“We Shall Sleep, But Not Forever”

"Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead, but asleep" (Mk. 5.39)

     INTRO.: A song which likens death to a sleep from which we shall awaken is "We Shall Sleep, But Not Forever." The text was written by Mary Ann Pepper Kidder (1820-1905). It was first published in the 1878 Sacred Songs and Solos by Ira David Sankey. Some of Kidder’s other hymns that have appeared in our books include "Did You Think To Pray?", "Fear Not, Little Flock," "Is My Name Written There?", and "The Christian’s Welcome Home."

     The tune most often used is attributed to S. George Shipley. This same text can be seen in the 1902 Church and Sunday School Hymnal edited by J. D. Brunk and published by the Mennonite Publishing House of Scottsdale, PA, and the 1972 The Christian Hymnary edited by John J. Overholt and published by the Christian Hymnary Publishers of Sarasota, FL (also Mennonite) with a tune by Silas Jones Vail (1818-1884). It can also be seen in the 1983 Old School Hymnal, 11th Edition, edited by Roland U. Green and published by the Old School Hymnal Publishing Co. (Primitive Baptist), of Ellenwood, GA, with a tune identified as arranged by Green.

     Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, this song appeared in the 1935 Christian Hymns (No. 1) with the tune arranged by the editor, Lloyd Otis Sanderson (1901-1992). It was also used in the 1964 Songs for the Shadows edited by M. Lynwood Smith.

     The song pictures heaven as a place where the righteous dead, having been raised to live again, will never die.

I. Stanza 1 focuses upon the hope of the resurrection
"We shall sleep, but not forever, There will be a glorious dawn!
We shall meet to part, no, never, On the resurrection morn!
From the deepest caves of ocean, From the desert and the plain,
From the valley and the mountains, Countless throngs shall rise again."
 A. Death, represented by sleep–of the body, not the soul–is an appointment that all must keep unless the Lord comes first: 1 Cor. 15.51, Heb. 9.27
 B. However, there will be a glorious dawn when we shall meet on the resurrection morn: 1 Thess. 4.13-17
 C. From every possible place, countless throngs of those in the tombs shall come forth: Jn. 5.28-29

II. Stanza 2 focuses upon the sorrow of death
"When we see a precious blossom, That we tended with such care,
Rudely taken from our bosom, How our aching hearts despair!
Round its little grave we linger, Till the setting sun is low,
Feeling all our hopes have perished With the flower we cherished so."
 A. The language of this stanza was commonly used by poets of the past to describe the death of a child, which must be one of the saddest situations where death invades the family circle: Lk. 7.11-13
 B. This kind of event emphasizes to our minds the impact of death on our hearts and explains why death is such an enemy: 1 Cor. 15.25-26
 C. Thus, from the standpoint of this life only, often the hopes of people perish with the grave: Eccl. 9.10

III. Stanza 3 focuses upon the joy of heaven
"We shall sleep, but not forever, In the lone and silent grave: 
Blessed be the Lord that taketh, Blessed be the Lord that gave.
In the bright eternal city, Death can never, never come!
In His own good time He’ll call us, From our rest, to home, sweet home."
 A. Because we shall not sleep forever in the grave, we can face even death with the attitude of Job: Job 1.21
 B. Rather, we can look forward to a bright eternal city where death can never come: Rev. 21.1-4
 C. Therefore, death is merely that time when He will call us to rest from our labors and wait the day when we shall have our eternal home: Rev. 14.13

     CONCL.: The chorus repeats the first four lines of the opening stanza:
"We shall sleep, but not forever, There will be a glorious dawn!
We shall meet to part, no, never, On the resurrection morn!"
Songs of this nature were extremely popular in the latter part of the nineteenth century, but toward the end of the twentieth century were deemed by many as "too sentimental" and dropped from most hymnbooks.  Opinions will obviously vary, but since we are to teach and admonish one another in singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, certainly there should be some use for a spiritual song that reminds us that "We Shall Sleep, But Not Forever."


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