Today’s mystery man was born at Cape May, New Jersey in 1836. His ancestors had come to this country on the Mayflower. He had a heart to heart encounter with Christ when he was 19 during the great revival of Philadelphia, also called the Awakening of 1857 and 1858. This passionately spiritual young man joined the Methodist Church of Cape May and became a lay pastor. He served in the Dakota territory as a missionary for a few years.
When he returned to New Jersey, he helped found the “Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association” (very similar to Dempster Grove which still exists near Oswego.) They held revival meetings and the celebrity hymn writers of his day were frequent visitors. Most of those celebrity names have lost their recognition value for us today: Ira D. Sankey, William H. Doane, William J. Kirkpatrick, John R. Sweeney, Eliza E. Hewitt (this man’s cousin) and many others. One name that will ring a bell for hymn lovers is Fanny Crosby. She was a regular at Ocean Grove too.
The mystery man’s name is Edgar Page Stites. He, too, was a song writer. The Pennellville choir sang one of his most popular hymns on Sunday, May 16th. “Beulah Land” is a well-known gospel hymn written in the late 1870’s. Stites recalls,
“It was in 1876 that I wrote ‘Beulah Land.’ I could write only two verses and the chorus, when I was overcome and fell on my face. That was on Sunday. On the following Sunday I wrote the third and fourth verses, and again I was so influenced by emotion that I could only pray and weep. The first time it was sung was at the regular Monday morning meeting of Methodists in Philadelphia. Bishop McCabe [Wonder if he is an ancestor of Pennellville choir member, Chris McCabe?] sang it to the assembled ministers. Since then it is known wherever religious people congregate. I have never received a cent for my songs. Perhaps that is why they have had such a wide popularity. I could not do work for the Master and receive pay for it.”
The refrain goes like this:
O Beulah land, sweet Beulah land!
As on thy highest mount I stand,
I look away across the sea
Where mansions are prepared for me
And view the shining glory shore
My heaven, my home forever more.
The choir asked me what ‘Beulah land’ meant. I didn’t have an answer. This column is what I found out. Beulah land comes from Isaiah 62:4 – the King James version. The Hebrew word means ‘married.’ The relationship between God and the nation of Israel was often compared to a marriage. Israel was frequently referred to as a bride of God in the Old Testament. This passage was rejoicing that the people of God were returning to Israel after years spent in exile in Babylon. Beulah land wasn’t so much a physical place – though it literally referred to the homeland to which they were returning. Beulah land was the spiritual state of being one enjoyed whenever one found their way back to God.
Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken; neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate; but thou shalt be called Hephzibah, and thy land Beulah; for the Lord delightest in thee, and thy land shall be married. Isaiah 62:4, KJV
The prophet Isaiah is telling the world how the people returned to their religious roots, their homeland and their God. Beulah land is a state of holy bliss. When one is there, Heaven is clearly visible.
John Bunyan refers to Beulah land in his book Pilgrim’s Progress too. Tori Amos, a popular piano artist today, has a song entitled “Beulah Land”. Author, Krista McGruder, a native of the Ozarks, entitled her first collection of short stories “Beulah Land.”
Squire Parsons, a baritone who was part of the Gaither homecoming video, wrote a song called “Sweet Beulah Land” which won an award as “Favorite Song of the Year” in 1981. There are many others ways in which the phrase ‘Beulah land’ has been used, including a once popular woman’s name. Now, whenever you hear it, you will know exactly what it means.