“Farther Along”

“…There shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying…” (Rev. 21:4)

     INTRO.: A song which looks forward to that time and place where there will be no more death, sorrow, and crying is “Farther Along” (#473 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text and the tune are both attributed to W. B. Stevens (1862-1940). I have been able to find very little information about this author and composer except that he must have been a minister of some kind because many older books list him as “Rev. W. B. Stevens.” It seems that the text, apparently attributed to Stevens, first appeared in the 1911 Select Hymns for Christian Worship edited by Barney Elliot Warren (1867-1951). However, in New Songs of Inspiration Book 6 from John T. Benson Publishing Co. a song entitled “Farther Along” with the same first stanza, two additional stanzas, and three more stanzas similar to the stanzas 2-4 with which we are familiar, are attributed to Warren (perhaps because he edited the book in which the original appeared?), set to a tune by Robert E. Winsett, and copyrighted in 1944 by Winsett for his book Radiant Joy with the note “Original words owned by R. E. W.” Here are those six stanzas:
1.” Tempted and tired we’re oft made to wander (I think “wonder” is what is meant)
Why it should be thus all the day long,
While there are others living about us,
Never molested though in the wrong.”
2. “Sometimes I wonder why I must suffer,
Go in the cold, the rain, and the show,
While many wicked live in great splendor,
Heedless of where at last they must go.”
3. “Tempted and tried how often we question
Why we must suffer year after year,
Being accused by those of our loved ones,
E’en though we walk in God’s holy fear.”
4. “Often when death has taken our loved ones,
Leaving our home so lone and so drear,
Then do we wonder why others prosper
Living so wicked year after year.”
5. “’Faithful till death,’ saith our loving Master;
Short is our time to labor and wait.
Then will our toiling seem to be nothing
When we shall pass the heavenly gate.”
6. “Soon we shall se our dear loving Savior,
Hear the last trumpet sound through the sky;
Then we will meet those gone on before us,
And we shall know and understand why.”
The chorus is the same as in our books. I have not been able to determine exactly how this evolved into the version which we know, but the arrangement of at least the tune, which is now sometimes simply called an “American melody,” used in our books was made by Jessie Randolph Baxter Jr. (1887-1960). It was first published in the 1937 Starlit Crown edited by Baxter and Virgil O. Stamps for the Stamps-Baxter Music and Printing Co. However, there have been other arrangements. The Stamps Quartet Music Co.’s Select Radio Songs compiled by Albert Brumley in 1946 has the usual four stanas attributed to Stevens with an arrangement made by Robert E. Arnold (author of “Lovest Thou Me More Than These?” or “Feed My Sheep,” not the same as Robert Sterling Arnold who wrote “No Tears in Heaven”) and copyrighted by Stamps Quartet Music Co. that year.

     Through the years, I have heard brethren’s objections to this song as being at best improper because of the questions that it raises and, even worse, possibly unscriptural. For example, the following comment was taken from a website that criticizes several songs in one hymnbook (some of which, by the way, are just criticisms). “’Farther Along’ by W. B. Stevens (1911): ’Tempted and tried we’re oft made to wonder why it should be thus all the day long, while there are others living about us, never molested tho’ in the wrong. Farther along we’ll know all about it, Farther along we’ll understand why.’ On the one hand, a similar question is asked in Jeremiah 12:1. Yet, on the other hand, I think that we as Christians have the answer to this now and don’t need to wait until we are farther along to understand why.” Yes, I would assume that through the revelation of Jesus Christ we do know more about it than perhaps Jeremiah did. But do we really know “all” about it? Do we really have all the answers now? Or is there something that we still do not fully understand? Will we know even more about it “Farther Along”? The song does not say that in heaven we shall know everything that God knows.  That may or may not be the case; we shall not find out until we get there, but the Bible does not actually say so, and neither does the song.  So, what does the song say? It is making a contrast. As Christians trying to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world, we are often tempted and tried. Yet there are others about us who never seem to face such problems though they are in the wrong and in sin. We suffer grief, pain, and anguish in various situations. But we see others who, while living wickedly, appear to prosper and be blissfully happy.  This can puzzle us and make us wonder about the inequities of life. It is a natural human reaction that no doubt strikes all of us at one time or another. But “Farther along we’ll know all about it.” Know about what? This simply refers to an understanding of the meaning of our toils and trials and of their relative insignificance in view of the glories of heaven. The song is telling us that we can use this fact to encourage us in our journey.

     Where is the scripture for this idea? In Luke 16:19-31 the same contrast is presented as in the song. Lazarus was evidently a righteous man but had to live the life of a beggar and suffer in various ways physically. It may be that he often wondered why such was so in view of the fact that others, like the rich man from whom he begged, had is so much better. The rich man, on the other hand, was not righteous but fared sumptuously in life. Following their deaths, Abraham explained in verse 25 the situation so that both of them might “know all about” their present state in Hades compared to their former lives. There are other passages as well. In Matt. 7:21-23, Jesus explains to several in judgment as to why their lives on earth were not in harmony with His will and why they were being told to depart. Now admittedly this refers to individuals who had transgressed His word. But if Christ is going to reveal such things to those who will suffer punishment in hell, is it not reasonable that He will much more do so for those who will experience bliss in heaven? And in the judgment scene of Matt. 25:31-46, He explains to both the unrighteous and the righteous about their lives on earth and how their deeds affected their eternal sentence so that they may “understand why.” Thus, “Farther Along” is merely the songwriter’s way of stating this contrast and saying, in poetic and figurative language, that there are some things which we will realize after death which we do not now. As a result, I see nothing wrong with this particular song and am persuaded that a person can sing it “in spirit and in truth” with the understanding heretofore set forth.

     Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, “Farther Along” appeared in the 1938/1944 New Wonderful Songs edited by Thomas S. Cobb; the 1938 Spiritual Melodies and the 1943 Standard Gospel Songs both edited by Tillit S. Teddlie; the 1940 Praise and Revival Songs, the 1944 Gospel Songs and Hymns, the 1952 Hymns of Praise and Devotion, and the 1955 Sacred Praise all edited by Will W. Slater; the 1959 Majestic Hymnal No. 2 and the 1978 Hymns of Praise both edited by Reuel Lemmons (with the note “as sung by the Burnette Sisters,” though I fail to see why this would be important); the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch; and the 1975 Supplement to the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 originally edited by E. L. Jorgenson. Today it may be found in the 1971 Songs of the Church, the 1990 Songs of the Church 21st C. Ed., and the 1994 Songs of Faith and Praise all edited by Alton H. Howard (the last with three stanzas and the tune arranged by Howard); the 1978/1983 Church Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard; and the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; in addition to Sacred Selections, the 2007 Hymns for Worship Supplement edited by R. J. Stevens and others, 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 mentions several things about which we shall know more after this life is over.

I. Stanza 1 talks about being tempted and tried
“Tempted and tried we’re oft made to wonder
Why it should be thus all the day long,
While there are others living about us
Never molested though in the wrong.”
 A. Certainly, God’s people are tempted: Jas. 1:13-15
 B. In this and in many other ways we are tried or tested by various trials: 1 Pet. 1:6-7
 C. As we suffer such things, like the Psalmist we are made to wonder why there are others living about us in the wrong who never seem to be molested: Ps. 73:1-9

II. Stanza 2 talks about the coming of death to take our loved ones
“When death has come and taken our loved ones,
It leaves our home so lonely and drear;
Then do we wonder why others prosper
Living so wicked year after year.”
 A. Death comes and takes our loved ones because it is appointed for people to die: Heb. 9:27
 B. It leave our homes so lonely and drear as we mourn their loss as Abraham did that of Sarah: Gen. 23:1-2
 C. When we experience such things, like Job we are made to wonder why the wicked prosper: Job. 21:5-14

III. Stanza 3 talks about the Lord’s command to be faithful till death while we labor and wait
“Faithful till death said our loving Master,
A few more days to labor and wait;
Toils of the road will then seem as nothing
As we sweep through the beautiful gate.”
 A. Regardless of our trials and sufferings, Jesus commands us to be faithful till death: Rev. 2:10
 B. During whatever time we have left on earth we must continue to labor and wait: Ps. 90:10, 1 Thess. 1:9-10
 C. However, someday we shall experience as fact the promise in scripture that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed when we sweep through that beautiful gage: Rom. 8:18, Rev. 21:12

IV. Stanza 4 talks about the time when we shall see Jesus coming in glory
“When we see Jesus coming in glory,
When He comes from His home in the sky,
Then we shall meet Him in that bright mansion;
We’ll understand it all by and by.”
 A. We look forward to the time that we see Jesus coming in glory: Acts 1:11
 B. At that time we shall meet Him in that bright mansion that He has gone to prepare: Jn. 14:1-3
 C. Then we shall understand all that is now unclear because the dead will be raised, the living changed, and the righteous taken up in the air to meet the Lord and ever be with Him: 1 Cor. 15:51-52, 1 Thess. 4:16-17

     CONCL.: The chorus reminds us that while we do not know everything now, we shall understand why better later on.
“Farther along we’ll know all about it,
Farther along we’ll understand why;
Cheer up, my brother, live in the sunshine.
We’ll understand it all by and by.”
My friend Gary D. Jones wrote the following in The Gospel Guardian about this hymn. “”Farther Along’ is one of those songs in which words and music blend almost perfectly to present a wonderful message of faith. So often Christians have wondered why they must suffer all sorts of hardships—mental, physical, and financial—when many non-Christians, if not ‘in the lap of luxury,’ are at least very ‘well fixed.’ And often the morality quotient of such people is quite low, even by man’s standards. Upon the death of relatives, we likewise wonder “why this had to happen.” How could a God of love let a thing like this happen? Whether it be a ten-year-old child who died tragically or an adult who had an untimely demise, we ask this.  We should derive some comfort from the chorus that what we now know only in part we shall certainly understand ‘Farther Along.’ Then we will not have to ask why, or to speculate. In the meantime, we are reminded, we must be faithful all our lives to our loving Master. If we will do this, we will live with Him forever. And the troubles of this life will ‘seem as nothing’ in comparison to our reward. While we are yet in this turbulent, often-treacherous and contradictory world, there are numerous occurrences which we do not fully understand. At times we may feel that everything is against us, that nothing is ‘going right.’ At just such times we most need to consider the eternal truth of ‘Farther Along,’ that it is all important to have faith in Jesus and trust Him to reveal the unknown things in His own good time. Thus shall we please Him.” Yes, we may not always understand why things happen the way they do on earth, but we can eagerly anticipate being at home with Christ “Farther Along.”


16 thoughts on ““Farther Along”

  1. I'm preparing to sing this at my cousin's funeral. He lived with diabetes for most of his life, and suffered every possible complication. Through it all he maintained an incredible attitude and sense of humor. The words of this song fit him so well, "cheer up my brother, live in the sunshine…" I don't think the song provides all the answers, but you're right, it's about faith that we'll see our loved ones again and understand.

  2. Great article, I think you covered everything there. . . I would say freelancing is quite hard especially if you are not used to working on your own, can be quite hard to motivate yourself also. . . we all know what it is like to stare at the monitor.

  3. Job was faced with so many trials, had so many questions, yet stayed faithful and hopeful all his life.
    We in Christ have a new revelation to expect a crown of righteousness if we likewise stay faith till death. Kind of like the message the song gives. Human philosophy of life often leaves God out of the situations, yet we can have faith that all things really work to the good of those called according to God’s purpose. The calling goes out to all as God is not a respecter of persons, but is willing for all to come to repentance.

  4. W.B.(William Buel)Stevens was my great uncle. His sister Mary Emma Stevens married my grandfather, Pinkney Quenius Ludwick. My father, Lester Clark Ludwick who is now deceased was the youngest child and son Pinkney and Mary Emma(Stevens) Ludwick. I have book entitled. Scotland County Missouri At Large that gives some biographic information and pictures of Uncle Will. This book can be purchase through the Downing House Musem in Memphis, Missouir 63555.

    • Dennis Ludwick, you are correct.
      My great grandmother, Effie Alice Stevens Elder, sister to your Mary Emma Stevens Ludwick, knew the story of how & why Rev. W.B. Stevens, wrote this song, when his wife, Molly & their 2 children died of diphtheria.
      W.B. lived Queens Town, near Memphis, Mo. He was a prolific poet & musician who wrote over 600 songs. My husband Bill & I met you about 10 yrs. ago at our cousins home in Memphis, Lorraine Kapfer at 436 N. Cecil st..
      We tried to find Civil War Capt. Wm. Buel Stevens & wife, Mary Hamilton Stevens graves. Has anyone found them?

  5. What a great hymn this is.It comforted me in 2005 when I lost my loved one.Thanks so much for your well presented article,I really liked it.

  6. I recently attended a funeral in Gas City, IN. The service was held for one of my dearest friends, Marilyn Kay Fry Lockridge. Her daughter, Sherol (she dropped the e), was named for me. The memorial for Marilyn was very touching and, as some would say, in good taste. One of the instrumentals played was Farther Away. Sherol sent me a blue grass instrumental copy of this song and also an insturmental with violin and guitar. The instrumental with violin and guitar is eerily beautiful. Sherol’s GGGGGrandfather on her Father’s wrote Farther Along. Her father’s and mother’s family are of Native American heritage. I didn’t ask the name of her GGGGGrandfather but am assuming his name was W. B. Stevens.

  7. Actually, W.B. Stevens was not the author of this hymn. My great grandfather, W.P. Jay composed this hymn and wrote the words as “Further Along”–as further pertains to time, and farther pertains to distance. Being a poor evangelist/ songwriter, he sold the song to two gentlemen, Stevens and J.R. Baxter, for $50, who then changed the words to “Farther Along” and replaced the names of the author.

    W.P. Jay, along with his wife, Myrtle (both ordained ministers), spent fifty years in the ministry in the Nazarene Church, starting 35 churches and holding camp meetings, reaching forty states in all. He wrote many other hymns such as “The Submarine Song” and “I Feel the Joy,” but none quite as famous as “Farther Along.”

  8. It’s interesting that so many people must feel the need to credit a family member for this song. However, no one knows for sure. If you go to wikipedia.com and there is confirmation on Timeless Truths lyrics and songs that my grandfather W. A. Fletcher, an itinerant preacher, was riding the train next to Mr. Baxter who was a music promoter. When he observed the poetic writing of my grandfather he offered him $2 for the words and the rest is history. Believe what you all want and I will also do so. We’ll find out in heaven. Be sure you will be there, OK?

  9. It’s interesting that so many individual’s self esteem is wrapped up credit for a song. If you check several sources including wikipedia.com and Timeless Truths lyrics and songs you will find my grandfather W.A Fletcher sold the words to Mr. Baxter on a train. Do you due diligence. We will only know for sure in heaven and it won’t really matter then. Just make sure you will be there.

  10. Just yesterday, I questioned if I was living in the reality of my faith? By that I meant, that I have always pushed forward during financially difficult times. Even when I did not have the money, I moved in the direction of the thing I was hoping. I am in graduate school and preparing for ministry. I was laid off in June 2016. Seven (7) months later, I have surrendered my car because I can’t afford it. A second was taken but we managed to get it back. The rent is delayed, I have no money for books or means of getting to school. My daughter has been accepted to school but hesitant about going because we do not have the means to support her. I tossed and turned all night. I prayed every moment that I woke from the tossing and turning. Then my oldest walked into my bedroom. She said “Mommy, Bri’s going to school!” I don’t know how but she’s going. We are going to take it one day at a time.” Then it dawned on me. My family and I have always lived in the reality of our faith. We move farther along in hope that God will see us through. We move forward without understanding. We know in our hearts to we will understand it one day. And living in this hope is better than dying in despair.


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