Literary DCGD #21: Ere long the vail will rend in twain

May 26, 2013 | no comments
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William Wines PhelpsWhen we think of the second coming of Christ and the things that will happen in the last days, frequently our focus is on the prophesied destruction and the “signs of the times.” But as the focus of D&C Gospel Doctrine lesson 21 shows, we need not put our focus there, but instead we can focus on what will happen to the righteous and the millennium that will be ushered in by the second coming.

That same kind of focus can be seen in the following hymn by W. W. Phelps:

William Wines Phelps was one of the first and most prolific of Mormon poets, although unlike his contemporaries Parley P. Pratt, Eliza R. Snow and John Lyon, Phelps never published a volume of his own poetry. He is also unique because he is likely the author of the only poem, outside of scripture, attributed to Joseph Smith (The Vision, a paraphrase of D&C 76). If I recall correctly, he is still the Mormon author with the most hymns in the current hymnal. This hymn was included in the first LDS hymnal and many since then, but was dropped before the current hymnal.

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Ere long the vail will rend in twain

By W. W. Phelps

Ere long the vail will rend in twain,
The King descend with all his train;
The earth shall shake with awful fright,
And all creation feel his might.

 

The trump of God, it long shall sound,
And raise the nations under ground;
Throughout the vast domains of heav’n
The voice echoes, the sound is given.

 

Lift up your heads ye saints in peace,
The Savior comes for your release;
The day of the redeem’d has come,
The saints shall all be welcom’d home.

 

Behold the church, it soars on high,
To meet the saints amid the sky;
To hail the King in clouds of fire,
And strike and tune th’ immortal lyre.

 

Hosanna now the trump shall sound,
Proclaim the joys of heav’n around,
When all the saints together join,
In songs of love, and all divine.

 

With Enoch here we all shall meet,
And worship at Messiah’s feet,
Unite our hands and hearts in love,
And reign on thrones with Christ above.

 

The city that was seen of old
Whose walls were jasper, and streets gold,
We’ll now inherit thron’d in might:
The Father and the Son’s delight.

 

Celestial crowns we shall receive,
And glories great our God shall give,
While loud hosannas we’ll proclaim,
And sound aloud our Savior’s name.

 

Our hearts and tongues all join’d in one,
A loud hosanna to proclaim,
While all the heav’ns shall shout again,
And all Creation say, Amen.

Evening and Morning Star, May 1833

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While this poem starts with the signs of Christ’s second coming, by the third stanza it turns much more hopeful:

Lift up your heads ye saints in peace,
The Savior comes for your release;
The day of the redeem’d has come,
The saints shall all be welcom’d home.

And although it remains hopeful, the theology in the rest of the poem is muddled—perhaps the reason that it was dropped from the hymnal. I’m not sure where the idea that “the church, it soars on high, / To meet the saints amid the sky” comes from, nor exactly what it might mean exactly, but I don’t think I’ve encountered before. Could Phelps have included it simply because it fits the rhythm and rhyme? And by the fifth stanza Phelps seems to be talking about the millennium, and by the eighth stanza the celestial world after the judgment. But these events are hardly clear, and both the millennial world and the Celestial Kingdom are muddled together.

Of course, this poem was written in 1833, so it is likely that Mormon theology wasn’t too clear on the difference either. Our culture always reflects our understanding, and when we reach the life after this, I’m sure our understanding will likewise seem muddled.

 

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