Reproclaiming the Everlasting Gospel
The Solid Rock
Vs 1: My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness; I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
Chorus: On Christ the Solid Rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand.
Vs 2: When darkness veils His lovely face, I rest on His unchanging grace. In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil.
Vs 3: His Oath, his covenant, his blood support me in the whelming flood; when all around my soul gives way, he then is all my hope and stay.
Vs 4: When He shall come with trumpet sound, O then in Him may I be found! Dressed in his righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne.
Around Easter this spring, I happened to hear this hymn. I was familiar with it from childhood. It has been bouncing about in my head, so I decided to write a reflection based on our understanding of the Gospel of Christ Jesus. I have a friend who was a Presbyterian minister; he gave up his Presbyterian retirement package to join Friends. He pointed out to me that people often adopt the theology of what they sing. So, since much of my early life was immersed in church music, I have begun to examine the songs that come back to me in middle-age with a more critical ear.
I wondered why this particular song caught my attention. I suspected it was written by someone deeply entrenched in the doctrine of Imputed righteousness, i.e. Christ’s sacrifice for us is what God sees, not our actual unredeemed condition. So, I looked it up and indeed it was written by an English Baptist minister in the 1830s named Edward Mote. Baptist theology often lies somewhere along the spectrum from Anabaptism to Calvinism, depending on the group or even the individual. So my guess seemed likely to have substance.
Starting with the chorus:
On Christ the Solid Rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand.
This is based on the passage in Math 7 at the end of the Sermon-on-the-Mount. Jesus says that those who hear his words and put them into practice are like the builder who digs down deep and lays the foundation of the house on rock. Those who do not are like someone building a house on sand without a foundation.
The images in the chorus have no clear connection to Jesus’ Sermon. This answers my experience growing up in an Evangelical Sunday School. The rock, house and sand were favorites for figures on flannel graph and there is a children’s song with arm and hand motion that ends with the house on the sand doing a resounding “SPLAT!” The connection of the image with some responsibility on my part was missing.
I agree with the words of the chorus. Jesus is the Rock, the Chief Cornerstone in the foundation of our faith. And there is no other to be had. Are we built as living stones on this foundation? If our inward hearing is blocked, our hearts “uncircumcised”, our consciences seared and hardened, we will find ourselves sinking in the sands of false hope. (Consider Lev 26, particularly v.41). If our hearts become tender, we will hear and see our Teacher (Consider Isaish 30, particularly v.20 and 21). Curiously, living stones are built into a house that lasts; Dead stones are scattered, beaten down, ground into sand.
There is a difference between hope based on a doctrine of Christ’s blood and the experience of it. Consider the first verse of the hymn:
Vs. 1 My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness; I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus name.
Without the experience of these things, this is a mantra said repeatedly in hopes of believing it.
One of my favorite verses in the New Testament is 1st John 1:7, “If we walk in the Light as He is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus his son purifies us from all unrighteousness.” (NIV) This passage of scripture became more precious when I took in George Fox’s vision of the blood sprinkling our consciences by faith (See Works vol. 1, page 80). So, in effect, walking in the light and being purified by the blood of Christ are different aspects of the same experience. John 15:3, “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.”
We also have come to know, by bitter lesson in my case, that this is not a righteousness of our own (Phil 3:9). It is, when we walk in it as we are taught in it, the righteousness of Christ. Back again to John 15, and to verse 5, “apart from me you can do nothing.” (Check out Works Vol 1, page 76)
“Leaning on Jesus’s name.” What does this mean? Again, it could be a mantra, or we can understand it as the early church did, i.e. standing in the Power of Christ that overcomes the world. And our experience is that as the world is overcome within us, there is power that keeps us from being overcome by the world without.
Vs. 2 when darkness veils His lovely face, I rest on His unchanging grace. In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil.
This is the verse where I feel closest to Brother Edward. There are times when we cannot see far ahead. In Fox’s words, our condition is veiled. It is then that we really learn to listen for the voice that tells us, “This is the way, walk in it.” When this voice comes we may not see further then the next step, but that is sufficient. When we learn to rest our hope there and not in our abilities, accomplishments and prospects we may be shown more than the next step but the next one is sufficient. It is enough for today.
Checking in again with George (Works, Vol 1, pp. 76-77), we can begin to learn how we may be the ones pulling the veil between us and God. And from there to be taught not to pull the shades against the Light but let it do it’s cleansing and ordering of our inward condition.
Vs. 3: His Oath, his covenant, his blood support me in the whelming flood; when all around my soul gives way, he then is all my hope and stay.
This is verse 2 on steroids. Some crises, illness and death may seem to push us off the edge or yank the edge from under us. But as I have seen death overcome in me, my fear of outward death has diminished. It has less and less hold. Knowing the power of the resurrection within allows me to be increasingly confident of a resurrection to come.
And this is the new Covenant that God’s laws are written in our minds and in our hearts. We no longer need trust uncertain teachers; we have One Teacher and Lord. We can let go of being above one another.
I will attempt to tackle verse 4 of the hymn in the next installment.
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Thanks Dan, your words have been helpful to me.
One thing struck me quite forcefully as I read through your post and again remembered the numberless times I have sung that hymn as a child: the understanding of "the blood" that is built into that hymn has mostly to do with death, in this case Jesus' death on the cross. The scriptural understanding of blood is that it signifies life. "Ye shall not eat the blood of the sacrifice, for it is the life of the animal," the Jews were commanded (not an exact quote). Understood in that sense, the references to the blood in the hymn point to a living experience of the life of Christ present and working within us.
Ellis, that idea that blood points to the life of Christ Within is bourne out in John 6 where Jesus alienates some of his disciples by stating that "except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you" (53-58).
Thanks, Dan, for the reflection on the hymn. It was not a familiar one to me. The second verse reminded me of the passage in Fox's Journal that uses the same imagery taken from Hebrews 6:19. I love that the same pictorial language pertaining to inward life remains powerful throughout time and different cultures.
"And when at any time my condition was veiled, my secret belief was stayed firm, and hope underneath held me as an anchor in the bottom of the sea; and anchored my immortal soul to its Bishop, causing it to swim above the sea, the world where all the raging waves, foul weather, tempests, and temptations are. But oh, then did I see my troubles, trials, and temptations more than ever I had done! As the Light appeared, all appeared that is out of the Light, darkness, death, temptations, the unrighteous, the ungodly; all was manifest and seen in the Light." Nickalls, 14.