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Words: Ira David Sankey (b. Aug. 28, 1840; d. Aug. 13, 1908)
Music: Ira David Sankey
Note: Ira Sankey was the soloist and song leader in the meetings of evangelist Dwight L. Moody. He was also a music editor, and a gospel song writer (mostly composing tunes for the words of others). For his 1890 song Just Beyond the Silent River he wrote both words and music, but for the lyrics used the pen name Rian A. Dykes–an anagram rearranging the letters of Ira D. Sankey. (Some books use just the initials, R.A.D.)
Great rivers have had a significant influence on societies down through history. Consider the Nile and the Euphrates, in the ancient world. And more recently rivers such as the St. Lawrence and the Mississippi in North America. They have served as a means of irrigation for farmland, and a waterway for trade and commerce–sometimes a source of food as well.
Rivers are mentioned hundreds of times in the Bible, beginning with a river that watered the garden of Eden (Gen. 2:10), and ending in Revelation with “a pure river of water of life” flowing out from the throne of God in the heavenly city (Rev. 22:1-2). The latter scene is central to Robert Lowry’s 1864 gospel song, Shall We Gather at the River?
Prominent in connection with the nation of Israel was the Jordan River. But it’s certainly not a major watercourse in any standard way. In Bible times, there was no major port along its winding way–hardly surprising, since it is not navigable. Except in flood season, it seems little more than a large turbid creek, flowing south to be lost in the brine of the Dead Sea.
Yet the Jordan River is important in the history of the Holy Land. Along its banks, the fiery prophet John the Baptist called upon the Jews to repent of their sins and be baptized, in preparation for the Messiah’s coming (Matt. 3:1-6). Later, John baptized the Lord Jesus Himself there. It was not a sign of repentance in His case, because He was sinless (I Pet. 2:22). Rather, it pictured His identification with humanity, and marked the beginning of His earthly ministry.
But it’s an earlier significance of the waters of the Jordan to which we direct our attention here, one that has caught the attention of a number of our hymn writers.
Fourteen centuries before the time of John and Jesus, the people of Israel were slaves in the land of Egypt. When they cried out to the Lord for help, He called Moses to be their deliverer (Exod. 3:9-10). By the grace of God, Moses brought them out of Egyptian bondage, led them through the wilderness, and on to the eastern banks of the Jordan.
They had been delivered from bondage. Now, before them was the promise of new and abundant life in Canaan, but in between was the barrier of the Jordan. However, just as God had done on the shores of the Red Sea, by another mighty miracle He enabled the Israelites to cross the Jordan on dry ground (Josh. 3:14-17). The one great miracle completes the other. Crossing the Red Sea brought them out of bondage, crossing the Jordan brought them into blessing.
That is part of the reason why some have taken the blessings of Canaan as a picture of heaven, and the Jordan as a picture of the death God’s people pass through to enter the heavenly kingdom. The analogy is imperfect, as the people of Israel still had enemies, and battles to fight, in the Promised Land. Life there was not always ideal. However, in a limited way, the imagery may be suitable.
Hymn writers have seized on it over the years. For example, there’s Samuel Stennett’s 1835 song that begins:
On Jordan’s stormy banks I stand,
And cast a wishful eye
To Canaan’s fair and happy land,
Where my possessions lie.
There were traditional spirituals, too, from the American slaves: “Deep river! My home is over Jordan.” And, “I want to go to heav’n when I die; Roll, Jordan, roll.”
Here is Mr. Sankey’s song. Exactly what “earth’s snow-capped mountains,” in the refrain, pictured to Sankey I’m not sure. But, “We shall see and be like Jesus” is much more clearly a biblical allusion (I Jn. 3:2). His “crystal sea” in the third stanza is likely a reference to the “sea of glass like crystal” before the throne of God in heaven (Rev. 4:6). It seems that this will be an assembly area for the saints in that future day (cf. Rev. 15:2).
1) Just beyond the silent river,
Over on the farther shore,
Many loved ones there shall greet us,
Where the many mansions are
Just beyond earth’s snow-capped mountains,
In that land so bright and fair,
We shall see and be like Jesus
Safe forever over there;
We shall see and be like Jesus,
Safe forever over there.
2) Just beyond these fleeting shadows,
Over on the golden strand,
Robed in white, we’ll walk with Jesus
Through that fair and happy land.
3) Just beyond these earthly partings
We shall soon united be,
In the home beyond the river,
Close beside the crystal sea.
1) What blessings of heaven does the song mention?
2) What negative things to be left behind on earth are mentioned or implied?