Blinded by our modern expectations and distractions, we forget that such troubles have always been the common plight of mankind. Yet, people of the past seem to have coped better with the trials of life; they were at once more accepting of adversity, and met challenges with greater resolve and endurance, than most people do today. Whence came that inner strength, that reservoir of hope and confidence?
My guess: faith in God, and in His assurance of a happier world beyond this one. That conviction is nowhere better expressed than in the hymns people wrote and sung in those more "enlightened" times. A common theme, often appearing in the latter verses, is the joy of deliverance and perfect peace in the Lord's kingdom when our sorrowful sojourn here is over. In this theme death is not feared, but regarded (even anticipated) as the doorway to eternal life and happiness--to "a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." (Luke 12:33, 34)
A marvelous example of this attitude is the hymn On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand, written by Baptist minister and hymnwriter Samuel Stennett (1 June 1727 – 24 August 1795) and first published under the title "Promised Land" in 1787. A biographical sketch of Dr. Stennett notes that this hymn was especially popular among 19th-century American Methodists, being sung in camp meetings and brush arbors, and also found its way into William Walker's 1835 Southern Harmony along with another folk hymn recently reviewed here, What Wondrous Love is This? (an excellent analysis of the hymn's text as expressing the believer's "anticipation of heaven" can be found here). What I so love about this hymn is its joyful and sure conviction of the sweet deliverance to come, as well as the happiness" and bounce of the music. I can't imagine a better thing to sing to lift one's spirits and get through some trial of life, great or small.
Here's a traditional rendition, with beautiful artwork, by a group not identified with the video:
And don't miss this version by Hank Williams and the Drifting Cowboys. It might sound a little corny to contemporary ears, but it's actually sweet and may capture how the hymn has been sung over the years in our southern regions.
Below are the marvelous words to this delightful hymn, which points us to the true destiny of the believer and echoes the exultant cry of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:55, "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?"
On Jordan’s stormy banks I stand,
And cast a wishful eye
To Canaan’s fair and happy land,
Where my possessions lie.
I am bound for the promised land,
I am bound for the promised land;
Oh who will come and go with me?
I am bound for the promised land.
O the transporting, rapturous scene,
That rises to my sight!
Sweet fields arrayed in living green,
And rivers of delight!
There generous fruits that never fail,
On trees immortal grow;
There rocks and hills, and brooks and vales,
With milk and honey flow.
O’er all those wide extended plains
Shines one eternal day;
There God the Son forever reigns,
And scatters night away.
No chilling winds or poisonous breath
Can reach that healthful shore;
Sickness and sorrow, pain and death,
Are felt and feared no more.
When I shall reach that happy place,
I’ll be forever blest,
For I shall see my Father’s face,
And in His bosom rest.
Filled with delight my raptured soul
Would here no longer stay;
Though Jordan’s waves around me roll,
Fearless I’d launch away.