The Sands of Time Are Sinking

| December 28, 2015

“Immanuel’s Land” is a unique treasure in Christian hymnody. The hymn, also known by its first line, “The Sands of Time Are Sinking,” was written by Anne Ross Cousin from Roxburghshire in Scotland and was first published in 1857 in The Christian Treasury. Mrs. Cousin was the wife of a pastor in the Free Church of Scotland. Her hymn is based on a collection of letters written by Samuel Rutherford (1600–1661), a Scottish pastor who was also from Roxburghshire. Many of the phrases and images from the hymn’s 19 verses come from these letters and provide a glimpse into Rutherford’s life and ministry.

Rutherford pastored a small church in Anwoth from 1627–1636. Anwoth is located in southwest Scotland near the Solway firth (a firth is a “long, narrow inlet of the sea”). Rutherford was a faithful, evangelical preacher who loved his congregation dearly. Verses 6, 7, 9 and 10 of the hymn reveal his pastoral heart as he lovingly refers to this church as “a little New Jerusalem, like to the one above.”

During the nine years at Anwoth Rutherford had both joys and sorrows. In 1630 his wife became ill and died. His two children soon followed her in death. When he speaks of “alters” in verse 9 where “no graves around them stand,” his personal grief as well as his hope in Christ is apparent.

By 1630 the Church of Scotland had begun to decline in doctrine and was seeking to impose many Anglican traditions on the Reformed churches. Rutherford was charged in 1630 with non-conformity to these changes, but no penalty was brought. By 1636 the situation had worsened and Rutherford could not keep silent. He published a book warning of the rising trend away from the truth of Scripture. The book offended several church leaders including Thomas Sydserff, the Bishop of Galloway, whose territory included Anwoth. Rutherford was immediately summoned to the High Commission Court at Edinburgh and charged with non-conformity and treason for his book.

The court condemned him and banished him to Aberdeen, a city on the coast in northeast Scotland. He was provided with a home, but was forbidden to preach the gospel. Rutherford refers to Aberdeen in verse 6 as his “sea-beat prison.” It was from this “prison” that 220 of Rutherford’s letters were written. Most of these were sent to friends back in Anwoth seeking to encourage them to persevere. Anwoth was left without a pastor when Rutherford was taken, so the congregation was suffering along with their pastor.

Rutherford’s imprisonment lasted until 1638 when a revolution arose in Scotland that led to the signing of the Solemn League and Covenant. Churches were granted more freedom as impositions of Anglicanism were resisted. Rutherford was freed and hurried back to Anwoth. He was soon asked, however, to teach at Saint Andrews as Professor of Divinity. From this appointment Rutherford’s influence continued to grow. In 1644 he represented Scotland in the Westminster Assembly and helped in writing the Westminster Confession of Faith.

In 1660 with the death of Cromwell, the end of the Commonwealth, and the restoration of Charles II as king, Rutherford again found himself at odds with the state church. He was removed from church office, charged with treason, and summoned to appear before the British Parliament. When the summons came, however, Rutherford was on his deathbed. He refers in verse 18 of the hymn to his accusers, calling them “earth’s proud ones.” In the final verse of the hymn he explains why he could not answer their summons—he had a more important call from his Lord! Rutherford died on March 30, 1661. It is recorded that his dying words were “Glory, glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s Land.” It was this quote that stirred the heart of Anne Ross Cousin almost two hundred years later to set the words of Rutherford into a hymn. The hymn is a marvelous testimony of treasuring Christ above all else in this life and the next.

Immanuel’s Land

1. The sands of time are sinking,

The dawn of heaven breaks,

The summer morn I’ve sighed for,

The fair, sweet morn awakes:

Dark, dark hath been the midnight,

But dayspring is at hand,

And glory—glory dwelleth

In Immanuel’s land.

2. Oh! well it is forever,

Oh! well forevermore

My nest hung in no forest

Of all this death-doomed shore!

Yea, let the vain world vanish,

As from the ship the stand,

While glory—glory dwelleth

In Immanuel’s land.

3. There the Red Rose of Sharon

Unfolds its heart-most bloom.

And fills the air of Heaven

With ravishing perfume;

Oh, to behold its blossom,

While by its fragrance fann’d

Where glory—glory dwelleth

In Immanuel’s land.

4. The King there in His beauty,

Without a veil is seen:

It were a well-spent journey

Though seven deaths lay between:

The Lamb with His fair army,

Doth on Mount Zion stand;

And glory—glory dwelleth

In Immanuel’s land.

5. Oh! Christ He is the fountain,

The deep sweet well of Love!

The streams on earth I’ve tasted,

More deep I’ll drink above:

There, to an ocean fullness,

His mercy doth expand,

And glory—glory dwelleth

In Immanuel’s land.

6. E’en Anwoth was not heaven—

E’en preaching was not Christ;

And in my sea-beat prison

My Lord and I held tryst:

And aye my murkiest storm-cloud

Was by a rainbow spann’d,

Caught from the glory dwelling

In Immanuel’s land.

7. But that He built a heaven

Of His surpassing love,

A little New Jerus’lem,

Like to the one above,—

“Lord, take me o’er the water,”

Had been my loud demand,

“Take me to love’s own country,

Unto Immanuel’s land.”

8. But flowers need night’s cool darkness,

The moonlight and the dew;

So Christ, from one who loved it,

His shining oft withdrew;

And then, for cause of absence,

My troubled soul I scann’d—

But glory, shadeless, shineth

In Immanuel’s land.

9. The little birds of Anwoth

I used to count them blest,—

Now, beside happier alters

I go to built my nest:

O’er these there broods no silence,

No graves around them stand,

For glory, deathless, dwelleth

In Immanuel’s land.

10. Fair Anwoth by the Solway,

To me thou still art dear!

E’en from the verge of Heaven

I drop for thee a tear.

Oh! if one soul from Anwoth

Meet me at God’s right hand,

My Heaven will be two Heavens,

In Immanuel’s land!

11. I’ve wrestled on towards Heaven,

‘Ganst storm, and wind, and tide;—

Now, like a weary traveler,

That leaneth on his guide,

Amid the shades of evening,

While sinks life’s ling’ring sand,

I hail the glory dawning

From Immanuel’s land.

12. Deep waters cross’d life’s pathway,

The hedge of thorns was sharp;

Now these lie all behind me,—

Oh, for a well-tuned harp!

Oh, to join Hallelujah

With yon triumphant band,

Who sing where glory dwelleth

In Immanuel’s land!

13. With mercy and with judgment

My web of time He wove,

And aye the dews of sorrow

Were lustered with His love!

I’ll bless the hand that guided,

I’ll bless the heart that plann’d,

When throned where glory dwelleth

In Immanuel’s land.

14. Soon shall the cup of glory

Wash down earth’s bitterest woes,

Soon shall the desert brier

Break into Eden’s rose:

The curse shall change to blessing–

The name on earth that’s bann’d,

Be graven on the white stone

In Immanuel’s land.

15. Oh! I am my Beloved’s,

And my Beloved’s mine!

He brings a poor vile sinner

Into His “house of wine:”

I stand upon His merit,

I know no other stand,

Not e’en where glory dwelleth

In Immanuel’s land.

16. I shall sleep sound in Jesus,

Fill’d with His likeness rise,

To live and to adore Him,

To see Him with these eyes:

‘Tween me and resurrection

But Paradise doth stand;

Then—then for glory dwelling

In Immanuel’s land!

17. The bride eyes not her garment,

But her dear Bridegroom’s face;

I will not gaze at glory,

But on my King of Grace—

Not at the crown He giveth,

But on His pierced hand:

The Lamb is all the glory

Of Immanuel’s land.

18. I have borne scorn and hatred,

I have borne wrong and shame,

Earth’s proud ones have reproach’d me,

For Christ’s thrice blessed name:

Where God His seal set fairest

They’ve stamp’d their foulest brand;

But judgment shines like noonday

In Immanuel’s land.

19. They’ve summoned me before them,

But there I may not come,—

My Lord says, “Come up hither,”

My Lord says, “Welcome home!

My King now at His white throne,

My presence doth command,

Where glory—glory dwelleth

In Immanuel’s land.

“The Sands of Time Are Sinking”

Words based on the Letters of Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661)

From Immanuel’s Land and Other Pieces by Anne Ross Cousin (1857)

Music arranged from Chrétien Urhan (1834) by Edward F. Rimbault (1867)

©Public Domain

Download free sheet music (PDF) for this hymn, including a guitar chord chart (6 verses), a lyric page of all 19 verses, and an arrangement of the hymn tune RUTHERFORD for classical guitar.

This article originally appeared in “The Voice of Heritage” (volume 1, number 6, June-July 1992).

More Hymns from History

More hymns arranged for Classical Guitar