Posted by: rcottrill | April 25, 2012

Beulah Land

Words: Edgar Page Stites (b. Mar. 22, 1836; d. Jan. 9, 1921)
Music: John Robson Sweney (b. Dec. 31, 1837; d. Apr. 10, 1899)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Given the current commercialization of much gospel music, a statement of Mr. Stites is interesting. He said, “I have never received a cent for my songs….I could not do work for the Master and receive pay for it.” Further, he asked that Beulah Land be credited to “Edgar Page,” because he didn’t want to draw attention to himself and detract from his ministry as a preacher of the Word of God. The request was honoured until after his death.

The meaning of the word “Beulah” (Isa. 62:4) is explained in the Wordwise Hymns link, but briefly it’s a Hebrew word (bÿ’ulah) meaning “married.” It refers to the land of Canaan, and the blessed and intimate relationship Israel would have with the Lord there. There is something of a parallel to the church, the body of Christ, being thought of as His bride (cf. II Cor. 11:2; Rev. 19:7-9). But not quite. Since in Isaiah Beulah refers not the people of Israel, but to their land.

The idea seems to be that the intimacy of Israel’s relationship with the Lord, His protection of her, and the bounty of the Lord in the Promised Land would be such that it would be a foretaste of eternal joys to come. If we look for a parallel with regard to Christian experience, it’s a better picture of the abundant life the Lord Jesus speaks of (Jn. 10:10), and the joys of special intimacy with the Lord sometimes experienced by the people of God. This can provide a blessed prospect of heaven.

The church of Jesus Christ does not have a land designated as their own, as the nation of Israel does. However, there are places and times that Christians gather that can be hallowed by special memories and unusual blessing. As a child, I went with my parents to a summer camp on Ontario, year after year. The freedom from a worldly culture, the holy language, modest dress, and daily times of praise and the study of God’s Word, all seemed to my young heart to be what heaven would be like.

Interestingly, Beulah Land (or, as it’s sometimes titled, O Beulah Land) was actually written with a summer camp in mind. Edgar Stites was saved in 1857, in the early days of a revival that began in Philadelphia, and swept across America in 1858-59. (The gospel song Stand Up for Jesus has a special connection with this revival.)

After his conversion, Mr. Stites became active in a church, and served as a Methodist lay preacher. Along with other Christian leaders, he helped to establish the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, which developed a summer camp and Christian retreat centre on the Atlantic coast, in New Jersey. It became immensely popular. And because of its emphasis on music, it attracted many noted gospel musicians of the day, Fanny Crosby and Edgar Stites’ cousin Eliza Hewitt among them.

The Grove Tabernacle seated about 7,500 people, and when they united in joyful song, to the accompaniment of a huge pipe organ, the effect was glorious. In either 1875 or 1876 Edgar Stites was overwhelmed with the blessings of the opening service of the season. “All this and heaven too!” he exclaimed. And it was in that exaltation of spirit that he wrote the words of this gospel song. John Sweney, the camp’s music director, composed the tune, and years later, in 1899, the song was sung by Ira Sankey at Sweney’s memorial service.

It was another text in Isaiah that provided the immediate inspiration for Beulah Land. In the context, the passage describes the blessings of the Messiah’s coming earthly kingdom, but one can see how Stites drew an analogy to the gathering of the saints at Ocean Grove. The verse says:

“The ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with singing, with everlasting joy on their heads. They shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Isa. 35:10).

CH-1) I’ve reached the land of corn and wine,
And all its riches freely mine;
Here shines undimmed one blissful day,
For all my night has passed away.

O Beulah Land, sweet Beulah Land,
As on thy highest mount I stand,
I look away across the sea,
Where mansions are prepared for me,
And view the shining glory shore,
My heav’n, my home forever more!

CH-2) My Saviour comes and walks with me,
And sweet communion here have we;
He gently leads me by His hand,
For this is heaven’s border land.

1) What experiences have you had in your own life that seemed at the time a special foretaste of heaven?

2) What are the limitations of such experiences that remind us we haven’t reached heaven yet?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


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