Go Tell It on the Mountain

Day 8: When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder

1 Corinthians 15:50-58, 2 Corinthians 5:1-10, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Revelation 20:11-15

 

James Black was a Sunday school teacher in Pennsylvania in the late 1800s.

In addition to his love of teaching the gospel, Black had a heart for young people from difficult backgrounds. One such teen was Bessie, a 14-year-old daughter of an alcoholic. Black met her in an alley in town, invited her to church, and she accepted. Bessie attended regularly until one day, as Black called roll, she did not respond.

The gospel teacher’s heart was moved by her absence. He said to the class, “When my own name is called up yonder, may I be there to respond.”

After Sunday school, James Black went to Bessie’s home to find her laid up with pneumonia, on the verge of death. Again his heart was pierced. He went home and, in a single sitting, wrote “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder.” A few days later he led the congregation in singing the hymn at Bessie’s funeral. 

More than a century later, Black’s song remains a reminder of hope in the face of mortality and suffering—a proclamation of the certainty of Christ’s coming. It isn’t a declaration of judgment, or some hellfire and brimstone dirge. The lyrics lift the soul and call listeners to Jesus.

Black calls believers to revel in, reflect publicly, and proclaim the love of Jesus—“of all His wondrous love and care”—as he did for Bessie and so many like her. His hymn points to the promise of eternal hope and joy for those in Jesus when God calls them home.

essay by Barnabas Piper


When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder
by James Black

When the trumpet of the Lord shall sound, and time shall be no more,
and the morning breaks, eternal, bright and fair;
when the saved of earth shall gather over on the other shore,
and the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.

Refrain:
When the roll is called up yonder,
when the roll is called up yonder,
when the roll is called up yonder,
when the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.

On that bright and cloudless morning when the dead in Christ shall rise,
and the glory of His resurrection share;
when His chosen ones shall gather to their home beyond the skies,
and the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.

Let us labor for the Master from the dawn till setting sun;
let us talk of all His wondrous love and care;
then when all of life is over, and our work on earth is done,
and the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.

Source listed here.