A marvelous testimony of treasuring Christ above all else is what the hymn “The Sands of Time are Sinking” embodies. Although the hymn is commonly known for its first line, its main title is actually “Immanuel’s Land.” It is considered a unique gem in Christian hymnody. Its long composition, comprising 19 stanzas in total, was based on the life and ministry of Samuel Rutherford, a Scottish pastor from Roxburghshire. Anne Ross Cousin, who hails from the same place where Rutherford lived, wrote the hymn. Cousin was the wife of a pastor in the Free Church of Scotland. It was Rutherford’s last words that inspired Cousin to pen the tune. This line is also where the title came from,
“Glory, glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s Land.”
The hymn was first published in 1957 in The Christian Treasury, almost 200 years after Rutherford’s death. Along with the song’s long structure are the rich stories of Rutherford’s life and ministry. Such was filled with both joys and sorrows and truly worth knowing.
The Inspiring Life and Ministry of Rutherford
In order for us to fully appreciate the hymn, let’s look into the life of Rutherford on which it was based. Rutherford served as a pastor in a small church in Anwoth from 1627-1636. His congregation described him as a faithful evangelical preacher who loved his people dearly. He considers his church as “a little New Jerusalem, like to the one above” and made this apparent on his hymn. The loving pastor had his share of misfortunes in life. He lost his wife and two children in a short span of time.
In 1630, he was charged with non-conformity. His church had begun to decline in doctrine and seeking to impose many Anglican traditions on the Reformed churches. No penalty was given to him though. As the situation worsened six years later, Rutherford could not afford to just keep silent. As a result, he published his book which warns the alarming trend away from the truth of the Scripture. His work has offended several church leaders and the High Commission Court in Edinburgh summoned him. He was then condemned exiled in Aberdeen.
During that period of imprisonment, Rutherford was able to write 220 letters. He sent most of these to his friends back in Anwoth with encouragement for them to keep going. In 1938, Rutherford gained his freedom and was able to return back home in Anwoth. Soon after, he was appointed as Professor of Divinity at Saint Andrew’s and his influence continued to expand. In 1664, he co-wrote the Westminster Confession of Faith as Scotland’s representative to the Westminster Assembly.
Ruther died on March 30, 1661. Prior to this, the British Parliament served him summons but these failed to answer them. In the final verse of the hymn, he explained the reason for such. Saying that he had a more important call from his Lord.
Listen below to the Altar of Praise Chorale’s beautiful rendition of the hymn.
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Anne Ross Cousin, Samuel Rutherford, The Sands of Time are Sinking