Posted by: rcottrill | September 28, 2012

Jesus, Saviour, Pilot Me

Words: Edward Hopper (b. Feb. 17, 1816; d. Apr. 23, 1888)
Music: Pilot, by John Edgar Gould (b. Apr. 9, 1821; Mar. 4, 1875)


Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: There is a touching story on the Cyber Hymnal of how this beautiful song was used to bring a dying soldier to faith in Christ. Mr. Hopper wrote six stanzas, but only three of them are generally used for the hymn (CH-1, 5, and 6). One of the others, however, is worthy of note. It makes the point that even when we have smooth sailing for a time, in life, we still need Christ, our Pilot. (“Halcyon,” pronounced HAL-see-un, means peaceful, quiet.)

CH-3) Though the sea be smooth and bright,
Sparkling with the stars of night,
And my ship’s path be ablaze
With the light of halcyon days,
Still I know my need of Thee;
Jesus, Saviour, pilot me.

Well educated though he was, Dr. Hopper was a humble man, preferring to stay in the background. He felt the call of God to minister to sailors in New York City, where he had been born. There, he served as pastor of the Church of Sea and Land for eighteen years, preaching the gospel to the men who came and went in that busy sea port. His hymn was published anonymously in 1871. It wasn’t until years later that it came out that he’d written it.

Pastor Hopper’s preaching, like his hymn, was couched in language the sailors could understand. Every seasoned sailor knew what it was to face the peril of a storm and sea, and the hymn helped them to apply that imagery to their lives. The song is based on a couple of incidents recorded in the Gospels (Matt. 8:23-27; 14:22-33). The former passage says:

“Now when He got into a boat, His disciples followed Him. And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with the waves. But He was asleep. Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We are perishing!’ But He said to them, ‘Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?’ Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. So the men marveled, saying, ‘Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?’”

To this we can add the assurance of the Lord’s presence with His children now, in His final promise given in Matthew’s Gospel, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). That’s similar to the pledge made to the nation of Israel, centuries before.

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Isa. 41:10).

How wonderful to know that we have, in our ship of life, a Pilot who is sovereign over the tempests and well able to guide us safely to our final harbour!

CH-1) Jesus, Saviour, pilot me
Over life’s tempestuous sea;
Unknown waves before me roll,
Hiding rock and treacherous shoal.
Chart and compass come from Thee;
Jesus, Saviour, pilot me.

Pastor Hopper suffered from heart trouble, and he died suddenly, while seated in his study, writing some lines about heaven. With that he reached the land of “peaceful rest” the last stanza of the present song speaks of. And the experience of John Gould, the composer of the hymn tune, provides an interesting parallel. He was about to embark on a voyage for his health’s sake. His wife said he sat at the piano and played his tune, Pilot, the evening before. He died in Africa shortly after.

CH-6) When at last I near the shore,
And the fearful breakers roar
’Twixt me and the peaceful rest,
Then, while leaning on Thy breast,
May I hear Thee say to me,
“Fear not, I will pilot thee.”

1) What parallels can you think of between a sea voyage and the voyage of life?

2) What other hymns do you know that make effective use of the seagoing image? (If you need help, the Cyber Hymnal lists ninety-nine of them in the Topical section, under “Nautical Hymns.”)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


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