Posted by: rcottrill | December 26, 2011

Higher Ground

Words: Johnson Oatman, Jr. (b. Apr. 21, 1856; d. Sept. 25, 1922)
Music: Charles Hutchinson Gabriel (b. Aug. 18, 1856; d. Sept. 15, 1932)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

We live in a material world and, though we’re also spiritual beings, we often have difficulty grasping the spiritual dimension of life. The Bible helps us with many figures of speech, and with poetic imagery, giving us a way to understand something of the spiritual and eternal.

A word of caution is needed, however. The Bible’s authors do not always use a particular image or symbol in exactly the same way each time. For example, the imagery of a lion is used of both Satan and the Lord Jesus Christ (I Pet. 5:8; Rev. 5:5). This does not mean that the devil and the Lord Jesus are the same, except in the limited sense that each is powerful. (The devil in a finite sense, and the Son of God infinitely so.)

To the point here, the spatial dimensions of height and depth are used to describe contrasting spiritual experiences. But again, not always in the same sense. God’s protection of the saints is compared to being lifted up to “high places,” places of safety (Ps. 18:33). But in other texts the “high places” are idol shrines that God abominates (Lev. 26:30). It is important to consider the context (the verses before and after) to see how the phrase is being used.

God’s judgments are [i.e. His justice is] “a great deep,” and His righteousness reaches to the heights of “the great mountains” (Ps. 36:6). God’s “thoughts are very deep” (beyond human comprehension)” (Ps. 92:5), and He is frequently called the “Most High” (e.g. Ps. 7:17). Lucifer’s (Satan’s) pride before his fall caused him to declare, “I will be like the Most High” (Isa. 14:14).

A common use of the dimensions of height and depth is to describe the extremity of danger or suffering that humans pass through: “I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing; I have come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me” (Ps. 69:2; cf. vs. 14-15). But the Lord will lift me up (Ps. 27:5; cf. 40:2). “For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him” (Ps. 103:11).

The city of Jerusalem was built on an elevation (part of which, Mount Zion, came to stand for the whole city). This was a geographical reality. People spoke of “going up to Jerusalem” (cf. Mic. 4:2; Jn. 2:13). But it also came to be a spiritual symbol, since the temple was there, a symbol of drawing near to God, of deeper fellowship and richer praise and worship.

It is perhaps this sense that Johnson Oatman draws upon in his gospel song. It expresses a desire to draw closer to God and to grow in spiritual character and strength. To the extent that he is able to do this, he has a sense of being on the borderland of heaven itself.

CH-1) I’m pressing on the upward way,
New heights I’m gaining every day;
Still praying as I’m onward bound,
“Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”

Lord, lift me up and let me stand,
By faith, on heaven’s table land,
A higher plane than I have found;
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.

CH-4) I want to scale the utmost height
And catch a gleam of glory bright;
But still I’ll pray till heav’n I’ve found,
“Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”

1) In CH-3, Oatman says, “I want to live above the world.” It what sense can this be done? And in what sense is it impossible and impractical?

2) What will the character and behaviour of a person be like if he or she is living consistently on “higher ground”?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


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