WILL THE CIRCLE BE UNBROKEN? by Ada Habershon, 1907; music by Charles Gabriel
There are loved ones in the glory
Whose dear forms you often miss.
When you close your earthly story,
Will you join them in their bliss?
Will the circle be unbroken
By and by, Lord, by and by?
There’s a better home awaiting
In the sky, Lord, in the sky?
In the joyous days of childhood
Oft they told of a wondrous love
Pointed to the dying Savior;
Now they dwell with Him above. Chorus
So remember those songs of heaven
Which you sang with childish voice.
Do you love the hymns they taught you,
Or are songs of earth your choice? Chorus
You can picture happy gath’rings
Round the fireside long ago,
And you think of tearful partings
When they left you here below. Chorus
One by one their seats were emptied.
One by one they went away.
Now the family is parted.
Will it be complete one day? Chorus
The words were often rewritten; as in this 1989 recording by Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash, Roy Acuff, Earl Scruggs, Ricky Skaggs, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Chet Atkins, The Carter Family, and many more– Tremendous video!:
Will the family circle be unbroken? Well, NO, it will not be unbroken. It is most certainly being broken all the time by death. That’s why the song is so sad: “One by one, their seats are empty, one by one, they went away; now the family is parted; will it be complete one day?” All of us have memories of that family circle of years gone by. That line brings to my mind many empty seats at our family gatherings, and thinking about all those wonderful people that used to be here brings tears to my eyes.
But the song is singing about more than this little earth, as the refrain makes clear: “Will the circle, be unbroken, by and by, Lord, by and by? There’s a better home awaiting, In the sky, Lord, in the sky.” So the song isn’t just sad, but it’s also hopeful. It anticipates a wonderful future, even after death.
So now, back to the question in the song’s title: “Will the circle be unbroken?”; that is, there in that home in the sky. But that raises another question; and the question is, why is this a question? Don’t we all just automatically go to that better home in the sky? Why the question?
Verse one says, “There are loved ones in the glory (that better home), whose dear forms you often miss, and when you close your earthly story, will you (there’s the question again) will you join them in their bliss?” How do we do that? Well, says the second verse, remember what those old ones told you. Verse two, “In the joyous days of childhood, oft they told of a wondrous love, they pointed to the dying Savior, now they dwell with Him above.” That’s how you get there, and that’s how you keep the circle unbroken; by looking to the same Savior they looked to. You get there by not turning your back on the one who offers you that better home above. And so, says verse three, remember those old songs of heaven; so then, as the circle is broken here, it can again, one day be unbroken. The song presents the good news of the Gospel in a wonderful way that speaks into our hearts and calls us to faith.
A song is just a song: it can stir our emotions, and make us smile or cry; songs can make us tap our foot and sing along. But a song can’t do much more about that broken circle than just sing mournful words and make us sad. That is, unless the song is based on something greater than itself– and this one is! That better home awaiting isn’t just something to sing about. Rather, it is something that is offered to us in God’s own Word, and prepared for us by God’s own Son, Jesus Christ.
In John 14:1-3 Jesus says he has gone on ahead to prepare a place for us. And just like the old song says, we get there by looking to that Son of God, that Savior who says in verse six, “I am the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me.” That home Jesus is talking about here is the Better home awaiting in the sky, as the song says. Will you be there? Will the circle again one day be complete? The words of the song plead for an answer.
Author James Dobson suffered a life-threatening heart attack when he was in his mid-fifties. He survived, but as he lay there, thinking it could be time his last day, he thought about joining that family circle in heaven– his father and mother, his grandparents, aunts and uncles, many friends, and all the rest– and he was beginning to feel a bit of eager anticipation. He also felt a bit of anxiety as he prayed for his own children, that they may keep the faith. He hoped they too may be in that future home, keeping the circle unbroken. Dobson spoke of his son, rushing to the hospital to see his dad for what could have been the last time. Dobson told his son Ryan what he had been thinking about. As he went into surgery, he left his son with just two words: “Be there,” he said. In other words, “Keep the faith son, so that you too will be there, in that better home awaiting; so that the circle in the next generation may also be unbroken.”
John 16:22 — (Jesus said), “Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.”
John 14:1-3 — (Jesus said), “Do not be worried and upset,” Jesus told them. “Believe in God and believe also in me. There are many rooms in my Father’s house, and I am going to prepare a place for you. I would not tell you this if it were not so. And after I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to myself, so that you will be where I am.
Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies;
Heav’n’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.
Henry F. Lyte (1793-1847)