Posted by: rcottrill | April 13, 2015

On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand

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Words: Samuel Stennett (b. June 1, 1727; d. Aug. 24, 1795)
Music: Promised Land, by Matilda T. Durham (b. Jan. 17, 1815; d. July 30, 1901)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Ten years after young Sam was born, his father became the pastor of a Baptist church, in London, England. In later years, Samuel Stennett became his father’s assistant, and finally succeeded his father as pastor, a ministry he continued until his death in 1795. He was considered a fine scholar, and was a friend of King George III.

The hymn was first published in John Rippon’s Selection of Hymns (1787), under the heading “Heaven Anticipated.” The refrain was added later. The tune now most familiarly used with the song was published in America, in William Walker’s Southern Harmony, in 1835. It is attributed there to a Miss M. Durham, but we know no more about her. The tune was written in a minor key, in vogue at the time. But in 1895 Rigdon McIntosh changed this to a major key and added the refrain.

Ira Sankey tells us, in My Life, and the Story of the Gospel Hymns that, while visiting the Holy Land, he sang this hymn from the spot near the Jordan River from which Moses viewed the land of Canaan. He says that, since the area is not generally “stormy,” the word “rugged” was commonly substituted in the first line.

CH-1) On Jordan’s stormy banks I stand,
And cast a wishful eye
To Canaan’s fair and happy land,
Where my possessions lie.

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.

In the Bible, we’re told how the people of Israel, delivered from years of bondage in Egypt, were poised on the eastern shore of the Jordan River, ready to cross over and claim the land of Canaan as their own. Referred to as “the land of promise” (Heb. 11:9), God had pledged it as a permanent possession to the descendants of Abraham centuries before (Gen. 12:1-2, 7; 13:15; 17:8). Now it was time to conquer in the name of the Lord.

The miracles of God attending the physical crossing of the Jordan (Josh. 3), and the conquest of the city of Jericho (Josh. 6), provide an illustration in the spiritual realm of what God does in saving lost sinners, through faith in Christ. Moses had said to the people, “He [the Lord] brought us out from there [Egyptian bondage] that He might bring us in, to give us the land of which he swore to our fathers” (Deut. 6:23).

Similarly, of the individual Christian, we can say that the Lord brought us out of sin’s darkness and bondage, that he might bring us in to the light of His love and to new and abundant life (Jn. 10:10). He has “delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13-14).

Life didn’t become perfect for the Israelites in the land of Canaan. There were still challenges to face and victories to be won. And it’s the same with the Christian life. Trusting Christ as Saviour doesn’t suddenly make us sinless, or the life we live perfect. But through God’s daily grace we have the resources available to deal with what lies ahead (cf. Phil. 4:19; Heb. 4:14-16).

Canaan thus provides a picture of the abundant Christian life–a life enriched by God’s daily provision, but one in which there are still battles to be fought in the name of the Lord. However, having said that, you will find that a few of our hymns use the Jordan River as a symbol of physical death, and Canaan as a picture of our future home in heaven.

I don’t think the application works as well that way. In heaven, our long war with Satan will be over (Rev. 20:10), and all that hurts and harms us will be gone forever (Rev. 21:4). But, imperfect as the imagery is, there is a sense in which the heavenly kingdom is the Christian’s Promised Land, our future and eternal home.

CH-3) There generous fruits that never fail,
On trees immortal grow;
There rocks and hills, and brooks and vales,
With milk and honey flow.

CH-4) O’er all those wide extended plains
Shines one eternal day;
There God the Son forever reigns,
And scatters night away.

CH-5) No chilling winds or poisonous breath
Can reach that healthful shore;
Sickness and sorrow, pain and death,
Are felt and feared no more.

1) What gives you certainty that you are bound, on day, for the promised land of heaven?

2) What are your favourite hymns about heaven?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


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