Sunday, January 20, 2013

On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand

Moses Viewing the Promised Land (1846),
by Frederic Edwin Church
Tyranny, terrorism, massacres, corruption, financial collapse, riots, wars, environmental disaster, hunger, disease, earthquakes and storms--the world seems engulfed in a wave of calamity. Individuals are everywhere beset with personal crises as well--family discord, divorce, unemployment, bankruptcy, homelessness. So many desperate people, knowing not where to turn, take their own lives or turn on their neighbors in helpless rage. Is there any hope for the world, or for ourselves?

Blinded by our modern expectations and distractions, we forget that such troubles have been the common plight of mankind since we appeared on this earth. Yet, people of the past seem to have coped better with the trials of life; they were at once more accepting of adversity, and met challenges with greater resolve and endurance, than most people do today. Whence came that inner strength, that reservoir of hope and confidence?

I think it was faith in God, and in His assurance of a happier world beyond this one. As is stated in the letter to the Hebrews, the faithful:
not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, . . . were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. . . .  But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city. (Heb. 11:13-16)
The believer's fervent longing to dwell in that city, that "better country," is often expressed in the hymns people wrote and sung in earlier, more spiritually "enlightened" times. A common theme, often appearing in the latter verses, is the joy of deliverance and perfect peace in the Lord's kingdom when our sorrowful sojourn here is over. In this theme death is not feared, but anticipated, as the doorway to eternal life and happiness--to "a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." (Luke 12:33, 34)

A marvelous example of this attitude is the hymn On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand, written by English Baptist minister Samuel Stennett (1727 – 1795), one of the most respected and influential preachers among the Dissenting or non-conformist groups of his time.The text of this hymn was first published in John Rippon’s 1787 Selection of Hymns, with the title “Heaven Anticipated.” The tune to which the hymn was first set, called "Promised Land," appeared in William Walker's 1835 Southern Harmony, and was attributed by Walker to Matilda Durham (1815 - 1901 (of whom no known image exists), a music teacher from Spartanburg County, South Carolina. Later, prominent Southern musician Rigdon McCoy McIntosh changed the tune from minor to major and added the refrain. The hymn was first published in its present form, in 1895, in a hymnal called The Gospel Light, edited by H. R. Chrisite.

Samuel Stennett
Rigdon M. McIntosh
Among the best known revival spirituals, this hymn was especially popular among 19th-century American Methodists, being sung in camp meetings and brush arbors, and is part of the American shape note tradition.

Below is the text to this delightful hymn, which points us to the true destiny of the believer and echoes the exultant cry of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:55, "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?"
On Jordan’s stormy banks I stand,
And cast a wishful eye
To Canaan’s fair and happy land,
Where my possessions lie.


Refrain
I am bound for the promised land,
I am bound for the promised land;
Oh who will come and go with me?
I am bound for the promised land.


O the transporting, rapturous scene,
That rises to my sight!
Sweet fields arrayed in living green,
And rivers of delight!
Refrain

There generous fruits that never fail,
On trees immortal grow;
There rocks and hills, and brooks and vales,
With milk and honey flow.
Refrain

O’er all those wide extended plains
Shines one eternal day;
There God the Son forever reigns,
And scatters night away.


Refrain

No chilling winds or poisonous breath
Can reach that healthful shore;
Sickness and sorrow, pain and death,
Are felt and feared no more.


Refrain

When I shall reach that happy place,
I’ll be forever blest,
For I shall see my Father’s face,
And in His bosom rest.


Refrain

Filled with delight my raptured soul
Would here no longer stay;
Though Jordan’s waves around me roll,
Fearless I’d launch away.


Refrain
What I so love about this hymn is its joyful and sure conviction of the deliverance to come. As another astute observer has noted, "anticipation has always been an important characteristic of God’s people. In the Old Testament, it was Israel’s anticipation of the promised land, Canaan. For the New Testament believer, it is the glorious hope of one day sharing eternity with our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ." (an excellent analysis of On Jordan's Stormy Banks as expressing the believer's "anticipation of heaven" can be found here)

The Jordan River today
Perfectly complementing the text is the happiness and pleasing rhythm of the music. I can't imagine a better thing to sing to lift one's spirits and get through some trial of life, great or small.

You'll see what I mean in the following video by Bill and Gloria Gaither and Friends--this is my favorite rendition of the hymn:


Bill & Gloria Gaither - On Jordan's Stormy... by Bill-Official

Following is a very different take on the hymn; while basically faithful to the original text and tune, it's sung here in a very creative, vocally impressive performance arrangement by the Brigham Young University (BYU) Singers:



* * * * *
No matter how difficult and challenging life becomes, remember that there is always hope, always light, always life at the end of the tunnel--if you have faith, there IS a beautiful, happy, eternal home prepared just for you, where our Lord awaits with open arms!


I go to prepare a place for you.
And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again,
and receive you unto myself;
that where I am, there ye may be also.
John 14:1-3

3 comments:

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