Posted by: rcottrill | March 20, 2013

Surely Goodness and Mercy

Words: John Willard Peterson (b. Nov. 1, 1921; d. Sept. 20, 2006); and Alfred Barnerd Smith (b. Nov. 8, 1916; d. Aug. 9, 2001)
Music: John Willard Peterson and Alfred Barnerd Smith

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal (John Peterson)

Note: Mr. Peterson and his friend Alfred Smith worked on both words and music together. The amusing story of how the song came to be created is told in the Wordwise Hymns link. Published in 1958 by Singspiration Incorporated, this is one of many sacred songs that either uses the text of Psalm 23, or a paraphrase of it, or makes definite allusions to it. (The Cyber Hymnal lists about three dozen here.)

The shepherd care of the Lord assures us of rich nourishment, wise guidance, and strong protection–each of which is included in the passage.

It should be noted, however, that what David describes in this beautiful psalm is meant for those who have a personal relationship with the Shepherd, those who can say with confident faith, “The LORD [Jehovah God] is my shepherd” (vs. 1). To paraphrase, “Because the Lord God is my own Shepherd, and I’m one of His sheep, I’m sure that He’ll supply whatever I need” (cf. Jn. 10:14; I Pet. 2:25).

“You will guide me with Your counsel, and afterward receive me to glory,” says another psalmist (Ps. 73:24), a statement which seems to encapsulate the twenty-third from beginning to end. The guiding hand of God upon the lives of weak and vulnerable believers is a frequent theme of Scripture:

“He will feed His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those who are with young” (Isa. 40:11).

“I will bring the blind by a way they did not know; I will lead them in paths they have not known. I will make darkness light before them, and crooked places straight. These things I will do for them, and not forsake them” (Isa. 42:16).

Commentators have noted the thematic association of Psalms 22 to 24. They can be symbolized by the cross, the shepherd’s crook, and the crown.

¤ In Psalm 22 we have the hill of Calvary represented, with words that prophetically point to the cross (e.g. vs. 1, 6-8, 14, 16-18).

¤ In Psalm 24 the hill of Zion is represented with words (vs. 7-10) that can be applied to the triumphal ascension of Christ, after his resurrection, to the heavenly Zion (cf. Heb. 12:22), or His return to rule and reign upon the throne of David.

¤ In Psalm 23, and in between these two hills lies a transient valley of shade (Psalm 23:4; cf. Job 10:21-22). But in company with our all-sufficient Shepherd, we need have no fear of the journey.

Beyond the last dark valley lies the peace and safety, the joy and blessing of the Father’s home (Ps. 23:6; cf. 49:15; Rev. 15-17).

3) When I walk through the dark lonesome valley,
My Saviour will walk with me there;
And safely His great hand will lead me
To the mansions He’s gone to prepare.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days, all the days of my life;
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days, all the days of my life.
And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever,
And I shall feast at the table spread for me;
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days, all the days of my life.

1) What part of Psalm 23 has been a special blessing to you?

2) What other hymn(s) based on this psalm has/have you and your church found to be a blessing?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal (John Peterson)


  1. Thank you for the information about the chorus For “God So Loved the World that he gave his only Son.” That was a little chorus that we sang in my home church when I was growing up. I couldn’t remember the last line, so thank you.

    • You’re welcome, Sharon. Not only do I remember singing the chorus when I was a boy, we still sing it from time to time in our worship services. God bless.

  2. […] Read more about “Surely Goodness and Mercy.” […]

  3. This song has been a blessing to me so often. The Lord put it in my heart as I was waking up this morning. Thank you for writing the blog for all of us to be reminded of the Shepherd’s going before us and watching over us all the days of our lives. We are blessed by Him through this song!

    • Thanks for your comments. Psalm 23 continues to be a great blessing to us all. Sheep tend to wander off into danger (Isa. 53:6). We need to stay close to our Shepherd.


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