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A Visionary Hymn

December 7, 2006

The November 1850 issue of The Present Truth contains a copy of a four verse hymn titled “The Better Land” on its front page:

THE BETTER LAND.
We have heard from the bright, the holy land,
We have heard, and our hearts are glad;
For we were a lonely pilgrim band,
And weary, and worn, and sad.
They tell us the pilgrims have a dwelling there–
No longer are homeless ones;
And we know that the goodly land is fair,
Where life’s pure river runs.

They say green fields are waving there,
That never a blight shall know;
And the deserts wild are blooming fair,
And the roses of Sharon grow.
There are lovely birds in the bowers green–
Their songs are blithe and sweet;
Aml their warblings gushing ever new,
The angels’ harpings greet.

We have heard of the palms, the robes, the crowns,
And the silvery band in white;
Of the city fair with pearly gates,
A radient with light,
We have heard of the angels there, and saints,
With their harps of gold, how they sing;
Of the mount, with the fruitful tree life
Of the leaves that healing bring.

The King of that country, he is fair,
He’s the joy and the light of the place!
In, his beauty we shall behold him there,
And bask in his smiling face.
We’ll be there, we’ll be there, in a little while,
We’ll join the pure and blest;
We’ll have the palm, the robe, the crown,
And forever be at rest.

The hymn seems fairly typical of early Adventist hymns, what intrigues me about it is a note on the final page of that issues which reads:

Some may be interested in learning the origin of the Hymn on the first page of this number. In the spring of 1845, the author of the vision, published in this paper, was very sick, nigh unto death. The elders of the church were finally called, and the directions of the apostle [James v, 14,15] were strictly followed. God heard, answered and healed the sick. The Holy Spirit filled the room, and she had a vision of the “city,” “life’s pure river,” “green fields,” “roses of Sharon,” “songs” of “lovely birds,” the “harps,” “palms,” “robes,” “crowns,” the “mount” Zion, the “tree of life,” and the “King of that country” mentioned in the Hymn. A brother took up his pen, and in a very short time composed the hymn from the vision. It has been published in two or three Second advent papers, Smith’s collection of hymns, and finally found its way into the “Advent Harp,” published by J. V. Himes in 1849. Let those who “despise prophesyings,” and reject the fulfillment of God’s word in visions of the “LAST DAYS,” remember when they sing this hymn, that it was composed from a vision.

So far as I’m aware (and happy to be corrected) this is the only early Adventist hymn or song whose inspiration was one of Ellen G. White’s visions. A little research led me to Arthur L. White’s biography of Ellen White which also points out this connection (The Early Years p88-89.); and notes that the hymn’s author was William Hyde.
This edition of the Present Truth also contains an account of a vision by Ellen White. However, contrary to Arthur L. White’s assertation (The Early Years, p89), it is not the vision that Hyde’s hymn is based on. The vision that the hymn was based on was in fact Ellen White’s first vision. The exact date for this vision is unknown, however Ellen White in 1847, placed it sometime in December, 1844. This first vision of Ellen White was published just over a year later by Enoch Jacobs in the Day Star of January 24, 1846. You can read it in Early Writings, p13-20.

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