The Story Behind…“God Be With You Till We Meet Again”

Till we meet again

No farewell words were spoken,
No time to say goodbye,
You were gone before we knew it,
And only God knows why.

God be with You Till We Meet Again

God be with you till we meet again,
By His counsels guide, uphold you;
With His sheep securely fold you;
God be with you till we meet again.

Till we meet, till we meet
Till we meet at Jesus’ feet;
Till we meet, till we meet,
God be with you till we meet again.

God be with you till we meet again,
‘Neath His wings protecting hide you,
Daily manna still provide you,
God be with you till we meet again.

God be with you till we meet again,
Keep love’s banner floating o’er you,
Smite death’s threatening wave before you,
God be with you till we meet again.

We are all used to and actually often say the familiar, “goodbye.” We do it so often that we may not realize that we are actually using a shortened form of the phrase, “God be with you.” Few people are aware that the origin of the farewell greeting “goodbye” has its origin in a parting prayer: “God be with ye”. To understand this, I checked some dictionaries around and found this from the Mystagogy blog.

It is therefore helpful to see earlier forms of the expression, such as God be wy you, god b’w’y, godbwye, god buy’ ye, and good-b’wy. The first word of the expression is now good and not God, for good replaced God by analogy with such expressions as good day, perhaps after people no longer had a clear idea of the original sense of the expression.

In a quote from 1659, we still have “god”: “But mum for that, his strength will scarce supply His Back to the Balcona, so God b’ wy.” And then by 1694, we have transitioned to “good”;
“He flings up his tail..and so bids us good-b’wy.”

A letter of 1573 written by Gabriel Harvey contains the first recorded use of goodbye: “To requite your gallonde [gallon] of godbwyes, I regive you a pottle of howdyes,” recalling another contraction that is still used. Shakespeare used “God be wy you”.

The substitution of good for God seems to have been mainly due to the influence of such phrases as “good day” and “good night”. So next time you say “goodbye”, remember the origin of the word is in fact a blessing. God be with you!

Why this background to this hymn this week. Well this week I have chosen to write briefly about “God be with you” in memory of a childhood friend who went to be with the Lord a few weeks ago. I am a person who has so many friends but cannot really pinpoint one that I can call as Jesus had His John. A bosom friend. One that is that really close, whether things are good or bad. They are all weather friends. They will rebuke you and show you their disgust for your sin, but they will not abandon you. Instead they will walk with you and help you stand and sing the Lord’s song once again. This friend I lost was one I called a bosom friend. A human friend that tried to be genuine. Having met for the first time in 1984 the first week of our first year of secondary school at just 15 years old, the rest of our lives have been punctuated this elements that only qualify to be called – true friendship. We then walked together as friends. This is a friend who when I fell in sin, gave me the spiritual bashing and made me feel the hurt of sin. When it hurt so bad of course I turned to the Lord, but this friend many times along the way was the one to tell me to turn to God. And as I thought through the vanity of life, this hymn came to my mind so vividly. God be with you till we meet again has been my mourning song.

A little background about this hymn.
This hymn “God Be With You Till We Meet Again”, was written by Jeremiah Rankin who was then the minister for the First Congregational Church in Washington, D.C. It was simply composed so his church choir would have something to sing when they parted each week. Rankin was and said this about the hymn, “Written…as a Christian goodbye, it was called forth by no person or occasion, but was deliberately composed as a Christian hymn on basis of the etymology of “goodbye,” which is “God be with you.” He got the idea for the first stanza of the song when he saw the dictionary definition of “good-bye” was short for “God be with you.” The song was written in 1882 when Rankin was 54 years old. His melodious song, “God Be with You,” was wrought out of this idea to form a Christian benediction hymn.

When Dr. Rankin had finished the poem he sent it to Mr. W.G. Tomer, a composer whose melodies had already pleased him. The music Mr. Tomer composed for “God Be with You” is an excellent setting for the words, and contributes greatly to the hymn’s popularity. It is like some of the African – American spirituals in that one phrase of melody is repeated, and enlarged upon, come back to several times. The tune is subdues at first, suggestive of the sadness of farewell, yet in the refrain it breaks into strains that have the uplift of bright hope.

Similarly, as I sing this song today, I think of the sadness of death. My joys are subdued for a season, but when I remember the promises of God, that on the third day He rose again; and that it is our hope too that oneday we will part no more, like the refrain of this song that breaks into strains that have the uplift of bright hope. I rejoice that Our redeemer indeed lives. We shall rise never to die no more.

This hymn was first sung in Dr. Rankin’s own church, the First Congregational Church of Washington, D.C., and very soon became the favorite closing hymn of young people in the Christian Endeavor Society. It has been translated into many other languages, and sung by Christians all over the world. In my own local languages we have it. And so are several other languiages across the globe. Writing concerning this use of the hymn, Dr. Rankin said: “It has had no sweeter recognition than that given it by its adoption by the Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor. Long, long, may they sing it!”

A few years before his death, when the late President Theodore Roosevelt was making a farewell visit in Memphis, Tenn., a great audience of three thousand people sang in his honor the well-loved strain, “God be with you till we meet again.”

Dr. Rankin was a man of unusual gifts. After serving as a pastor for many years, he became president of Howard University, Washington, D.C., an institution founded to help in the higher education of blacks. Not many of our hymns have been written by college presidents! But here was one.
No happier farewell can be made than by the simple benediction, “God be with you till we meet again.” When Mr. Tomer. the composer of the beautiful melody died, “God Be With You” was sung at his funeral as a memorial by the chorus of his church, the Methodist Church of Phillipsburg, N.J.
I sing this hymn again today in memory of my childhood friend. God be with you till we meet again.

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One Response to The Story Behind…“God Be With You Till We Meet Again”

  1. Sarah dawson says:

    Please email me the words in the Shona language of the song it is so sweet to trust in Jesus


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