"THE ROCK THAT IS HIGHER THAN I"
by Wayne S. Walker
"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" (Psalm 61:2). I have been told that people travelling through the desert often look for high rocks. There are at least a couple of reasons for this. Often, water is available near rock outcroppings. Even if that is not the case, a high rock casts shade that provides a welcome relief from the burning desert sun. Especially during a sandstorm, the lea side of the rock would give shelter. Thus, looking to the Lord for His protection are likened to resting in the shadow a high rock. The Psalmist continues, "For You have been a shelter for me, a strong tower from the enemy. I will abide in Your tabernacle forever; I will trust in the shelter of Your wings" (vs. 3-4).
In 1871, there was a Y. M. C. A. convention at Carlisle, PA. A strong Bible-believing businessman, John Wanamaker, who basically invented the concept of the "department store," was president of the convention. One of the delegates was Erastus Johnson (1826-1909). Johnson’s brother William and William G. Fischer served as song directors. During the week, a telegram came with news that the bank of Jay Cook, in which Wanamaker had $70,000, had failed. Reports soon followed of other bank failures, indicating the start of a general panic, which threw a pall of gloom over the convention because nearly all the members were businessmen. As an expression of the common feeling, Johnson wrote a hymn for which Fischer provided music.
"1. O sometimes the shadows are deep, And rough seems the path to goal;
And sorrows, how often they sweep Like tempests down over the soul.
2. O sometimes how long seems the day, And sometimes how weary my feet;
But toiling in life’s dusty way, The Rock’s blessed shadaow, how sweet!
3. O near to the Rock let me keep, If blessings or sorrows prevail,
Or climbing the mountain way steep, Or walking the shadowy vale.
Chorus: 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."
The song immediately became popular at the convention, especially with Mr. Wanamaker, who called for it several times. It was first published in 1873 and soon found its way into many other publications. It has been used in practically all major hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, and I remember singing it quite frequently when I was growing up. This life, with all its trials and tribulations, is like a desert, but as I travel through it I can always look for refuge to "The Rock that Is Higher than I."