A pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.@Revelation 22:1–2
portrait
Robert Lowry
(1826–1899)

Ro­bert Low­ry, 1864. First pub­lished in Hap­py Voic­es, 1865, num­ber 220.

Han­son Place Ro­bert Low­ry, 1864 (🔊 pdf nwc).

One af­te­rnoon in July, 1864, when I was pas­tor at Han­son Place Bapt­ist Church, Brook­lyn, the wea­ther was op­press­ive­ly hot, and I was ly­ing on a lounge in a state of phys­ic­al ex­haus­tion…My imag­in­a­tion be­gan to take it­self wings.

Visions of the fu­ture passed be­fore me with startl­ing viv­id­ness. The im­age­ry of the apoc­a­lypse took the form of a ta­bleau. Bright­est of all were the throne, the heav­en­ly ri­ver, and the ga­ther­ing of the saints…I be­gan to won­der why the hymn writ­ers had said so much about the ri­ver of death and so lit­tle about the pure wa­ter of life, clear as crys­tal, pro­ceed­ing out of the throne of God and the Lamb.

As I mused, the words be­gan to con­struct them­selves. They came first as a ques­tion of Chris­tian in­qui­ry, Shall we ga­ther? Then they broke in cho­rus, Yes, we’ll ga­ther. On this ques­tion and an­swer the hymn de­vel­oped it­self. The mu­sic came with the hymn.

Robert Lowry

Shall We Ga­ther at the Ri­ver is per­haps, with­out question, the most pop­u­lar of his songs. Of this Mr. Low­ry said: It is brass band mu­sic, has a march mov­em­ent, and for that rea­son has be­come pop­u­lar, though for mys­elf I do not think much of it. Yet he tells us how, on sev­er­al oc­ca­sions, he had been deep­ly moved by the sing­ing of that hymn.

Going from Har­ris­burg [Penn­syl­van­ia] to Lewis­burg once I got in­to a car filled with half-drunk­en lum­ber­men. Sudd­enly one of them struck up Shall We Ga­ther at the Ri­ver? and they sang it ov­er and ov­er again, re­peat­ing the cho­rus in a wild, bois­ter­ous way. I did not think so much of the mu­sic then as I lis­tened to those singe­rs, but I did think that per­haps the spir­it of the hymn, the words so flip­pant­ly ut­tered, might some­how sur­vive and be car­ried for­ward in­to the lives of those care­less men, and ul­ti­mate­ly lift them up­ward to the real­iz­a­tion of the hope ex­pressed in my hymn.

A di­ffe­rent ap­pre­ci­a­tion of it was evinced dur­ing the Ro­bert Rakes’ Cen­ten­ni­al. I was in Lon­don, and had gone to meet­ing in the Old Bai­ley to see some of the most fa­mous Sun­day school work­ers in the world. They were pre­sent from Eur­ope, As­ia, and Am­er­i­ca. I sat in a rear seat alone.

Af­ter there had been a num­ber of ad­dress­es de­liv­ered in var­i­ous lang­uag­es, I was pre­par­ing to leave, when the chair­man of the meet­ing an­nounced that the au­thor of Shall We Ga­ther at the River? was pre­sent, and I was re­quest­ed by name to come for­ward. Men ap­plaud­ed and wo­men waved their hand­ker­chiefs as I went to the pla­tform.

It was a trib­ute to the hymn; but I felt, when it was ov­er, that, af­ter all, I had per­haps done some li­ttle good in the world, and I felt more than ev­er con­tent to die when God called.

Hall, pp. 74–75

Part of this song was sung in the 1985 Acad­e­my Award win­ning movie, Trip to Boun­ti­ful. It was al­so sung at the 1980 fun­er­al of Am­er­i­can Su­preme Court Jus­tice Will­iam O. Doug­las.

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