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Words: John Newton (b. July 24, 1725; d. Dec. 21, 1807)
Music: Mainzer, by Joseph Mainzer (b. Oct. 21, 1801; d. Nov. 10, 1851)
Note: The early history of John Newton as a profane slave trader, his conversion to Christ, and subsequent pastoral ministry are among the better known stories in our hymnody. That he is the author of many hymns, including the best known of all, Amazing Grace, is also familiar. But for some reason this lovely little 1779 hymn, only twelve lines long, is not well known and seldom published. Even Hymnary.org, that sometimes gives dozens of books where a hymn is found, this time has none. However it is found in Choice Hymns of the Faith (1946), and in The Believers Hymn Book, used for years by Brethren assemblies,
I encourage you to retrieve and use Newton’s hymn. It is a gem, and deserves wide use–perhaps at the beginning of a prayer meeting, or a worship service. The song is in the public domain, so can be copied freely. The Cyber Hymnal will play the tune for you, and give you a printable copy of it. The words could be printed in the church bulletin.
CH-1) Great Shepherd of Thy chosen flock,
Thy people’s shield, their shadowing rock,
Once more we meet to hear Thy voice,
Once more before Thee to rejoice.
Shepherd imagery is used of the Lord in both the Old Testament and the New (cf. Ps. 23:1-2; Isa. 40:11; Jn. 10:11; I Pet. 2:25). The Lord Jesus Christ is referred to as “that great Shepherd of the sheep” in Hebrews 13:20, and we are His chosen ones, His flock (cf. I Pet. 5:2). We are”chosen by God and precious [to Him]” (I Pet. 2:4). Because of that, believers can be assured that our Shepherd will care for us in all circumstances.
The shield is suggestive of a battle. Many times in the Psalms, God is praised as the believer’s Shield (e.g. Ps. 3:3; 5:12; 18:2, 30; 28:7). Satan, the enemy of our souls, seeks to do us harm. To stand against “the wiles of the devil” we need “the whole armour of God” (Eph. 6:11), including “the shield of [the] faith” (vs. 16).
The “shadowing Rock” pictures a cool and refreshing place of shelter in a barren land. This poetic image was especially meaningful to those in Bible times who had to travel, often on foot, through areas of barren wilderness. Finding temporary shade beneath a great rocky prominence was a wonderful blessing. “Nor is there any rock like our God” (I Sam. 2:2). How wonderful that we can find refuge in the Lord. He is like “the shadow of a great rock in a weary land” (Isa. 32:2).
We gather with God’s people to hear His voice, through the Scriptures (cf. II Cor. 1:19; Col. 1:28; II Tim. 4:2), and to rejoice in Him with prayers (cf. Rom. 15:30; I Cor. 14:15; I Tim. 2:1, 8) and songs of praise (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16; Jas. 5:13).
CH-2) Now may Thy Spirit, by the Word,
Refresh each wearied heart, O Lord,
Wearied of earth’s vain strife and woe,
And longing more Thyself to know.
We sometimes grow weary on the journey of life, not just in body, but weary of heart and soul, weary of the conflict and sorrows around us. We can’t insist on quick answers to all our problems but, as we walk with the Lord, we come to realize that more lasting answers are found in a deepening relationship with Him, and we long to know more of Him, through His Spirit-inspired Word. As the psalmist puts it, “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God” (Ps. 42:1).
CH-3) Thine is the heart our griefs to feel,
And Thine the love each wound to heal;
Home Thou art gone for us to care,
Returning soon to take us there.
Christ is our “great High Priest” in heaven, and He sympathizes with us in our weaknesses. We can be assured of His touch of power, as we seek fresh mercy and grace from Him (Heb. 4:14-16). One of the things He is doing presently in heaven is preparing a place for His own, so we can dwell with Him eternally. One day soon He’s coming back to take us to our eternal home.
“In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (Jn. 14:2-3).
1) What are some reasons hymns and gospel songs remain popular, though weak? And why do some great hymns fall by the wayside?
2) What does a congregation lose when leadership casts aside our treasury of great hymns and abandons the hymn book?