Posted by: rcottrill | January 30, 2013

My Saviour First of All

Words: Frances Jane (“Fanny”) Crosby (b. Mar. 24, 1820; d. Feb. 12, 1915)
Music: John Robson Sweney (b. Dec. 31, 1837; d. Apr. 10, 1899)

Wordwise Hymns (John Sweney)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: In the Cyber Hymnal link, there’s an interesting story connected with the singing of this 1891 hymn. The account of how it came to be created is quite interesting too.

Chautauqua Lake (pronounced sha-TOCK-wah) is located near Jamestown, New York. On the shore of the small lake is the Chautauqua Institution founded in 1874, a cultural and religious organization still in operation. In the days before mass media, its program provided, through the summer months, popular lectures on various subjects, concerts, recreation, and Bible studies as well.

It was at this camp that poet Mary Lathbury wrote two beautiful hymns for use in the program: Break Thou the Bread of Life, and Day is Dying in the West. William Sherwin, Chautauqua’s music director, provided the tunes for both. (Sherwin also wrote words and music for the gospel song Sound the Battle Cry.)

Fanny Crosby spent a week each summer at the Chautauqua camp. She took part in the program, and it also became a time to fellowship with other gospel musicians. One of these was John Sweney. On one occasion they were sitting together on the porch of the hotel when Sweney asked her an intriguing question–whether we’ll recognize one another in heaven. She replied that she thought we would. Then she added,

“But John, the question that is really on your mind is: ‘Fanny, your blind, and you’ve never seen a human being before; therefore how will you recognize your friends and especially the Lord?’”

She responded that she thought it would be no trouble at all. But if for some reason she didn’t recognize her Saviour, she said she’d go to Him and say, “May I please look at your hands?” saying that she’d know Him by the print of the nails in His hands.

It’s a bit of whimsy, of course. We’ll have no trouble, with the heightened awareness we’ll have then, of not only recognizing each other, but instantly recognizing the Lord Jesus Christ in all His glory. Fanny is likely close to the truth when she says, “His smile will be the first to welcome [us]” (CH-1). However, the original thought captivated John Sweney, and he asked Fanny Crosby to put it into a song, which she did, dictating the words to him the next morning.

CH-1) When my life work is ended, and I cross the swelling tide,
When the bright and glorious morning I shall see;
I shall know my Redeemer when I reach the other side,
And His smile will be the first to welcome me.

I shall know Him, I shall know Him,
And redeemed by His side I shall stand,
I shall know Him, I shall know Him,
By the print of the nails in His hand.

We know that Christ’s resurrection body still had the marks of Calvary upon it (Lk. 24:40; Jn. 20:27). And John’s vision of Him in heaven was at times as “a lamb as though it had been slain” (Rev. 5:6; cf. Jn 1:29). The work of Calvary will never be far from our thoughts, as we worship the One who has “redeemed us to God by [His] blood” (Rev. 5:9).

We’ll have many glad reunions in heaven, either with believers we’ve known personally, or with great saints of Bible times and beyond that we’ve admired over the years. As to whether we’ll know them all, yes. Surely we won’t know less than we know now, but more (I Cor. 13:12).

I’m intrigued by the fact that Peter, James and John seemed to know Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration, without an introduction (Matt. 17:2-3). I think the supernatural sense they were granted on that occasion will be common in heaven. But Christ will be central to it all, as He was then (vs. 8).

CH-3) Oh, the dear ones in glory, how they beckon me to come,
And our parting at the river I recall;
To the sweet vales of Eden they will sing my welcome home;
But I long to meet my Saviour first of all.

1) In addition to fellowshipping with our Saviour, and worshipping Him, what Bible character(s) would you be most interested in meeting in heaven? (And why?)

2) If we’ll be able to recall the great hymns we sang on earth, what hymn would you especially like to sing in heaven? (And why?)

Wordwise Hymns (John Sweney)
The Cyber Hymnal


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