Beulah Land is a well-known gospel hymn written by Edgar Page Stites (1836–1921) in either 1875 or 1876. The hymn, Stites' most popular, is set to music written by John R. Sweney (1837–1899). The hymn concludes with the chorus:
- O Beulah land, sweet Beulah land!
- As on thy highest mount I stand,
- I look away across the sea
- Where mansions are prepared for me
- And view the shining glory shore
- My heaven, my home forever more.
The hymn derives from the King James Version of Isaiah 62:4; "Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken; neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate; but thou shalt be called Hephzibah and thy land Beulah; for the LORD delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married."
The verse is in reference to the return of the Hebrew from their exile in Babylon in which the Hebrew shall no longer be called Forsaken, but Hephzibah (My Delight Is in Her), and Jerusalem shall no longer be called Desolate, but Beulah (Married). This implies that the Hebrews have turned back to the worship of God.
The idea the hymn presents that Heaven can be seen from Beulah land comes from John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress in which he states "Therefore it is, I say, that the Enchanted ground is placed so nigh to the land Beulah and so near the end of their race [i.e. Heaven]."
Background of hymn
Edgar Page Stites was of English descent and was born at Cape May, New Jersey, where his ancestors had settled after coming over on the Mayflower. Edgar was converted to Christ at the age of 19 during the great revival of Philadelphia, often called the Awakening of 1857 and 1858. Shortly thereafter, he joined the Methodist Church of Cape May and became a local “lay pastor.” As a home missionary, he also was involved in the starting of new churches in the South Jersey area.
In 1869, Stites, along with other Methodist ministers and laymen, founded the “Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association” to run a Methodist camp meeting south of Ocean Grove, New Jersey. By 1875, the camp was quite active. Popular hymn writers of the day would visit each summer: Ira D. Sankey, William H. Doane, William J. Kirkpatrick, John R. Sweeney, Eliza E. Hewitt, Fanny Crosby, and others.
One version of the origin of "Beulah Land" has it written for the Ocean Grove Camp in 1875. John R. Sweeney, composer of the music, was the camp song leader, which lends credibility to this version.
A differing version of the origin of the hymn was given some years later by Stites himself:
"It was in 1876 that I wrote ‘Beulah Land.’ I could write only two verses and the chorus, when I was overcome and fell on my face. That was one Sunday. On the following Sunday I wrote the third and fourth verses, and again I was so influenced by emotion that I could only pray and weep. The first time it was sung was at the regular Monday morning meeting of Methodists in Philadelphia. Bishop McCabe sang it to the assembled ministers. Since then it is known wherever religious people congregate. I have never received a cent for my songs. Perhaps that is why they have had such a wide popularity. I could not do work for the Master and receive pay for it."
Composer Charles Ives used the Hymn tune Beulah Land in his String Quartet No.1 (1896) entitled "Salvation Army" and the second movement of his 4th Symphony.
Blues musician Mississippi John Hurt recorded a song for the Library of Congress in 1963, which was entitled "Beulah Land."
UK Blues musician Ian Siegal recorded a song called "Beulah Land" on his album The Picnic Sessions.
In the final moments of the opera The Ballad of Baby Doe, the title character (referring to her husband) sings "In the circle of his arms I am safe in Beulah Land."
The Tom Waits song, "Take Care Of All My Children," includes the line "I'll be goin' up to Beulah Land."
The Vigilantes of Love song "Earth Has No Sorrow" from the album Killing Floor, includes the line "I hear angels 'cross that river in Beulah land".
Modern author Krista McGruder, a native of the Ozarks, entitled her first collections of short stories "Beulah Land".
Oregonian novelist H. L. Davis, best known for his 1935 Pulitzer Prize–winning Honey in the Horn, wrote a 1949 novel called Beulah Land about the travails and westward travels of a family of Cherokee Indians from the Southeastern United States. A coffee shop and bar called Beulahland (one word) in Portland, Oregon, is possibly named after Davis' novel.
Songwriter Drew Nelson won international acclaim with the 2009 album "Dusty Road to Beulah Land", produced by Michael Crittenden of Mackinaw Harvest Music. The album has been described as "a love song to the state of Michigan." Local community radio station WYCE in Grand Rapids, Michigan awarded the album "Best Local Album" at the 2010 Jammie Awards.
There is some uncertainty about the origins of "Is Not This the Land of Beulah." Public domain records show it attributed to William Hunter, somewhere before 1884, yet other records credit William B. Bradbury with the modern arrangement being attributed to John W. Dadman in 1911.