This hymn is a loose adaptation of an old Primitive Baptist hymn titled “We Shall Sleep But Not Forever” by J. E. Goodson. It has been updated and fit into the tune Wayfaring Stranger, a Spiritual filled with mournful, hopeful joy strongly associated with a reuniting of the family of God beyond the river (a reference to the Biblical Jordan river, beyond which lay the promised land, Canaan).
The song is unique in that is takes the voice of the one who is dying, singing to his/her loved ones. Though we may not all be facing the prospect of our own deaths, none of us is guaranteed another day, making it easy to identify with and sing this hymn with others.
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.1 Thessalonians 4:13