"WILL THE CIRCLE BE UNBROKEN?"
"He is not the God of the dead, but of the living" (Matt. 22.32)
INTRO.: A song which likens death to an empty place at the family circle and reminds us that the dead are still alive with God is "Will The Circle Be Unbroken?" The text was written by Ada Ruth Habershon, who was born on Jan. 8, 1861, in London, England, the youngest daughter of Dr. S. O. Habershon. Brought up in a religious home by believing, praying parents, she devoted her whole life to God’s service. In 1901, while ill, she began writing poems and one of her first was "Apart with Him." When evangelist Dwight L. Moody and his song director Ira D. Sankey visited London in 1884, she met them and afterwards visited America at their invitation to deliver lectures on the Old Testament, which were later published. Also she is credited with some five other books on Biblical studies. During the 1905 campaign of evangelist Reuben A. Torrey and his song director Charles M. Alexander in England, Alexander asked her to provide him some gospel songs, and within a year she had supplied him with 200.
"Will the Circle Be Unbroken?" has been one of the most popular of sentimental favorites and must have been produced in or before 1907. The tune was composed by Charles Hutchinson Gabriel (1856-1932). The song was copyrighted in 1907 by Alexander, though it may not have actually been published until the following year. Miss Habershon died on Feb. 1, 1918, probably in London. The copyright to what is undoubtedly her best known song was renewed in 1935 by The Rodeheaver Co. Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, it appeared in the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 edited by E. L. Jorgenson; the 1973 Great Inspirational Songs edited by Albert E. Brumley; and the 1978 Hymns of Praise edited by Reuel Lemmons. Today, so far as I know, it is found only in the 1978/1983 (Church) Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard.
The song, often used at funerals, encourages us to make sure that we are prepared to join those who have died in Christ.
I. Stanza 1 asks if we shall join our loved ones in Christ who are in glory
"There are loved ones in the glory, Whose dear forms you often miss;
When you close your earthly story, Will you join them in their bliss?"
A. Some object to singing about loved ones in glory, apparently because all of us undoubtedly have loved ones here who may not be faithful Christians and thus will not be saved eternally; however, many saints do have loved ones who have died in Christ, and furthermore many departed brethren, even though no earthly relation to us, are among our "beloved" ones: Rom. 1.7
B. Someday we, too, will close our earthly story in death: Heb. 9.27
C. The question "Will you join them in their bliss?" is designed to make us examine our lives and remember that nothing which defiles will enter the eternal city: Rev. 21.27
II. Stanza 2 reminds us of the good that our loved ones in Christ have done for us
"In the joyous days of childhood, Oft they told of wondrous love;
Pointed to the dying Savior, Now they dwell with Him above."
A. What a blessing it is to have had parents who, in the days of our childhood, encouraged us to remember our Creator in the days of our youth: Eccl. 12.1
B. It is an even greater blessing to have had parents who were faithful Christians and told us of the dying Savior’s love so that the faith that dwelt in them might dwell in us: 2 Tim. 1.3-5
C. Such godly parents now dwell with the Lord above in the sense that they have departed to be with Christ: Phil. 1.23
III. Stanza 3 asks if we continue to love the songs of heaven that our loved ones in Christ taught us
"You remember songs of heaven, Which you sang with childish voice;
Do you love the hymns they taught you, Or ar songs of earth your choice?"
A. It is good to sing hymns which remind us of the inheritance, incorruptible, undefiled, and that fades not away, reserved in heavern
for us: 1 Pet. 1.3-5
B. Such songs, often learned in childhood, help to teach and admonish us: Col. 3.16
C. However, as we grow older, we have to choose whether to continue setting our affections on things above or on things of the earth: Col. 3.1-2
IV. Stanza 4 reminds us of the both the happy gatherings and the tearful partings concerning our loved ones in Christ
"You can picture happy gatherings, Round the fireside long ago,
And you think of tearful partings, When they left you here below."
A. God intended the family to be a place of happy gatherings in this life: Gen. 2.24, Col. 3.18-21
B. When death enters such a loving family circle, the partings are very tearful: Lk. 8.11-13
C. Again, as we think about when they left us, we need to consider the fact that when the Lord returns the wicked will be separated from the just and make our preparations accordingly to be among the just: Matt. 13.49
V. Stanza 5 asks if on our part the family circle will be complete
"One by one their seats were emptied; One by one they went away.
Now the family is parted; Will it be complete one day?"
A. The longer we live, the more our loved ones and beloved brethren in Christ go away one by one to be carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: Lk. 16.22-26
B. Now, the family is parted; the thought is designed to help focus our minds on that time when the Lord will eternally separate the wicked from the righteous: Matt. 25.31-32
C. As we examine our own lives, we must determine which number we intend to be among so that the family circle will no longer be parted then but complete, because one aspect of the hope that Christians have is to be reunited with those in Christ who have gone on before: 2 Thess. 4.13-17
CONCL.: The chorus continues to center our thoughts on being reunited with loved ones in Christ.
"Will the circle be unbroken, By and by, by and by,
In a better home awaiting, In the sky, in the sky?"
Some might not care for this song because they feel that it is too sentimental. I agree that sheer "sanctified nostalgia" is really not singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. However, this song has more to it than that. It encourages us to reflect back on our loved ones who have died in Christ, not just in a sentimental way, but to consider their faith and their example, that we might be motivated to live in such a way as to join them, by asking "Will The Circle Be Unbroken?"