"BEAUTIFUL ZION, BUILT ABOVE"
"…For the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof" (Rev. 21.23)
INTRO.: A song which points to that eternal city where the glory of God is the light is "Beautiful Zion, Built Above" (#364 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written by George Gill, who was born in 1820, probably at Totnes in Devon. His mother was a Bartlett from the Devon village of Harberton. His older brother William was born in 1813, and they had two younger brothers, Henry and John. All four of the boys became ministers. Henry served at Suffolk, and John at St. Georges. In 1845, both William and George went to the Cook Islands in the South Pacific as missionaries with the London Missionary Society and worked there until 1860. This hymn was penned by George on the island of Mangaia in April of 1850 and was first published in the Juvenile Missionary Magazine in 1852. At one time the song was very popular, and has appeared even in Mormon and Seventh-Day Adventist hymnbooks. The tune used in most of our books was composed by Thomas J. Cook.
I have been able to find no other information about Cook, the tune’s date, or its origin of publication. However, the song was used in The Christian Sunday School Hymnal, compiled by J. H. Garrison, J. H. Hardin, and George D. Sitherwood in either 1883 or 1888 for the Christian Publishing Company, 913 Pine St., St. Louis, MO, with T. J. Cook’s name as the composer. Gill died in 1880. 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) edited by E. L. Jorgenson; the 1948 Christian Hymns edited by L. O. Sanderson; the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch; and the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater. The text was used with a 1938 tune by W. Floyd Taylor copyrighted by the A. J. Showalter Co. in the 1940 Complete Christian Hymnal edited by Marion Davis. Today, so far as I know, it may be found, with the Taylor tune, only in Sacred Selections.
The song draws its language largely from the description of the New Jerusalem in Revelation.
I. Stanza 1 mentions the city, the temple, and the gates
"Beautiful Zion, built above, Beautiful city that I love;
Beautiful gates of pearly white, Beautiful temple–God its light.
He who was slain on Calvary, Opens those pearly gates to me."
A. The eternal home of God’s people is pictured as a city: Rev. 21.1-2
B. The literal Jerusalem had its temple, but the temple in the New Jersualem is God Himself: Rev. 21.22
C. The gates, opened by the death of Christ on Calvary, are never shut: Rev. 21.12, 25
II. Stanza 2 mentions the day, the worlds, and the streets
"Beautiful light without the sun, Beautiful day revolving on;
Beautiful worlds on worlds untold, Beautiful streets of shining gold.
He who was slain on Calvary, Opens those golden streets for me."
A. The day in that city will always be revolving on because there will be no death, sorrow, crying, or pain there: Rev. 21.4
B. The "worlds on worlds" may refer to the fact that the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it: Rev. 21.24, 26
C. The street, again opened by the death of Christ on Calvary, is depicted as being of gold, symbolizing how precious it is: Rev. 21.21
III. Stanza 3 mentions the light, the angels, and the strains
"Beautiful heaven, where all is light, Beautiful angels, clothed in white;
Beautiful strains that never tire, Beautiful harps through all the choir.
There shall I join the chorus sweet, Worshipping at the Savior’s feet."
A. In that city all is light because the glory of God illuminates it: Rev. 21.23
B. Angels are pictured as surrounding the throne of God: Rev. 5.11
C. Some object to any mention of harps in heaven; while we recognize that God has not authorized musical instruments to accompany the singing of praise to Him on earth, the writer of Revelation does mention seeing and hearing harps in his vision as a symbol of something, so it seems reasonable that if he could use harps in his writing to symbolize something, we can sing about them in our songs to symbolize the same thing: Rev. 14.1-2
IV. Stanza 4 mentions the crowns, the robes, and the rest
"Beautiful crowns on every brow, Beautiful palms that conquerors show;
Beautiful robes the ransomed wear, Beautiful all who enter there.
Thither I press with eager feet; There shall my rest be long and sweet."
A. Beautiful crowns will be on every brow because the redeemed shall reign forever and ever: Rev. 21.5
B. The ransoned will also beautiful robes of white washed in the blood of the Lamb: Rev. 7.9-14
C. When the righteous die, they begin to enjoy the rest both long and sweet: Rev. 14.13
V. Stanza 5 mentions the throne, the peace, and the Savior
"Beautiful throne for Christ [of God] our King, Beautiful songs the angels sing;
Beautiful rest–all wanderings cease, Beautiful home of perfect peace.
There shall my eyes the Savior see; Haste to this heavenly home with me."
A. Ellis Crum in Sacred Selections, as usual, cannot have any mention of Christ on the throne in heaven, at least after His second coming, since that idea is apparently equal to premillennialism in his mind, so it is the throne "of God" rather than "for Christ;" but John says that the throne BOTH "of God and of the Lamb" will be in it, because, after all, the Lamb is God (the Son): Rev. 22.3
B. It will be a home of perfect peace because nothing that defiles or causes an abomination will be there: Rev. 21.27
C. But what will make it most worthwhile will be that there our eyes shall see our Savior’s face: Rev. 22.4
CONCL.: The chorus simply extols how beautiful this heavenly Zion will be.
"Zion, Zion, lovely Zion!
Beautiful Zion, city of our God."
Christians must be very careful not to focus on heaven to the exclusion of their responsibilites in this life, or as Dwight Moody said, become so "heavenly minded" that they are of no earthly good. Yet, the fact remains that each of us will dwell eternally either in heaven or in hell. Therefore, it is good to sing songs that remind us of this that we might be encouraged to set our affections on things above and be prepared for that "Beautiful Zion, Built Above."