Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for… (Hebrews 11:1)
There’s a land that is fairer than day,
And by faith we can see it afar,
For the Father waits over the way
To prepare us a dwelling place there.
In the sweet by and by,
We shall meet on that beautiful shore;
In the sweet by and by,
We shall meet on that beautiful shore.
The playwright, William Congreve, coined the phrase “Music has charms to soothe the savage breast” in his 1697 play, “The Mourning Bride.” It would appear that the lyricist, Sanford F. Bennett, knew this. Apparently he penned this sweet little hymn as a way to help his friend, Joseph P. Webster out of a bout of depression.
In his autobiography, he writes that he could tell in an instant if Webster was in a state of melancholy and knew he could turn it around by giving him a new song to work on. When Webster came to work in such a state one day, saying he’d be better “by and by”, that little phrase was enough inspiration for Bennett to write the text to the hymn in minutes. In half an hour, Webster had composed the melody on his violin and the two were singing it. The song is now a gospel standard, often performed in New Orleans at “jazz funerals”.
I was struck by two words in the first verse: by faith. Imagine what the disciples must have been thinking and feeling, watching their leader, the one in whom they had placed so much of their faith, hanging on a cross. Everything they’d hoped for was dying before their eyes. It must have been devastating, even faith-shattering. As folks living on this side of the resurrection, we have the benefit of knowing what happened on Sunday – and there’s a fair amount of faith required to accept that part of the story too. And there it is: by faith. We’re singing another rockin’ blues song – “I Believe” – that is in itself a declaration of faith and repeats that phrase over and over again:
By faith I believe it, By faith I receive it
By faith I can have it, By faith I can share it
By faith I will know it, by faith I will show it
By faith I will bear it and now I declare it
I believe just what He said!
By faith we believe. Chapter 11 of Hebrews gives a beautiful little history lesson on all those giants of faith who “died in faith without having received the promises.” Because of that, they received something even better – the true promised land of heaven. That witness is given to us as encouragement:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2
We chose this song because we wanted something familiar that we could sing with all the fine folks who will attend the Good Friday Blues Services. It’s a song of hope, written by someone who saw his friend’s brow furrowed by trouble and woe and offered as a means of comfort. We hope that will be true for all who join us at Good Friday Blues too.