Rev. Robert Lowry, a Baptist minister, wrote "Shall We Gather at the River?" in 1864. Here he describes how it came to be written:
One afternoon in July, 1864, when I was pastor at Hanson Place Baptist Church, Brooklyn, the weather was oppressively hot, and I was lying on a lounge in a state of physical exhaustion…My imagination began to take itself wings. Visions of the future passed before me with startling vividness. The imagery of the apocalypse took the form of a tableau. Brightest of all were the throne, the heavenly river, and the gathering of the saints…I began to wonder why the hymn writers had said so much about the “river of death” and so little about the “pure water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and the Lamb.” As I mused, the words began to construct themselves. They came first as a question of Christian inquiry, “Shall we gather?” Then they broke in chorus, “Yes, we’ll gather.” On this question and answer the hymn developed itself. The music came with the hymn.
The song has become a part of American culture and has been used in many movies, including Stage Coach (1939), Tobacco Road (1941), My Darling Clementine (1946), Three Godfathers (1948), The Searchers (1956), Elmer Gantry (1960), Major Dundee (1965), Hang 'em High (1968), The Wild Bunch (1969), and Trip to Bountiful (1985).
Lowry wrote some 500 hymns, including "Christ Arose" "How Can I Keep From Singing?" "Nothing But the Blood," and "Where Is My Boy Tonight?" In addition, he composed the music for many hymns such as "All the Way My Savior Leads Me, "Follow On," and "Marching to Zion."
Shall We Gather at the River"