She Saw the Light of Christ: The Story of Fanny Crosby

by Dr. Blake Killingsworth, DBU Staff

Day 15 of Advent

Blessed Assurance,” you can hear congregations sing, “Jesus is Mine; Oh what a foretaste of glory divine! This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior, all the day long!

This story, this assurance, came from the pen of the most well-known American hymn-writer of the 19th Century, Frances Jane Crosby. Born in southeastern New York in 1820, “Fanny” became an educational pioneer, prolific poet, sought-after speaker, and successful writer, all without the aid of sight.

At two months old, the story famously goes, an unqualified, traveling physician treated Fanny for an eye infection, rendering her blind for life. Although likely the blindness came from a congenital condition, the thought of having sight “stolen” could easily cause a person to drift into bitterness and despair. But the Crosby family refused to let that happen to their daughter, and as she grew, they provided her with educational opportunities and encouraged her gifting in the area of writing and verse.

As one of the first students attending the New York School of the Blind, Crosby served as a spokeswoman for the institution, giving performances to filled lecture halls, including the recitation of famous poems and also some of her own. Through the school, she even became friends with a young Grover Cleveland, a future president who worked at the school for a season, and also met her husband, Alexander Van Alstyne, who was also blind and soon became a music instructor at the school.

Raised a Presbyterian, she always maintained a life of faith practice, but that faith did little to penetrate her heart. In her late twenties, she grew restless from a dream she had of a dying man asking if he would see her in heaven. Fanny’s response, “Yes, I will, God helping me,” was an answer that betrayed her doubt of salvation and began a journey that led her to a revival service in 1850. As the words of Isaac Watts famous hymn, “Alas and Did My Savior Bleed,” carried in the room, Fanny gave full force to the final stanza, “Here, Lord, I give myself away, ‘tis all that I can do.”

As Crosby later recalled, she felt her soul “flooded with celestial light,” as she jumped to her feet and began shouting, “Hallelujah!”

In the years that followed, the light that overwhelmed her that day propelled her to even greater expressions of faith, expressions that continue to impact Christians to this day.

Crosby reminds us even now of the “great things He hath done, so loved He the world that He gave us His Son.

She shouts, “Redeemed, how I love to proclaim it, redeemed by the Blood of the Lamb.

In a world full of individualism, she stresses that we must “Rescue the perishing, care for the dying, Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save!

These words reflect the heart of the nineteenth-century Gospel movement, with Fanny in many ways as its leader. Indeed, her hymns shaped the theological and spiritual expressions of more individuals than any preacher or evangelist of her time, not to mention the lasting power of her words throughout the twentieth century.

All of this, from the frame of a demure, seemingly frail blind woman. Blindness did nothing to stop Crosby, especially after she saw the light of her Savior.

As we reflect this Advent season on all that God has given to us in His own Son, and as we consider how the coming of Christ provided such abundance of joy in the life of a humble blind woman that it overflowed to bless countless others for many generations to come, what is holding you back? What gifting have you refused to hand over to God out of fear of rejection or failure?

In the hand of the Master, nothing is a disability; it is merely an opportunity to demonstrate God’s glory.  Our job is simply to obey.

As Fanny illustrates for us,

Master, thou callest, I gladly obey; Only direct me, and I’ll find Thy way.
Teach me the mission appointed for me, What is my labor, and where it shall be.
Master, Thou callest, and I this reply, “Ready and willing, Lord, here am I.”