"THE LAST MILE OF THE WAY"
"I have finished my course,…there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness…" (2 Tim. 2.7-8)
INTRO.: A song which looks forward to that time when each of us will have finished our course is "The Last Mile of the Way" (#457 in Hymns for Worship Revised and #95 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written by Johnson Oatman Jr. (1856-1922). The son of a well-known singer, Oatman was an insurance salesman and Methodist preacher who became a prolific hymn text writer. Some of his beloved songs that have appeared in our books include "Count Your Blessings," "Hand In Hand With Jesus," "Higher Ground," "I’ll Be A Friend to Jesus," "Lift Him Up," "Sweeter Than All," "No, Not One," and "What Shall It Profit?" The tune was composed by William Edie Marks.
Very little is known about Marks, including the time and place of his birth, other than that he is usually identified as a twentieth century composer. In 1906, Marks co-edited Cream of Song with Leander Pickett and O. B. Culpepper for the Pickett Publishing Co. of Louisville, KY. "The Last Mile of the Way" was copyrighted in 1908. Apparently, Marks was living at Wilmington, DE, in 1913. In 1927 he compiled Noted Hymns, and in 1936 he renewed the copyright on "The Last Mile of the Way," although later it was owned by John T. Benson Jr., and eventually became the property of Singspiration Music which was part of the Zondervan Music Group.
When I was a youngster, I recall my piano teacher saying that she was once called upon to provide music for a funeral and was asked to play "The Last Mile of the Way," which had been previously unknown to her. Cyberhymnal credits Marks with four other hymns, "The End Is Not Yet," "Rapture Indeed!", "You Ought To Know Him," and "It Is Mine." Several years ago, I had the opportunity to attend a denominational service in which Marks’s song "It Is Mine," with text by Elisha A. Hoffman beginning, "God’s abiding peace is in my soul today," was sung. I had not known of it prior to that, but since then I have seen "It Is Mine" in several denominational hymnbooks from my collection, though none have any date or further information about Marks. The year of his death is usually given as 1954.
Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use among churches of Christ, "The Last Mile of the Way" appeared in the 1935 Christian Hymns (No. 1) and the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 both edited by L. O. Sanderson; the 1959 Majestic Hymnal No. 2 and the 1978 Hymns of Praise both edited by Reuel Lemmons; and the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch. Today, it may be found in the 1971 Songs of the Church edited by Alton H. Howard; the 1978/1983 (Church) Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard; and the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; in addition to Sacred Selections, Hymns for Worship, and the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat.
The song tells us some things we need to do before we finish our course.
I. From stanza 1, we see that we must walk in the pathway of duty
"If I walk in the pathway of duty, If I work till the close of the day,
I shall see the great King in His beauty, When I’ve gone the last mile of the way."
A. Whatever we do for the Lord, even if it is everything it He demands, is still just our duty: Lk. 17.10
B. Yet, because of all that He has done for us, we should strive to work till the close of the day: Jn. 9.4
C. Then and only then can we have the hope of seeing the great King in His beauty: Matt. 5.8
II. From stanza 2, we learn that we must proclaim the glad story
"If for Christ I proclaim the glad story, If I seek for His sheep gone astray,
I am sure He will show me His glory, When I’ve gone the last mile of the way."
A. One of God’s purposes for His people on earth is to proclaim the glad story of salvation: Mk. 16.15-16, Acts 8.4
B. The aim of preaching the gospel is to seek for the sheep gone astray: Matt. 18.11-14
C. Only in doing this can we hope that He will show us His glory: Rom. 8.18
III. From stanza 3, we find that we must prepare for heaven
"Here the dearest of ties we must sever, Tears of sorrow are seen every day,
But no sickness or sighing forever, When I’ve gone the last mile of the way."
A. Here on earth, the dearest of ties must be severed because of death: Heb. 9.27
B. Such severing produces tears of sorrow for those whom we lose: Jn. 11.32-35
C. However, all of this should increase our longing for heaven where there will be no sickness or pain: Rev. 21.1-4
IV. From stanza 4, we are told that we must obey His will
"And if here I have earnestly striven, And have tried all His will to obey,
‘Twill enhance all the rapture of heaven, When I’ve gone the last mile of the way."
A. Half-hearted, lukewarm service will not please the Lord; we must strive and act earnestly in everything that we do for Him: Lk. 13.24, Jude v. 3
B. This means that we must understand the necessity of obeying His will in all things: Matt. 7.21, Heb. 5.8-9
C. Some have supposed that this stanza implies that once one is "saved," he will go to heaven no matter what, but if he obeys the Lord in all things it will enhance his enjoyment of heaven, thus assuming that it is teaching the impossibility of apostasy, but this is not necessarily so. Anyone, even the most vile sinner approaching death, can be saved, but it seems reasonable that those who have spent many years being faithful to the Lord will be "enhanced" in their eternal relationship to the Lord because of the closeness which they would have developed with Him: Rev. 2.10
CONCL.: The chorus continues to point our minds toward what awaits us in death and judgment.
"When I’ve gone the last mile of the way, I will rest at the close of the day,
And I know there are joys that await me, When I’ve gone the last mile of the way."
If we truly want to go to heaven, then we must learn to obey the Lord’s will as we consider what our destination will be when we’ve gone "The Last Mile of the Way."