"ON JORDAN’S STORMY BANKS"
"And they sing the song of Moses…and the song of the Lamb" (Rev. 15.3)
INTRO.: A song which pictures heaven as a place which we can view by faith and hope there to sing the song of Moses and the Lamb is "On Jordan’s Stormy Banks" (#s 193 and 254 in Hymns for Worship Revised, #461 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written by Samuel Stennett, who was born on June 1, 1727, at Exeter, England, where his father, Joseph Stennett, was a Baptist minister. Ten years later, while Samuel was still just a boy, the family moved to London, England, where Joseph served as minister with the Little Wild St. Baptist Church in the suburb of Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Because dissenters could not attend universities at that time, Samuel was educated by John Hubbard at Stepney and by John Walker at the Academy of Miles End; however, he later received an honorary doctor’s degree from King’s College in Aberdeen, Scotland.
In 1736, young Stennett was invited to speak at the Sabbatarian Baptist Church where his grandfather, who was also named Joseph and who had also produced hymns, had been minister for 23 years, and he remained to preach there every Saturday until 1747 when he became assistant to his father. Upon Joseph’s death in 1758, Samuel succeeded him as sole minister at Little Wild St. One of the members there was John Howard, a well-known English philanthropist and prison reformer. Stennett was also a personal friend of King George III and became known as one of the greatest dissenting preachers of his day, using his respect and influence to promote social reforms and religious freedom by entreating Parliament to grant dissenters relief from persecution. Two of his works, written in 1772 and 1775, argue against sprinkling for baptism and baptizing infants. Many of his works were reprinted as a set in 1784.
To the 1787 songbook A Selection of Hymns Stennett contributed 39 hymns for editor John Rippon (1751-1836). The one beginning, "On Jordan’s stormy banks I stand," first appeared there under the heading "Heaven Anticipated" in eight stanzas. Another well known one is "Majestic Sweetness." Continuing his work at Little Wild St. for the rest of his life, Stennett died in London on Aug. 24, 1795. Many people are familiar with a traditional American folk tune (Promised Land), containing the anonymous chorus, "I am bound for the Promised Land," that has often been used with Stennett’s text. A new tune (Evergreen Shore) was composed for this song, perhaps as early as 1860, by Tullius Clinton O’Kane (1830-1912), It first appeared in his 1877 hymnbook Jasper and Gold. The refrain was not part of Stennett’s original poem but was added, probably by O’Kane.
Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, the song appeared in the 1921 Great Songs of the Church (No. 1) and the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 (the latter having both tunes) both edited by E. L. Jorgenson; the 1935 Christian Hymns (No. 1), the 1948 Christian Hymns No. 2, and the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 (all three having both tunes) all edited by L. O. Sanderson; the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch; and the 1963 Christian Hymnal (with both tunes) edited by J. Nelson Slater. 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 with both tunes) all edited by Alton H. Howard; the 1978/1983 Church Gospel Songs and Hymns (with both tunes) edited by V. E. Howard; the 1986 Great Songs Revised (with both tunes) edited by Forrest M. McCann; and the 1992 Praise for the Lord (with both tunes) edited by John P. Wiegand; in addition to Hymns for Worship, Sacred Selections for the Church, and the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church (with both tunes) edited by William D. Jeffcoat.
The song’s expressed anticipation of heaven has always been an important trait of God’s people.
I. According to stanza 1, one reason that we anticipate heaven because that is where our possessions lie
"On Jordan’s stormy banks I stand, And cast a wishful eye
To Canaan’s fair and happy land Where my possessions lie."
A. To the Christian, death is represented by standing on Jordan’s stormy banks just as the Israelites crossed over the Jordan River: Josh. 3.14-17
B. Also, to the Christian, heaven is represented by Canaan’s happy land just as the Israelites looked forward to the land flowing with milk and honey: Num. 14.7-8
C. Thus, Christians who have served God faithfully have laid up treasures in heaven so that there is where their true possessions lie:
Matt. 6.19-20, Heb. 10.34
II. According to stanza 2, another reason that we anticipate heaven is because that is where God is
"O’er all those wide, extended plains Shines one eternal day;
There God the Sun forever reigns, And scatters night away."
A. Heaven is pictured as a country with wide, extended plains: Heb. 11.13-16
B. In this country shines one eternal day because there is no night there: Rev. 21.23
C. It is God the eternal Sun who reigns there upon His throne: Rev. 4.2-3
III. According to stanza 3, still another reason that we anticipate heaven is because of the rest that is found there
"When shall I reach that happy place, And be forever blest?
When shall I see my Father’s face, And in His bosom rest?"
A. Heaven will be a happy place because God will wipe away all tears and their causes: Rev. 21.4
B. We shall be forever blest there because we shall receive eternal life: Mk. 10.29-30
C. Also, like Canaan was a land of rest to the wandering Israelites, so heaven will be our rest: Heb. 4.8-9
IV. According to stanza 4, one other reason that we anticipate heaven is because our hope is not in this life but on the other side of Jordan’s wave
"Filled with delight, my raptured soul Would here no longer stay;
Though Jordan’s waves around me roll, Fearless I’d launch away."
A. When it comes our time to depart this life, we should no longer want to stay here if we have truly set our affections on things above rather than the things of this earth: Col. 3.1-2
B. Again, Jordan’s waves represent the time of death, and for the Christian, death simply is an opportunity to depart and be with Christ: Phil. 1.23
C. Therefore, we shall launch away knowing that if in this life only we have hope we would be most pitiable, but that because Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, we can have the hope of eternal life: 1 Cor. 15.17-20
CONCL.: The chorus further describes the glory of that eternal land where we shall sing the song of Moses and the Lamb:
"We will rest in the fair and happy land, Just across on the evergreen shore,
Sing the song of Moses and the Lamb by and by, And dwell with Jesus evermore."
For those who like both melodies, there are actually enough stanzas to make two separate songs (see the separate listing for "I Am Bound for the Promised Land"). Yet, whichever tune one might prefer, the song reminds us that we must determine to set our values more strongly on heaven as we constantly move closer to that time when we shall stand "On Jordan’s Stormy Banks."