Hymnspiration: On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand

SamuelStennettThis old hymn is still included in hymnals today although perhaps not sung as often as it once was.  A contemporary version of it was recorded by the Christian singing group Jars of Clay in 2005.  Its theme is obviously about heaven and looking beyond what one has on earth to what one looks forward to “on the other side” (Canaan/Heaven).

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.

O the transporting, rapturous scene,
That rises to my sight!
Sweet fields arrayed in living green,
And rivers of delight!

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

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

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

When I shall reach that happy place,
I’ll be forever blest,
For I shall see my Father’s face,
And in His bosom rest.

Filled with delight my raptured soul
Would here no longer stay;
Though Jordan’s waves around me roll,
Fearless I’d launch away.

The hymn was first published in John Rippon’s 1787 hymnal, entitled A Selection of Hymns From the Best Authors.  It appeared under the category of “Hell and Heaven” and entitled “The Promised Land”.  Instead of the version we know today, there were seven stanzas of four lines each without a refrain.  Several other hymns of Dr. Samuel Stennett were also included in the publication.

Samuel Stennett

Samuel Stennett was born in Exeter, England in 1727, the son of a Seventh Day Baptist minister, Reverend Joseph Stennett, who himself came from a line of Christian ministers.  Being Baptists in eighteenth century England would have placed them squarely in opposition as non-conformists to the Church of England.

Joseph assumed the pastorate of a Baptist church in London on Little Wild Street in 1737.  Later, Samuel would become his assistant and eventually his successor.  Samuel received a Doctor of Divinity degree in 1763 from King’s College, Aberdeen and was said to have been:

. . . highly esteemed by his sovereign, George III.  High preferment was offered him in the Church of England, but faithful to his sense of duty, he declined, saying: ‘I dwell among mine own people.’  (Illustrated History of Hymns and Their Authors, p. 366)

In 1758 he had been installed as his father’s successor and even the King’s offer of an office of distinction in the Church of England couldn’t convince Samuel to forsake his beliefs and spiritual heritage.  His pastoral acceptance letter ended with gratitude and a promise to his congregants:

My dear friends, I take this opportunity to express the pleasure I feel in the assurances you give me of the favorable acceptance my poor labors have met with the few years I have been among you.  Whatever success may have attended them, I would with you ascribe the glory to God – to that God who can render the meanest endeavors effectual to the salvation of the immortal souls of men. . . . And it is, I assure you, and always will be, my prayer for you, that the God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, thro’ the blood of the everlasting covenant, may make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Works of Samuel Stennett, p. xi-xii)

It was further noted in Works of Samuel Stennett, that Samuel did not direct his pastoral efforts solely towards his own congregants and denomination.  Rather, “he laboured assiduously to promote the interests of dissenters of all classes.” (p. xiv)

An amiable man, he was disciplined in his prayer life and daily walk with God – “ever ready to forgive injuries, and disposed to put the best construction upon the actions of other people.  He had an utter dislike to hear any one evil spoken of, and upon such occasions occurring, he would remark, ‘See, now, if you cannot tell something good of that person.’” (p. xiv)

For thirty-seven years he served at the Little Wild Street church before stepping aside preceding his death on March 16, 1795.  During his lifetime, he authored thirty-nine hymns, today’s hymn being the most well-known.  The tune we sing today was later composed by a “Miss M. Durham” but not much is known about her, except that she wrote articles for religious papers of the day and was a music teacher.  It was included in The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion, published in 1835 and arranged by Rigdon M. McIntosh in 1895.  The Promised Land or On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand became one of the most popular hymns of the nineteenth century.

Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!

© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2014.


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