother's death when she was 11 profoundly affected her.

At 15 she was saved; thereafter for many years she was a "struggling but growing Christian."

At the school she attended in 1853, with its atmosphere of unbelief, she felt she must "try to walk worthy of my calling for Christ's sake" and be a faithful witness for Him.

At age 7 she began writing little verses; this would develop into a rich lifelong ministry. Soon these selections were appearing in various religious journals of the day. Besides being in demand for the poems, songs, and articles which flowed from her busy pen, she maintained a voluminous correspondence.

Her sister described Frances's study and work habits, including her favorite chair, an American typewriter, and other facilities.

"Her desk and table drawers were all methodically arranged for letters from editors, friends, relatives, strangers, matters of business…." Papers and other supplies were all "in their allotted corners, no litter ever allowed."

Here she would read her Bible by 7 a. m. in the summer, 8 o'clock during winter. At the nearby harp-piano, she composed various numbers. Early rising and study "were her rule through life…."

Nine numbers by Frances appear in Hymns for the Living Church, including "I am Trusting Thee, Lord Jesus," "Lord, Speak to Me, That I May Speak," "Like a River Glorious," and "I Gave My Life for Thee."

She published collections of her poems and hymns in a number of separate volumes, which became very popular in evangelical circles. She also wrote many small devotional tracts and articles. One of her finest devotional books, Kept for the Master's Use, is still available; others may be found in libraries and used book stores.

One indication of her abiding influence and importance is that she rates an entire column in the prestigious Dictionary of National Biography.

Various illnesses afflicted her during her short life. In one episode, she described the agony she was in, which made her eager to "try anything" (for relief). She admitted to being "sensitive to pain," perhaps more so than others, but as always she sought to glorify God in every situation.

Her sister testified that after a brief recovery, a relapse occurred, which lasted many weeks. She added, "It was really delightful work to nurse one so patient, so thankful, so considerate…." Servants pleaded for opportunities to "sit up in turn with ‘dear Miss Frances'."

In the last year of her life she recorded revealing entries in her daily "Journal of Mercies." Here are a few excerpts:

Jan. 1: "Able to come downstairs first time"; Jan. 4: "Opportunities of speaking of Christ"; Jan. 5: "rest and leisure today"; Jan 11: "Having money to give away"; Jan. 13: "Deliverance out of many trials and difficulties"; Feb. 8: "Pleasant guidance"; Feb. 16: "Frustration of plans, and solemn lessons"; March 15: "Contentment in walking by faith, not by sight."

The final illness began in May, 1879, at Caswell Bay, Swansea, Wales, with a return of "feverish attacks, which the doctor says are really from debility."

Conditions worsened and all remedies failed. Yet "her peace and joy shone through it all while her patience and unselfish consideration for others were most striking…." The end came on June 3, when she "looked up steadfastly as if she saw the Lord." The assembled company watched as she tried to sing, but her voice failed. As her brother commended her into the Lord's hands, she quietly departed to be with Him. She was only 42.

Many relatives and friends joined in the triumphant coronation service. Her tombstone includes this tribute:

By her writings in prose and verse, she "being dead yet speaketh."

And that still holds true today.