Posted by: rcottrill | June 16, 2010

Today in 1833 – Lead, Kindly Light written

The author, John Henry Newman, was a brilliant scholar. Following his graduation from Oxford University, he became a clergyman in the Church of England. John Newman did not approve of the style of evangelism practiced by the Wesleys a century earlier. It was his view that a true religious experience could only come through the rituals of the church. So he did his best to bring about what he saw as needed change.

It was not long, however, before his efforts began to tell on him, both physically and emotionally. Near burn-out at the age of 32, he was forced to spend months recuperating. While traveling in Italy, he came down with a fever and nearly died. At last he was able to secure passage back to England. But the voyage became a tedious one, due to thick fog and lack of a favourable wind. As he paced the deck, physical weakness and emotional despair tormented Newman. Like the ship, his life seemed to be going nowhere. It was then he penned the words of his hymn:

Lead, kindly Light, amid th’encircling gloom, lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home; lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path; but now lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will. Remember not past years!

So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still will lead me on.
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till the night is gone,
And with the morn those angel faces smile, which I
Have loved long since, and lost awhile!

In later life, Newman joined the Catholic Church–a group he had strongly opposed in earlier times. For their part his change of heart was at first viewed with suspicion. He was shunned for many years before his altered allegiance was recognized, but he finished his days as a prominent cardinal in the Church of Rome.

He was asked, decades after penning the above words, what he meant by the closing lines of the song:

And with the morn those angel faces smile, which I
Have loved long since, and lost awhile!

Did he mean, for instance, that we’ll all turn into angels in heaven? Newman replied that he had no idea what he meant!

The hymn is a strong piece of poetry that speaks of spiritual darkness and the danger of pride. But it has no clear biblical message of hope for the future. Hymn writer E. H. Bickersteth added a stanza of his own to end the song with a ray of light. It says:

Meantime, along the narrow rugged path, Thyself hast trod,
Lead, Saviour, lead me home in childlike faith–home to my God.
To rest forever after earthly strife
In the calm light of everlasting life. 

(2) The King’s Highway (Data Missing)
A gospel song was published in 1881 for which we have no information at all regarding the author of the text. The words were set to music by John Sweney, a frequent collaborator with Fanny Crosby (See the third item under Today in 1817.) The result is typical of what were called Sunday School songs, back in the nineteenth century. It captures a simple idea and expresses it in a way all can understand. (You can see the complete song, and hear to tune on the Cyber Hymnal.)

Living a godly life is described in Scripture as walking in the paths of righteousness. It is one of the blessings believers enjoy, that the Shepherd of our souls “leads [us] in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” (Ps. 23:3). But there are many temptations to turn aside, to stray from the path. This little song urges us to “keep to the middle of the King’s highway.”

Wherever you may be, whatever you may see,
That would lead you into evil, say you nay,
I will not turn aside; whatever may betide,
I’ll keep along the middle of the King’s highway.

The King’s highway, the King’s highway,
I’ll keep along the middle of the King’s highway;
I will not turn aside; whatever may betide,
I’ll keep along the middle of the King’s highway.

The meadows may be green, where bypath stile is seen,
Turn aside, the little flowers seem to say;
Be sure you take no heed—they’re trying to mislead—
Just keep along the middle of the King’s highway.

Our God will guide us right, and walking in the light,
We shall win a crown of glory in the day,
When Jesus calls His own together round the throne,
Who keep along the middle of the King’s highway.


Responses

  1. [...] when he sensed a particular hymn was either weak, or its thought incomplete. He did this with both Lead, Kindly Light, and Nearer, My God, to Thee. Two hymns of his own creation are Saviour, Breathe an Evening [...]

  2. [...] Wordwise Hymns The Cyber [...]


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