Hymns of Hope: Like a River Glorious
Frances Ridley Havergal was an English poet and hymn writer. Born into a Christian family, she was gifted with an incredible intellect. She learned to read by the age of three and was writing poetry by the age of seven. She had a natural ability with languages and was able to speak: French, German, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew fluently. Her mother’s death, when Frances was eleven, affected her very deeply. She was brought to a saving knowledge of Christ when she was fourteen, and though she had attended church and read the Bible for years, now she had the light and life of Christ she had not known before. She loved the Scriptures and by the time she was twenty-two years old she could recite: all the gospels, the epistles, the book of Revelation, the Psalms, and Isaiah by heart. Later in life she also memorized the minor prophets. She was very musically gifted as well and had a lovely singing voice. Though trained as a concert artist who could have had worldly fame and wealth she chose rather to devote her life to singing for Jesus and serving Him.
In her life, Frances had periods of great joy and fervor but she also had dark seasons of depression and doubt. It was during these seasons of great trial that Frances wrote some of her most beautiful poems and hymns. She took what God showed her in those dark seasons of life and used it to minster to other struggling believers.
Stories told that Frances signed a contract with an American publisher in the hopes of selling her books beyond just England. In January of 1874 she received a letter informing her that her American publisher had gone under in a financial crash. Unfortunately, her contract was an exclusive one that did not allow her to publish with any other American publishers, this was a huge blow to her publishing career and potential livelihood. Not long after this, the only copy of one of her book manuscripts was destroyed in a printers fire. All of her hard work was completely lost, not a scrap of the manuscript was left. It was this same year that Frances wrote a hymn on the peace of God which has ministered great comfort to the hearts of hurting saints for more than 140 years: Like a River Glorious.
Like a river glorious is God’s perfect peace,
Over all victorious, in its bright increase;
Perfect, yet it floweth fuller every day,
Perfect, yet it groweth deeper all the way.
Hidden in the hollow of His blessed hand,
Never foe can follow, never traitor stand;
Not a surge of worry, not a shade of care,
Not a blast of hurry touch the spirit there.
Every joy or trial falleth from above,
Traced upon our dial by the Sun of Love;
We may trust Him fully, all for us to do;
They who trust Him wholly find Him wholly true.
The chorus of the song reveals the secret to experiencing this perfect peace that is like a glorious river:
Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blest
Finding, as He promised, perfect peace and rest.
Isaiah 26:3 says, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.” Christ is the Prince of Peace, He is the One who payed the ultimate price for us to have peace with God. He is the source of true and perfect peace. If you want peace, you have to get into the presence of God. Frances experienced this kind of peace in the midst of difficult, frustrating and painful circumstances. She didn’t just write about these truths, she worked them out in every day life, in the midst of her pain, struggles and stresses. She had a life message about this peace. Charles Spurgeon said of her: There is a center to every storm where perfect calm reigns. There is point within the circle of the most consuming flame where life is possible without any danger of its being consumed. Miss Havergal seems to me, to have got into the very center of the storms that are disturbing others and abides in perfect peace. She seems to have penetrated the very heart of God who is a consuming fire and rests absolutely in His love.
In 1879, at the age of forty-two Frances became very ill, as her fever grew worse it became apparent that she was dying. When told she would not live much longer Frances replied, “Beautiful. Too good to be true.” Soon afterwards she looked up smiling and said, “Splendid to be so near the gates of heaven!” A little later she whispered, “Come Lord Jesus, fetch me.” Her sister later wrote: Then she looked up steadily as if she saw the Lord. Surely nothing less heavenly could have reflected such a glorious radiance upon her face. For ten minutes we watched that almost visible meeting with her King, and her countenance was so glad, as if she were already talking to Him! Then she tried to sing, but after one sweet, high note, “HE-,” her voice failed and her brother commended her soul into the Redeemer’s hand. She had lived and died singing to Jesus.