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“Shall We Gather at the River?”

My husband John was baptized in a lake in Union when he was 13. After he was baptized, he struck off across the lake to the other side.

His mother stood on the bank hollering “John William, get back here.” Finally deciding that this was not swim time, John turned and swam back to the shore where he started. Mom’s hissy fit subsided, and all was well.

I have a picture in my mind of this adventure that always causes me to laugh. Mother and son had a word of prayer later, and the other adults in the congregation must have had a good laugh, too. They were also probably quite content that their children had not chosen to swim after their baptism.

Robert Lowry (1826-1899) was a professor of literature, a Baptist pastor of several large churches, and a music editor at Bigelow Publishing Company.

One hot afternoon in July, 1864, as he was resting on his sofa, visions of heaven pervaded his senses. There was an epidemic in the city causing many deaths. In his imagination, he saw the bright golden throne room and a multitude of saints gathered around the beautiful, cool, crystal, river of life. He began to wonder why there seemed to be many hymns that referenced the river of death, but very few that mentioned the river of life. As he mused, the words and music to “Shall We Gather at the River” came to his heart and mind.

“Shall We Gather at the River” became a favorite song of camp meetings, water baptismal services and funerals.

We used to drive to Hendersonville to visit my great-grandmother. Sitting out under the trees beside her house, her sons, daughters, grands, and great grands would gather for visiting on those Sunday afternoons. There was a lot of storytelling and singing; that family loved to sing. We, children, would often march around to those old gospel songs; “Shall We Gather at the River” was one of them.

Shall We Gather at the River

Shall we gather at the river,
Where bright angel feet have trod,
With its crystal tide forever
Flowing by the throne of God?M

Refrain:
Yes, we’ll gather at the river,
The beautiful, the beautiful river;
Gather with the saints at the river
That flows by the throne of God.

On the margin of the river,
Washing up its silver spray,
We will talk and worship ever,
All the happy golden day.

Ere we reach the shining river,
Lay we every burden down;
Grace our spirits will deliver,
And provide a robe and crown.

At the smiling of the river,
Mirror of the Savior’s face,
Saints, whom death will never sever,
Lift their songs of saving grace.

Soon we’ll reach the silver river,
Soon our pilgrimage will cease;
Soon our happy hearts will quiver
With the melody of peace.

This song brings smiles to both singers’ and listeners’ faces. The rhythm is catchy, and I know it can easily sweep children into a march.

Victor Hugo said, “Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.”

Whether singing in the shower, loading the dishwasher, or with a group, singing is a good thing.

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