"He will dwell with them and they shall be His people….And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes" (Rev. 21.3-4)
INTRO.: A song which looks forward to that day when God’s people will dwell eternally with Him and each other is "Gathering Home" (#246 in Hymns for Worship Revised, and #370 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text is attributed by some sources to Mrs. Mary Bridges Canedy Slade (1826-1882). However, most books identify Miss Mariana B. Slade as the author. No information is available about this author. Sometimes the dates of 1826 to 1882 are given for her, but that may be due to a misunderstanding from the similarity of names which confuses her with Mrs. M. B. C. Slade who did live from 1826 to 1882. The names are somewhat similar, but there are important differences.
The tune was composed by Rigdon McCoy McIntosh (1836-1899). He was a Methodist musician and college professor who lived in Nashville, TN, for a while, later established his own music publishing company in Atlanta, GA, and helped to edit some of the first hymnbooks published by the Gospel Advocate. McIntosh arranged many tunes for use with gospel songs, such as "I Am Bound for the Promised Land" and "Take My Life and Let It Be," and composed a few himself.
I have not been able to find any information as to the background circumstances, date, or origin of publication for "Gathering Home." It is true that Mrs. Slade (who would have been Miss Canedy before her marriage) produced words that were often set to music and published by McIntosh (e.g., "The Kingdom Is Spreading"), and this may be why the connection was made, but unless there is some mistake in attribution, the difference in the names makes it highly unlikely that she is the same person as the author of this song. However, I suppose that it is not outside the realm of possibility that Miss Mariana B. Slade might have been the daughter of Mrs. Mary Bridges Canedy Slade, although I have no way of knowing for sure.
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 1923 Choice Gospel Hymns edited by Thomas B. Mosley; the 1940 Complete Christian Hymnal and the 1960 Hymnal both edited by Marion Davis; the 1948 Christian Hymns No. 2 edited by L. O. Sanderson; the 1959 Majestic Hymnal No. 2 and the 1978 Hymns of Praise both edited by Reuel Lemmons. Today it may be found in Hymns for Worship, Sacred Selections, and the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat.
The song pictures heaven as a place where we shall never sorrow nor roam.
I. The first stanza calls heaven a dwelling
"Up to the bountiful Giver of life, Gathering home! gathering home!
Up to the dwelling where cometh no strife, The dear ones are gathering home."
A. In the scriptures, this dwelling is always referred to as "up": 2 Cor. 12.2
B. It is the abode of God, who is the "Giver of life": Matt. 6.9
C. And it is a "dwelling where cometh no strife" because everything that causes strife will not be there: Rev. 22.14-15
II. The second stanza calls heaven a city
"Up to the city where falleth no night, Gathering home! gathering home!
Up where the Savior’s own face is the light, The dear ones are gathering home."
A. Heaven is a city "where falleth no night": Rev. 21.25
B. Also, it is a city where the Savior is and where we shall be with Him: 1 Jn. 3.2
C. And there is no night there because the Savior Himself is the light: Rev. 21.23
III. The third stanza calls heaven a beautiful mansion
"Up to the beautiful mansion above, Gathering home! gathering home!
Safe in the arms of His infinite love, The dear ones are gathering home."
A. Heaven is beautiful because of the mansions there: Jn. 14.1-3
B. It is beautiful because we shall be safe in God’s arms: Rev. 22.1-5
C. And it is beautiful because shall experience His love for all eternity: 1 Jn. 2.25
CONCL.: It is interesting that Ellis J. Crum in Sacred Selections changed the last line of each stanza from "The dear ones are gathering home" to "The saved ones are gathering home" in his zeal to remind everyone who has "dear ones" who are not among the "saved ones" that they will not be in heaven. Certainly, all Christians must recognize that our loved ones who are out of Christ will not be saved unless they obey the gospel, and we should work to lead them to the Lord. But I have many "dear ones" among those who are saints, and I surely expect to see them in heaven–even as Paul promised (1 Thess. 4.13-18). The chorus goes on to identify who these "dear ones" that are gathering home will be, saying,
"Gathering home! gathering home! Never to sorrow more, never to roam;
Gathering home! gathering home! God’s children are gathering home."
Shepard and Stevens in Hymns for Worship did not follow Crum’s change in this song, but they were somewhat inconsistent because they did so in other songs (e.g., "Only A Step," stanza 3, line 2–"Saved ones" instead of "Loved ones for you, now watch and wait"). Of course, God Himself will be the judge and ultimately decide who will and will not be in heaven, and we shall have to be satisfied with that. What we need to do is to make sure that we are living in harmony with His will so that we can be among that great throng of the redeemed who when Jesus returns will be "Gathering Home."