William Williams, known as “the sweet singer of Wales,” was a much traveled evangelist and revivalist preacher in that country. For forty-five years, Williams averaged 2,230 miles on horseback annually, sharing the gospel. He also wrote many Welsh hymns, but most remain unknown in the English speaking world.
There is one notable exception. His great hymn Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah. It not only became virtually a second national anthem to the Welsh, it is highly regarded in English hymnody as well. Taking the journey of the Israelites through the wilderness as a picture of our Christian walk, Williams wrote:
Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah,
Pilgrim through this barren land.
I am weak, but Thou art mighty;
Hold me with Thy powerful hand.
Bread of heaven, Bread of heaven,
Feed me till I want no more;
Feed me till I want no more.
The instructions of the director before the following, and the kind of informal atmosphere suggest this may have been recorded at a choir practice. Whatever the case, great singing, well led!
(2) Today in 1799 – Charles Purday Born
English composer, Charles Henry Purday wrote and lectured on music, and was a fine singer as well. He wrote the beautiful hymn tune Sandon, which is sometimes used with Lead, Kindly Light. Better still, John Campbell’s hymn Unto the Hills is often partnered with this tune. If you can get hold of an old recording of the Black Dyke Mills symphonic band playing Nightfall at Camp, you’ll hear a memorable rendering of Sandon, intertwined with a bugler playing Taps. (I’ve tried to find this on YouTube, but so far it’s not there.)
Unto the hills around do I lift up my longing eyes
O whence for me shall my salvation come, from whence arise?
From God, the Lord, doth come my certain aid,
From God, the Lord, who heaven and earth hath made.
The text for this hymn was written by an early Governor General of Canada. To learn more, see Item #3 under Today in 1821.
(3) Today in 1843 – Francis Scott Key Died
Francis Scott Key is best known for being the author of the American national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner (see Today in 1814). However, he was a dedicated Christian, and has given us a couple of fine hymns as well, Before the Lord We Bow (see Today in 1779), and Lord, with Glowing Heart I’d Praise Thee.
Lord, with glowing heart I’d praise Thee,
For the bliss Thy love bestows,
For the pardoning grace that saves me,
And the peace that from it flows:
Help, O God, my weak endeavour;
This dull soul to rapture raise:
Thou must light the flame, or never
Can my love be warmed to praise.