"THERE WILL BE LIGHT AT THE RIVER"
"…A pure river of water of life…the Lord God giveth them light…" (Rev. 22.1-4)
INTRO.: A song that describes heaven as a place where we shall be at the pure river of water of life and God will give us light is "There Will Be Light At The River" (#413 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written by Jennie Wilson (1856-1913). I have been able to locate no further information about her except that she was a blind poetess and her best known hymn is "Hold to God’s Unchanging Hand" with words beginning, "Time is filled with swift transition," and music by Franklin L. Eiland. The tune for ‘There Will Be Light at the River" was composed by Anthony Johnson Showalter (1858-1924). Best known for the hymn "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms," Showalter copyrighted "There Will Be Light At The River" in either 1894 or 1896.
Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church for use in churches of Christ during the twentieth century, the song was found in the 1925 edition of the 1921 Great Songs of the Church (No. 1), which definitely gives the date of 1894 (but omits the first stanza, probably to fit it with the alphabetical order of first lines in the book), and the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2, which simply says "Used by permission," both edited by E. L. Jorgenson; the 1935 Christian Hymns (No. 1), which though the date is a little smudged seems almost certainly to give it as 1896, the 1948 Christian Hymns No. 2, and the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 all edited edited by L. O. Sanderson; and the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch. Today, the song may be found in Sacred Selections. None of the latter four include any copyright information.
The song looks forward to heaven as a place of light.
I. Stanza 1 says that there will be light for the redeemed
"After the life-paths we’re treading End up on time’s solemn shore,
There will be light at the river While the redeemed ones pass o’er."
A. The life-paths that we are treading are either the broad way that leads to destruction or the narrow way that leads to life: Matt. 7.13-14
B. For everyone except those alive at Christ’s return, these life-paths will end up on time’s solemn shore in death: Heb. 9.27
C. The light of God’s glorious presence will be granted for those who have received redemption through Christ’s blood: Eph. 1.7
II. Stanza 2 says that there will be light for the spirits who have experienced shadows
"There will be light for the spirits Who through deep shadows have come–
Fadeless light shining glad welcome Out from the windows of home."
A. The spirit is that part of our existence which survives the death of the body and will be reunited with the resurrected body when Jesus returns: 1 Cor. 15.41-53, Jas. 2.26
B. "Deep shadows" may represent the sorrows and loneliness that often occur in this life: Job 14.1
C. However, just as the light in the window cheers the heart of the weary traveler who is coming home, so the light of God will welcome those who who have served Him in spite of their sufferings: Matt. 25.34
III. Stanza 3 says that there will be light for the weary
"There will be light for the weary Who through sore trials have passed–
Radiant light as they enter, Peace that forever shall last."
A. God’s people may sometimes become weary in this life as they seek to serve the Lord: 2 Cor. 11.27
B. One reason for this weariness is the sore trials through which we must pass: Jas. 1.2-3
C. However, God’s light will bring peace that forever shall pass as those who die in the Lord can rest from their labors: Rev. 14.13
IV. Stanza 4 says that there will be light for the faithful
"There will be light for the faithful, Whate’er the way they have trod–
Glorious light sent to guide them Safe to the city of God."
A. God wants us to be faithful to Him: 1 Cor. 4.2, Rev. 2.10
B. Furthermore, He wants to welcome the faithful into His eternal joy: Matt. 25.21
C. Therefore, His light is given to guide them safe to that heavenly city: Ps. 119.105, Rev. 21.1-2
CONCL.: The chorus continues to emphasize the importance of this light.
"There will be light at the river, There will be light at the river,
There will be light at the river, While the redeemed ones pass o’er."
In the song, the "river" probably does not necessarily refer to the river
of life in heaven but to the "river of death," saying that as those who have been redeemed and faithful in serving God through the sorrows and trials of this life pass over it, in order to guide them into the holy city "There Will Be Light At The River."