“In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.”  – John 14:2

We are thrilled to share a series of brief accounts of how some of the great hymns of our faith were written. Each synopsis has been compiled through the research of Jerry Vargo and is shared by permission. It is our hope that these stories will be a help and encouragement to your Christian walk. This week we read the unique story behind the stirring hymn, “Sweet By and By.”

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This is the only hymn ever written in a drugstore. For decades millions of Americans have sung the lyrics to his famous hymn; yet, only a handful know the name of the one who co-wrote Sweet By and By. Sanford Fillmore Bennett was born in New York, 21 June 1836.  He moved to Elkhorn, Wisconsin and in 1864 enrolled in the Wisconsin Volunteers and served as Second Lieutenant in the Civil War. Following the war, he returned to Elkhorn and started a drug store. During this time he began the study of medicine at Rush Medical College in Chicago. He graduated in 1874.

Sanford had a friend, a musician named Joseph Webster, who would visit the drugstore and spend time with Sanford. The two men had a mutual love of music and composed several tunes together – Sanford writing the words and Joseph composing the music. One morning two women came in to the drugstore and told Sanford that they had met his friend Joseph and he seemed depressed.  “You know how musicians are – temperamental – but I know just what to do to help him when I see him” Sanford replied. Mr. Webster, like many musicians, was of an exceedingly nervous and sensitive nature, and subject to periods of depression. During these times, everything seemed dark to him. Webster had learned his peculiarities so well that on meeting him he could tell at a glance if his friend was was melancholy. Webster had found that he could rouse him by giving him a new song to work on.

The following account comes from Sanford Bennet’s autobiography:

He came into my place of business [in Elkhorn, Wisconsin], walked down to the stove, and turned his back on me without speaking. I was at my desk. Turning to him, I said, “Webster, what is the matter now?” “It’s no matter,” he replied, “it will be all right by and by.” The idea of the hymn came to me like a flash of sunlight, and I replied, “The Sweet By and By! Why would not that make a good hymn?” “Maybe it would,” he said indifferently. Turning to my desk I penned the words of the hymn as fast as I could write. I handed the words to Webster. As he read the words, his eyes kindled.  I stepped back to the my desk and he began writing the notes seated at the stove. Taking his violin, he played the melody and then jotted down the notes of the chorus. It was not over thirty minutes from the time I took my pen to write the words before two friends with Webster and myself were singing the hymn.” —Sanford Fillmore Bennett (1836-1898)

As the men were singing the new hymn, R.R. Crosby, Sanford’s uncle, came into the store. “I never heard that song before” exclaimed Mr. Crosby. “I heard it across the street and couldn’t resist coming in to hear it better. That hymn is immortal.” It was used in public shortly after, for within two weeks children on the streets were singing it.

The hymn became a Gospel standard and has been included in hymnals ever since.

Sweet By and By was originally written on a little piece of 5 x 7 paper , but it was big enough to sing its way into the hearts of millions of Christian people for over 140 years.

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.

(Refrain) 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.

2. We shall sing on that beautiful shore
The melodious songs of the blest;
And our spirits shall sorrow no more-
Not a sigh for the blessing of rest. (Refrain)

3. To our bountiful Father above
We will offer our tribute of praise
For the glorious gift of His love
And the blessings that hallow our days. (Refrain)

Enjoying the Journey

Enjoying the Journey exists to evangelize the lost with the gospel of Jesus Christ, encourage pastors and local churches, and equip believers to walk with God and serve Him each day. Through audio, video, and print resources we are seeking to preach the gospel, teach the Word of God, and reach this generation for Christ.

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