This excellent biography of one of the most prolific and well-known hymn writers in church history is well researched, readable, educational and in many ways encouraging. Crosby was blind from early childhood but never let her lack of sight slow her down. She had an incredible ability to write singable poetry, some of which was political, patriotic, and sentimental. But she is known today for her many hymns (somewhere between 6,000-10,000) which reflected, and perhaps to some degree shaped, the evangelicalism of the 19th century. She lived 95 years (from 1820-1915), staying productive to the end, and died a national and Christian treasure.
As with any good biography more is covered than merely the main subject. Blumhofer also carefully outlines the development and key changes in sacred music during the 1800s. Important individuals of the times, men and women most of us know little about now, were instrumental in shaping sacred music and their influence is evident to this day. Key players include musicians Lowell Mason, George Root, William Bradbury and Ira Sankey, as well as preachers such as Henry Ward Beecher, Lyman Beecher and D.L. Moody.
All of these had a great impact on the life and music of Crosby. As for her personal faith, it was “rooted in Puritanism, developed by Methodism, warmed by the Holiness movement, and nourished by her Congregationist, Baptist, and Presbyterian associates” (p. 279). And despite all these influences Crosby “remained firmly anchored to the most basic tenets of the Calvinism of her childhood: God has a purpose, and disposition is a matter of choice” (p. 344).
Many of Crosby’s hymns are still sung today including: “All the Way My Savior Leads Me,” “Blessed Assurance,” “Close to Thee,” “He Hideth My Soul,” “More Like Jesus.” “I Am Thine, O Lord,” “Near the Cross,” “Pass Me Not,” “Praise Him, Praise Him,” ”Redeemed.” “Saved By Grace,” “Tell Me the Story of Jesus” and, of course, “To God Be the Glory.”
I highly recommend Her Heart Can See.
Her Heart Can See, The Life and Hymns of Fanny J. Crosby, by Edith L. Blumhofer (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans: 2005), 365 pp., Paper $16.99
Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor-teacher Southern View Chapel.