Monday, December 12, 2016

Farther Along -- W.B. Stevens or W.A. Fletcher or ??

It’s a mystery, though there are at least two theories about its authorship. One says a composer crafted at least the original first verse, and his own experience may have inspired additional verses by his contemporaries. This Missourian, W.B. Stevens, knew something about emotional hardship, for it seems he wished to know in the future – in a “Farther Along” that he composed in the early 20th Century -- the answers to his troubles. Another theory is that another composer, W.A. Fletcher, had also experienced some loss and composed the verses to “Farther Along” in 1911. Both were ministers, and both had evidently experienced a common malady as mortals – mortality.  

Whoever composed the words to “Farther Along” must have felt that life was unfair, perhaps even in its potentially most lethal way. The most prevalent hypothesis is that a minister in Queen City, Missouri (in Schuyler County – see its courthouse here in 1878, a site he may have seen frequently) – W.B. Stevens wrote at least the first verse upon the occasion of his young son’s death. Stevens had counseled others in similar circumstances, yet this time he found it impossible to accept his own oft-given advice. Other evidence suggests perhaps the editor of the first songbook in which “Farther Along” appeared in 1911 – Barney Warren – had written some of the verses. Yet a third theory is that another minister – W.A. Fletcher – had penned the words during a train trip to minister to Indian country while his absent wife was preparing to give birth to their first-born. He, too, must have felt or had encountered someone else whose situation seemed unjust. What’s the answer when you’re feeling His way for you has become strewn with potholes? Whether it was Stevens, or Warren, or Fletcher, what’s the remedy the poet prescribes for the sense that one’s state of affairs has become untenable? In Stevens’ case, the most difficult for any believer – death of an innocent child—how could one manage such an incident?  Fletcher missed his wife and the unique event he longed to witness – his child’s birth; how could God insist he be elsewhere, even if it was to do a great work? Their words, or at least the feelings they shared, tell us 100 years later how they handled the disappointment. It’s called the future. And, it’s described in more than one way, perhaps because different expressions of the same concept reach different people in their own way. In just a few verses, the author or authors assign various names to the future, in addition to the song’s title ‘farther along’. ‘Sunshine’, ‘beautiful gate’, ‘glory’, ‘home in the sky’, ‘bright mansion’, and ‘by and by’ all portray a time and place where life’s inequities are overridden, nullified. Those who are there won’t feel as we who remain here. That’s the challenge, isn’t it?

I need patience, I’ve discovered, and “Farther Along” underscores that reality. But, you and I are not alone in this, our composer-friend/s tell us. Maybe ministers just see this truth biting people more intimately and frequently than the rest of us do. Their prescription is one they’ve recommended many times, probably because there is no alternative. If the present is too unfair, overlook it. Don’t try to decipher my world’s inconsistencies. Instead, gaze at the finish line; in fact, stare at it, dwell in it. The afterlife is the only way to make mortal life livable.      

See more information on the song discussed above in The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs by William J. Petersen and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers, 2006. 
The composer is also the subject of another blogger’s post here:
This site suggests another composer was the originator of the song:

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