Sunday, December 9, 2012

HYMN TIME #12: "Life's Railway To Heaven"

Albie's Note: I love this old hymn with a railroading theme.  You don't hear it sung much congregationally these days but it remains in many if not most American Gosple Hymnals. According to The Cyber Hymnal website:

"The or­i­gin of this song is murky. Eliza R. Snow may have writ­ten the orig­in­al lyr­ics, with M. E. Ab­bey (a Bap­tist min­is­ter in Georg­ia in the 1890s) sup­ply­ing the chor­us. There is a sim­i­lar po­em/hymn by Snow, called “Truth Re­flects upon Our Sens­es,” which Charles Till­man put to this same tune in 1909. At any rate, Ab­bey and Till­man co­py­right­ed “Life’s Rai­lway to Heav­en” in 1890. It has long been a fa­vo­rite in the rail­road­ing com­mun­i­ty."
Another online writer says that Snow was a Morman poet whose original poem was modified by Abbey, whose composite poem was then set to music by Tillman, a popular Southern "Singing Evangelist" who set many poems to music and also entirely wrote the great hymn "Old Time Power."  To be fair, Snow's neat original poem, which can be read HERE, is so different from "Life's Railway" that they are essentially 2 different songs as near as I can see.   In any case, the hymn that sits in hymnbooks today is a real classic, and if the metaphor of Jesus as "the great engineer" seems trite today, it is a profoundly TRUE bit of triteness!

Many artists have recorded this timeless song-- and Johnny Cash, the notorious train buff, recorded it himself at 3 different times!-- but my favorite version is by Johnny on the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's 1989 album "Will The Circle Be Unbroken, Vol 2," the original video for which I found to be wonderfully available on good ol' YOUTUBE.  As you watch, notice the presence of not just Johnny and all of the NGDB, but also three late Carter Sisters (Anita, Helen and June) on backing vocals, Mark O'Connor on fiddle, Earl Scruggs on banjo, and Jerry Douglas on Dobro. Whew, that was a quite a session!

Life is like a mountain railroad, with an engineer that’s brave;

We must make the run successful, from the cradle to the grave;

Watch the curves, the fills, the tunnels; never falter, never quail;

Keep your hand upon the throttle, and your eye upon the rail.


Blessèd Savior, Thou wilt guide us,

Till we reach that blissful shore;

Where the angels wait to join us

In Thy praise forevermore.
You will roll up grades of trial; you will cross the bridge of strife;

See that Christ is your Conductor on this lightning train of life;

Always mindful of obstruction, do your duty, never fail;

Keep your hand upon the throttle, and your eye upon the rail.


You will often find obstructions; look for storms of wind and rain;

On a fill, or curve, or trestle, they will almost ditch your train;

Put your trust alone in Jesus; never falter, never fail;

Keep your hand upon the throttle, and your eye upon the rail.


As you roll across the trestle, spanning Jordan’s swelling tide,

You behold the Union Depot into which your train will glide;

There you’ll meet the Superintendent, God the Father, God the Son,

With the hearty, joyous, plaudit, “Weary pilgrim, welcome home!”

"For this God is our God for ever and ever: he will be our guide even unto death."
--Psalm 48:14


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