Words: Frances Jane (“Fanny”) Crosby (b. Mar. 24, 1820; d. Feb. 12, 1915)
Music: Silver Cord, by George Coles Stebbins (b. Feb. 26, 1846; d. Oct. 6, 1945)
Note: Fanny Crosby wrote these lines as her own personal testimony. She didn’t intend them to become a hymn available to all. However, events conspired against this goal, as both the above links explain.
The opening line of this hymn deserves some comment and explanation. Fanny Crosby had in mind some verses in the book of Ecclesiastes:
“Remember your Creator before the silver cord is loosed [or severed], or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the well. Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it” (Ecc. 12:6-7).
Those who follow occult practices actually believe the spirit is attached to the body by a silvery strand. But that notion doesn’t come from Scripture. Solomon is actually giving us two pairs of poetic images representing death.
1) Light is used in Scripture as a symbol of life (Ps. 36:9; Prov. 13:9; Jn. 8:12). The first image pictures a lamp glowing with golden light, suspended by a glittering cord. When the cord breaks, the lamp falls and is shattered to pieces. That represents death.
2) Water–especially flowing water–is also a fitting picture of life. The Lord Jesus uses the figure to speak of eternal life (Jn. 4:14; cf. 7:37-39). The second image Solomon gives us is of a well with a water wheel used to draw up the water. But here the wheel is broken, and a pitcher that could be used to bring the water home is shattered. Again this represents death.
For the secular man, seeing only this life from the womb to the tomb, these are depressing pictures. But Solomon says that to think in that restricted way is “vanity” (Ecc. 12:8). Life only makes sense when it is centred on pleasing God, and when there’s a recognition of life beyond the grave and our accountability to the God who made us (Ecc. 12:13-14).
Fanny Crosby’s fine song faces the reality of physical death, but she looks beyond it, with joyful expectation, to being in the presence of her Saviour. For the Christian, physical death is merely a doorway to something far greater and grander. There is eternal blessing to follow.
CH-1) Some day the silver cord will break,
And I no more as now shall sing;
But oh, the joy when I shall wake
Within the palace of the King!
And I shall see Him face to face,
And tell the story—Saved by grace;
And I shall see Him face to face,
And tell the story—Saved by grace.
In CH-2, the hymn writer uses imagery adopted by the Apostle Paul, picturing our physical body as our earthly house (II Cor. 5:1-5). But when our earthly house is left behind at death, we have the prospect of a heavenly house, a resurrection body like the glorified body of Christ (Phil. 3:20-21). (Fanny does seem to switch poetic pictures here, turning her thoughts to the heavenly mansions being prepared for us in the heavenly city, cf. Jn. 14:2.)
CH-2) Some day my earthly house will fall.
I cannot tell how soon ’twill be;
But this I know—my All in All
Has now a place in heav’n for me.
For some, death is sudden and unexpected. For others, it follows a steady decline through illness or the aging process. But in most cases we simply don’t know the exact time our earthly life will end. (Fanny Crosby didn’t die for another twenty-four years after this song was published.) Meanwhile, we should keep on living for the Lord, looking forward expectantly to what is to come (I Thess. 1:9-10; II Tim. 4:8).
CH-4) Some day: till then I’ll watch and wait,
My lamp all trimmed and burning bright,
That when my Saviour ope’s the gate,
My soul to Him may take its flight.
1) Can you think of helpful images for death (in Scripture or outside it), other than the ones Fanny adopts?
2) Who are some individuals (from Scripture or beyond) that were sustained in suffering or persecution by the perspective Fanny Crosby has?