Such a Friend

As I’ve told you before, the words of the hymn “Why Should I Be Anxious” (hymnal 431) hang next to my office doorknob. The hymn comes from Nils Frykman (1842-1911), a mission friend pastor first in Sweden and then here in America. Bonnie handed this calligraphy to me one day early on in ministry life, encouraging me to put it in an unavoidable place.

It came to life again in the hymn sing last night, as once again we were led into green pastures and still waters by Royce Eckhardt. It’s always companioned my coming and going as a gift, a grounding reminder, a settling truth. J. Irving Erickson in “Twice Born Hymns” shares the story of how the hymn came to be.

During his years in Sweden, early in his ministry, Pastor Nils was in trouble, because he was gathering people together to sing, and read scripture, and talk about New Life in Jesus outside of the state church. This was against the law. Increased difficulty for him came when he had one of his own children baptized by a free church pastor rather than by a pastor of the state church. He endured such harassment and threat that he resigned his pastorate and took up life as an itinerant, traveling preacher. It was in this context that he shares the story of how this hymn came to be:

It was a Saturday afternoon. I was on my way to a school house where I was to preach that evening. On the way I became so overwhelmed by despair, both over my own and other people’s sins, that I threw myself to the ground and cried like a spanked child. Oh, how I prayed, and how the tears flowed! I can’t remember ever having cried like that. Yet I knew through it all I was a child of God, saved by grace. And without a doubt, it was this assurance that made the tears flow so easily and so heavenly. After I had wept out my burden, I resumed the journey with a light heart and light steps. And then it was easy to write and sing.

When he reached his destination the song had been born. Here then is the text. Let it settle you, wherever your spirit is this morning, to know you have such a friend:

Why should I be anxious? I have such a friend, who bears in his heart all my woe; this friend is the Savior, on him I depend, his love is eternal, I know.

Though I am unworthy he chose even me, by grace in his kingdom to dwell; that grace so abundant my refuge will be, your goodness, O God, I would tell.

His mercy, I know, is sufficient for me, and therein my soul finds its peace; he chastens with love, ever patient is he, my joys through his blessing increase.

The power of hell holds no terror for me, my stronghold is Israel’s God; in trial and sorrow my refuge is he: O Savior, your mercy I Laud!

Thus onward I go to that wonderful land, the beautiful home of the blest; though storms rage in fury, I’m safe in his hand, I’ll enter the haven of rest.

Peter Hawkinson

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