Go Tell It on the Mountain: Day 8

When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder


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

Scripture Reading: 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.

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.

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.


Barnabas Piper is the author of The Curious Christian: How Discovering Wonder Enriches Every Part of Life. He co-hosts the popular Happy Rant podcast, blogs at BarnabasPiper.com, and contributes to a variety of other websites. Barnabas speaks regularly at churches and conferences around the country and lives in Nashville, where he works for LifeWay Christian Resources.

Morgan, Robert J. Then Sings my Soul. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011.

  • Atalie Jones

    My stomach gets in knots thinking about the second coming of Christ. I know that I will have to answer for what I have done-and not done-while on this earth. Lord, instill Your truths in my heart. Wrap Your Holy Spirit around my soul and guard my heart. Whisper and sew Your seeds of grace and confidence in my hardened, frightened places. Help me to not focus on my feelings, but focus on Your truths.

  • Thank you so much for sharing this word with us this morning. Funny strange, most of the time I am so comforted by such truths. Today, I feel I am standing on shakier ground. I am a sinner. I am forgiven. Rather than focus on my feelings, that can be so deceiving, I must go with what I know is truth. I am forgiven. Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!

    • Emmy

      Thank you for your comment Nyla. I needed the perspective on my own shakier ground.

  • Pascale

    If it wasn’t for the background story (that is heartbreaking) of a man passionate for those he ministered to to live flourishing lives in the light of the knowledge of Christ, I would be dismissive of this hymn. I have a hard time with songs, whether old or contemporary, that have their reference point in misconceived theology. Our eschatology is not that earth will be destroyed or that the saints will literally rise in the sky to meet Jesus and be with him in a disembodied heaven. Paul specifically emphasizes in the scripture readings of today the importance of a renewed physical body, physical earth, physical reality. God is committed to his creation and our hope lies in the fact that one day creation will be united and always in the presence of God. Heaven and earth have a marriage covenant to fulfill.
    Therefore, that the roll will be called up yonder…really dismisses that hope and trades it for another world, another place, something beyond. I understand that when facing death we can yearn for something better, but that better is never a heaven that doesn’t take into account God’s presence here on earth. Resurrection is beautiful and endearing and hope giving for the very fact that it acknowledges that life after life after death will be the renewal of all of creation. Something new out of the old.

    • Emily B.

      But our renewed bodies and the renewed earth won’t come until Jesus’ second coming and the Final Judgment that we read about in the verses in Revelation. Our spirits “go up yonder” as we wait for that time to come.

  • What a beautiful and difficult reminder this morning. My mother passed away yesterday morning after six years of battling cancer; she was 61. She wanted to pass on a Sunday (or Sabbath, as she preferred to call it). It’s not a coincidence that I open this study this morning to be reminded of her new home and that I’ll be with her someday again, and I do not mourn as those with no hope. Thank you SRT for this touching comfort this morning.

    • Becky

      Praying for you this morning. May you find comfort in God’s word.

    • Sissy

      Amylou, my mom also lost ( or won I suppose) her battle with cancer yesterday. It was a short battle. She was 60. It is so wonderful knowing they are free of pain and home with our Lord, but it sucks majorly to be left behind. Sending love and prayers your way, as I covet yours just the same. xoxo

      • amylou

        So sorry, Sissy. Sending lots of love your way. It’s a comfort to know we are going through this together ♥️

    • Sarah D.

      I’m so sorry for your loss, praying for you

    • churchmouse

      Praying for you. Grateful to read your words of strength and assurance even in your sorrow.

    • Karen From Virginia

      Praying God is carrying you in this difficult time. He is faithful. My sister died the day before your mom. And Sissy lost her mom. I’m praying as we go through grief together we will lean into the Lord. I lost my mom 9 years ago. It was difficult for me yet it changed me for my good. I know God is able to do good in this hard time and hold you close.

  • Ashley BB

    What a wonderful hymn and beautiful reminder that death has indeed been defeated and our sovereign Abba holds every single thing in His hands.

    As someone who has a looong history of being terrified of death and dying, this hymn continually reassures my heart that the Lord is in complete control and I AM HIS.

    May everything we fear fall away at that truth. That we are His and not even death can separate us from Him and His deep love for us.

    Praying for friends who are lost, hurting and don’t know of His great love.

  • Tochi Heredia

    “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” –1 Corinthians 15:57

    I’m in awe today at Him who has secured our eternity. I love to think that when my own name is called up yonder, He will say, “she’s mine”.
    Thanks to Jesus, I’ll be there!!! ❤

  • I remember singing this in church as a youth. I liked the happy beat, but I never really understood the words. I just sang it.

    Many years later, the words mean so much to me. Such a celebration of what we know to be true as Christians! I thank God for choosing me, because I certainly am not worthy! I pray for everyone who does not know Jesus, our Lord and Savior, yet! What joy they will finally know when they believe!

  • Such powerful and moving verses! What a great way to start a Monday!

  • churchmouse

    All the Scripture verses this morning – oh I had to read them out loud with great expression! I want to feel their truth from my head to my toes and that can only be done on my feet in proclamation! I want to hear my own voice speaking the promises. Sometimes it’s the only way to do the Word justice! The verses and the hymn – oh my- I’m having church right here in my prayer closet! And I’ll close on my knees in intercession for those who yet need to know and believe. Thank you SRT.

  • candacejo

    I remember singing this so many times growing up in the church but I had not heard the story behind it. Before I came to know the Lord, I would worry about the words in this song…”trumpet sounds, bright and cloudless morning, chosen ones shall gather…” But now, it speaks hope into my heart that one day…SOON…we shall meet Him in the air and forever be with the Lord! ♥

    And on a fun note…who remembers singing it in church with the HOLD on YON—DER?? :)

  • We used to sing this hymn at church but I had no idea where it came from. Wonderful.

  • I have just listened to this hymn that I have never heard before….
    What great and wonderful words, to encourage us to not fear death but to look forward…
    Whilst here on earth, this side of heaven, to do our best in His name and to share His Word and gospel, so that …’When the roll is called up yonder…’

    I do hope that when the roll of yonder is called…. I’ll be there…

    Every Blessing Sisters… Happy Monday! Xx

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