"THERE IS A LAND OF PURE DELIGHT"
"Ye shall go over, and possess that good land" (Deut. 4:22)
INTRO.: A hymn which likens our receiving a home in heaven to the Israelites’ receiving their possession in the land of Canaan is "There Is a Land of Pure Delight." The text was written by Isaac Watts (1674-1748). It was first published in his 1707 Hymns and Spiritual Songs. Several tunes have been used with it, but the one (Varina) in our books was composed by George Frederick Root (1820-1895). It is dated variously from 1849 to 1856. Some books give Johann Rink as the composer, and others say "arr. by G. F. Root." It could be that Root arranged an older tune by another composer, or, it is more likely possible that Root used Rink as a pseudonym. Watts’s original poem was in six four-line stanzas, but the use of Root’s tune makes it three eight-line stanzas. 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 1924 International Melodies edited by Earnest C. Love; the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 edited by E. L. Jorgenson; the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater; and the 1965 Great Christian Hymnal No. 2 edited by Tillit S. Teddlie (the last three with two stanzas only–stanza 1, and the first four lines of stanza 2 combined with the last four lines of stanza 3).
The song looks forward with joy to receiving an eternal home in heaven.
I. Stanza 1 focuses on the heavenly land
"There is a land of pure delight Where saints immortal reign;
Infinite day excludes the night, And pleasures banish pain.
There everlasting spring abides, And never withering flowers;
Death, like a narrow sea, divides This [That] heavenly land from ours."
A. Most of our books change "Where saints immortal reign" to "Where Christ immortal reigns" and then "Pleasures banish pain" to "Pleasures banish pains" to complete the rhyme; exactly why I do not know, except perhaps to avoid the question as to whether saints are currently reigning in heaven or not, although we know that they will be: Rev. 22:5 (and it is possible to think of the righteous dead as currently reigning in the heavenly places)
B. Infinite (some books change this to "eternal" simply because it is easier to say with the meter than "infinite") day excludes the night because the glory of God Himself illuminates it: Rev. 21:23
C. There everlasting spring of the water of life abides to keep the trees ever green and always yielding their fruit: Rev. 22:1-2
II. Stanza 2 focuses on what stands between us and that land
"Sweet fields beyond the swelling flood Stand dressed in living green;
So to the Jews old Jordan stood, While Jordan rolled between.
But timorous mortals start and shrink To cross this narrow sea,
And linger, shivering on the brink, And fear to launch away."
A. As one would desire sweet fields of living green, so heaven is pictured in scripture as a land to be desired: Heb. 11:15-16
B. This is how Canaan looked to the Jews on the other side of Jordan as they made their plans to cross the river: Josh. 3:1-17
C. Jordan separated the Jews from Jordan, and death separates from the rest that we shall have on the other side: Heb. 9:27
III. Stanza 3 focuses on our attitude toward that land
"Oh, could we make our doubts remove, Those gloomy doubts that rise,
And see the Canaan that we love With unbeclouded eyes!–
Could we but climb where Moses stood, And view the landscape o’er,
Nor Jordan’s stream nor death’s cold flood, Should fright us from the shore."
A. Something that would help to make our doubts remove is to recall that those who die in the Lord will rest from their labors: Rev. 14:13
B. Thus, even though we cannot literally look into heaven, we can see it with the eyes of faith just as Moses went to the top of Pisgah and viewed the promised land: Deut. 34:1
C. The Jews were eager to cross over Jordan into Canaan, but many Christians are frightened of crossing the narrow sea of death, unlike Paul who understood that to do so is to be with Christ: Phil. 1:23
CONCL.: It has been noted that this is a work in which the glories of heaven are suggested rather than described. In addition to Watts’s knowledge of scripture, it is suggested that perhaps the scenery near his early home in Southampton, where the estuary lapped the town walls, may have contributed to his picture of the eternal promised land. Also, his frail health no doubt made Watts think of death, but to his mind it should be sufficient in overcoming man’s natural aversion to death to remember that awaiting the faithful "There Is a Land of Pure Delight."