Monday, August 6, 2012

Shall We Gather at the River

This one goes out to my Grandpa, John Collins.

Title: Shall We Gather at the River

Tune: Hanson Place

Numeric Outline: 87.87 and Refrain

Composer: Robert Lowry

Author: Robert Lowry (1826-1899)

     Robert Lowry was a devout Baptist who grew up in Philadelphia, where upon being old enough, went to study Theology at the University of Lewisburg, now known as Bruckner University. Immediately after Lowry graduated from the University in 1854, he became ordained as a Baptist minister and was given several calls to churches around the Philadelphia (New York, Philadelphia, New Jersey). In 1869, Lowry took a call to be a teacher at the University of Lewisburg where he also served as Chancellor until 1875. After he retired from the University, he went to Plainfield, New Jersey where he became the pastor at Park Avenue Church until 1880, when he began to feel that it was time he move on. He left the United States and went on a four year vacation; upon arriving home he removed himself from his pastoral duties at Park Avenue church.
      It was well known that Lowry was a great composer, but he would have much rather been known for his Preaching than for his hymn writing. "Music, with me has been a side issue," Lowry said, "I would much rather preach a gospel sermon to an appreciative audience than write a hymn. I have always looked upon myself as a preacher and felt a sort of depreciation when I began to be known more as a composer." Though Lowry did not want to be known as a composer, he accepted his role as a musical editor in  1885 for a company by the name of Biglow &Maine. While working for Biglow & Maine, Lowry helped to edit several books, some of which sold over one million copies (the Sunday School book Pure Gold). While taking his role more serious, Lowry began collecting music in his library, which later on was noted to be one of the most thorough libraries around. His Library was thought to contain several works of music that dated to be over 150 years old. Despite his best efforts, Lowry is still known best for his composing of hymns and not for his preaching.
     "Shall We Gather at the River," was composed by Lowry late one afternoon in 1864, in the midst of the civil war. While Lowry was inside resting from being drained from the heat, he began to have visions of the river flowing from Christs throne (REV. 22:1). Lowry began to wonder why so many composers had focused on the river of death, and not of the crystal clear waters coming from the river of life, that flowed from the throne of Christ and of the Lamb. "Shall we be among the privileged few who stand before the throne singing the praises of the savior?"..."Yes, we'll gather." After coming to this conclusion, Lowry was so struck by the thought that he immediately awoke and went over to his pump organ and began composing the piece right away. While the hymn was written in 1864, it wasn't until 1865 that the hymn was published in his collection of Happy Voices.

The Text:

(1) Shall we gather at the river,
Where bright angel feet have trod,
With its crystal tide forever
Flowing by the throne of God?

Yes, we’ll gather at the river,
The beautiful, the beautiful river;
Gather with the saints at the river
That flows by the throne of God.

(2) On the margin of the river,
Washing up its silver spray,
We will talk and worship ever,
All the happy golden day.


(3) Ere we reach the shining river,
Lay we every burden down;
Grace our spirits will deliver,
And provide a robe and crown.


(4) At the smiling of the river,
Mirror of the Savior’s face,
Saints, whom death will never sever,
Lift their songs of saving grace.


(5) Soon we’ll reach the silver river,
Soon our pilgrimage will cease;
Soon our happy hearts will quiver
With the melody of peace.


My Take on the Hymn:
     This hymn seems to be a journey from questioning what will happen after death, to accepting what is coming with death. The first verse is all about asking, "Will we all be at the river of life when we are dead?" The refrain of course answers this by saying "Yes we'll gather at the river," which shows that the voice of the text is looking forward to joining Christ at the banks of the river of life. The hymn goes on to seem almost anticipatory in nature. The voice in the text is describing a beautiful scene that one cannot wait to see with their own eyes. A stark reminder that God often gives us is that this Earth is not our home, but rather a stop on the way home. The journey that we have on Earth can be seen as a long car ride. We know there is a long road ahead of us, so we must prepare ourselves to enjoy the journey as much as possible. Though we may have the best seat in the car, or we may have the greatest games to play in the car, we still can't forget that we are on a fast track to Home. Now, enough with the metaphor and on to literal terms, Earth is simply a stop on the way to Heaven, but the gifts we have been given are given to us so that we may honor God in all of his glory. 
     In Matthew 6:19-21, Jesus tells us that we must not store up our things on Earth, but rather we should store up our treasures in Heaven, "...for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." God wants our hearts to be in the right place, but how can out hearts be with God when our focus is on the things that we have here on Earth? One might ask then, if we are supposed to keep our focus on Heaven and on God, then why does God give gifts for us to enjoy here on Earth? There isn't really a simple answer to that question, but the best I can do is say that God gives us our gifts so that we may turn them back to praise Him. Our abilities are given to us and we can use them to be where we are best fit to worship God. I am a musician and I have been since I was the age of 5, and that is where I find God best. Not just because I can play hymns on the piano, or songs of worship, but rather because that is where I can focus entirely on God. God gave me my musical abilities so that I may enjoy them here on Earth, but his one stipulation was that I use them to honor His name and to spread His word. We are given "things," by God every day of our lives, but we shouldn't become too attached to them, because eventually, they will die away and we will be given something even greater than ourselves, eternal life in heaven with the Holy Trinity and a multitude of Saints, Angels, and loved ones of whom we have lost here on Earth!

The Hymn:


Graves, Dan. "Church History and Christian Timeline." Christianity, 
          Church History, June 2007. Web. 06 Aug. 2012.                                                                                                                                                                                                        >.


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