"WONDERFUL CITY OF GOD"
"But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly…for He hath prepared for them a city" (Heb. 11:16)
INTRO.: A song which seeks to express the wonder, glory, and beauty of that better country in which God has prepared for us a city is "Wonderful City of God" (#637 in Hymns for Worship Revised, #381 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written and the tune was composed both by James W. Ferrill (1879-1975). A native of Texas and a member of the Church of Christ, Ferrill is best known as the author and composer of "A Soul Winner for Jesus." His song "Keep Telling the Story" and the tune for "I Glory in the Cross of Christ" by Stephen D. Eckstein, a convert from Judaism, have also been included in some of our older books. "Wonderful City of God" was copyrighted by Farrell and J. E. Thomas in 1907.
Concerning Ferrill, I found the following information from an internet article on another song writer Franklin Lycurgus Eiland (1860-1909). "Other early students who sat at the feet of Eiland include Thomas S. Cobb (later along with Austin Taylor to edit several hymnals for the Firm Foundation); J. W. Acuff, author of ‘Just Over in the Glory Land’ (1906); W. D. Evridge, composer of ‘For the Soul That’s Redeemed’ (1906); J. W. Ferrill, writer of ‘A Soul Winner for Jesus’ (1907); Mark D. Ussery, author of ‘Don’t Let Your Light Burn Low;’ and Ira D. Brister, who authored ‘Not a Step Without Jesus.’ Eiland’s school drew large numbers of students from Texas and other states. Teachers of great ability were trained and one of his best song books, The Gospel Gleaner, was edited during that period."
Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, "Wonderful City of God" appeared in the 1938/1944 New Wonderful Songs edited by Thomas S. Cobb; and the 1959 Majestic Hymnal No. 2 and the 1978 Hymns of Praise both edited by Reuel Lemmons. Today it may be found in the 1971 Songs of the Church and the 1990 Songs of the Church 21st C. Ed. both edited by Alton H. Howard; the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; and the 1999 Into Our Hands edited by Leland R. Fleming; in addition to Hymns for Worship, Sacred Selections, the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat, and the 2009 Favorite Songs of the Church edited by Robert J. Taylor Jr.
The song reminds us of what will be in heaven that we should desire.
I. Stanza 1 emphasizes that Jesus will be there
"There’s a wonderful place we call home, ‘Tis a city of glory divine;
It is built in the garden of rest, And that beautiful home shall be mine.
O that wonderful Eden so blest, Where Jesus the Master has gone
To prepare us a glorious home. There He bids us a welcome to come."
A. Here we have no continuing city to call home, but we seek one to come: Heb. 13:14
B. The city we seek is a garden of rest that is compared to the perfection of Eden: Gen. 2:8-10, Rev. 22:1-5
C. But what makes it most wonderful is that Jesus the Master has gone to prepare us a home in that place: Jn. 14:1-3
II. Stanza 2 emphasizes that eternal day will be there
"O how sweet it will be there to dwell With the Savior and Father of all,
In a palace of diamond and gold, Where no evil to us can befall;
There no sorrow that home shall invade, And our loved ones no more there shall die–
One celestial, unbroken, sweet day, While eternity’s ages roll by."
A. Not only shall we dwell with the Savior but also with God the Father, as like the 24 elders we fall down before His throne and worship Him: Rev. 4:9-11
B. It will be a place where there will be no evil, sorrow, or death: Rev. 21:1-4 (this is one song where Ellis Crum in Sacred Selections apparently missed "our loved ones" and did not change it to "the saved ones")
C. The reason for this is that it will be one celestial, unbroken, sweet day because there we shall receive eternal life: Mk. 10:30
III. Stanza 3 emphasizes that the redeemed of all ages will be there
"When the jewels of Jesus are brought There to shine in that land of sweet song,
What a beautiful, beautiful thought That I shall be there in that throng;
Sweetest peace to my soul it will be To behold such a glorious sight,
Where the sun and the moon neither shine, But the glory of God is the light."
A. God’s "jewels" are those who have feard the Lord and meditated on His name: Mal. 3:16-17
B. Therefore, when Jesus returns to raise the dead, we can look forward to being there in that throng who rise to meet Him the air and thus ever be with Him: 1 Thess. 4:16-17
C. This throng will dwell forever where the sun and the moon neither shine but the glory of God is its light: Rev. 21:22-23
CONCL.: The chorus repeats how wonderful and beautiful the city of God and our mansion in that city are.
"O wonderful city of God, Just across in that beautiful clime,
Where the angels’ sweet echo of song In musical cadencies chime;
O wonderful city of God, By faith in the distance I see
There’s a mansion prepared over there, Yes, a place in that city for me."
Some of our songbooks have been criticized for being over heavy with songs about heaven. It is true that in a few of our books somewhat cheap and tawdry, almost carnal, songs about heaven of a more recent vintage have crowded out great hymns of praise and devotion from the past, and that is to be regretted. However, the older I become and the more I see the need to set my affections on things above rather than things of this earth, the more drawn I am to songs about the "Wonderful City of God."