Posted by: rcottrill | August 29, 2012

Shepherd of Tender Youth

Words: Titus Flavius Clemens, called Clement of Alexandria (b. circa 170; d. circa 220)
Music: Italian Hymn, by Felice de Giardini (b. Apr. 12, 1716; d. June 8:1796)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: This hymn’s title, and its first line, are sometimes rendered Shepherd of Eager Youth. Clement produced the original around A.D. 200, making it the earliest hymn we have from the post-apostolic era. Henry Dexter (1821-1890) made a literal translation of Clement’s work, then versified his English translation. The Cyber Hymnal lists a number of tunes used with the hymn, including Italian Hymn, to which we also sing, Come, Thou Almighty King. The original of Clement’s work said, in part:

Shepherd of royal lambs
Assemble Thy simple children
To praise holily, to hymn guilelessly
With innocent mouths.

Titus Flavius Clemens (Clement) was a convert from paganism. Ordained a presbyter, he became head of the catechetical school of Alexandria. Origen was one of his pupils. The hymn, entitled “Hymn of the Saviour Christ,” appears at the end of his book The Tutor. Though it is often found in our hymnals under “Children’s Hymns,” the song was written to instruct new converts, who perhaps were not all preteens. It does, however, make a fine hymn for children.

CH-1) Shepherd of tender youth, guiding in love and truth
Through devious ways; Christ our triumphant King,
We come Thy name to sing and here our children bring
To join Thy praise.

Clement reported vividly of the hymn singing of the early church, showing just how much sacred music played a part in not only the formal worship but the daily lives of Christians at that time.

“We cultivate our fields, praising; we sail the sea, hymning….[The believer’s] whole life is a holy festival. His sacrifices are prayers and praises, and Scripture readings before meals, psalms and hymns during meals and before bed, and prayer again during night. By these he unites himself to the heavenly choir.”

The present hymn centres on the Lord Jesus Christ, and His work on our behalf in the past (at Calvary), and the present (cf. Eph. 5:25-27). On the cross, the Lord Jesus willingly humbled Himself to pay the debt of our sin.

CH-2) Thou art our holy Lord, O all subduing Word,
Healer of strife. Thou didst Thyself abase
That from sin’s deep disgrace Thou mightest save our race
And give us life.

Now, Christ is our “great High Priest” at the Father’s right hand (Heb. 4:14-16), there to intercede for us (Heb. 7:25), and serve as our heavenly Advocate (I Jn. 2:1-2).

CH-3) Thou art the great High Priest; Thou hast prepared the feast
Of heavenly love; while in our mortal pain,
None calls on Thee in vain; help Thou dost not disdain,
Help from above.

In addition, Christ is ever-present with us (Matt. 28:20), guiding and directing us as our loving Shepherd (Ps. 23:1-6).

CH-4) Ever be Thou our Guide, our Shepherd and our Pride,
Our Staff and Song; Jesus, Thou Christ of God,
By Thine eternal Word lead us where Thou hast trod,
Make our faith strong.

1) What are some of the Bible truths in this hymn that it would be important to teach our children?

2) How many times can you recall hearing (or preaching yourself) a message on the present ministries of Christ?

3) Take another look at what Clement said about the hymn singing of his day. Do we come anywhere near this now? Why? (Or why not?)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


  1. Thank you for the very interesting information! We sang this hymn today from the LSB. One of my parisheners asked why the word “devious” is used, because it has a negative ring to it, at least here with us in South Africa! Would love to hear from you! Rergads in Christ, Ps Kurt Schnackenberg, South Africa.

    • Interesting question. And you’re right, of course. “Devious” sometimes does have a connotation of something that is deceitful and underhanded. However, it has other meanings too. Henry Dexter did the English translation in 1846, and I rather think he had something else in mind.

      The dictionary suggests these more likely possibilities: rambling, round-about, out of the way, off the main road. (From the Latin de via, from the way–just as we have off-road races in which the vehicles follow rough and difficult trails to reach the finish line.)

      The hymn isn’t saying the pilgrims are devious in character, but rather that their journey to the heavenly kingdom is bound to follow a difficult and dangerous route at times. Keep in mind that Clement likely wrote this hymn during the persecutions of Septimus Severus, when conversion to Christ was forbidden.

      I’m reminded of some words of the Apostle Paul’s. During his visit to Lystra, he told the believers, “We must through many tribulations [hardships and afflictions] enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). In other words, the road to heaven for the Christian pilgrim is not guaranteed to be a smooth and easy one. That’s more likely what the hymn is referring to. Hope that’s a bit of help. God bless.

      • Thank you so much for coming back! Soon after I wrote the comment/question I realised that it depends on how one takes “through” devious ways, whether “by means of” or “taking us through difficult times”. We took it as “by means of” but clearly in that context it is as you also said “leading us through devious ways”. Ps 23 probably comes through here with “through the valley of shadow of death”. For me this is an early witness that the theology of the cross was alive and well at that time, as you pointed out with all the persecutions etc going on.
        Thank you for providing this website, for giving some solid detailed information. Henceforth I will definitely sing this hymn with a lot more respect and attention!
        Regards in Christ,


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