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Words: Emily Divine Wilson (b. May 24, 1865; d. June 23, 1942)
Music: Emily Divine Wilson
Note: Emily Divine married John G. Wilson, a Methodist clergyman. She and her husband frequently attended the camp meetings at Ocean Grove, New Jersey. He also served as District Superintendent of the Philadelphia Conference of the Methodist Church, and ministered at Wharton Memorial Methodist Church, in Philadelphia. Mrs. Wilson had a gift both for music and for drama. She got to know Eliza Hewitt at the camp meetings, and the two women combined to give us the gospel song When We All Get to Heaven, with Wilson providing the tune.
I Will Pilot Thee, a beautiful song from 1927, is one of many that uses a nautical theme. This is surely understandable, particularly in the days before airplanes. Ships were the means of intercontinental travel, and the voyages were often fraught with danger. For poets and hymn writers, stormy seas easily became an analogy for the storms of life, the trials we face on our pilgrimage. You can see a list of over a hundred hymns using that theme on the Cyber Hymnal, here.
1) Sometimes, when my faith would falter
And no sunlight I can see,
I just lift mine eyes to Jesus
And I whisper, “Pilot me.”
“Fear thou not for I’ll be with thee,
I will still thy pilot be;
Never mind the tossing billows,
Take my hand and trust in Me.”
2) Often, when my soul is weary
And the days seem, oh, so long,
I just look up to my Pilot
And I hear this blessed song:
Checking the dictionary definition of the word “pilot,” I noticed a repeated expression. He or she is: a person who is qualified to steer or guide a ship or a plane. Qualified. We have right to expect that the one taking us to our destination has the proper knowledge and skill to do so safely and efficiently.
In the spiritual realm, we also need someone who can lead and guide us safely, someone who’s qualified to do so. The Bible makes it clear that the Lord is infinitely able to do that. “He leads me,” says the psalmist twice, in Psalm 23 (vs 2-3). And He can do things an ordinary human pilot cannot. He is the sovereign Ruler of life’s storms. Nothing happens that is beyond His control. “Even the wind and the sea obey Him” (Mk. 4:41).
3) When temptations ’round me gather
And I almost lose my way,
Somehow, in the raving tempest,
I can hear my Saviour say,
Little wonder that the people of God appeal to Him for guidance. The psalmist David prays, “Teach me to do Your will, for You are my God; Your Spirit is good. Lead me in the land of uprightness [i.e. on to smooth ground]” (Ps. 143:10). And the Lord promises, in another place, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go” (Ps. 32:8).
Perhaps, in the hymn writer’s mind, was the time when the disciples were caught in a storm, and Christ came to them, walking on the sea (Matt. 14:24-25). Inspired by that amazing miracle, brash Peter asked if the Lord would allow him to walk on the sea too, and Christ said, “Come” (vs. 28-29). “But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, ‘Lord, save me!’ And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’” (vs. 30-31).
We too are prone to doubt, as we see a stormy sea of trouble rising around us. But as we study the Word of God, we see what the Lord has done for His people, down the centuries. In the light of these things, our faith in Him can grow. But, in our weak humanity, we’re prone to get our eyes off the Lord and on the threatening waves. So many times we have “little faith.” It’s then the Lord can use the message of hymns such as this to encourage us to look, once again, to our abundantly able Pilot. He is not only sufficient for today, but for the day when we face eternity.
4) When I come to Jordan’s river
And its troubled waters see,
On the brink I’ll see my Saviour,
And I know He’ll pilot me.
1) What are some helpful comparisons between storms at sea and the storms of life?
2) Can you think of other hymns and gospel songs on this theme that you know and love?