When They Ring the Golden Bells – Carolyn Wood’s Devotional for June 12, 2021

“When They Ring the Golden Bells” – 1887

. . . Having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.  Titus 3:7 


As a child, I remember my mother scurrying around the house, dusting, cleaning, working, especially cooking and singing a hymn that became quite popular in the early to mid-twentieth century:

Verse One

There’s a land beyond the river, that we call the sweet forever,

And we only reach that shore by faith’s decree;

One by one we’ll gain the portals, there to dwell with the immortals,

When they ring the golden bells for you and me.


Many hymns were written by pastors and theologians.  Some by homemakers and merchants.  This one was written by a clown.  His name was Daniel (Dion) de Marbelle.  He was born in France in 1818, and spent his youth sailing the Arctic on whaling ships.  When he was about 30, he joined the American Navy and fought in the Mexican War.  Later, during the Civil War, he was a musician with the sixth Michigan infantry regiment.

During Reconstruction, he joined an opera troupe and traveled across America, singing, acting, entertaining in theaters, barns, auditoriums—wherever crowds would gather.

He was 69 when he became one of the first clowns hired by James A. Bailey who took over P.T. Barnum’s Circus following the latter’s death in 1891.  Under Bailey’s leadership, the Barnum & Bailey Circus rode the rails on 85 cars and employed more than 1,000 people.

Daniel later organized his own circus.  When a fire in Canada destroyed his big top and all his equipment, he came back to the U.S. to assist Buffalo Bill Cody in his famous Wild West Show.

De Marbelle was a multi-talented performer—magician, actor, ventriloquist, soloist, writer; he was a musician who could play virtually any instrument and a public speaker who said he could make an eloquent speech on any subject at a moment’s notice.

But he wasn’t a businessman.  Despite his many talents, his last years were spent in poverty, and he lived in an abandoned schoolroom.  At the local Methodist church in Elgin, Illinois, he sang in the choir and sometimes gave this testimony: “For years I was so busy I didn’t have time for God and so rich I didn’t need Him.  God had to slow me down and take my success away so that He could talk to me about the home beyond the river.”

How many times have we heard a similar story of someone being “brought low” before recognizing their need for the power of God in their lives?  I know people in my own experience and, perhaps you do as well, but there are so many examples in the Bible.  May we all endeavor to constantly reevaluate our relationship with God, finding our way closer each day to his heart.

Have you heard this hymn before?  Some will say yes and some will say no, but I encourage you to listen to the words that were penned by this penitent clown who came to know God late in life, but oh so intimately.  The words of the second and third verses:

Verse Two

We shall know no sin or sorrow, in that haven of tomorrow.  When our barque shall sail beyond the silver sea.

We shall only know the blessing of our Father’s sweet caressing,

When they ring the golden bells for you and me.

Verse Three

When our days shall know their number, and in death we sweetly slumber,

When the King commands the spirit to be free.

Nevermore with anguish laden, we shall reach that lovely Eden.

When they ring the golden bells for you and me.

Andy Griffith (did you ever hear him singing?)  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7R4LAvJc3WY

Natalie Merchant https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KU3Soe1LXsQ

Grace, Peace and Joy to you as you listen!