Posted by: rcottrill | April 20, 2010

Today in 1826 – Erastus Johnson Born

EGraphic Rocky Cliffarastus Johnson was born in a logging camp about 60 miles from Bangor, Maine. He was the third of 13 children. At the age of 17, he became a school teacher in Maine, and at 26 he joined some of his brothers in the California Gold Rush. Later, he worked in the oil business.

In 1871, during a YMCA convention that Johnson attended as a delegate, a telegram informed John Wanamaker, the president of the convention, that his bank had failed and he had lost an enormous amount of money. Through the years 1869 to 1871, there was a severe financial depression and a general panic. Many banks failed, and depositors lost their savings. Erastus Johnson wrote the hymn The Rock That Is Higher Than I to encourage those present, and it went on to be much used. (The song should not be confused with William Cushing’s Hiding in Thee, which begins, “O safe to the Rock that is higher than I”).

Oh! sometimes the shadows are deep,
And rough seems the path to the goal,
And sorrows, sometimes how they sweep
Like tempests down over the soul.

O then to the Rock let me fly
To the Rock that is higher than I
O then to the Rock let me fly
To the Rock that is higher than I!

Oh! sometimes how long seems the day,
And sometimes how weary my feet!
But toiling in life’s dusty way,
The Rock’s blessèd shadow, how sweet!

(2) Today in 1911 – Moses Cross Died
Moses Smith Cross was the son of a Methodist Episcopalian clergyman named Aaron Cross. He became a member of the faculty of the University of the Pacific, in Stockton, California, eventually serving as its president and vice-president. He was also a linguist and musician. Mr. Cross wrote the tune Waratah, which is used with Frank North’s lesser known hymn Jesus, the Calm That Fills My Breast.

Jesus, the calm that fills my breast,
No other heart than Thine can give;
This peace unstirred, this joy of rest,
None but Thy loved ones can receive.

My weary soul has found a charm
That turns to blessedness my woe;
Within the shelter of Thine arm,
I rest secure from storm and foe.

O Christ, through changeful years my Guide
My Comforter in sorrow’s night,
My Friend, when friendless—still abide,
My Lord, my Counselor, my Light.

(3) Jacob’s Ladder (Data Missing)
We have no accurate data on the authorship or date of the traditional spiritual We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder, but it deserves a place in our hymnody. The song takes its inspiration from an incident in the life of Jacob in the Old Testament. Fleeing from his brother Esau, out in the lonely wilderness, Jacob lay down to sleep, with a stone for his pillow (Gen. 28:11). And there the Lord gave him a strange dream.

Behold, a ladder was set up on the earth and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it” (Gen. 28:12).

The dream represents the fact that earth and heaven are connected, and that God is concerned about what is happening on earth. Specifically, in this case, that He was concerned about what happened to Jacob and his descendants (the nation of Israel). In the New Testament, the Lord Jesus seems to take this symbolism and apply it to Himself (Jn. 1:51), indicating that He is the Bridge that connects earth and heaven, that He is the One by which we can enter the heavenly kingdom (cf. Jn. 10:9; 14:6).

In the time of their slavery, the blacks in the American South were exposed to some of the teachings of Scripture. They identified strongly with the nation of Israel in bondage in Egypt, and with how the Lord was concerned about His people calling Moses to lead them out to freedom. It is from that perspective that this song was written and sung more than a century and a half ago.


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