“How Beautiful Heaven Must Be”

"HOW BEAUTIFUL HEAVEN MUST BE"
"And there shall be no more death, neither sorrow,nor crying….and the Lamb is the light thereof" (Rev. 21.4, 23).

     INTRO.: A song which expresses the beauty of that eternal home where there shall be no more death and the Lamb is the light is "How Beautiful Heaven Must Be" (#196 in Hymns for Worship Revised and #357 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written by Mrs. A. S. (Cordie) Bridgewater (c. 1873-c. 1957). Some books just have " A. S. Bridgewater," and a few older books identify the author as "Rev. A. S. Bridgewater," indicating a denominational minister (in many Pentecostal churches, women have been ministers for many years, but there is no actual evidence that Mrs. Bridgewater was one, although it is still possible). Mrs. Bridgewater was born in North Carolina and married A. Samuel Bridgewater from Tennessee. The couple lived near Hanceville, AL, from 1909 to 1917, where he farmed. It is believed that she produced the words to "How Beautiful Heaven Must Be" during this time. The Bridgewaters left Hanceville around 1917, and no further records of them have been found

     The tune (Beautiful Heaven) was composed by Andy Pickens Bland, who was born in Dallas, TX, on Nov. 13, 1876. His parents, James Elgin and Allie Bland, lived there for about six more years after his birth before moving back to Alabama where they farmed at Hanceville in the Cullman, AL, area, and raised their family. Farming and often working in a local sawmill, Bland married Array Jane Abercramb in 1900, and they had seven children before she died in childbirth in 1918. Later, he married Anne Jane Smith who bore him four more girls. The song, with Bland listed as the owner of the copyright, apparently was published around 1920 but I have not been able to find out in what source or by what company, although most of Bland’s approximately thirty songs were published by the J. M. Henson Music Company. Trying to find background information on many of these "Southern gospel-type hymns" along with biographical material on their authors and composers can be extremely difficult.

     Someone involved in hymn research once told me, "Many of the old song book publishing houses that dotted the south from about 1900-1950 no longer exist and, in most cases, their records (if they had any to start with) were simply destroyed. Firms like James D. Vaughan, Stamps-Baxter, Trio and many others solicited songs from ‘average’ people who faded out of the records." A. P. Bland always enjoyed singing and taught a few singing schools. In addition, he served as song director for the Bethlehem Baptist Church near Hanceville until his health began to fail.  In 1937, Roy Acuff sang "How Beautiful Heaven Must Be" at a Grand Ole Opry performance. Asher Sizemore of the Grand Ole Opry liked it and set out to locate Bland. Sizemore purchased the copyright and went on to make the song famous. Bland died on Jan. 30, 1938, and his body is buried in the Bethlehem Church cemetery.

     Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, the song in the 1927 Cross and Resurrection in Song: Revised and Enlarged edited by Flavil and Samuel Hall (I do not know if it was in the original 1920 edition, since I do not have a copy of that); the 1938 Spiritual Melodies, the 1943 Standard Gospel Hymns, and the 1965 Great Christian Hymnal No. 2 all edited by Tillit Teddlie; the 1938/1944 New Wonderful Songs edited by Thomas S. Cobb; the 1940 Complete Christian Hymnal edited by Marion Davis; the 1944 Gospel Songs and Hymns and the 1952 Hymns of Praise and Devotion both edited Will Slater; and the 1959 Majestic Hymnal No. 2 and the 1978 Hymns of Praise both edited by Reuel Lemmons. Today it may be found in the 1971 Songs of the Church, the 1990 Songs of the Church 21st C. Ed., and the 1994 Songs of Faith and Praise all edited by Alton H. Howard; the 1978/1983 Church Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard; the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; in addition to Hymns for Worship, Sacred Selections, and the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat.

     The song gives several reasons why heaven will be such a beautiful place.

I. Stanza 1 says that it must be beautiful because it’s revealed in God’s word
"We read of a place that’s called heaven; It’s made for the pure and the free.
These truths in God’s word He has given; How beautiful heaven must be."
 A. We do read of a place that’s called heaven: Col. 1.1-3
 B. It’s made for the pure and the free, because nothing that defiles or causes an abomination will enter there, but only those in the Lamb’s book of life: Rev. 21.27
 C. These truths in God’s word He has given because every aspect of truth that He wants us to know is revealed in His word: Jn. 17.17, 2 Tim. 3.16-17

II. Stanza 2 says that it’s beautiful because God’s light is forever shining
"In heaven, no drooping nor pining, No wishing for elsewhere to be,
God’s light is forever there shining; How beautiful heaven must be."
 A. There will be no drooping or pining in this new heaven and new earth where God Himself dwells: Rev. 21.1-3
 B. There will also be no wishing for elsewhere to be, because everything there will be perfect: Rev. 21.5-8
 C. And the reason why this is so is that God’s light is forever there shining; thus, there will be no night: Rev. 21.25, 22.5

III. Stanza three says that it’s beautiful because the water of life is there
"Pure waters of life there are flowing, And all who will drink may be free;
Rare jewels of splendor are glowing: How beautiful heaven must be."
 A. Pure waters of life there are flowing: Rev. 22.1-4
 B. And all who drink these waters will be free: Jn. 4.10-14, 7.37-38
 C. Also, rare jewels of splendor are glowing; we recognize that this is based on figurative language that is used simply to describe the beauty of that place: Rev. 21.18-21

IV. Stanza four says that it’s beautiful because of the angels’ singing
"The angels so sweetly are singing Up there by the beautiful sea.
Sweet chords from their gold harps are ringing; How beautiful heaven must be."
 A. The Bible does picture the angels in heaven praising God: Rev. 5.11-14
 B. The Halls in Cross and Resurrection changed the second line of this stanza from "Up there by the beautiful sea" to "Where all is so happy and free," perhaps because of a perceived conflict with the statement, "There was no more sea" (Rev. 21.1): cf. Rev. 4.6, 15.2, where the sea seems to represent physical separation of man from God by time and space. However, the "sea" in the song could be simply understood to refer generally to waters, and we have already seen that the pure water of life there is flowing.
 C. The third line of this stanza has also been a source of trouble for some. Many of our books have just omitted the whole stanza because of it. Wallace in Complete Christian Hymnal altered it to "Sweet chords from their voices are ringing." Ellis J. Crum in Sacred Selections made an even more drastic change with "The song of redemption is ringing," and most books since then have followed suit. Apparently the reasoning behind this is that some have gone to the book of Rev. to prove that instrumental music is scriptural in the worship of the church because of the mention of harps in heaven. So the thinking must be that since the harps are figurative anyway, we should just omit mentioning them. While Revelation never actually mentions the angels as having harps, it does picture the redeemed as having harps and talks about the sound of harpists playing on their harps: Rev. 5.8, 14.2, 15.2. It has always seemed to me that if we can read the book of Revelation and understand the harps as being a figure of the beautiful sound of the singing of the saints (and angels) in heaven, then we can sing songs using the same language with the same understanding. If not, why not? (The editorial comments are thrown in free of charge).

V. For reasons unknown to me (unless it was to bring the song into their copyright realm) Stamps-Baxter removed stanza 3 and replaced it with one written by Dwight Brock in 1966 (who also altered the second line of stanza 1 to read, "Prepared for the pure and the free"). It says that heaven is beautiful because it’s a place of fellowship with the redeemed of all ages.
"I’m longing to go to fair heaven, To be with the happy and free;
To spend the long ages in singing: How beautiful heaven must be."
(Notice that this stanza omits the rhyme of lines one and three in all the original stanzas–heaven/singing.)
 A. God’s people certainly are longing to be with the Lord: 2 Cor. 5.1-4, Phil. 1.21-23
 B. And one thing that makes us long to go there is to be with those who have gone on before: Rev. 7.9-17
 C. Then we we arrive there, we shall spend with them the long ages in singing praises to the Lamb: Rev. 5.8-10

     CONCL.: The chorus reemphasizes the fact that heaven must be a beautiful place because it is the home of the happy and free and the fair haven of rest for the weary.
"How beautiful heaven must be, Sweet home of the happy and free.
Fair haven of rest for the weary, How beautiful heaven must be."
Tragedies such as the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania remind us that while we have so many blessings of God in this life for which to be thankful, there are also many trials and tribulations, problems and difficulties, heartaches and sorrows on earth as well. At all times, and especially at times like these, we need to remember "How Beautiful Heaven Must Be."

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5 thoughts on ““How Beautiful Heaven Must Be”

  1. As an 80 year old funeral dirctor still serving families, this song has been of special comfort to the bereaved. Quite often at the gravewide, before dismissing those in attendance, I will lead them in singing the chorus and it is always appreciated. I’m sure Mrs.Brdgewater and Mr.Bland are truly enjoying that which they wrote about and put to a beautiful melody. If I were not a Christian, I could not have sustained the compassion God has given me in serving over 18,000 families. I truly believe “How Beautiful Heaven Must Be”.

    Reply
  2. Be sure to include “The Church Hymnal” published by Tennessee Music and Printing in 1951. Over five million have sold. Some project it as high as 12 million.

    Reply
    • I am aware of “The Church Hymnal” and in fact have a copy of it. However, the hymn studies on this blog are primarily for those commonly used among those congregations known as the “churches of Christ,” and thus the hymnbooks listed pertain basically to this group.

      Reply
  3. Using Ancestry.com, I discovered what happened to the Bridgewaters. They were originally from North Carolina and moved back there sometime after 1930. The Bridgewaters were living in Cullman County when he registered for the World War I draft 12 Sept 1918. I didn’t find them in 1920, but then they were in Jefferson County, Alabama in 1930 and were back in NC by the time they died in 1939. They are buried in Buncombe County.
    https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=51850837

    Since they were Baptists, I expect the “Rev.” designation on some songs is in error. It is unlikely there were any women ministers in Baptist churches in the South in the early 1900s.

    Hope this helps.

    Reply

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