Over the past few years, whenever a hymn is mentioned; I have noticed there are believers who make a face or comment they prefer praise music. This is especially true for those wonderful hymns which have stood the test of time.
When The Roll is Called Up Yonder is often sung on family shows set in in the late 1800’s. The expressions on the faces of the singers do not reflect the significance of this old hymn; however they sing their parts beautifully. Especially the bass on this song. Perhaps they are unaware of the story behind it.
In the book Al Smith’s Treasury of Hymn Histories by Alfred B. Smith.
Mr. Smith tells a precious story of the background for When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder.
(Hearing him tell the story of how Hymns were written was a wonderful experience as he also sang the song. Now he is singing in Heaven with the little girl who inspired this old favorite.)
Sunday School teacher and Epworth League (a young people’s Bible club) James M. Black was walking to the post office in Williamsport PA and decided to take a different route than usual. He walked down an alley and discovered terrible poverty he didn’t know existed in his town.
There was a young girl sweeping the porch. Although she was only fourteen-years-old; she wore the look of poverty and deprivation on her face.
“Do you go to Sunday School?” he asked.
“No sir. I’d like to but I don’t have anything fit to wear; but sir, how I’d love to go,” was her reply.
Mr. Black and his wife made sure she had clothes and everything she needed to make her feel fit to go to Church. Friends even donated clothing for her.
Soon, she was faithful in attendance to both Sunday School and the Epworth League. She was there to respond every time the roll was called until one day when her name was called there was no reply. Mr. Black became concerned that something was wrong. Perhaps her drunken father had refused to allow her to come or had beaten her again.
After Church, Mr. Black made his way through the alley to her ramshackled house. He found a very sick young lady. He sent for his doctor and the news was not good. She was diagnosed with an advanced case of pneumonia.
Walking back home, he couldn’t shake the feeling that had come over him when Bessie had failed to show up for roll call that day. Some day there will be a roll call in Heaven and oh, the sadness there will be for those whose names are not written in the Lambs Book of Life.
He had tried to find a suitable song that morning but couldn’t find one to sing which he could use to impress this truth upon the hearts of the young people. His heart was heavy and disappointed that there was not a song to sing which would impress upon their hearts the need for The Savior.
He ended the service and in his disappointment he felt this was an opportunity lost. Suddenly, a thought came to mind. Why don’t you write one? He said later, “I put away the thought but as I opened the gate and walked up the path to my house, the same thought came again so strongly that tears filled my eyes. I went into the house and sat down at the piano. Without any effort at all the words seemed to tumble from my mind.”
When the trumpet of the Lord shall sound
and time shall be no more;
And the morning breaks Eternal, bright and fair,
When the saved of earth shall gather over on the other shore,
An the roll is called up yonder I’ll be there.
“After the complete set of words had come, the tune then came in the same manner. I felt that I was only the transcriber – I dared not change a note or word. In a few days I more fully understood why, for our beloved Bessie went home to Heaven to await that glorious day.”
“This song was first sung publicly at her funeral and before singing it, I related the circumstances which led to its writing. Never will I forget the effect it had upon the large audience of friends who had come. The Lord had taken little Bessie home but in her place He had given a song to keep reminding us to be ready for that great roll-call day.”
When The Roll is Called Up Yonder was first published in the Epworth League songbook in 1892. It may have been overlooked and unpublished if Mr. Black had not written the manuscript in green ink. It stood out to publisher, Mr. Charles Gabriel who was editing the book. He later said, “The composer’s name was not familiar to me, but the green ink had made the song stand out. It was a new thought. I played it over, liked it and published it.” The rest is history. (ABS)
Lets sing along with the Gaither and friends as they sing Bessie’s song.
What if this Sunday School teacher had just passed by that dear child and had not invited her to Sunday School or followed through? She may have never received Christ as her Savior, her faithful attendance would not have been a catalyst to the song that has blessed and encouraged so many.
How about you? Is your name written in the Lambs Book of Life? (Revelation 20:11-15)
Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved