"I WILL SING YOU A SONG"
"…The wall of it was of jasper; and the city was pure gold…" (Rev. 21.18)
INTRO.: A song which extols the blessings of the city of pure gold whose wall is of jasper is "I Will Sing You a Song" also known as "Home of the Soul" (#367 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written by Mrs. Ellen Maria Huntington Gates, who was born on Aug. 12, 1835, at Torrington, CT. Her older brother was the famous financier Collis P. Huntington. After her marriage to Isaac E. Gates, she lived in Elizabeth, NJ. One of her earliest hymns, "Your Mission" beginning, "If you cannot on the ocean sail among the swiftest fleet," was completed around 1860. After this, she authored several popular pieces in the American mission and Sunday school hymnbooks. The tune for "I Will Sing You a Song" was composed by Phillip Phillips (1834-1895).
Around 1865, Phillips, who was moved to devote his life to gospel music by his success in singing "Your Mission" for President Lincoln and Secretary of State Seward at a meeting on caring for soldiers held in the United States Senate chamber in early 1865, sent Mrs. Gates an extract from John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress where Christian and Hopeful were transfigured and told to enter into the joy of the Lord, asking her to produce a suitable hymn based on it. When the verses were forwarded to him, he sat in his home with his little boy on his knee, reading the same portion of Pilgrim’s Progress, and began setting down the music. The song was first published sometime later that year in Phillips’s book The Singing Pilgrim.
However, it became famous after being included in Ira David Sankey’s 1873 Sacred Songs and Solos. Sankey sang it at the funeral of Phillips in Fredonia, NY. Four of Mrs. Gates other hymns were also published in Sacred Songs and Solos, and she penned two volumes of poetry, Treasures of Kurium in 1907 and To the Unborn Peoples in 1910. Following the death of her husband, Mrs. Gates moved to New York City, NY, where she spent the rest of her life and died there on Oct. 22, 1920. Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church for use in churches of Christ during the twentieth century, the song appeared in the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2; today it may be found in Sacred Selections.
The song centers on some of the reasons why we should want to go to heaven.
I. Stanza 1 mentions that it is where we shall live in eternity
"I will sing you a song of that beautiful land, That far away home of the soul,
Where no storms ever beat on the glittering strand, While the years of eternity roll."
A. Some have objected to calling heaven the "home of the soul" because they point out that our souls will be reunited with spiritual bodies in the resurrection: 1 Cor. 15.52-53; this is true, but if our souls will be inhabiting those resurrected bodies, then it is still true that heaven will be the home of the soul for the righteous
B. No storms will ever beat on that glittering strand; rather it will be a place of perfect peace because the Lord will give His people rest when He is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels: 2 Thess. 1.7
C. Some have also objected to talking about the "years of eternity" rolling by in heaven, because time will be no more, but this is only the poet’s way of using our finite language to make the point that in heaven God’s people will enjoy eternal life: Tit. 1.1-2
II. Stanza 2 mentions that it is a fair city with bright jasper walls
"O, that home of the soul, in my visions and dreams, Its bright jasper walls I can see,
Till I fancy but thinly the veil intervenes Between the fair city and me."
A. We can see in the dreams of our minds that home just as the angel revealed it to John in the visions of the Apocalypse which he wrote down for us: Rev. 20.1-2
B. The veil, such as that which separated the holy place from the most holy place in the temple, is often used to symbolize death, which separates us from this life and heaven: Heb. 6.19-20
C. The picture that John presents of this home within the veil is of a fair city: Rev. 21.10
III. Stanza 3 mentions that Jesus is there
"That unchangable home is for you and for me, Where Jesus of Nazareth stands;
The King of all kingdoms forever is He, And He holdeth our crowns in His hands."
A. Stephen looked into heaven and saw Jesus of Nazareth standing at the right hand of God: Acts 7.55
B. Sacred Selections changes line three to read,"The King of all Kings O, someday we shall see." To be truthful, I really do not see enough difference in the two readings to understand why someone thought it needed to be changed. Jesus is the King of Kings because the kingdoms of this world have become His: Rev. 11.15, 19.16. If somehow it is premillennial to call Jesus "King of all kingdoms" in heaven, it would seem to be just as premillennial to call him "King of all Kings" in heaven too. By the way, the Orthodox Presbyterian, who are NOT premillennial, have "King of all kingdoms" in their hymnal.
C. It is He who will give us the crown of life: 2 Tim. 4.8
IV. Stanza 4 mentions that there will be singing and joy in heaven
"O how sweet it will be in that beautiful land, So free from all sorrow and pain,
With songs on our lips and with harps in our hands, To meet one another again."
A. The joy results from the fact that we shall be free from all sorrow and pain: Rev. 21.4
B. The joy is expressed by songs on our lips and harps in our hands. This stanza is omitted in Sacred Selections, undoubtedly for the same reason as the editor removed references to harps in heaven from all other songs. The Bible does picture heavenly beings with harps: Rev. 5.8-10. It is sometimes argued that since heaven is a spiritual place, no one will have literal harps there. That may well be true, but the fact is that Revelation does mention them symbolically. If we can understand as we read the Bible that the harps simply symbolize the joyful music with which the redeemed will praise God in heaven, then I do not see why we cannot understand the same thing in the songs that we sing. Also, the fact that heavenly beings are pictured as having harps in their hands when they sing does not authorize the use of instrumental music in the church here on earth either.
C. Another source of this joy will be to meet again our loved ones in Christ who have gone on before: 1 Thess. 4.16-17
CONCL.: Ellen Jane Lorenz Porter wrote of this song, "The resulting hymn is very fine indeed, deserving even more popularity than it has won." There are many wonderful blessings on this earth that God has given me to enjoy and for which I can be truly thankful. However, there are also those days when it seems that all I can say is, "Why is this happening to me?" Perhaps God allows the dark times to occur, at least in part, so that I can look forward to and will better appreciate that
home of the soul in which "I Will Sing You a Song."