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Words: Psalm 23, from the Scottish Psalter of 1650
Music: Crimond, by Jessie Seymour Irvine (b. June 26, 1836; d. Sept. 2, 1887)
Note: The metrical version of Psalm 23 in the Psalter follows the King James Version very closely. The full title of the Scottish Psalter in which it was found was: The Psalms of David in Meeter: Newly translated and diligently compared with the original Text, and former Translations: More plaine, smooth and agreeable to the Text, than any heretofore. (Yes, that was the original title of the book!)
Sometimes, it takes a great deal of time, for a hymn to become popular. This is the story of a famous text, a famous tune, a famous choir, and two newsworthy events, that brought a hymn into our modern hymn books.
Psalm 23, referred to as the Shepherd Psalm is, without doubt, the best known of the Psalms, and one of the most familiar passages in all the Bible–perhaps rivalled only by the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9-13). And that popularity is not really surprising, given its encouraging message.
David, the psalmist, could write with authority about the work of a shepherd, since that was his early occupation. He used his knowledge to picture the shepherd care of the Lord for His children. How encouraging to know that “the Lord is my Shepherd” (Ps. 23:1), and that He guides, protects, and provides spiritual nourishment for His sheep. Those truths have blessed millions.
The care of the Shepherd even extends to “the valley of the shadow of death” (vs. 4). We can be assured that He will take us safely through to our heavenly home (vs. 6). It is perhaps because of this reference that the song is often used at funeral services. But it would be sad if it were to be relegated only to that. It is a hymn for all occasions.
The Psalter’s editors produced their rendering of Psalm 23 by picking and choosing from seven versions and translations available to them, beginning with one from 1564. The result was an excellent versified version of the psalm for the English-speaking church. The fact that their rendering of Psalm 23 is still in common use three-and-a-half centuries later is a testament to their skill.
CH-1) The Lord’s my Shepherd, I’ll not want.
He makes me down to lie
In pastures green; He leadeth me
The quiet waters by.
CH-2) My soul He doth restore again;
And me to walk doth make
Within the paths of righteousness,
E’en for His own name’s sake.
The tune frequently employed today is of more recent origin–and its history is not entirely clear. Jesse Seymour Irvine (1836-1887) was the daughter of a pastor who served several churches in Scotland. The last of his appointments was to a church in the town of Crimond, in the northeastern part of Aberdeenshire. It was there that Jesse Irvine apparently wrote the melody now associated with the hymn, naming it after the town–Crimond.
However, Jesse knew little or nothing about music theory, so she forwarded her tune to David Grant, the proprietor of a tobacco shop in Aberdeen. In his spare time Grant harmonized music, and he did that for Miss Irvine’s tune. Today, there is some uncertainty as to whether he created the whole tune, but Jesse’s sister insisted she wrote the original melody in 1871.
Miss Irvine’s tune was not, at first, associated with The Lord’s My Shepherd. It was just another of many melodies known and used in the late nineteenth century church. But composer and master choral conductor, Sir Hugh Roberton brought the two together. In 1906, he took the leadership of a choir founded five years before. For nearly half a century to follow, until his retirement, he made the Glasgow Orpheus Choir the most famous singing group in the world, and one of the best. Roberton was a perfectionist, and the recordings made by the choir show it. Many directors later copied his techniques.
It was Roberton who combined the version of Psalm 23 found in the Scottish Psalter with the tune Crimond, and the choir sang it frequently on radio programs broadcast across Britain. But it was two particular events that sealed the fame of the pairing: the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip, in 1947, and the Silver Anniversary celebration, a year later, of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. The song was sung on both occasions and has been much used ever since.
1) What, to you, is the most wonderful truth found in Psalm 23?
2) Which of the many hymns based on Psalm 23, or inspired by it, is your favourite?