Saturday, March 7, 2015

Hymns & Hymn Writers: On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand by David R. Kenney

There are two songs that have the same words for the verses but have a different chorus and musical arrangement.  While both are based on the verses written by Samuel Stennett, these are different songs.  The chorus and musical arrangement of the version by McIntosh is the version used on the International Gospel Hour, but this musical arrangement and chorus by Tullius Clinton O'Kane is also popular.    
In fact, Praise for the Lord has both versions of the hymn (#509 & #510) under the same title “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks”.  V. E. Howards Church Gospel Songs & Hymns also has these two versions too but not side-by-side (#1 & #157).  Howard also has two separate titles; i.e., “I Am Bound For the Promised Land” and “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand”.  Having them on the same page, as in Praise For The Lord, may make the comparison easy, but it is a challenge for those of us who have trouble switching tunes when the words are the same.  That is not a fault of the songbook though. This is an interesting challenge since many of the older songbooks could have lyrics and music more interchangeable than we are accustomed to today; e.g., the split-leaf hymnal that allows singers to pick lyrics and sing to a variety of musical arrangements. 
Samuel Stennett (1727-1795), Lyricist
Samuel Stennett was born on June 1, 1727 in Exeter, England.  He comes from a line of Seventh Day Baptist ministers.  In fact, Stennett’s grandfather was also a hymn writer.  His father moved the family to London where he preached.  Eventually, Samuel would succeed his father in the ministry there in 1758.  In 1763, King’s College of Aberdeen awarded Samuel Stennett a Doctorate of Divinity.  He was a close personal friend of King George III, but he still refused to join the Church of England when invited to do so.
There are over 80 hymns credited to Samuel Stennett; however, according to, this set of lyrics was by far his most popular.  Some sources state he had 39 hymns and these appeared in a Baptist hymnal called “Rippon’s Selections in 1787.  Stennett wrote the verses for this song in 1787. 
Stennett was married to Elizabeth Marsom (1723-1795) who was a daughter of another Baptist minister.  They had two children, a boy, Joseph IV, (Samuel Stennett’s brother’s name was Joseph) and girl named Elizabeth.  Earlier they had a son named Haley, who died in 1757.  Samuel Stennett died on August 24, 1795 in London, England.  His wife had died earlier on March 16, 1795. Both of them were buried in the family vault in Bunhill Fields Burial Ground in London.
Tullius Clinton O'Kane (1830-1912), Lyricist & Composer
Tullius O’Kane was born in Fairfield County, Ohio on March 10, 1830.  He received both his AB and MA degrees from Ohio Wesleyan University.  Afterwards he was employed by the university to be a Tutor of Mathematics.  He was never technically a “Professor”; however, his students called him “Professor” and he was widely recognized as such.  His interest in music resulted in being the first musical instructor at the Ohio Wesleyan Female College.  He and his wife were among the founders of the Asbury United Methodist Church.  He would go onto serve as a school principal in Cincinnati in 1857.  He also worked for a piano company in 1864 until it relocated.  He then moved to Delaware, Ohio where he was a traveling salesman for the Smith American Organ Company based out of Boston, MA.  During all this he was very active in attending Methodist conventions and conferences which increased his popularity and influence.   He wrote the alternate tune which is called “Promised Land” and the lyrics for the chorus in 1877.  He also wrote several other church hymns, and we sing words he set to music for several songs.
He and his wife had four sons.  O’Kane died February 10, 1912 of a stroke and was buried in Oak Grove Cemetery in Delaware, Ohio next to his wife, Laura Angeline Eaton O’Kane, whom he married on July 14, 1853 and who died May 9, 1909.
On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand
Jesus promised us a place that we call heaven, “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me.  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. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.  And where I go you know, and the way you know” (John 14:1-4, NKJV.)
Interesting expression Jesus used, “the way you know”.  When Jesus was asked about “the way”, He did not hesitate to state “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6, NKJV.)  The book of Acts often refers to Christianity as “the way”; e.g., the notorious Saul of Tarsus’ mission:  “Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem” (Acts 9:1-2, NKJV.)
There have always been forces that would seek to distract, destroy, deflect or detour us from “the way”.  Persecution is always a serious threat to us; however, so is ignorance and apathy.  Remember the adage—what are the two biggest problems we face?  The response—“I don’t know and I don’t care.”  We must remain faithful and determined to follow the way, all the way, to the promised land of rest, heaven. 



 John P. Wiegand, Editor, Praise for the Lord, Nashville, TN:  Praise Press, 1997.

V. E. Howard, Editor, Church Gospel Songs & Hymns, Texarkana, TX:  Central Printers & Publishers, 1983.

William Jones, The Works of Samuel Stennett, London, England:  Thomas Tegg, Three Volumes, 1824.

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