PODCAST: On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand (History Behind the Hymns #10 with Daniel Whyte III)

Welcome to the History Behind the Hymns podcast. This is episode #10

I am your host, Daniel Whyte III, president of Gospel Light Society International. I am one of many Christians who still loves the old hymns of the faith even more than many modern Christian songs. For the past 33 years, my wife and children and I have sung the old hymns during our family devotion time. Over the years we have used an Independent Baptist hymn book, a National Baptist hymn book, and a Southern Baptist hymn book to sing the old hymns of the faith. And we have sung the old hymns of the faith with traditional Methodist churches online. The old hymns of the faith have been a tremendous source of blessing and encouragement to my heart down through the years. The purpose of this podcast is to encourage you to dust off your old hymn book and experience the power and blessing of well-written hymns based upon sound doctrine for the glory of God that will strengthen your faith.

The History Behind the Hymns passage of Scripture is Ezekiel 20:6 which reads: “In the day that I lifted up mine hand unto them, to bring them forth of the land of Egypt into a land that I had espied for them, flowing with milk and honey, which is the glory of all lands:”

The History Behind the Hymns quote for today is from Johann Sebastian Bach. He said: “All music should have no other end and aim than the glory of God and the soul’s refreshment; where this is not remembered there is no real music but only a devilish hubbub.”

The quote in connection to today’s hymn is from Dwight L. Moody. He said: “Take courage. We walk in the wilderness today and in the Promised Land tomorrow.”

Our hymn for today is “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand” by Samuel Stennett. It reads:

On Jordan’s stormy banks I stand,
And cast a wishful eye
To Canaan’s fair and happy land,
Where my possessions lie.

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.

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.

Now here is the history behind the hymn, “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand”. According to Umcdiscipleship.org:

Samuel Stennett (1727-1795), an English Baptist, came from a long line of ministers. He was the son of a Seventh-Day Adventist pastor. In the 18th century, university education was not easily available to nonconformist families—those who refused to swear allegiance to the Church of England. Stennett did study at the academy at Miles End with distinction, however.

In spite of his nonconformist religious stance, Stennett was a personal friend to the reigning monarch, King George III. Stennett was honored in 1763 with a doctor of divinity degree from King’s College, Aberdeen, for his accomplishments.

He served as an assistant to his father in his congregation in 1747 and assumed the position of pastor upon his father’s death in 1758. He was called as pastor of the Sabbatarian Baptist Church in 1767, a congregation that had been served by his grandfather, but declined the call. While continuing his other position, he preached to the Sabbatarian congregation every Saturday for 20 years.

John Rippon, an English Baptist pastor, published in 1787 an influential collection, A Selection of Hymns from the Best Authors. Thirty-eight of Stennett’s hymns appeared in this popular collection. Among those was a hymn under the heading of “Heaven Anticipated” with the title of “The Promised Land” in eight four-line stanzas.

The hymn as it appeared in America looked and sounded much different. William Walker’s The Southern Harmony was the first to include “The Promised Land.” This was one of the most popular of the 19th-century, oblong-tune books with shaped notes.

The tune PROMISED LAND was paired with the text. The Southern Harmony attributes the tune to “Miss M. Durham” but we know nothing else about the composer. The tune has many of the characteristics of the traditional folk melodies of the time.

Originally written in a minor mode, Rigdon M. McIntosh, a Southern musician, altered the tune to the major mode, and as was customary among American evangelicals in the 19th century added a refrain beginning with “I am bound for the promised land.” This version was published in 1895 in H. R. Christie’s Gospel Light and has become the standard version for many hymnals since that time.

From the start, the four stanzas focus on heaven. The singer stands on the banks of the Jordan River looking across to the “fair and happy land” of Canaan—a metaphoric mixture of images from the books of Exodus and Revelation. Our true “possessions” lie in Canaan (Heaven) and not on the earthly side of Jordan.

In stanza two we find that Canaan is a land of “wide extended plains” where “the eternal day” is always shining. In this land Jesus (“God the Son”) reigns. Furthermore, stanza three tells us that Canaan is a spiritually healthful place to live: “No chilling winds or poisonous breath can reach that healthful shore.” Therefore, “sickness and sorrow, pain and death” do not exist in Canaan.

In the final stanza, the singer obviously cannot wait to get there. Upon arrival in the Promised Land, we will “see [our] Father’s face, and in his bosom rest.” The refrain gives the hymn a sense of marching forward to eternal life.

Carlton R. Young, editor of The UM Hymnal, places this hymn within the context 19th-century American expansion: “The British poet composed these apocalyptic lines with an ear towards Exodus and Revelation in another setting. USA evangelicals and their song transformed the text into earthly and vital metaphors of the vision, vigor, enthusiasm, and optimism of frontier life moving on to the promised land of Kentucky or Missouri.”

In our next episode we will look at the history behind the hymn, “Abide with Me” by Henry Francis Lyte.

Let’s Pray —

Dear friend, this hymn honors God and the Lord Jesus Christ, if you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, and you want to get to know Him today here’s how.

First, accept the fact that you are a sinner, and that you have broken God’s law. The Bible says in Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”

Second, accept the fact that there is a penalty for sin. The Bible states in Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death…”

Third, accept the fact that you are on the road to hell. Jesus Christ said in Matthew 10:28: Also, the Bible states in Revelation 21:8: “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”

Now this is bad news, but here’s the good news. Jesus Christ said in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Just believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died for your sins, was buried, and rose from the dead by the power of God for you so that you can live eternally with Him. Pray and ask Him to come into your heart today, and He will.

Romans 10:9-13 says, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Pray and ask Him to come into your heart and He will.

May God bless you and keep you until we meet again.