“The Rock That Is Higher Than I”

"Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I" (Ps. 61.2)

     INTRO.: A song that is based on this verse from the Psalms and encourages us to find refuge in the Lord as our Rock is "The Rock that Is Higher than I" (#367 in Hymns for Worship Revised, and #126 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written by Erastus Johnson, who was born, the third of thirteen children to Cyrus and Hepzibah Hunt Page Johnson, in a logging camp on the west bank of the Penobscot River in Township No. 2 near Lincoln, ME, about sixty miles upriver from Bangor, on Apr. 20, 1826. At the age of fifteen he entered the Academy at Calais, ME, where he remained for two years. After six years of teaching school at Mathais, ME, he entered the Bangor Theological Seminary, but his diligent study resulted in poor health with the possibility of losing his eyesight. Therefore, upon the recommendation of his doctor, he took a sea voyage to California when he was 26 on the ship Gold Hunter to join some of his brothers in the California Gold Rush. This resulted in his remaining on the West Coast for almost twenty years, spending eight years as a rancher in California and eleven years as a farmer in Washington State.

     After this, Johnson returned east and for the next twenty plus years worked for the oil industry in Pittsburgh, PA. This hymn was produced during that time. In 1873, he was attending the Y. M. C. A. convention at Carlisle, PA, of which John Wanamaker, a strong Bible-believing businessman who is considered the inventor of the department store and the father of modern retail advertising, was president. Near the close of the first session, a telegram came from Philadelphia, PA, announcing the failure of Jay Cook, in whose bank Wanamaker had a sizeable account, the loss of which could result in his financial undoing. Soon there followed reports of other bank failures throughout the nation, indicating a general panic and throwing a gloom over the whole convention. As an expression of this common feeling and the need to trust in Christ rather than in banks, he penned these words.

     The tune (Rock of Refuge) was composed by William Gustavus Fisher (1835-1912). Fisher, who provided melodies for many gospel songs including "I Love to Tell the Story," was also at the convention and led the singing along with Johnson’s brother. The song became quite popular at the convention. Its first appearance in a hymnbook was later that year in Gems of Praise, published by the Methodist Episcopal Book Room of Philadelphia and compiled by John Robson Sweney. Throughout his active life, Johnson was always a devoted student of the Bible. After leaving Pennsylvania, he lived for eight years near Jackson, ME, and again engaged in farming. His autobiography relates details of events at Atlanta, GA, in 1881, Whatcom, WA, in 1900, and St. Louis, MO, in 1901, where people whom he met found out he was the author of this hymn. Following this, around 1907 he retired to Waltham, MA, where he died on June 16, 1909.

     Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, the song appeared in the 1935 Christian Hymns (No. 1), the 1948 Christian Hymns No. 2, and the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 all edited by L. O. Sanderson; 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 edited by E. L. Jorgenson; and the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch. Today it may be found in the 1971 Songs of the Church, the 1990 Songs of the Church 21st C. Ed., and the 1994 Songs of Faith and Praise all edited by Alton H. Howard; the 1978/1983 Church Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard; and the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; in addition to Hymns for Worship, Sacred Selections, and the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat.

     The song identifies the Lord as our Rock of refuge.

I. Stanza 1 points out that Christ is a Rock during times of shadow and sorrow
"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."
 A. Shadows are often used to indicate times of trouble, trial, and tribulation: Jer. 6.4
 B. During such times, the path to the goal may seem rough because we live on an earth cursed by sin: Gen. 3.17-19
 C. However, like the Psalmist who experienced his share of sorrows and tempests, we can look to the Lord as our rock of strength: Ps. 62.1-7

II. Stanza 2 points out that Christ is a Rock when the day is long on life’s dusty way
"O, sometimes how long seems the day, And sometimes how weary my feet;
But toiling in life’s dusty way, The Rock’s blessed shadow, how sweet."
 A. There are situations in our lives where it seems that the day seems so long because of our difficulties and hardships: Ps. 38.6
 B. As a result of such situations, we sometimes become very weary: Ps. 69.1-3
 C. However, as we are toiling in life’s dusty way, we can find, as Israel did when they were journeying toward Canaan, that the Lord is our Rock from whom we can drink: 1 Cor. 10.1-4

III. Stanza 3 points out that Christ is a rock in times of blessing as well as sorrow
"O, near to the Rock let me keep, If blessings or sorrows prevail;
Or climbing the mountain way steep, Or walking the shadowy vale."
 A. We can find at all times that Christ is a rock to build our lives upon: Matt. 7.24-27
 B. He will surely provide all the blessings that we need in this life: Eph. 1.3
 C. He will also help us when sorrows prevail, telling us to cast our cares on Him: 1 Pet. 5.7

     CONCL.: The chorus expresses the desire to seek refuge in that Rock which is Christ.
"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."
As I travel in the desert of this life, with all its hardships, toils, and sorrows, I can always look for refuge to "The Rock that Is Higher than I."


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