This week’s edition is dedicated to the memory of Richard Scott (May 24, 1949 – February 7, 2011), a much-loved pastor and friend to all of us at Plough.
There are times when a familiar song takes on fresh significance and comes to precisely capture an experience or feeling. This happened with Robert Lowry’s hymn “Shall We Gather at the River” during the last months of Richard’s struggle with cancer:
Shall we gather at the river,
where bright angel feet have trod,
with its crystal tide forever
flowing by the throne of God?
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.
With its echoes of the restoration of Eden described in Revelation 22:1-2, Lowry’s hymn brings vividly to our eyes the life of the world to come. It may have been inspired as well by the final episode in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, in which the main characters Christian and Hopeful come to the same river at the end of their quest. Christian begins by fearing to cross, as the river is deep and has no bridge:
Then I saw in my dream, that Christian was as in a muse a while. To whom also Hopeful added this word, Be of good cheer, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole; and with that Christian brake out with a loud voice, Oh, I see him again! and he tells me, “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee, and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee.”
Then they both took courage, and the enemy was after that as still as a stone, until they were gone over. Christian therefore presently found ground to stand upon, and so it followed that the rest of the river was but shallow. Thus they got over.
Now, upon the bank of the river, on the other side, they saw the two shining men again, who there waited for them; wherefore, being come out of the river, they saluted them, saying, We are ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for those that shall be heirs of salvation. Thus they went along towards the gate…
The talk they had with the Shining Ones was about the glory of the place; who told them that the beauty and glory of it was inexpressible. There, said they, is the Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, the innumerable company of angels, and the spirits of just men made perfect.
You are going now, said they, to the paradise of God, wherein you shall see the tree of life, and eat of the never-fading fruits thereof; and when you come there, you shall have white robes given you, and your walk and talk shall be every day with the King, even all the days of eternity.
Sung here in a moving performance by Anonymous 4 – the New-York-based female a capella quartet best known for early music – on their album American Angels.