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Words: James Montgomery (b. Nov. 4, 1771; d. Apr. 30, 1854)
Music: Terra Beata, a traditional English melody arranged by Franklin Lawrence Sheppard (b. Aug. 7, 1852; d. Feb. 15, 1930)
Note: James Montgomery, formerly a school drop-out, became a successful newspaper editor, essayist, and hymn writer. Among other worthy hymns, he gave us the Christmas carol Angels from the Realms of Glory. And in one sounding like a personal testimony, he wrote this sublime, though little known, hymn about the believer’s eternal future. It should be in every hymn book, but is not.
Montgomery’s original had twenty-one four-line stanzas. The Cyber Hymnal version has selected a dozen from these to form six eight-line stanzas. (“Pent” in CH-1 means confined; “anon” in CH-3 means soon.)
Shepherd’s tune, Terra Beata (meaning Beautiful Earth), is based on a melody he remembered for his childhood. We also use Shepherd’s rendering of it for the hymn This Is My Father’s World.
There are subjects we often try to avoid in polite company, some because they seem gross or nauseating to us, others because they might offend an individual’s feelings. But there is one particular topic that is spoken of with particular discomfort, and often shunned. An experience often anticipated with dread or anxiety, certainly as it seems to be approaching. Death.
In his profane 1939 play, The Iceman Cometh, playwright Eugene O’Neill depicts a number of drunken occupants in a bar, blathering on–for nearly five hours!–about their fanciful dreams and faded hopes. The better days they look for are mostly an alcoholic delusion. In truth, the Iceman (a symbol of death) lurks in their midst, unseen and largely unacknowledged, but an inevitable destiny.
What a depressing scene! How different life and death are viewed by those who know Christ as Saviour. Then death is seen, not as a hopeless end, but as a door to our endless hope. Poet and hymn writer John Milton wrote: “Death is the golden key that opens the palace of eternity.”
The Saviour died on the cross of Calvary to take the wages of our sin upon Himself, that we, through faith in Him, might receive the gift of eternal life (Rom. 6:23). Having that assurance, for the Christian, death is “to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord” (II Cor. 5:8). So Paul speaks of his “desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better” (Phil. 1:23).
“We know that when He [Christ] is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (I Jn. 3:2). “As for me,” says the psalmist, “I will see Your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness” (Ps. 17:15). “In Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Ps. 16:11). “And those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful” (Rev. 17:4).
The Lord Jesus declared, “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also (Jn. 14:2-3).
It was for our presence with Him in heaven that Christ petitioned His heavenly Father (Jn. 17:24). “Thus we shall always be with the Lord” (I Thess. 4:17). That thrilling promise fueled Montgomery’s wonderful hymn.
CH-1) “Forever with the Lord!” Amen, so let it be!
Life from His death is in that word, ’tis immortality.
Here in the body pent, absent from Him I roam,
Yet nightly pitch my moving tent a day’s march nearer home.
CH-2) My Father’s house on high, home of my soul, how near
At times to faith’s foreseeing eye thy golden gates appear!
Ah! then my spirit faints to reach the land I love,
The bright inheritance of saints, Jerusalem above.
CH-3) Yet clouds will intervene, and all my prospect flies;
Like Noah’s dove, I flit between rough seas and stormy skies.
Anon the clouds depart, the winds and waters cease,
While sweetly o’er my gladdened heart expands the bow of peace.
CH-5) “Forever with the Lord!” Forever in His will,
The promise of that faithful word, Lord, here in me fulfil.
With You at my right hand, then I shall never fail;
Uphold me, Lord, and I shall stand, through grace I will prevail.
CH-6) So when my latest breath breaks through the veil of pain,
By death I shall escape from death, and life eternal gain.
That resurrection word, that shout of victory:
Once more, “Forever with the Lord!” Amen, so let it be!”
“Our Lord Jesus Christ…died for us, that whether we wake or sleep [i.e. die], we should live together with Him. Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing” (I Thess. 5:9-11).
1) What does the promise that we will be “forever with the Lord” mean to you?
2) What other hymns about heaven do you know and love?