Behind the Hymn: Beulah Land
I have a dear friend that is named Beulah. Every time I see her she ask me to sing her song for her. When she first asked I was taken aback by this question and discovered there is not just one song about Beulah land. No, in actuality there a handful of songs about Beulah land. So this month we’re going to explore each of these music pieces.
Beulah Land was originally a hymn written by Edgar Page Stites. Sadly, this is not a hymn that is sung in churches today.
The hymn derives from the King James Version of Isaiah 62:4; “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 delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married.”
Stites was born on March 22, 1836 and accepted Christ at the age of 19 during the great revival of Philadelphia. Soon afterward, he became a lay pastor with the Methodist church. He also worked in the South Jersey area as a home missionary.
In 1869, he and a group of other ministers founded the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association. By 1875, the camp was very active and had such notable hymn writers as Ira Sankey, Fanny Crosby, Eliza Hewitt, William H. Doane and William Kirkpatrick in regular attendance.
Stites stated that “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 one 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 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.”
John R. Sweeney, the camp song leader, composed the music for this hymn.
In his memorir, Sankey provided the same recollection of the hymn. “The secretary of the Young Men’s Christian Association at Plymouth, England, wrote me a beautiful story of a young lady, who sang [this song] on her dying bed as she passed into the land that is fairer than day.”
He went on to provide a second memory, “I sang this favorite song over the dead body of my friend, Mr. Sweney, at the church of which he was a leading member, in West Chester, Pennsylvania, on the day of his burial.”
Stites also wrote other hymns such as Simply Trusting Every Day. He died on Jan. 7, 1921.