HIGHER GROUND

Wayne S. Walker

“I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in
Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3.14)

     A hymn which encourages us to press on to what the New King James
version calls the “upward call” is “Higher Ground” (#109 in “Hymns for
Worship Revised”).   The text was written by Johnson Oatman, Jr.
(1856-1922).  The most famous song by this prolific writer of hymn texts,
who was born in New Jersey, is “Count Your Blessings” (#392)  The tune
was composed by Charles Hutchinson Gabriel (1856-1932).  In addition to
providing tunes for others’ texts, this Iowa native also produced gospel
songs with both text and tune, as “O That Will Be Glory” (#216).

     According to Gabriel’s own account, the song was produced in 1892,
but he sold it for five dollars to a Philadelphia, PA, songbook compiler,
J. Howard Entwisle.  It was then first published in the 1898 “Songs of
Love and Praise, No. 5,” which Entwisle compiled with John R. Sweney and
Frank M. Davis.  Many of Gabriel’s songs came into common use among
churches of Christ when he helped T. B. Larimore edit “The New Christian
Hymn Book” in 1907 for the Gospel Advocate.  Beginning with E. L.
Jorgenson’s “Great Songs of the Church” in 1921, this hymn has been in
almost every hymnbook published by brethren.

     The song gives several reasons why we should seek “a higher plane.”

I. Stanza one suggests that we are on “the upward way”
 A. The upward way is the strait and narrow path that leads to life:
Matt. 7.13-14
 B. To travel this upward way, we must work to gain new heights every day
as we go on unto perfection: Heb. 6.1
 C. And to help us in this goal, we should keep praying: Phil. 4.6-7

II. Stanza two suggests that we are no longer of the world
 A. Our heart should have no desire to stay a part of this world: Rom.
12.1-2
 B. Because this world is a place where doubts arise and fears dismay, we
should keep ourselves unspotted from it: Jas. 1.25, 4.4
 C. Even though some may dwell where these abound, our aim should be not
to love the world nor the things in the world: 1 Jn. 2.15-17

III. Stanza three suggests that we are fighting the devil
 A. Again, we should strive to live above this world because it is the
realm where Satan is in control: Eph. 2.1-3
 B. Of course, as we seek to live above the world, Satan will try to
bring us back down to his level by hurling his darts at us: Eph. 6.10-16
 C. But a faith which catches the joyful sound of salvation will help us
to resist him: Jas. 4.4, 1 Pet. 5.8-9

IV. Stanza four suggests that we are hoping for heaven
 A. Our goal is that someday we will scale that utmost height which will
take us home to be with the Lord: 2 Cor. 4.16-18, 5.1-7
 B. Then, we shall catch a gleam of glory bright in that inheritance that
is incorruptible, undefiled, and that fades not away: 1 Pet. 1.3-5
 C. However, until then, we must simply keep on running the race with our
eyes on Jesus, looking upward to Him to help us continue on to higher
ground: 1 Cor. 9.24-27, Heb. 12.1-2

     CONCL.:  Several years ago I read an objection to this song by a
well-known denominational hymn writer, saying that Christians should want
to be engaged as salt and light in this world, not run away from it to
“live above the world” as though we are better than others.  However, I
have been singing this song since I was a little child, and I never have
thought that it was telling us to hide from this world as monks or
hermits and have a “holier than thou” attitude.
     Yes, we realize that as Jesus sent the apostles into the world to
reveal His will, He has sent us into the world to proclaim His will; yet
while in the world, we are not to be of the world (Jn. 17.16, 18).  That
is all I have ever thought the song is indicating that we should do.  And
that is what I understand the chorus to be saying, as it prays, “Lord,
lift me up and let me stand, By faith, on heaven’s table-land, A higher
plane than I have found; Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”  Indeed,
in the sense of being transformed or different from this world, we surely
should want to live on “Higher Ground.”

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