"HOME ON THE BANKS OF THE RIVER"
"In my Father’s house are many mansions….I go to prepare a place for you" (Jn. 14.2)
INTRO.: A song which talks about the many mansions or dwelling places in the Father’s house which Jesus has gone to prepare for His people is "Home on the Banks of the River" (#248 in Hymns for Worship Revised and #373 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written and the tune was composed by Austin Taylor (1881-1973). Born in Morgantown, KY, he moved with his parents, who had been baptized in 1868 at Cane Ridge, KY, to Sherman, TX, in 1890, where he began his music career as a singing school teacher and song writer. His first song book, The Gospel Messenger, was published in 1905. After his marriage in 1908, he made his home first at Mineral Wells and then at Uvalde, TX. During his lifetime, he composed about two hundred gospel songs, published some 25 song books, and edited many others for the Firm Foundation Co. Probably his two best-known songs are "Closer to Thee" and "Do All in the Name of the Lord."
Robert C. Welch worked with the church in Uvalde for around five years beginning in 1945, and came to know brother Taylor quite well. Brother Welch wrote of this song, "A few years prior to my meeting him, he had a traumatic experience. His younger son, in his teens, wanted to go out to a field where a two-seater airplane was taking passengers for rides. Brother Taylor and his wife counseled him and forbade his going. He slipped off and started the ride. The plane crashed and killed the son. Horace Busby tole me that shortly after this tragic event Brother Taylor went with him for a meeting in west Texas. They rode home to Fort Worth the night of the close and for four hundred miles he heard brother Taylor going over a song he was composing." These events must have occurred around 1913 because that was when the song was copyrighted.
I do not have any information about the original source of publication. 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 1927 Sweeter Than All Songs edited by C. M. Pullias; the 1938 Spiritual Melodies and the 1943 Standard Gospel Songs both edited by Tillit S. Teddlie; the 1944 Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by Will Slater; the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch’s; and the 1978 Hymns of Praise 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 appears designed to create in our hearts a longing for heaven.
I. The first stanza discusses the existence of heaven
"There’s a beautiful home beyond the dark river,
There’s a mansion by faith I can see;
And the Savior is there His faithful to welcome,
There’s a beautiful home for me."
A. It is "beyond the dark river," referring to death and quite likely drawing from the account of the Israelites crossing the Jordan River into the promised land: Josh. 3.1-17, Heb. 4.8-9
B. But it is something that we can see by faith because as we walk by faith, that faith gives substance or assurance to things hoped for and provides evidence or conviction of things unseen: 2 Cor. 5.7, Heb. 11.1
C. Also we know that Jesus is there and will gather His people to Him because He ascended back to heaven as the forerunner to give us hope: Acts 1.11, Heb. 6.19-20
II. The second stanza discusses the source of heaven
"’Tis a beautiful home, and God is its Maker,
In a land that no mortal has trod;
Soon the angels will come and carry me over
To that beautiful home of God."
A. God is its maker: Heb. 11.8-10
B. Therefore, because its source is God, it is a land that no mortal has yet trod: Jn. 3.13
C. But someday the angels will come and carry our spirits to this beautiful home of God: Lk. 16.22
III. The third stanza discusses the beauty of heaven
"O that wonderful place to which I am going,
It by faith I in rapture behold;
Its gates are of pearl, its walls are of jasper,
And its beautiful street is gold."
A. Even though we have sinned and are not worthy, heaven is a place to which we can go because Jesus died to redeem us from our sins so that God has promised those who obey Him eternal salvation: Eph. 1.7, Heb. 5.8-9
B. Also while we cannot see it with our physical eyes, God has given us enough information about it in His word so that we can behold it by faith: Rom. 10.17, 1 Pet. 1.3-5
C. And the word uses such rich figures as gates of pearl, walls of jasper, and a street of gold to impress on our minds the glory and
majesty of this eternal home: Rev. 21.10-21
IV. The fourth stanza discusses the hope of heaven
"I have followed the way of life to the river,
I can see the glad portals above;
I am ready to go and live with my Savior
In the beautiful home of love."
A. For all of us, whatever "way of life" that we follow will lead to the river of death, but what we need to make sure is that the way which we have followed is the strait and narrow way that leads to everlasting life: Gen. 3.19, Matt. 7.13-14
B. Only in this way can we truly, like Paul be "ready to be offered": 2 Tim. 4.6-8
C. And if we are truly ready, then we can be assured that when we do pass from this life we will go to live with the Savior: Phil. 1.23
CONCL.: The chorus reminds us that in this home we shall gather with the ransomed ones and the angels forever.
"Home on the banks of the river,
Home where the ransomed ones gather,
Home with the angels forever,
On the beautiful banks of the river."
From the first time I saw this song, I always felt that it had a plaintiveness, a wistful longing, to it. Then later, when I heard the story behind it, that feeling seemed to be confirmed. As we grow older and realize that the time of our "departure" is drawing closer, we also find that more and more of those whom we love in Christ seem to be passing on as well. But the fact that we can have the hope that they are waiting for us, along with our Father and the Savior, in the realms beyond should develop within our hearts a greater desire for that "Home On The Banks Of The River."