Posted by: rcottrill | November 7, 2016

From the Riven Rock

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Words: George Carter Needham (b. _____, 1840; d. Feb. 2, 1902)
Music: Grasmere, by Ira David Sankey (b. Aug. 28, 1840; d. Aug. 13, 1908)

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Note: Ira Sankey was the music director and soloist for evangelist Dwight Moody’s evangelistic meetings. In the summer of 1876, at his home in Massachusetts, he decided to invite author and preacher George Needham to hold a week of gospel meetings in town. Needham agreed, and came. After breakfast one morning, while Sankey was playing the organ, the evangelist commented that he was going to preach on “The Smitten Rock,” and wished he had a hymn to go with the message.

Sankey continued to play, saying, “Here is a new hymn tune which came to me last night….I wish I had words for it. Why don’t you write a piece on The Rock.” His visitor replied that he didn’t understand music, and how to fit words to music. But Sankey, still playing, said, “You’ll find pen and paper on the table….Try your hand at it.”

Not only did George Needham produce the requested lyrics, but they so exactly suited the tune that not a note or a word needed to be changed! Sankey commented, “I think the Lord gave you the words as truly as He gave me the tune.” He sang the piece as a solo at the meeting that same evening.

Of all the countries in the world, only Russia is larger than Canada. From the west to east coast the distance is 9,306 kms (5,780 miles). With the formation of the Dominion of Canada in 1867, the government realized if the new nation was to grow and develop, a reliable means of travel over that wide expanse had to be provided. From 1881 to 1885 the Canadian Pacific Railroad was built to meet this need.

One of the necessary operations in its construction was dynamiting through solid rock again and again, to open a way for the tracks. Clearing a path through the western mountains, sometimes tunneling right into them, was difficult and dangerous work, but it was part of opening a corridor across the land. The movement of people, and the flow of commerce eventually built the Canadian nation. In a real sense, those ribbons of steel brought life through the rock.

This reminded me of an incident in the history of Israel (Exod. 17:1-7). God had provided Moses to deliver them from Egyptian bondage, and lead them through the wilderness to the land He had promised them. When they camped on the way at a place called Rephidim, the people complained because there was no water to drink. They even threatened to stone Moses for bringing them there (vs. 4).

The Lord told His servant of a rock at Mount Horeb, and said if Moses would strike the rock with his rod, water would flow out sufficient of all. Moses did as he was commanded and water was provided in abundance.

This miracle of divine providence is referred to over and over in the Bible. “He [God] opened the rock, and water gushed out; it ran in the dry places like a river” (Ps. 105:41; cf. Ps. 78:16; 114:8; Isa. 48:21). It comes up in the New Testament too, where the rock is used as a picture of Christ (I Cor. 10:4). This symbol of the opened rock has entered our hymnody many times, in hymns such as the one beginning:

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hid myself in Thee.

The spiritual water provided when Christ was broken on the cross is the eternal life offered to those who put their faith in Him. As the Lord said to a Samaritan woman one day:

“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water….Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life” (Jn. 4:10, 14; cf. Rev. 22:17).

Here is some of Needham’s hymn. Like the word “cleft” in Rock of Ages, the word “riven” (CH-1) means split apart, or broken open. It applies to the path for the railway mentioned earlier. And in the bleeding wounds of Calvary our Saviour was broken open, paying sin’s debt for us.

CH-1) From the riven Rock there floweth
Living water ever clear;
Weary pilgrim, journey onward,
Know you not the Fount is near?

Jesus is the Rock of Ages–
Smitten, stricken, lo! He dies;
From His side a living fountain,
Know you not it satisfies?

CH-2) “Without money, without merit,”
Jesus calls, “Come unto Me;”
Thirsty traveler, be encouraged,
Know you not the Fount is free?

1) “Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (Isa. 55:1). What does this word picture suggest about the salvation God offers us?

2) Can you think of other hymns that picture the Lord Jesus as a Rock?

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