“SWEET BY AND BY”
“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you…” (Jn. 14:3)
INTRO.: A song which talks about that place which Jesus is preparing for His people is “Sweet By and By” (#212 in Hymns for Worship Revised, #399 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written by Sanford Fillmore Bennett, who was born at Eden in Erie County, NY, on June 21, 1836. At the age of two, he moved with his family to Plainfield, IL, and was educated at Waukegan Academy and the University of Michigan. Having begun writing in his youth, he had some of his first poems published in the Waukegan Gazette in the early 1850s. After working for two years as superintendent of schools in Richmond, IL, he settled in Elkhorn, WI, in 1861, as associate editor of the town’s weekly newspaper, The Independent. During the Civil War, he was a second lieutenant in the Fortieth Wisconsin Volunteers. Following the close of the war, he returned to Elkhorn where he operated a drugstore and began the study of medicine. Although he had been converted at a Methodist revival meeting, he later declared himself to be a Universalist but lacked opportunity to unite with that fellowship.
While living in Elkhorn, Bennett become a close friend of Joseph Philbrick Webster (1819-1875). Webster was also born in New York (some sources say New Hampshire) and received his education at an academy in Pembroke, NH. Also, he had studied music in Boston, MA, with well-known hymn tune composer Lowell Mason. Able to play several musical instruments, he had spent a number of years teaching music and performing in New York and Connecticut, but he also moved to Elkhorn in 1857 because of anti-slavery sentiments. A prolific composer, he is credited with more than 1,000 musical works, and his most popular secular song was “Lorena.” In Elkhorn worked as a music teacher there and became known as the town’s leading musician. He and Bennett started a partnership in the production of sheet music. The sensitive Webster frequently suffered from bouts of depression, and Bennett found that he could help his friend by giving him a new song to work on.
One day in 1867, Webster came into Bennett’s shop looking sad. When asked what was wrong, he replied, “Oh, nothing; everything will be all right by and by.” Bennett thought, “By and by. The sweet by and by. That would make a great hymn.” So he reached for a sheet of paper and wrote quickly. In a few minutes he handed Webster three stanzas and a chorus. Just as quickly Webster wrote down the tune for them. The whole process had taken less than thirty minutes, and the song was published in the 1868 collection The Signet Ring, a New Collection of Music and Hymns, Composed for Sabbath Schools, compiled by Webster and published in Chicago by Lyon and Healy. Webster spent the rest of his life in Elkhorn, but Bennett graduated from Rush Medical College, Chicago, IL, in 1874 and practiced medicine for 22 years. In addition, he produced a considerable amount of both prose and poetry. Later he went to live in Richmond, IN, where he died on June 12, 1898.
Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church for use in churches of Christ, the song has appeared in the 1921 Great Songs of the Church (No. 1) and the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 both edited by E. L. Jorgenson; the 1935 Christian Hymns (No. 1), the 1948 Christian Hymns No. 2, and the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 all edited by L. O. Sanderson; the 1959 Majestic Hymnal No. 2 and the 1978 Hymns of Praise both edited by Reuel Lemmons; the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch; the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater; the 1965 Great Christian Hymnal No. 2 edited by Tillit S. Teddlie; 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 1978/1983 Church Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard; the 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forrest M. McCann; the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat; and the 2009 Favorite Songs of the Church and the 2010 Songs for Worship and Praise both edited by Robert J. Taylor Jr.; in addition to Hymns for Worship and Sacred Selections.
The song reminds us that the aim of our hope is to live in that land that is fairer than day.
I. Stanza 1 says that the Lord is preparing us a dwelling place there
“There’s a land that is fairer than day, And by faith we can see it afar;
For the Father waits over the way To prepare us a dwelling place there.”
A. Heaven is pictured as a land or country to which God’s people want to go: Heb. 11:13-16
B. While this land is among the things not seen with the physical eye, we can see it with our spiritual eyes if we walk by faith: 2 Cor. 5:1-7
C. A couple of our books change the third line to “For the Savior waits over the way,” because the text says that Christ left to prepare us a place; however, the Bible also says that heaven was prepared for the righteous by the Father from the beginning: Matt. 25:34 (cf. Heb. 11:16)
II. Stanza 2 says that our goal is to sing on that beautiful shore
“We shall sing on that beautiful shore The melodious songs of the blest,
And our Spirits shall sorrow no more, Not a sigh for the blessings of rest.”
A. The beautiful shore is by the pure river of the water of life where the righteous are pictured as serving God and reigning forever with Him: Rev. 22:1-5
B. There the redeemed of all ages will join with the angels to sing the melodious songs of the blest: Rev. 5:8-10
C. And there will be no sighs for the blessings of rest because there will be no sorrow in that heavenly city: Rev. 21:1-4
III. Stanza 3 says that we should give praise to our heavenly Father who made it all possible.
“To our bountiful Father above We will offer our tribute of praise,
For the glorious gift of His love, And the blessings that hallow our days.”
A. In view of the hope of eternal life that God give us, we should offer to Him our tribute of praise: Heb. 13:15
B. One reason we praise Him is for the glorious gift of His love: Jn. 3:16
C. Yet another reason to praise God is for all the blessings that hallow our days as we journey from earth to heaven: Jas. 1:17
CONCL.: The chorus reminds us that we shall receive our eternal hope on that beautiful shore.
“In the sweet by and by, We shall meet on that beautiful shore;
In the sweet by and by, We shall meet on that beautiful shore.”
As long as we live here in this world, may we never forget that our aim as Christians is to have a heavenly home with God our Father and Christ our Savior in the “Sweet By and By.”