"BY THE SEA OF CRYSTAL"
"Before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal" (Rev. 4:8)
INTRO.: A song which points out that there is a sea of glass like unto crystal before the throne of God, where the saints will receive eternal life, is "By the Sea of Crystal." The text was written by William Kuipers. A minister of the Christian Reformed Church, Kuipers emigrated from Friesland in the Netherlands to America in the late 1880s. In 1932, he was minister with the Summer St. Christian Reformed Church (CRC) in Passaic, NJ, who had written other hymns, poems, and psalm versifications. After hearing a men’s chorus sing a poem (probably "Land of Hope and Glory") to the stirring music of English composer Edward Elgar’s "Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1" (best known as the graduation processional), Kuipers decided to try his hand at a text for the same tune. However, Elgar’s music was copyrighted and very expensive, so when Kuipers sent his hymn text to The Banner, a CRC magazine, he suggested a tune contest for new music to fit his text. Unfortunately, Kuipers died a few months after finishing these words.
The winner of the contest was Siebolt H. Frieswyk of Whitinsville, MA, who was featured on the cover of the May 5, 1933, issue of The Banner, along with a report naming second and third place winners and six honorable mentions. However, when the 1934 Psalter Hymnal was published with the text, the committee bypassed Frieswyk’s tune for one of the honorable-mention tunes (Crystal), composed by John (Johann) Ludwig Vanderhoven, who was born in 1887 at Rotterdam in the Netherlands. Emigrating to America in 1912, he was an organist and owned the Sterling Sponge and Chamois Company in Grand Rapids, MI, from 1951 to 1962. The "Back to God Hour," a broadcast ministry of the Christian Reformed Church, has used this hymn as their theme song since the 1950s. In 1959 it was owned by the Publication Committee of the Christian Reformed Church. Vanderhoven died in 1974 at Grand Rapids. 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 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater.
The song looks forward to that time when the redeemed saints will stand around the throne of God.
I. Stanza 1 emphasizes their number
"By the sea of crystal, Saints in glory stand,
Myriads in number, drawn from every land.
Robed in white apparel, Washed in Jesus’ blood,
They now reign in heaven With the Lamb of God."
A. In the drama of the Apocalypse, John sees a great multitude of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne: Rev. 7:9
B. He then learns that the fact that they are robed in white apparel means that they have been washed in Jesus’s blood: Rev.7:13-14
C. They are the ones who shall reign forever and ever: Rev. 22:5 (There is debate among brethren as to whether the righteous dead are in heaven now or not, but even taking the position that their souls are in Paradise in the hadean world, one could still say that they are still "reigning" with Christ in the heavenly places. However, I think that the song is simply using the present tense to describe this scene from the future as if one who would be witnessing it might describe it.)
II. Stanza 2 emphasizes their victory
"Out of tribulation, Out of death’s dread hand,
They have been translated At the Lord’s command.
In their hands they’re holding Palms of victory;
Hark! the jubilant chorus Shouts triumphantly."
A. The victory which they gained is over the tribulation through which all must pass to enter the kingdom of God: Acts 14:22 (one source reads, "Out of tribulation, Death, and Satan’s hand")
B. God’s plan is for them to be translated or changed in the twinkling of an eye: 1 Cor. 15:51-52
C. Then, just as those at the triumphant entry of Christ took branches of palm trees to signify the one who was coming in the name of the Lord, so the triumphant saints will have their victory: Jn. 12:12-13, 1 Cor. 15:57
III. Stanza 3 emphasizes their praise
"’Unto God Almighty, Sitting on the throne,
And the Lamb, victorious, Be the praise alone.
God has wrought salvation; He did wondrous things.
Who shall not extol Thee, Holy King of Kings?’"
A. They will praise God Almighty sitting on the throne: Rev. 4:2-3, 10-11
B. They will also praise the Lamb who brought the victory: Rev. 5:6-12
C. Thus the Lord is identified and praised as King of Kings: Rev. 19:11-16
CONCL.: Throughout the centuries since Jesus came, died, and arose, believers have written many hymns about their desire for heaven. It is interesting that not much detail is found in the Bible about the eternal home that God has prepared for His people. The most descriptive passages, which are found in Revelation, are highly figurative and are apparently designed only to give us a vague sense of its beauty and worth. However, for the one who has been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb through the grace of God, it will be enough to know that we shall stand in the very presence of our heavenly Father, "By the Sea of Crystal."