Samuel Stennett wrote the words for this song, and originally titled it, “Heaven Anticipated.” When he wrote it he had no idea that these words would comfort a dying man. But God used these words to work in a young spy’s heart.
Sam Davis joined the Confederate army when he was a student at Nashville. He was such a good soldier that he was selected to be part of the elite group of spies named “Coleman’s Scouts.” He proved to be a great undercover agent.
In 1863, Sam was thrown in jail in Tennessee. He had papers and maps under his saddle that proved that he was a spy. The captors promised to set him free if he would just identify the “Coleman’s Scouts,” and Coleman himself. Of course, Sam refused.
He was immediately sentenced to death. Private C. B. Van Pelt read his sentence to him. Van Pelt was later to say, “A reprieve was extended which I also read to him, if he would inform us as to where ‘Coleman’ was. He stood before me, an uncrowned hero, his eyes flashing, and he said, ‘I will die a thousand deaths rather than betray my friends.’ We were both moved to tears and remained silent for a time.”
What these men did not know was that ‘Coleman’ was really Dr. H. B. Shaw, who was at that moment in an adjacent cell and was later released. How ironic that this man lived, but one of his most faithful spies had to die.
The night before his execution, Sam wrote to his mother, “Oh how painful it is to write you! I have to die tomorrow morning – to be hanged by the Federals. Mother, do not grieve for me. I must bid you good-bye forevermore.”
The day before the hanging a chaplain by the name of James Young spent the day with Sam, praying and praising the Lord. That evening they held a small worship service. Sam requested them to sing, “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks.” Those present said they would never forget the sound of Sam’s voice as he sang, “I am bound for the Promised Land, I am bound for the Promised Land.”
There is a monument in honor of Sam Davis on the lawn of the Tennessee State Capitol. On the monument are these words inscribed: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)