"LET US PASS OVER THE RIVER"
"For he that is entered into his rest…hath ceased from his own works" (Heb. 4:10)
INTRO.: A song which looks forward to that time when we shall enter into our rest and cease from our works is "Let Us Pass Over the River." The text was written by Kate Cameron. I have no further information about the author or the date, circumstances, and original publication of the song, except that the quote in the chorus contains the dying words of General Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson, who was born on Jan. 24, 1824, in Clarksburg, VA (now WV), the third child of Jonathan and Julia Beckwith Neale Jackson. A graduate of West Point, Thomas served in the artillery during the Mexican War, earning two brevets, and then resigned to accept a professorship at the Virginia Military Institute at Lexington, VA. At the outbreak of the American Civil War, he was commissioned a colonel in the Virginia forces and dispatched to Harpers Ferry. There he was active in organizing the raw recruits until relieved by Joe Johnston.
In October of 1862 Jackson was made a lieutenant general with the Confederate States of America army. Leaving Harpers Ferry with Johnston, his brigade moved to join with Beauregard at Manassas. In the First Battle of Bull Run, they were so distinguished that both the brigade and its commander were called "Stonewall" by Gen. Barnard Bee. That fall, Jackson was promoted to Major General, was given command of the Valley, and participated in battles at Kernstown, McDowell, Front Royal, Winchester, Cross Keys, and Port Republic. Then he joined Lee in the defense of Richmond and fought in the Seven Days battle. Following the battle of Cedar Mountain, he was sent to capture Harpers Ferry during the invasion of Maryland, and after being distinguished at Antietam with Lee was promoted and given command of the now official Second Corps. Gaining a victory at Fredericksburg, he led his corps around the Union right flank at Chancellorsville but while returning to his own lines he was accidentally shot and wounded by some of his own men on May 2, 1863.
Jackson’s arm was amputated and he survived the surgery, but he died eight days later on Sunday, May 10, 1863, at Chancellorsville, VA, from complications of pneumonia. When he was notified that he had not long to live, this devoutly religious man replied, "It is the Lord’s Day. My wish is fulfilled. I have always desired to die on Sunday." His personal physician, Dr. Hunter McGuire, said that a few moments before he died, Jackson cried out in his delirium, "Order A. P. Hill to prepare for action! Pass the infantry to the front rapidly! Tell Major Hawks–." Then he stopped, leaving the sentence unfinished. The doctor continued, "Presently a smile of ineffable sweetness spread itself over his pale face, and he said quietly, and with an expression as if of relief, ‘Let us cross over the the river, and rest under the shade of the trees.’" The tune for the song was composed by Rigdon McCoy McIntosh (1836-1899). Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church, it appeared in the 1927 Sweeter Than All Songs edited by C. M. Pullias; the 1935 Christian Hymns (No. 1) edited by L. O. Sanderson; the 1940 Complete Christian Hymnal and the 1959 Hymnal both edited by Marion Davis; and the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch. Today it may be found in the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat.
The song emphasizes the importance of looking beyond the work, sorrows, and battles of this life to the rest of heaven.
I. Stanza 1 talks about our work
"When our work is ended, we shall sweetly rest
‘Mid the sainted spirits safe on Jesus’ breast;
All our trials over, we shall gladly sing,
‘Grave, where is thy victory? Death, where is thy sting?’"
A. When we pass from this life, we shall rest from our labors: Rev. 14:13
B. Then we shall be with the sainted spirits safe on Jesus’s breast, as Lazarus was in comfort on Abraham’s bosom: Lk. 16:23-25
C. And when the Lord returns to raise the dead and give us our eternal reward, we shall say, "Grave, where is thy victory; death, where is thy sting?": 1 Cor. 15:54-55
II. Stanza 2 talks about our sorrows
"Earth hath many sorrows, but they cannot last,
And our greatest troubles quickly will be past;
If we look to Jesus, He will give us strength.
By His grace we shall be conquerors at length."
A. In this life on earth we have many sorrows and troubles: Job 14:1
B. However, they will not last forever, and we can look to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, to give us strength to run the race: Heb. 12:1-2
C. By His grace, we can be more than conquerors: Rom. 8:37
III. Stanza 3 talks about our battles
"When the storm is over, sweet will be the calm,
After life’s long battle, bright the victor’s palm;
And the cross of anguish which now weighs us down,
We’ll exchange in heaven for a shining crown."
A. Storms are often used to represent the battles of life that must be fought by God’s people: 1 Tim. 6:12
B. However, after the storm of battle is over, we shall gain the victor’s palm having overcome the world through faith: 1 Jn. 5:4
C. Then we shall exchange the cross of anguish for the shining crown: Jas. 1:12
CONCL.: The chorus urges us to endure through the dark waves until we can rest under the shade of the eternal tree of life.
"Though the dark waves roll high, we will be undismayed.
‘Let us pass over the river, And rest under the shade,
Rest under the shade, rest under the shade of the trees.’"
Of course, there is more to do in this life than just sit around waiting for it to end so that we can go to heaven. However, as we grow older and come closer to the time when death will overtake us, Christians can look forward to the eternal rest that God has prepared for His people and encourage one another by saying, "Let Us Pass Over the River."