“The Iron Rod” Was Written by Two Sunday School Workers
“The Iron Rod” is a hymn composed by William Clayson, with lyrics by Joseph L. Townsend. The hymn is number 274 in the 1985 hymnal but was originally written for the Payson Sunday School in Utah, where both Townsend and Clayson were Sunday School workers. The hymn was first included in the Deseret Sunday School Song Book in 1892.
The text for this uniquely Latter-day Saint hymn is based on an account in the Book of Mormon. In the book of 1 Nephi, chapter 8, Lehi saw a vision of the tree of life. “This hymn exhorts us toward our destiny; it also reminds us of the dangers that threaten us if we choose to release our hold on the one sure guide,” explained author Karen Lynn Davidson (Our Latter-Day Hymns: The Stories and the Messages , 274).
In Lehi’s vision, he first entered “a dark and dreary waste” (1 Nephi 8:7), where he wandered in darkness for hours until he prayed for mercy. He was then shown “a large and spacious field” (verse 9) with a tree, a river running near the tree, and a rod of iron that ran alongside the river, leading to the tree.
When Lehi ate the fruit of the tree, it filled his soul with “exceedingly great joy” (verse 12), and he wanted to share that joy with his family. Some members of his family found the tree and ate the fruit, while others would not.
The rod of iron, interpreted as the word of God, represents security and an invitation to come unto Christ. In a later scripture passage (1 Nephi 15:23–24), Nephi gave the full interpretation of Lehi’s vision to his brothers: “And they said unto me: What meaneth the rod of iron which our father saw, that led to the tree? And I said unto them that it was the word of God; and whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish; neither could the temptations and the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them unto blindness, to lead them away to destruction.”
Watch the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the congregation perform “The Iron Rod” during the April 2017 general conference:
The Iron Rod (Lyrics)
To Nephi, seer of olden time,
A vision came from God,
Wherein the holy word sublime
Was shown an iron rod.
Hold to the rod, the iron rod;
’Tis strong, and bright, and true.
The iron rod is the word of God;
’Twill safely guide us through.
While on our journey here below,
Beneath temptation’s pow’r,
Through mists of darkness we must go,
In peril ev’ry hour.
And when temptation’s pow’r is nigh,
Our pathway clouded o’er,
Upon the rod we can rely,
And heaven’s aid implore.
And, hand o’er hand, the rod along,
Through each succeeding day,
With earnest prayer and hopeful song,
We’ll still pursue our way.
Afar we see the golden rest
To which the rod will guide,
Where, with the angels bright and blest,
Forever we’ll abide.