This is part of an intermittent series I’ve called “Hymns We Should Sing More Often.” The aim is to remind us (or introduce for the first time) excellent hymns that are probably not included in most church’s musical canon. A few hymns–like Holy, Holy, Holy or Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing—are familiar to many congregations and get sung in conferences and other large gatherings. Unfortunately, for a growing number of churches, there are no hymnals in the pews (or on the chairs), and consequently there is little opportunity to draw from the deep well of Christian hymnody. Most of the hymns in this series are not unfamiliar, just underutilized. I hope you will enjoy learning about these hymns as much as I have and enjoy singing them even more.
William Williams (1717-1791) came to Christ through the evangelistic preaching of a man named Howell Harris in Wales at the same time that John Wesley and George Whitefield were leading revivals in England. After serving two local parishes in the Anglican church, Williams himself felt the call to become a traveling evangelist. He devoted the next 43 years of his life to minister to his home country of Wales on horseback (traveling almost 100,000 miles) preaching and singing Christ. He wrote approximately 800 hymns in Welsh, and was known as the “sweet singer of Wales.”
“Guide Me, O My Great Jehovah” is Williams’ most famous hymn. It compares the life of the believer with that of the Israelites during their 40 year wilderness wanderings in the “barren land”, and makes illusions to manna (“bread of heaven”), the crystal fountain, the fire and cloudy pillar, the Jordan River, and crossing over to Canaan’s side.
The most familiar musical setting of “Guide Me” was written by the Welsh composer John Hughes in 1907. The tune (known as CWM RHONDDA) was written for a Baptist singing festival at Capel Rhondda, in Pontypridd, Wales. The English translation of the Welsh text was done by Peter Williams in 1771.
Guide me, O thou great Jehovah, pilgrim through this barren land;
I am weak, but thou art mighty; hold me with thy pow’rful hand;
Bread of heaven, Bread of heaven, feed me till I want no more, feed me till I want no more.
Open now the crystal fountain, whence the healing stream doth flow;
let the fire and cloudy pillar lead me all my journey through;
strong Deliv’rer, strong Deliv’rer, be thou still my strength and shield, be thou still my strength and shield.
When I tread the verge of Jordan, bid my anxious fears subside;
Death of death, and hell’s Destruction, land me safe on Canaan’s side;
songs of praises, songs of praises I will ever give to thee, I will ever give to thee.