Posted by: rcottrill | October 3, 2011

Lead, Kindly Light

Words: John Henry Newman (b. Feb. 21, 1801; d. Aug. 11, 1890)
Music: Lux Benigna (Kindly Light), by John Bacchus Dykes (b. Mar. 10, 1823; d. Jan. 22, 1876)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Judged merely as poetry, this is a great hymn. Fine poetry, but hymn author and editor Edward Henry Bickersteth (1825-1906) felt it didn’t express a strong enough hope for the future. He added a fourth stanza to Newman’s original three (see below). In addition to the traditional tune noted above, Sandon works well with this hymn.

Something of the physical distress and emotional depression of the author is expressed in Newman’s description of the time when he wrote the hymn:

I went down at once to Sicily, and fell ill of a fever. My servant thought I was dying, and begged for my last instructions. I gave them as he wished, but said, “I shall not die, for I have not sinned against light, I have not sinned against light.” (I never have been able to make out at all what I meant.) I was laid up for nearly three weeks. Towards the end of May, I set of for Palermo, taking three days for the journey. Before starting from my inn in the morning, I sat down on my bed and began to sob bitterly.

It was on the journey home to England, where he longed to be, and in this state of mind and body, that the John Henry Newman wrote his now famous hymn.

The Lord has promised to provide light for those who follow Him. “Jesus spoke to them again, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life’” (Jn. 8:12). One particular way in which God illuminates our path is through His holy Word. The psalmist testifies, “Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path” (Ps. 119:105).

The night may be dark, in this sinful world, and we may at least seem far from our heavenly home, but God Himself will guide us there (Ps. 16:11; 23:4). Sometimes, we may think it would be well if we could see further, and more clearly, into the future, so we’d know what’s coming. But God, in His wisdom, takes us one step at a time, asking us to trust Him for the unknown days ahead.

CH-1) 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.

Newman speaks of a past time in which he had no thought of God directing his life. Back then, he wanted to choose his own path, and he loved the “garish day,” which describes a worldly life, flashy and showy, but not of true worth. Even though he feared for the future, pride ruled his will, and he refused to turn to God.

CH-2) 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!

As noted above, John Newman’s concluding stanza is somewhat vague. (Even he admitted, in later years, that he had no idea what he meant by “angel faces”!) The general idea is that the Lord would lead him safely home.

CH-3) 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!

Hoping to strengthen this thought somewhat, Bickersteth added an additional stanza that says:

CH-4) 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.

1) What might be some of the dangers for us, as Christians, if we knew all the details of the remainder of our lives on earth?

2) What are some of the ways the Lord leads us, in addition to truth received directly from His Word?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


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