"DEATH IS ONLY A DREAM"
"But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep…." (1 Thess. 4.13)
INTRO.: A song which likens death to a dream that one has while sleeping is "Death Is Only A Dream." The text was written by C. W. Ray. I have been able to find no further information on the author, except that he must have been a minister of some kind because for another song that he wrote, "Let Him Come In" with music by Harvey R. Christie, he is listed as "Rev. C. J. Ray." The chorus was added and the tune was composed by A. J. Buchanan. Neither do I have any further information on the composer. The song was copyrighted in 1892 by Rigdon McCoy McIntosh and probably first appeared in the 1892 Living Songs for The Sunday School, The Epworth League, Prayer Meetings, Revivals, and All Special Occasions of Christian Work and Worship edited by McIntosh and W. G. E. Cunnyngham for the Publishing House of the Methodist Episcopal Church South in Nashville, TN.
The copyright was originally owned by McIntosh and H. A. R. Horton, but was later obtained by Standard Publishing Co., or at least an arrangement was owned by them. J. W. McGarvey made reference to the song in "Chapel Address #1" of his Chapel Talks. It is said to have been the favorite song of country western singer Hank Williams Sr. (1923-1953). This is according to the official Hank Williams Sr. website. 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 1935 Christian Hymns (No. 1) edited by L. O. Sanderson; the 1938 Spiritual Melodies and the 1965 Great Christian Hymnal No. 2 both edited by Tillit S. Teddlie; the 1940 Complete Christian Hymnal and the 1960 Hymnal both edited by Marion Davis; and the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch. To my knowledge, it is not found in any of our hymnbooks currently in print.
The song reminds us that while death is real physically, it is only an interlude like a dream.
I. Stanza 1 talks about the sadness of death
"Sadly we sing, and with tremulous breath,
As we stand by the mystical stream,
In the valley and by the dark river of death,
And yet ’tis no more than a dream."
A. It is natural that the death of a friend or loved one should produce sadness and mourning: Jn. 11.31-35
B. Seeing death is compared to standing by the mystical stream just as the Jews stood on the banks of the Jordan River before crossing over into Canaan: Josh. 3.14-17
C. It is also compared to watching the departed one go down into the dark valley: Ps. 23.4
II. Stanza 2 talks about the rest of death
"Why should we weep when the weary ones rest
In the bosom of Jesus supreme,
In the mansions of glory prepared for the blest?
For death is no more than a dream."
A. While we sorrow for those in Christ who have died, we do not sorrow as others without hope because we realize that they are at rest: Rev. 14.13
B. The place of their resting is described as being in the bosom of Jesus just as the beloved disciple rested on Jesus’s bosom at the last supper: Jn. 13.23
C. This is a subject about which brethren debate and are somewhat divided, but many of us do not believe that the the soul goes directly to the mansions of glory prepared for the blest at death, yet there is a sense in which those who depart go to be with Christ: Phil. 1.23
III. Stanza 3 talks about the comfort in death
"Naught in the river the saints should appall,
Though it frightfully dismal may seem;
In the arms of their Savior no ill can befall.
They find it no more than a dream."
A. Naught in this river of death should appall the saints because Christ has delivered us from the fear of death: Heb. 2.14-15
B. Even though there is no longer any fear of death for the Christian, it still seems frightfully dismal because it is the last enemy that shall be destroyed: 1 Cor. 15.25-26
C. However, when we face this enemy, we can do so with comfort knowing that no harm can befall those who rest in the everlasting arms of the Lord: Deut. 33.27
IV. Stanza 4 talks about the hope in death
"Over the turbid and onrushing tide
Doth the light of eternity gleam;
And the ransomed the darkness and storm shall outride
To wake with glad smiles from their dream."
A. The turbid and onrushing tide of life continues to propel us onward to that appointment that all people must face: Heb. 9.27
B. However, for the child of God, through the darkness and storm that accompany death, the gleam of eternal life shines through: 1 Jn. 2.25
C. Therefore, we can outride these storms because we have the living hope of an inheritance in heaven: 1 Pet. 1.3-5
CONCL.: The chorus emphasizes the joy that awaits the saint who awakes from the dream.
"Only a dream, only a dream,
And glory beyond the dark stream;
How peaceful the slumber, how happy the waking;
For death is only a dream."
This hymn was once apparently very popular at funerals to give comfort to those who were in sorrow. Again, death is real and we need to be preparing for it. However, we need not fear it because, if we have met God’s conditions to receive eternal life, it will seem when we are standing on that heavenly shore, that "Death Is Only A Dream."