Up Yonder

“But, soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.” William Shakespeare
When I lived in Detroit, I remember those wonderful Michiganders smiling at me when I would greet them on the street by saying, “Howdy!” At first, I thought they were just not accustomed to friendly folks saying hello, but it was not until I used the word “yonder” that I realized that they were laughing at me. They actually thought I was an uneducated country bumpkin. It ain’t so!
Yonder is an archaic English word used frequently in the South. It is a synonym for “there,” yet it carries with it a sense of distance. It can also indicate something that can not be seen. For example, “That green valley over yonder.” The valley might be nearby, but it is completely out of sight.
The word “yonder” is not exclusive to the South. Robert Crawford, a Princeton and Julliard School of Music graduate, wrote, “Off we go into the wild blue yonder, climbing high into the sky.” When these lyrics were sung to Brigadier General H.H. “Hap” Arnold, the General was so thrilled that it was adopted as the official song for the United States Army Air Corp. Can you picture anyone laughing at fighter pilots for singing “yonder”? I think not.
Another familiar song was written in 1893 by James Milton Black. Black was a music teacher from Williamsport, Pennsylvania. On Sundays, he taught a Bible class, and on Saturdays, he would walk through the city of Williamsport inviting children to his class. One Saturday as he passed through an alley, he met a shoeless fourteen-year-old girl in ragged clothes. Her name was Bessie. He invited her to the class, and stating that she did not have the proper clothing, she declined. Realizing that she was a daughter of an alcoholic, Black told her that he would provide her with the clothes if she would accept the invitation. She said yes!
James had a custom by calling the roll, and the pupils would answer by reciting a Bible memory verse. Bessie loved this part of the class, and she was always ready to answer the call. One Sunday when roll was called, she did not respond. He paused and said, “What a sad thing it would be when our names are called from the Lamb’s Book of Life, if one of us should be absent.” Afterwards, he went to Bessie’s home and found her dangerously ill with pneumonia. Since antibiotics had not yet been invented, she died a few days later. With eyes filled with tears, Bessie’s death inspired James to write her funeral song:
“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,
And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.
When the roll, is called up yon-der,
When the roll, is called up yon-der,
When the roll, is called up yon-der,
When the roll is called up yonder I’ll be there.”
This song was later used in the 1941 Academy award winning movie “Sergeant York,” starring Gary Cooper. I am sure you remember it and have heard it sung a few times since then. The words “up yonder” remind us that heaven is a place that is completely out of sight. Up yonder in the future, we will stand before a great throne and answer when we are called (Revelation 20:11-15). Are you ready to go? Christian, are you up for the task?
“On that bright and cloudless morning when the dead in Christ shall rise,
And the glory of His resurrection share;
When His chosen ones shall gather to their home beyond the skies,
And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.” James Black


Revelation 20:11-15

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