By Bob Walton
Every great hymn has a story. The story contained in the song “When The Roll is Called Up Yonder” is its proclamation of a great Bible truth. It is one of those songs that stirs sweet memories because it has been sung by countless thousands who have staked their every hope in the story it tells.
The chorus of this great song begins with “when the roll”–; not “if” or “maybe,” but of the certainty that the roll will be called up yonder. While no one knows when, the Bible is replete with evidence that this inevitable event will occur. Peter affirms that the Lord’s coming will be as a “thief in the night” (2 Pet. 3:10). The lesson of the parable of the ten virgins is preparation for the Lord’s coming; the culminating thought of this parable is: “Watch therefore, for ye know not the day nor the hour” (Matt. 25:13).
The song further indicates a roll “up yonder,” and certainly this is a Bible thought. John portrays the awesome judgment scene with the dead standing before the great white throne to be judged. He further reveals, “The books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works” (Rev. 20:11-12). Hence we see the “roll” being presented as the book of life. Now this book of life will be put along side “the books,” which is the New Testament. This New Testament is elsewhere referred to as “the words of this life” (Acts 5:20), or “the word of life” (Phil. 2:16). Thus the two records in the day of judgment will be “the words of life” and “the book of life.”
Now this book of life is a register of names-a roll; God’s roll book in Heaven, recorded in the omniscient mind of God. Paul alludes to this great truth in speaking of his fellow workers in Philippi “whose names are in the book of life” (Phil. 4:3). Since there is a roll book or register in heaven, we need to inquire as to whose names are written therein. In so many of the old Bibles, there is a family register; a list of family names. Just so it is with the book of life; that “roll up yonder,” it is a list of family names. The Hebrew writer speaks of “the general assembly and church of the firstborn whose names are enrolled in Heaven . . .” (Heb. 12:23). Jesus told the seventy that the real occasion of rejoicing should be “that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).
On the other hand, we are also told whose names are not in the book of life. John says that the names of those who worship ,the beast (the Roman Empire) were those “whose name hath not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that hath been slain” (Rev. 13:8). No follower of a false system of religion has his name on “the roll up yonder.” We thus have from the word of God a definite contrast of whose names are written and whose names are not written in the book of life.
Since God has a register in heaven, how may our names be enrolled therein? Again, we compare with “the old family Bible” at home. When a child was born, his or her name was enrolled in the family register. It is the same with the spiritual family. One must be “born again” in order to be enrolled in the family register. When one is in Christ, he is a new creature (2 Cor. 5:17); we get into Christ by being born again (John 3:5), thus becoming a child of God by faith by being baptized into Christ (Gal. 3:26-27). In so doing, the name of this one is added to the family register in heaven. Thus until one meets the requirements for enrollment by being born again, his name is not on “the roll up yonder.”
Once a name is recorded in the book of life, is it possible to blot out that name? God’s word affirms that such is possible. In order not to have that name blotted out of the book of life, one must overcome. To the saints at Sardis, the angel said, “He that overcometh shall thus be arrayed in white garments; and I will in no wise blot his name out of the book of life . . .” (Rev. 3:5). Once our names are enrolled, it is imperative that we “hold fast the beginning of our confidence firm unto the end” (Heb. 3:14). John further warns that the man who tampers with God’s word by either adding thereunto or taking therefrom, “God shall take away his part from the tree of life, and out of the holy city, which are written in this book” (Rev. 22:18-19).
From these Bible truths it is evident that there is a definite relationship between “the roll up yonder” and the destiny of every soul. “And there shall in no wise enter into it (heaven) anything that is unclean, or he that makest an abomination or a lie: but only they that are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Rev. 21:2). On the other hand, “and if any was not found written in the book of life, he was cast into the lake of fire” (Rev. 22:13). If our names are written in the book of life, we can enter heaven; if they have not been written therein, or have been blotted out, we will be cast into the lake of fire. May we recognize this contingency between the book of life and our eternal destiny.
One final admonition concerning “the roll up yonder:” it is quite possible that my name be on the “church roll down here” and not on “the roll up yonder.” Many people live under the delusion that if their names are on some church roll, then all is well. But let none of us labor under this notion; but let us be sure that our names are in the book of life; that “roll up yonder,” and that we live in such a manner that our names will not be blotted out.
What a joy and consolation derived from singing this grand old hymn-provided we can truthfully sing, “when the roll is called up yonder I’ll be there.”
Truth Magazine XIX: 46, pp. 728-729
October 2, 1975