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"Shall We Gather at the River?": Robert Lowry

by Amos R. Wells

Robert LowryThis beautiful and very popular hymn was written by Rev. Robert Lowry, D.D. He was born in Philadelphia, March 12, 1826, and died at a good old age in 1899. Educated at Lewisburg University in Pennsylvania, he became a Baptist minister in New York, Brooklyn, and other cities, and professor of belles-lettres in Lewisburg University.

Dr. Lowry was editor of ten or a dozen of the most popular Sunday-school song-books ever published, and he contributed to these some of their best hymns and tunes. Among his hymns that are most widely sung are "My life flows on in endless song," "One more day's work for Jesus," and "Where is my wandering boy to-night?" For all of these he also wrote the tunes.

But Dr. Lowry's most famous hymn is "Shall we gather at the river?" He wrote the words when a pastor in Brooklyn, on a hot July day in 1864. A very severe epidemic was raging in Brooklyn, and hundreds were passing over the river of death. Dr. Lowry was thinking of the sad scenes all around him when the question arose in his mind, "Shall we meet again? We are parting at the river of death; shall we meet at the river of life?

With his heart full of these thoughts, he seated himself at his parlor organ, and both the words and the music of the famous hymn came to him as if by inspiration. It was published the following year in "Happy Voices," as a hymn of five stanzas and a chorus:

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.

On the margin of the river,
  Washing up its silver spray,
We will walk 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 Saviour'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.

From A Treasure of Hymns ... by Amos R. Wells. Boston: United Society of Christian Endeavor, ©1914.

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