Frances Ridley Havergal (1836-1879) - page 1

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From the Spring 2014 issue of Knowing & Doing:  


Frances Ridley Havergal (1836-1879)
“Always, Only for My King” 

by David B. Calhoun
Professor Emeritus of Church History Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri


rances Ridley Havergal was born in Astley, Worcestershire, England, on December 14, 1836.1  She was the youngest of six children born to Jane (Head) and William Havergal, a couple described as “a sterling example of Victorian evangelicalism.”2  Her middle name was after Nicholas Ridley, a Reformation martyr burned at Oxford in 1555.  
  Frances’ father was the minister at Astley.  In his study, books by John Calvin stood side by side with the works of Thomas Hooker, Jeremy Taylor, and many of the Puritan divines.  He was a fine preacher.  A member of his congregation said, “Nobody preaches like Mr. Havergal; he teaches me what I want.  I tell you what he does: he takes a text, picks it all to pieces, and shows us what is inside it, and then makes us feel it.”3  William Havergal was also an accomplished musician and composer.  His book, Old Church Psalmody, was an influential collection of church music.
   Frances grew up in “a large, hospitable and stimulating home in which a mix of tutors, curates, students and suitors engaged in lively conversation.”4  She learned to read by the age of three, and picked up languages listening to the tutorials of her five siblings.  When she was nine she helped in teaching a Sunday school class for younger children.
  In 1845 Mr. Havergal was appointed rector of St. Nicholas, Worcester, a busy city parish.  Frances missed her pleasant country life so much that her father called her “a caged lark.”5  Her mother died in 1848, when Frances was twelve.  Two years later she was sent to a private school for girls in London.  There she perfected her French, learned Italian, and studied music, art, and the Bible, large portions of which she memorized.  Frances had resisted attempts by her parents to encourage her to confess faith in Christ as her Savior, but joyfully did so soon after her fifteenth birthday.  She wrote: “I committed my soul to the Saviour … and earth and heaven seemed bright from that moment.”6
  In 1851 Mr. Havergal married Caroline Cooke, a friend of his daughter Miriam.  Caroline was twenty years younger than her husband and her relationship with Frances, who was very close to her father, became difficult at times.
Frances completed her formal schooling in Düsseldorf, Germany, where her father and stepmother had gone to seek help for his deteriorating eyesight.  There she learned German and studied Hebrew, Greek, and Latin.  
   In 1860 Mr. Havergal, then in failing health, took a very small rural church in Shareshill, a few miles from Wolverhampton.  For the next seven years Frances lived with her sister Miriam and her family in Oakhampton House in Astley parish, where she was governess to her two youngest nieces.  In December 1867 she went to Shareshill to help care for her father and stepmother.  Her father died in 1870, and Caroline eight years later.
  On Advent Sunday in 1873, when she was eighteen, Frances was confirmed in Worcester Cathedral.  It was a turning point in her life.  She knelt before the bishop and followed carefully his words, “Defend, O Lord, this thy child with thy heavenly grace, that she may continue thine for ever, and daily increase in thy Holy Spirit, until she come into thy everlasting kingdom.”  “If ever my heart followed a prayer,” she wrote, “it did then, if ever it thrilled with earnest longing not unmixed with joy, it did at the words ‘Thine for ever.’”7  That day she wrote a short poem expressing her feeling:

Oh!  “Thine forever,” what a blessed thing
To be for ever His who died for me!
My Saviour, all my life thy praise I’ll sing,
Nor cease my song throughout eternity.

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