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Words: Erastus Johnson (b. Apr. 20, 1826; d. June 16, 1909)
Music: William Gustavus Fischer (b. Oct. 14, 1835; d. Aug. 13, 1912)
Note: Johnson wrote the text in 1871, in response to some trying circumstances described below. Fischer was a gospel musician who composed the music for a number of songs still in use (e.g. Katherine Hankey’s I Love to Tell the Story, and James Nicholson’s Whiter Than Snow).
Have you ever been to the top of a very high building, such as the Empire State Building in New York, or maybe the CN Tower in Toronto? It certainly provides a different perspective. Things that normally look large on the ground, a house, a bus, or a train, may seem small and insignificant from that height. People appear like tiny ants, milling around.
In your imagination, carry the trip even higher up. Suppose you were on a space ship, orbiting the moon, as Apollo 8 did in 1968. The occupants had a new vantage point from which to view the earth, hanging like a brilliant jewel, in the blackness of space. The astronauts were clearly awed by the experience.and they read together the account of creation in Genesis, broadcasting the words back to earth.
Sometimes it takes getting some distance away from our troubles and the challenges of life to see them for what they are, as contrasted with what we may feel they are at the moment. And when we bring God into the picture, our perception of these things becomes more balanced. And having, as it were, more of a God’s-eye-view, by His Spirit, our hope for the future is strengthened.
King David prayed for something like that in Psalm. 61. He does not identify the situation that led to his appeal to the Lord, but many Bible scholars believe it may have had to do with the time when David’s son Absalom led a rebellion against him (II Sam. 15–18). David was forced to flee from Jerusalem (II Sam. 15:14), and be on the run–and he was no longer a young man. In his extremity, the king cried out to the Lord:
“Hear my cry, O God; attend to my prayer. From the end of the earth I will cry to You, when my heart is overwhelmed; lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Ps. 61:1-2).
There were no towering buildings in those days, let alone rocket ships. However people knew that a high rocky summit could serve a similar purpose. It gave one a different perspective on things. But even climbing to such a rocky fastness would be difficult for the aging king. He could only do it if the Lord helped him, so he prayed, “O God…lead me [guide me, bring me to such a place].”
It would provide for him and those with him, a place of refuge, where the Lord could protect and defend them. It would also provide a better vantage point from which to view the situation and the enemy. In a spiritual sense, they would be able to see what was happening from God’s point of view. There, as Charles Spurgeon put it, “the tempests which overwhelm us roll far beneath at His feet. He is not disturbed by them, but rules them at His will.”
David, in his many psalms, several times speaks of God Himself as that Rock. “He only is my rock and my salvation; He is my defense; I shall not be moved. In God is my salvation and my glory; the rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God” (Ps. 62:6-7).
In 1871 there was a YMCA Convention in Pennsylvania. Erastus Johnson, a business man and former school teacher, was a delegate. On the second day of the convention a telegram arrived, reporting the closure of a banking house in Philadelphia. Other closures and bankruptcies followed, leading to a general panic in America. It was in response to the anxious mood at the convention that Johnson penned the words of an encouraging hymn. William Fischer was also in attendance, and he supplied the tune.
Notice that Mr. Johnson also applied the rock imagery in another way, consistent with how it is used in Scripture. As well as giving a new vantage point and better perspective from their heights, great rocks also provided a place of shade and relative coolness in a hot, dry climate, when one was beside them (cf. Isa. 32:2).
CH-1) O 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!
CH-2) O 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!
1) For what challenge in your life has God and His Word provided a better perspective in recent days?
2) For what trial have you particularly found in God and His Word like a refreshing shadow from the burning heat?