Posted by: rcottrill | March 28, 2018

Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah

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Words: William Williams (b. Feb. 11, 1717; d. Jan. 11:1791)
Music: Cwm Rhondda, by John Hughes (b. Nov. 22, 1873; d. May 14, 1932)

Wordwise Hymns (for another article see here)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Some hymnals change the first line (and amend the title) to “Guide me O Thou great Redeemer.”

William Williams was a remarkable man. Early on, he studied medicine, intending to become a doctor. But one Sunday morning, as he was returning home from college, he noticed how a group of believers gathered in a church cemetery as if they were waiting for someone. Soon an evangelist named Howell Harris joined them. He leaped up on a flat tombstone and started to preach.

While the services in the church nearby were formal and cold, there was none of that with Harris. Like John the Baptist, with fiery oratory he called upon the people to repent of their sins and be saved. The message struck home. Williams’ biographer says, “His convictions of sin were deep and alarming, but his subsequent joy proportionately high.” William Williams put his faith in Christ that day, and instead of becoming a physician, set a new course as an evangelist.

He traveled the length and breadth of Wales, over two thousand miles a year, on foot and on horseback, preaching the gospel, and he did that for nearly fifty years. It was Howell Harris who challenged him to write hymns, and he did that too, authoring more than eight hundred of them and becoming known as the Isaac Watts of Wales.

Someone has said a hymn is like a singing angel that goes walking through the earth, scattering devils before it. That could describe William Williams, with his preaching and his songs.

The Guiding Light holds the record of being the longest running soap opera ever. It began on the radio in 1937, and came to television twenty years later, where it ran for fifty-seven years.

In the story, widowed pastor John Ruthledge served at a non-denominational church in a fictional mid-western town. The “guiding light” referred to a lamp in his study which always remained lit, as a symbol of the church’s welcome to anyone in need.

To “guide” is to lead or direct movement in some way. There is also a hint of protection in the word. Guides are employed to direct others in a safe path. Explorers and hunters, as well as vacationers traveling through a wilderness area often employ a guide.

During the forty years that the people of Israel wandered in the wilderness, God revealed His presence among them with a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night (Exod. 13:21-22). The movement of that pillar (in other words, of the Lord Himself), directed them through all the years of their journeying (Exod. 40:38).

In 1745, William Williams wrote a great hymn that uses Israel’s wilderness journey as a picture of the Christian’s spiritual pilgrimage through this life. (And, incidentally, if you want to hear this hymn sung with the vigour I believe it merits, check out the YouTube link in the first Wordwise Hymns link.) The hymn begins:

CH-1) Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah,
Pilgrim through this barren land.
I am weak, but Thou art mighty;
Hold me with Thy powerful hand.
Bread of heaven, Bread of heaven,
Feed me till I want no more;
Feed me till I want no more.

In New Testament terms, it’s the Lord Jesus Christ who is our Guide. He came, “To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Lk. 1:79). He said of Himself, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (Jn. 8:12). The light of the gospel is the message of forgiveness of sins, and eternal life, through faith in Christ (Jn. 3:16).

The last stanza of this wonderful hymn is often omitted from our hymnals. It provides a fitting close to a life well lived.

CH-5) Musing on my habitation,
Musing on my heav’nly home,
Fills my soul with holy longings:
Come, my Jesus, quickly come;
Vanity is all I see;
Lord, I long to be with Thee!
Lord, I long to be with Thee!

1) Several hymns make use of the Israelites journey through the wilderness as a picture of the Christian life (Fanny Crosby’s All the Way My Saviour Leads Me is another). What are some instructive parallels in this comparison?

2) Other that God’s Word, what are some things the Lord uses to guide us?

Wordwise Hymns (for another article see here)
The Cyber Hymnal


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