Shall We Gather at the River

 
 

Robert Lowry (1826-1899) wrote over 500 hymns in his time. One of the hymns that he penned was "Shall We Gather at the River" (also known as "The River"). The song came to him in a vision as he was reclining on a sofa one hot July day. In his days, most hymns about rivers exclusively were referencing the Jordan River. Crossing the Jordan was a symbol of overcoming death for the Israelites.

Instead of conforming to the traditions of his day, Lowry was moved to write a hymn about the River of Life which is referenced in Revelation. We also see numerous references to the water of life, which is Christ.

This simple hymn has been sung by saints for many generations. It is a hymn of great joy that churches should sing together to proclaim the goodness of God's grace and the life that Christ offers. It is also a hymn of anticipation and an encouragement to press on. Looking to the day that we will gather in the new earth when sorrow and pain are things of the past.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. (Revelation 22:1)

 

No Darker Rooms

As I was perusing some old hymns to revive at Foundation Church, I stumbled across a title that caught my eye, "Christ Leads Me Through No Darker Rooms." As I began to read the lyrics written by Richard Baxter sometime in the 16th century, I was encouraged by the truth proclaimed in the hymn. Christ willingly became a man. He grieved (John 11:35), he was betrayed (John 18:2),and he suffered greatly (Isaiah 53:3-12).

It is a great help to have a friend who understands what you are going through; it instills a comradery that encourages us through the dark times. How much more can we be encouraged to know that we have a Savior who willingly took on flesh, suffered, and died for our redemption? We do not have just forgiveness for the sins we commit, but we have peace through the sins committed against us, by both man and nature. Christ modeled for us how to respond when those you love turn their backs, when a child is taken too soon, when the religious are far from God, when the political system is unjust and broken, and when everything around has gone dark. He walked through the darkness in union with God and the Spirit.

As I was pulling lyrics from the hymn by Richard Baxter, I started filling holes in the song from other hymns, "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" and "Give to the Winds Thy Fears". The end result is a song that I hope to be an encouragement to those walking through the valley.


He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief... (Isaiah 53:3a)

 

 

Parable of the Sower

 
 

The Book of Matthew, Chapter 13, records Jesus telling a story about a farmer who scatters seeds in a field. Some of the seeds fell on the footpath and were snatched by the birds. Some fell on the shallow and rocky soil. Though they grew, the roots couldn’t get a good hold and the plants withered in the sun. Some fell in the thorns and were choked out.

But the seeds that fell in the rich dirt reaped a great harvest.

Jesus goes on to explain these examples. The growth of the seed is an analogy to message of the Kingdom. Those that hear the good news and ignore it are the seeds on the footpath. Those that hear the good news and find joy for a little while, but fall back to their old sinful ways are the seeds in the rocky soil. Those that hear the good news, but let the lure of riches and lust take hold are the seeds in the thorns. Those that hear the good news and let it take over their life are the seeds in the rich dirt.

I wrote this song as I was reflecting on this parable. To plant my roots in something that I could grow deeply in required that I trust that Jesus laid down his life for me — so that I may reap the benefits of growth in and through his grace.

I know this doesn’t mean that every day we will experience profound growth. I understand sanctification is a process, but implicit in Jesus words lies the truth that we must nurture and care for his work in our lives. An unkempt garden will never flourish. We must keep a watchful eye out for the weeds creeping at the border. Jesus will rip the thorns and sin from our life and we must surrender and dig in — if, that is, we desire to bear a harvest 30, 60 or 100 fold for His Kingdom. He is already at work in us, and will, by his grace, continue this powerful work for his glory and our good.