Robert Lowry was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on March 12, 1826. He was converted at the age of seventeen, and from that moment began laboring for the Saviour in Christian work, especially in Sunday schools. Though his parents were Presbyterian, a careful study of the scriptures convinced Lowry to become a Baptist, which he remained all his life. Soon after the commencement of his service, he felt called to the ministry, pursuing training to that end from Lewisburg University, where he graduated as valedictorian in 1854.
A faithful Baptist preacher from age 28 until his death in 1899, Lowry pastored churches in Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey. He was given an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, Lewisburgh, where he was a professor for six years. Though he was a skilled preacher, he was more widely known for his role as a writer of sacred music. While he preferred to minimize his influence, Lowry is responsible for many hymnal publications, and from his pen flowed a great many melodies and lyrics that are well-loved centuries later.
“Strange to say, Dr. Lowry set lightly by his hymns and tunes, and deprecated much mention of them though he could not deny their success. An active Christian since seventeen years of age, through his early pulpit service, his six years’ professorship, and the long pastorate in Plainfield, N.J., closed by his death, he considered preaching to be his supreme function as it certainly was his first love. Music was to him “a side-issue,” an ’efflorescence,” and writing a hymn ranked far below making and delivering a sermon. “I felt a sort of meanness when I began to be known as a composer,”
Of the writing of Lowry’s hymn Shall We Gather at the River the volume Baptist Hymn Writers and their Hymns reads:
“Shall We Gather at the River was written one afternoon in July, 1864, when Dr. Lowry was pastor of the Hanson Place Baptist Church, Brooklyn N. Y. The weather was oppressively hot, and the author was lying on a lounge in a state of physical exhaustion…. “
“…While he was thus breathing heavily in the sultry atmosphere of that July day, his soul seemed to take now new life from that celestial outlook. He began to wonder why the hymn-writers had said so much about “the river of death,” and so little about “the pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.” As he mused, the words began to construct themselves. They came first as a question of Christian inquiry, “shall we gather?” Then they broke out in chorus, as an answer of Christian faith...
“Yes, we’ll gather.”
On this question and answer the hymn developed itself. The music came with the hymn. The author never has been able to tell which had priority of birth.”
Shall we gather at the river
Where bright angel feet have trod;
Washing up its silver spray,
All the happy, golden day.
Lay we ev’ry burden down;
And provide a robe and crown.
With the melody of peace.
That flows by the throne of God.
The Story of the Hymns and Tunes -Theron Brown and Hezekiah Butterworth, Baptist Hymn Writers and their Hymns - Burrage
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I have said it before but will say it again… I love these little bios. They make me understand and appreciate the hymns even more!
Thank you for the writing of information about this author and the hymn, Shall We Gather At the River. It is sung so often at Baptisms as the candidates go walking out with the Pastor.