He Will Sustain
Many of you can imagine the fear of losing your eyesight. A few years ago, I was diagnosed with Fuchs Dystrophy. This is a rare eye disease that causes vision impairment. When I was first told about my condition, I was struck with the potential fear of going blind. Some of you know that feeling. Even if you have never suffered from ocular issues like macular degeneration or glaucoma, the thought of being blind is scary at best, terrifying at worst. In this article, I’d like to reflect on the life of Fanny Crosby, who lost her eyesight at a very young age and how the Lord used some of the great challenges of her life.
Fanny Crosby was the most prolific hymn writer throughout all of Christian history. Over the course of her life, she wrote over 8,000 hymns with over 100 million copies of her songs in print. Many of these hymns are well-known and used today, ranging from “To God Be the Glory” to “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior” to “Blessed Assurance” to “Praise Him! Praise Him!”. We might think that the inspiration from these hymns came out of Crosby’s amazing life and giftedness, but her hymns (even praises) came out of great sorrow and pain.
Crosby was born in 1820, a healthy baby girl, to a well-connected family. At six weeks old, Fanny caught a cold and experienced inflammation in her eyes. A man who was filling in for the village doctor applied a mustard mixture to this little infant’s eyes and damaged her optic nerves. From this point on, Crosby lost her eyesight and would remember nothing of what the world looked like. Yet, she became involved in her local church, singing hymns and memorizing Scripture. These years would form Fanny’s identity as a beloved child of God. She knew her value and identity were not dependent upon her eyesight, but instead on God’s love for her.
At the age of 8, Crosby began composing poetry. She would write and sing many of her own compositions. During this time, her grandmother had her memorize five chapters of the Bible each week! By the age of 15, she had memorized all four gospels, the Pentateuch, the Book of Proverbs, the Song of Solomon, and many of the Psalms! At this age, she enrolled in a school for the blind, where she would meet her husband, Alexander Van Alstyne.
In 1858, at the age of 38, Crosby and Van Alstyne married. A year after their wedding, they had a daughter who, sadly, would die in her sleep shortly after birth. The devastation of losing her only child led Fanny to write the hymn “Safe in the Arms of Jesus”. Her blindness and the losses around her caused great suffering in Fanny’s life, and yet, they kept drawing her closer to the Lord, trusting in His hope and love.
Towards the end of her life, and interviewer once asked Fanny if she wanted to have a second chance at living her life over again with her eyesight restored. She emphatically replied, “No, when I get to heaven, the first face that shall ever gladden my sight will be that of my Savior.” She would go further and state, “had it not been for my affliction, I might not have had so good of an education or have had so great an influence, and certainly not so fine a memory.”
In every facet of her life, Fanny was completely dependent and reliant upon God. Even without her sight, she knew how Jesus was faithful to her and how He would sustain her. She loved Him, because He first loved her. On Fanny Crosby’s tombstone are the lyrics from a familiar hymn, “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine, O What a Foretaste of Glory Divine!”. Whether it is the inevitability of losing our eyesight or any other challenge that we will endure in this life, our consistent hope is in the faithful love of the Lord. He will sustain and provide for us, as His people.