“The Sheltering Rock”

"Why will ye die…?" (Ezek. 18.31)

     INTRO.: A song that points to Jesus Christ as providing all we need to be saved from sin and asks, "Why will ye die?" is "The Sheltering Rock" (#121 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written and the tune was composed both by William Evander Penn, who was born on Aug. 11, 1832, in Rutherford County, TN. After being educated at the Male Academy of Trenton, TN, and at Union University in Murfreesboro, TN, he read law at the firm of Williams and Wright and became an attorney, opening his own law office in Lexington, TN. Serving as a Southern officer in the American Civil War, he spent over a year as a prisoner. After the war, he moved his family to Jefferson, TX, and returned to the practice of law. Always active in religious affairs, he served as President of the Texas Baptist Sunday School and Colportage Convention in 1873 and 1874. Later, he became a Baptist minister and served as a well known evangelist in Texas, other states, Scotland, and England.

     According to William J. Reynolds in Hymns of Our Faith, "One of the lesser known evangelists who exerted unusual influence among Baptists of the Southwest was Major W. E. Penn. A native Tennesseean and an officer in the Confederate Army, Penn moved to Texas after the war and became a successful attorney at law. About 1875 he began conducing revivals as a lay-evangelist and experienced unusual success. During the next twenty years he traveled extensively throughout the Southwest, chiefly in Texas, and also preached in England and Scotland. Always, he confined his evangelistic efforts to Baptist churches and was one of the first to have his own song leader. His insistence upon having a reed organ for his services introduced this instrument to many Baptist churches which previously had unaccompanied congregational singing. [Editor’s note: See, it is not only New Testament churches of Christ which have insisted on following God’s revealed pattern for singing in worship! WSW.] In 1881 he published his own collection of songs, Harvest Bells, and after this used it exclusively in his meetings, making it the most widely used collection in the Southwest. He composed many songs for this collection and its several editions, and of unusual interest is the fact that this book has little in common with the Bliss and Sankey collections. Appropriate for his use and the people to whom he preached, this book was published in shaped notes."

     "The Sheltering Rock" was copyrighted in 1887. Since the third edition of Harvest Bells was published in 1886, the song’s first publication may have been in a subsequent printing of this edition or in the final edition, published around 1896 after Penn’s death on Apr. 29. 1895, at Eureka Springs, AR. 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 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 edited by E. L. Jorgenson; the 1938/1944 (New) Wonderful Songs edited by Thomas S. Cobb; and the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch. Today it may be found in the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; in addition to Sacred Selections.

The song uses several figures of speech to identify what Christ is and does for us.

I. Stanza 1 calls Him a Rock
"There is a Rock in a weary land; Its shadow falls on the burning sand,
Inviting pilgrims as they pass To seek a shade in the wilderness."
 A. Jesus Christ is the Rock from which we can find help: 1 Cor. 10.4
 B. Such a rock provides shadow to those traveling the burning sands of life: Isa. 32.2
 C. This Rock invites us to find rest in Him: Matt. 11.28-30

II. Stanza 2 calls Him a Well
"There is a Well in a desert plain; Its waters call with entreating strain,
‘Ho, every thirsting, sin sick soul, Come, freely drink, and thou shalt be whole.’"
 A. Jesus Christ is like a Well or fountain: Rev. 7.17
 B. He provides living waters: Jn. 4.10-14
 C. Therefore, He calls all who are spiritually thirsty to come to Him: Isa. 55.1

III. Stanza 3 calls Him a Shepherd
"A great fold stands with its portals wide, The sheep astray on the mountainside;
The Shepherd climbs o’er mountains steep. He’s searching now for His wandering sheep."
 A. The fold is the place of safety for the sheep: Jn. 10.16
 B. However, since all have sinned, those whom Jesus wants for His sheep are wandering astray on the mountain side: 1 Pet. 2.25
C. Yet, the Shepherd climbs over the mountains to search for His sheep: Lk. 15.1-7

IV. Stanza 4 calls Him a Sacrifice
"There is a cross where the Savior died; His blood flowed out in a crimson tide,
A sacrifice for sins of men, And free to all who will enter in."
 A. The cross was the instrument upon which the Savior died and thus represents generally His message of salvation: 1 Cor. 1.18
 B. The reason that this is so important is because the blood which He shed upon the cross is the cleansing agent that brings redemption: Eph. 1.7
 C. Therefore, just as lambs were sacrificed under the old covenant, so Jesus is the Lamb who was sacrificed for us: 1 Pet. 1.18-21

     CONCL.: The chorus asks the question, "Then why will ye die? O why will ye die?" and then repeats the thought of each stanza:
1. "When the sheltering Rock is so near by, O why will ye die?"
2. "When the living Well is so near by, O why will ye die?"
3. "When the Shepherd’s fold is so near by, O why will ye die?"
4. "When the crimson cross is so near by, O why will ye die?"
As a traveler in the desert seeks shade to protect himself from the blasting sun and heat, so those who wander in sin need to learn that there are salvation and direction in life to be found from "The Sheltering Rock."


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