2018 January 7: Robert Lowry
"Immersed in the River of Life" W. Zeitler
"Shall We Gather at the River"
“Shall We Gather at the River” — both lyrics and music — was written by Robert Lowry (1826–1899). The text refers to Revelation chapter 22 in which a crystal clear river with water of Life is described, issuing from the throne of heaven, all presented by an angel of God.
Lowry was born in Philadelphia. He studied theology at the University at Lewisburg (now Bucknell University) and on graduating in 1854, became ordained as a Baptist minister. He had charge of churches in New York City, Brooklyn, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. He wrote a number of hymns with members of his congregations.
Among the churches he pastored in New Jersey was the Park Avenue Baptist Church. When the Park Avenue Church agreed to merge with the First Baptist church, Pastor Lowry agreed to resign in order to ensure the success of the merger. (The merged church still serves.)
In 1869 he returned to Lewisburg, Pennsylvania as a faculty member (having previously served as a professor of literature) and later went on to become its chancellor. From 1880 until 1886 he was president of the New Jersey Baptist Sunday School Union. He also served as the national president of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, and was married with three sons.
He is most remembered as a composer of gospel music and a hymn writer, and also worked as a music editor at the Biglow & Main Publishing Company. He was responsible for around 500 compositions, including "Nothing But the Blood," "Low in the Grave He Lay" (words and music)," "Shall We Gather At The River?" and "How Can I Keep From Singing?" He also wrote the music and refrain for "Marching to Zion" (words by Isaac Watts).
Despite his success as a hymn writer, it was as a preacher that Lowry would have preferred to be recognised. He once stated: "Music, with me has been a side issue... I would rather preach a gospel sermon to an appreciative audience than write a hymn. I have always looked upon myself as a preacher and felt a sort of depreciation when I began to be known more as a composer."