Posted by: rcottrill | June 10, 2015

Holy Spirit, Faithful Guide

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Words: Marcus Morris Wells (b. Oct. 20, 1815; d. July 17, 1895)
Music: Marcus Morris Wells

Wordwise Hymns (none)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: The Cyber Hymnal gives the author’s middle name as McKibben. Others have Morris. Little else is known of the man, except that this hymn, published in 1858, germinated in an unusual place, as you’ll see.

What kind of things go through your mind at idle moments? Or when you’re doing repetitive tasks that require little concentration? Long ago, I worked for a couple of years as the custodian of a large church. It doesn’t take much brain power to vacuum what seemed like miles of carpet! So during that time I thought through a detailed study of Christian discipleship. It’s material I’m still using.

Some of our hymns were written at odd moments too. The Solid Rock (“My hope is built on nothing less…”) was written by a carpenter on his way to work. Precious Promise was written by a man while he was commuting to his job on the train. Rock of Ages was created when a man, out for a walk, had to take shelter from a storm in a rocky crevice. He wrote the first part of it on the back of a playing card he spotted on the path.

The hymn we’ll consider today was written by a farmer named Marcus Wells. He says, “On a Saturday afternoon in October, 1858, while at work in my cornfield near Hardwick, New York, the sentiment of this hymn came to me. The next day [a rainy one], I finished the hymn and wrote a tune for it.”

The hymn is called Holy Spirit, Faithful Guide. If we read between the lines a bit, it sounds as though it concerns a child of God who is concerned to follow the right path in life, and perhaps has strayed, from time to time. While there is not a great depth of Bible truth in the song, it has a warmth of devotion that is compelling.

In the New Testament, the Spirit of God is spoken of as a guide a number of times. Even Christ, in the days of His earthly life, was led by the Spirit (Matt. 4:1). Speaking of the coming Day of Pentecost, Jesus said, “When He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth” (Jn. 16:13). “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things” (Jn. 14:26).

This alerts us to the fact that the Spirit’s guidance is closely associated with revealed truth, the truth of God’s holy Word. It’s not a matter of intuitively pulling ideas out of thin are. The Lord wants us to learn what we need to know from the Bible, in order to live lives pleasing to Him (II Tim. 3:16-17). Those who are children of God, through faith in Christ, are characteristically led by the Holy Spirit. (Rom. 8:14).

He revealed the Bible’s truth to its authors in the first place. “Holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (II Pet. 1:21). Then, as He speaks to us, through God’s Word, we learn the things we need to know to live fulfilling lives pleasing to God. “God has revealed them to us through His Spirit” (I Cor. 2:10). In all of life, the Holy Spirit is our Guide.

As we meditate on the Word of God, we learn to see all of life from God’s point of view. We are “transformed by the renewing of [our] mind” (Rom. 12:2). And as we memorize the Scriptures, we are able to make informed moral decisions day by day, choosing the right, and shunning the wrong. As the psalmist put it, “Your word have I hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You….the entrance of your words gives light” (Ps. 119:11, 130).

That’s the essential message of Marcus Wells’s hymn.

CH-1) Holy Spirit, faithful guide, ever near the Christian’s side;
Gently lead us by the hand, pilgrims in a desert land.
Weary souls fore’er rejoice, while they hear that sweetest voice,
Whispering softly, “Wanderer, come, follow Me, I’ll guide thee home.”

CH-2) Ever present, truest Friend, ever near Thine aid to lend,
Leave us not to doubt and fear, groping on in darkness drear.
When the storms are raging sore, hearts grow faint and hopes give o’er.
Whispering softly, “Wanderer, come, follow Me, I’ll guide thee home.”

CH-3) When our days of toil cease, waiting still for sweet release,
Nothing left but heaven and prayer, wondering if our names are there;
Wading deep the dismal flood, pleading naught but Jesus’ blood,
Whispering softly, “Wanderer, come, follow Me, I’ll guide thee home.”

The second line of CH-3 leaves us with doubts that are unnecessary. “Wondering if our names are there”? That is, whether they’re recorded in the Lamb’s Book of Life (Rev. 20:15; 21:27). Perhaps the author is speaking of moments of doubt that may come in times of depression or illness. But biblically the Christian has no reason to “wonder.”

“For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom. 8:15-16).

Perhaps the line should read, “joyful that our names are there.” For further information on assurance, see my article: Assurance of Salvation.

1) What other ministries does the Holy Spirit have in the lives of believers?

2) What other hymns about the person and work of the Holy Spirit do you know and use?

Wordwise Hymns (none)
The Cyber Hymnal


  1. Re: the hymn, “Holy Spirit, Faithful Guide”: The words that you have in your article are, according to my research, the original ones. But I see that you have the same problem as I do with the line in verse 3 that says, “Wondering if our names are there.” I have found another version in the words-only version of a hymnal entitled Sing Your Way Home”. This is a collection of hymns chosen to be sung in nursing homes, retirement communities, etc. The words there have been changed to “Knowing that our names are there.” Obviously someone else had a similar concern and made the change. The original words are unfortunately still in the music version of the hymnal, but the ones that the people get to sing (that is, from the words-only version) are the replacement ones, a great improvement.

    • Thanks for your comments. Yes, “Knowing that our names are there” is better. Even, “Trusting that our names are there mighty be okay.” Our hymns are not infallibly inspired by the Spirit of God as the Bible is. They are human creations that attempt to convey the message of God’s Word, usually in a kind of poetic paraphrase. For that reason we have to be on our guard for things that conflict with what God has said. If I were a service leader and wanted to use this hymn, I’d either omit the stanza, or tell the congregation to substitute another word (such as “knowing”) when we come to it.


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