SHALL WE GATHER AT THE RIVER? written in 1864
Robert Lowry (1826-1899) was a professor of literature, a Baptist pastor of several large churches and a music editor at Biglow Publishing Company. He wrote close to 500 hymns, including I Need Thee Every Hour and Low in the Grave He Lay.
In 1864, the United States was at war with itself; 1864 was a miserable year. It was especially so for Robert Lowry. An epidemic was sweeping New York, and the heat that summer was oppressive. As a Baptist pastor in Brooklyn, Lowry had buried many of his church members… and others were near death. He was exhausted, but he knew he must continue to give comfort to the families that were left behind.
Late one afternoon, Lowry comforted a family with a verse in Revelation that speaks of Heaven and a river in Heaven called the River of the Water of Life (Rev. 22:1,2). Though he had heard people refer to the River of Death… and the crossing of Jordan at death, he was unaware of any hymns about the river of life.
So, thinking of his church members who had been taken by the epidemic, and those who were sorrowing because of the disease, he said, “The words began to construct themselves. They came first as a question: ‘Shall we gather at the river?’ and then they broke out into joyous answer: ‘Yes, we shall gather at the river!’ and, at that river, we shall see our loved ones again.”
This hymn was actually entitled “Hanson Place” (referring to the Hanson Place Baptist Church in Brooklyn where Lowry pastored), but is now known by the name “Shall We Gather At The River?”, “At The River”, or “The River”.
This hymn became a favorite song of camp meetings, baptismal services and funerals. It was sung at the funeral of American Supreme Court Justice William Douglas, and can be heard in many old movies.
Read this hymn, and – today – allow it to comfort you as you think of those loved ones you miss due to death.
Shall we gather at the river, where bright angel feet have trod,
with its crystal tide forever flowing by the throne of God?
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. (Refrain)
Ere we reach the shining river, lay we every burden down;
grace our spirits will deliver, and provide a robe and crown. (Refrain)
At the smiling of the river, mirror of the Savior’s face,
saints, whom death will never sever, lift their songs of saving grace. (Refrain)
Soon we’ll reach the silver river, soon our pilgrimage will cease;
soon our happy hearts will quiver with the melody of peace. (Refrain)