Featured Recording: By the Sea of Crystal

By the sea of crystal
Saints in glory stand,
Myriads in number,
Drawn from every land;
Robed in white apparel,
Washed in Jesus’ blood,
They now reign in heaven
With the Lamb of God.

Featured Recording

Blue Psalter Hymnal number 469, “By the Sea of Crystal,” is a hymn that’s brought comfort and peace to many a troubled heart over the years.  On countless occasions, especially in our Reformed churches, it has served as a response of praise, a triumphant doxology, or a song of quiet assurance at a believer’s funeral.  Its text is an adaptation of the glorious vision of the great multitude in Revelation 7:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’  And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.’

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, ‘Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?’ I said to him, ‘Sir, you know.’ And he said to me, ‘These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

‘Therefore they are before the throne of God,
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
the sun shall not strike them,
nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’

–Revelation 7:9-17 (ESV)

Along with today’s Featured Recording, I’d like to share with you the fascinating history of the hymn “By the Sea of Crystal,” as recorded for us in the Psalter Hymnal Handbook:

Once, after hearing Edward Elgar’s ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ march, William Kuipers decided to write a new hymn text that could be sung to it.  At the time the march was associated with the patriotic hymn ‘Land of Hope and Glory.’  Kuipers wrote this text late in 1932 while he was pastor of the Summer Street Christian Reformed Church (CRC), Passaic, New Jersey.  He submitted it to Henry J. Kuiper, editor of the Christian Reformed Church weekly, The Banner, and a member of the committee preparing the 1934 Psalter Hymnal, which was the first denominational collection including hymns (the CRC had previously sung only psalms in worship).

Because Elgar’s music was under copyright, The Banner held a contest to find a new tune for Kuipers’s text.  The magazine received 150 tune entries and recognized first, second, and third places, as well as six honorable mentions.  First prize of $10 was awarded to Siebolt H. Frieswyk of Whitinsville, Massachusetts, and his tune was published with Kuipers’s text in The Banner, May 5, 1933.  However, an honorable-mention winner by John Vanderhoven was chosen as the setting for this text when the new Psalter Hymnal was printed in 1934.  That association of text and tune has been continued in each of the following editions of the Psalter Hymnal.  Because it was used as a theme song for The Back to God Hour broadcasts, this hymn became well known to a whole generation of radio listeners in the 1950s and 60s.

And thus, this beloved hymn is in some sense “our own” here in the Dutch Reformed tradition.  As I researched this history, I was thrilled to find a digitized version of a single video episode of the CRC’s “Back to God Hour” from 1953, with Rev. Peter Eldersveld.  In the opening of the film you can hear the Calvin Radio Choir singing the third stanza of “By the Sea of Crystal.”  The format of the video prevents me from embedding it on the blog, but you can click here to access it.

However, today’s Featured Recording is not from sixty years ago, but from six weeks ago.  “By the Sea of Crystal” is still a beloved hymn nearly everywhere in the United Reformed Churches in North America, and this recording is particularly rousing.  Here is Grace Reformed Church of Dunnville, Ontario, singing it with all their hearts.

‘Unto God Almighty,
Sitting on the throne,
and the Lamb, victorious,
Be the praise alone.
God has wrought salvation,
He did wondrous things;
Who shall not extol Thee,
Holy King of kings?’


(Click here for last week’s Featured Recording)

3 Responses to “Featured Recording: By the Sea of Crystal”

  1. 1 Sarah May 10, 2013 at 9:48 pm

    One of my favourites! The history is quite interesting, I never knew any of that before. Also, the video at the end of Grace Reformed Church singing, is awesome. Thanks for posting!

  1. 1 Featured Recording: Hyper-Psalmody? | URC Psalmody Trackback on May 17, 2013 at 12:59 pm

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