“My Days Are Gliding Swiftly By”

"Here we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come" (Heb. 13.14)

     INTRO.: A song which talks about how quickly our lives pass by leading up to death and that continuing city is "My Days Are Gliding Swiftly By." The text was written by David Nelson, who was born near Jonesborough in eastern Tennessee on Sept. 24, 1793, the son of Henry Nelson. Graduated from Virginia’s Washington College (now Washington and Lee University) in 1810, he received the M. D. degree at Philadelphia in 1812 and worked for a while as a surgeon during the War of 1812 against Great Britain in a regiment from Kentucky. During that time, he became an infidel, but returned to the faith and, in 1823, resigned medicine to study theology, becoming a Presbyterian minister in 1825 at Rogersville, TN. After serving at Danville, KY, he moved to Marion County, MO, where he founded a manual labor college called Greenfields. However, he left Missouri because of opposition to his anti-slavery views. In 1835, when he was fleeing from slave-holding neighbors in Missouri and trying to get to Quincy, IL, the words to his song "My Days Are Gliding By," intended to be sung to the tune of "Lord Ullin’s Daughter," came to him while hiding on the river bank on the Missouri side and were penned on a letter that he had with him.

     The poem was first published around 1837. That year Nelson also produced a book entitled Cause and Cure of Infidelity. While living in Quincy, Nelson established another manual labor college, helped found The Calvinist Magazine, and eventually became president of the Presbyterian Theological Seminary at Quincy, where he died on Oct. 17, 1844. The tune (Shining Shore or Shining City) was composed by George Frederick Root (1820-1895). The date of its composition and source of first publication are unknown. In 1896 American composer Charles Ives, an organist who used a lot of religious music in his works, produced a Fugue in Four Keys on "The Shining Shore." This song used to be exceedingly popular in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, being found in a large number of hymnals, but has not been included in many recent books. Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, it appeared, to my knowledge, only the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 edited by E. L. Jorgenson.  Today it may be found in the 2007 Sumphonia Hymn Supplement (with both tune and apparently text altered) edited by David Maravilla and others.

     The song reminds us that death is an ever present reality in our lives but is not to be feared by the Christian.

I. Stanza 1 mentions the passing of time
"My days are gliding swiftly by, And I, a pilgrim stranger,
Would not detain them as they fly, Those hours of toil and danger."
 A. Job said that his days were swifter than a weaver’s shuttle: Job 7.6
 B. Therefore, we need to remember that we are but pilgrims and strangers on the earth: 1 Pet. 2.11-12
 C. As pilgrims longing for our eternal home, we would not detain our days as they fly but simply redeem the time knowing that the days are evil: Eph. 5.16

II. Stanza 2 mentions what we need to do in waiting for the Lord’s return
"We’ll gird our loins, my brethren dear, Our distant home discerning;
Our absent Lord has left us word: Let every lamp be burning."
(Sumphonia: "Our absent King the watchword gave, ‘Let every lamp be burning.’
We look afar, across the wave, Our distant home discerning.")
 A. In view of the passing of time, we need to gird up the loins of our mind: 1 Pet. 1.13
 B. While we are present in this body, we are absent from the Lord: 2 Cor. 5.6-8
 C. As we wait for His return to take us home, we need to let our lamps be burning: Matt. 25.1-13

III. Stanza 3 mentions the attitude that we need to have in times of trouble
"Should coming days be cold and dark, We need not cease our singing;
That perfect rest naught can molest, Where golden harps are ringing."’
(Sumphonia: "Should coming days be dark and cold, We will not yield to sorrow,
For hope will sing with courage bold, ‘There’s glory on the morrow.’")
 A. Even though some days are cold and dark, we need not cease our singing, just as Paul and Silas sang when in prison: Acts 16.25
 B. The reason that we can still sing is that no one can molest the perfect rest for which we are looking: Heb. 4.6-9
 C. Some object to the mention of harps in heaven, claiming that since heaven will be a spiritual place there will be no literal, physical harps there; but the apostle John does use harps as a figure to represent something pertaining to those who stand before the throne of God, and it seems reasonable that if an inspired writer of the New Testament can use such language in the scriptures, then we ought to be able to use it in our songs to represent the same concept: Rev. 5.8, 15.2

IV. Stanza 4 mentions the Lord’s call for us to come home
"Let sorrow’s rudest tempest blow, Each cord on earth to sever;
Our King says, ‘Come;’ and there’s our home For ever, O for ever!"
(Sumphonia: "Let storms of woe in whirlwinds rise, Each cord on earth to sever.
There, bright and joyous in ther skies, There is our home forever.")
 A. Sorrow’s rudest tempests will continue blowing to sever each cord on earth because it is appointed for men to die once: Heb. 9.27
 B. However, the child of God can look forward to that time when the Lord shall say, "Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world": Matt. 25.34
 C. Then we shall receive our home forever and forever because we shall have eternal life: 1 Jn. 2.25

     CONCL.: The chorus emphasizes the fact that as we approach death we are standing at the river’s edge looking to the shining land beyond.
"For O (now) we stand on Jordan’s strand; Our friends are passing over.
And, just before, the shining shore We may almost discover."
While God has given many things in this life for me to enjoy, and I have responsibilities here on earth, my main goal is ultimately to go to be with Him in heaven. Therefore, I need to be using my time wisely in preparation for death and eternity, knowing that "My Days Are Gliding Swiftly By."


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