“SHALL WE MEET BEYOND THE RIVER?”
“There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God…” (Ps. 46.4)
INTRO.: A hymn which pictures heaven with a river that makes glad the city of God is “Shall We Meet Beyond the River?” (#415 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written by Horace Lorenzo Hastings, who was born on Nov. 26, 1831, at Blandford, MA. A minister who began preaching and hymnwriting at age seventeen, he worked as an evangelist in various parts of America. This particular text, the only of his hymns to survive in modern usage, is dated 1858 and was very likely first printed as a leaflet in fourteen stanzas of eight lines each. In 1865 Hastings founded the Scriptural Tract Repository in Boston, MA, and edited Social Hymns, Original and Selected. The following year he founded a monthly paper called The Christian, in which many of his hymns appeared. That same year, the tune for “Shall We Meet Beyond the River?” was composed by Elihu S. Rice (1827-c. 1882). While serving as secretary and song director of a Baptist Sunday school, found Hastings’s words and set them to music, sending the song to Robert Lowry, then editor of the musical department of the Young Reaper, a Philadelphia, PA, Sunday school paper where it was first published.
It was some thirteen years later that the composer received notice of its popularity when, in 1879, Ira D. Sankey wrote him to tell him of its favorable reception. While a number of other musicians had provided tunes for the words, Rice learned that his music received the choice and approval of the author. Hastings compiled Songs of Pilgrimage, A Hymnal for the Churches of Christ, Part I in 1880; part 2 came out in 1886, and a complete combined edition was made in 1888. A collection of extracts from his prose writings known as The Birthday Book was published in 1886, and he died on Oct. 21, 1899, probably in Goshen, MA, where his body is buried. 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 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 edited by L. O. Sanderson; the 1937/1944 (New) Wonderful Songs edited by Thomas S. Cobb; and the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch. Today, it may be found in the 1978/1983 (Church) Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard; in addition to Sacred Selections and the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat.
The song uses different figures to describe the meeting place of the redeemed in the eternal home.
I. Stanza 1 says that it is beyond the river
“Shall we meet beyond the river, Where the surges cease to roll,
Where in all the bright forever, Sorrow ne’er shall press the soul?”
A. The picture of meeting “beyond the river” is drawn from the crossing of the Jordan by the Israelites into the promised land: Josh. 3.14-17
B. However, the redeemed are also pictured as dwelling where there is a pure river of water of life: Rev. 22.1-2
C. Sorrow never will press the soul there because when the ransomed come to the eternal Zion, it will be with songs and everlasting joy: Isa. 35.10
II. Stanza 2 says that it is in that blest harbor
“Shall we meet in that blest harbor, When our stormy voyage is o’er?
Shall we meet and cast the anchor, By the bright celestial shore?”
A. For some reason, most of our books have “beyond the river” again in the first line of the second stanza, but almost all other books have “in that blest harbor.” Christians look upon heaven as their final harbor, just as a ship sailing the ocean needs a home harbor to which it can return: 2 Chron. 8.17-18
B. The stormy voyage likens our journey through the trials of life to a ship driven upon a wave-tossed sea: Ps. 107.23-28
C. However, heaven is a place in which we can cast our anchor of hope to give stability: Heb. 6.18-20
III. Stanza 3 says that it is in yonder city
“Shall we meet in yonder city, Where the towers of crystal shine,
Where the walls are all of jasper, Built by workmanship divine?”
A. “Yonder city” refers to the new heavens and new earth of the holy city, the New Jerusalem: Rev. 21.1-2
B. We might think of it as having towers of crystal which hold up the twelve gates which are of pearl: Rev. 21.10-13, 21
C. And it is pictured has having walls of jasper: Rev. 21.18
IV. Stanza 4 says that it is with Christ, our Savior
“Shall we meet with Christ, our Savior, When He comes to claim His own?
Shall we know His blessed favor, And sit down upon His throne?”
A. The hope of the Christian is to meet wtih Christ, our Savior, and see Him as He is: 1 Jn. 3.1-2
B. Of course, this will take place when He comes to claim His own: Phil. 3.20-21
C. As usual, Ellis J. Crum in Sacred Selections changed the final line of stanza 4 to read, “And behold His Father’s throne,” since he sought to eliminate any reference to Christians’ reigning with Christ or sitting with Him on His throne in heaven. However, the scriptures specifically promise that those who overcome will sit down with Christ on His throne and reign with Him forever: Rev. 3.21, 22.3-5
CONCL.: The chorus continues to probe the question of whether we are planning to meet there.
“Shall we meet, shall we meet, Shall we meet beyond the river?
Shall we meet beyond the river, Where the surges cease to roll?”
The hope of the Christian is that inheritance that is reserved in heaven for us. However, we must meet God’s conditions to enter that city and have the right to the tree of life. Therefore, we must continually be asking ourselves, “Shall We Meet Beyond the River?”