Note: For the story of how a depressed musician and a compassionate druggist figured in the writing of this gospel song, you can check out the Wordwise Hymns link. It’s told in the words of Sanford Bennett himself, on the Cyber Hymnal page.
Bennett was one whose many gifts led him into several different careers. He’d been a published poet for about twenty years, by the time he supplied the text for this song. He’d served as Superintendent of Schools in Richmond, Illinois, for a couple of years, then became the associate editor of the Elkhorn Independent newspaper, in Wisconsin. After service in the Civil Way, he operated a drugstore, then studied medicine and worked as a medical doctor for twenty-two years!
There’s not much Bible truth in this song, and we can argue that it’s not God the Father (CH-1) who’s said to be preparing our heavenly home, but Christ (Jn. 14:2). These things are not surprising, since Sanford Bennett was not entirely orthodox in his theology to begin with. But even so, there is a warmth of comfort in this little song–understandable when you know the story of its origin. I have sung it on occasion at a funeral service.
“Sweet By and By” is an appropriate poetic name for the heavenly kingdom. The dictionary says that “by and by” means before long, in a short time. And even though, to suffering saints, the days here below seem to drag on endlessly, from heaven’s perspective the time is short and Christ reassures us, “Surely I am coming quickly” (Rev. 22:20).
The heavenly city is “fairer than day” (CH-1) because the glory of the Lamb of God and God the Father supplies its illumination (Rev. 21:23). Though we cannot view it yet, we can see it “afar” with the eyes of faith, as we study the Word of God.
CH-1) 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.
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.
We can hardly conceive of the beautiful singing in which we’ll participate in heaven, “the melodious songs of the blessed” (CH-2). The singing around the throne of God is mentioned several times (Rev. 5:9-10; 14:2-3; 15:2-4). There are also a number of times when the heavenly multitude is said to be “saying” certain things. It may involve a kind of chant, and perhaps music will be included too (Rev. 4:10-11; 5:11-12; 7:9-12).
We also know that in heaven we’ll rest from our labours, a rest we may “sigh for” here below (Rev. 14:13). Not that we’ll have nothing to do. “His servants shall serve Him” (Rev. 22:3). But our work will be rewarding and fulfilling, not frustrating, tedious or perilous.
CH-2) We shall sing on that beautiful shore
The melodious songs of the blessed;
And our spirits shall sorrow no more,
Not a sigh for the blessing of rest.
One of the major occupations of eternity will be the worship and praise of God. “Then a voice came from the throne, saying, ‘Praise our God, all you His servants and those who fear Him, both small and great!’” (Rev. 19:5). And we will. It will be our eternal delight to offer to the Lord “our tribute of praise.”
CH-3) 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.
1) Would you make use of this gospel song at a memorial service? (Why? Or why not?)
2) What are your favourite hymns about heaven? (For other possibilities see my article Funeral Hymns.)