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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.

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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.


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14 thoughts on “Hymns We Should Sing More Often: Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah”

  1. All I can say is Jesus, people, relationships should be our focus in the 21st century. Old hymns in old English has little to do with what Jesus calls us to do ……be ministers of reconciliation sharing His grace and forgiveness.

  2. Then their is the risk of the claims made by the wider community that church is boring and are after their money

  3. This hymn is a gem I’ve loved all my life. You’re hitting all my favorites. Keep it up!

  4. Jessica says:

    This is one of my all time favorites! I’m loving this series. Hymns are so rich! Eric and I loved worshiping at URC this past weekend – sad we missed you all! Next time!

  5. Edwin C says:

    If you have ever seen the movie “How Green was my Valley’ (1941) You can hear this song sung in Welsh (multiple times). It’s incredibly beautiful when sung by a large choir of male voices.

  6. Ann Gemmel says:

    Really appreciate you highlighting these hymns Kevin. As a young believer, the doctrine I learned through the richness of hymns such as this strengthened my faith profoundly as a young Christian. This was even part of my repertoire of hymns I sang to my 5 kids when they were infants – now all young adults.
    In the midst of life’s struggles, hymns such as these and their melodies have a true power of being comfort and consolation – massaging biblical truth into my heart and mind!

  7. Reid says:

    Love this post, Kevin. Guide Me has become one of my favorite hymns in recent years as well, after I was introduced to it through Kevin Twit’s ministry in RUF. Jeremy Casella has “retuned” a beautiful version of this hymn that’s featured on one of the Indelible Grace albums. Have you heard it? We sing it in our church now and I’ve heard it sung in others. Video at https://youtu.be/Pyc2SrxWv4Y and link to IG’s resources on this song at http://hymnbook.igracemusic.com/hymns/guide-me-o-thou-great-jehovah

  8. Pierre Queripel says:

    Lovely hymn, but I’ve always wondered what he means by “Hell’s destruction”?

  9. Lee Anne Morris says:

    In Bible Study Fellowship we studied the Life of Moses last year and sang this hymn many times. It is a favorite for many. Thank you for writing this series.

  10. Neville Briggs says:

    Grahame, I think it is plain that the old hymns referenced the language of the Bible. The “King James” Bible that is.

    People in the church were steeped in that language and the message of the Bible, and even the wider community was familiar with at least the sound of the language and some of the passages from the Bible ( Psalm 23 e.g. ) , so these hymns were widely known and appreciated in the west. Now we have a culture that is mostly biblically illiterate, so the hymns mean nothing to the wider populace, even those in the church lack biblical knowledge. I saw a man on a TV quiz, who was a theology student at Oxford University and who couldn’t answer the quiz questions ” who was the mother of Cain and Abel ” and ” who was the son of Elizabeth and Zechariah ” . An Oxford theology student !! So what would to-days people make of ” bread of heaven ” and ‘ verge of Jordan “.
    One of the hardest missionary tasks now, I think is going to be ministry to the western nations because they have lost, or worse, rejected their centuries old connection with the Bible. They are still living on the capital of past knowledge, but that capital is fast being depleted.
    I don’t think that it is necessarily a bad thing for Christians to sing these traditional hymns for their own edification, but to be as you said, ministers of reconciliation outreaching, I think we need to think real hard about how we are going to communicate. I am sure that the Word of God is effective, but perhaps the word of Jacobean literature is not so effective. “

  11. Al DeFilippo says:

    Thank you, Kevin, for the article. These early hymns truly are full of applicable wisdom for today. They are beautifully crafted. So much so, that I incorporated many of them in my recently released book, Black Country. The book details the early life and preaching of a young Francis Asbury while he was still in England. The hymns of Charles Wesley play a large part in Black Country. I would like to invite you to the website for the book series, The Asbury Triptych. On the site, there are numerous articles about these amazing men of God. The website is http://www.francisasburytriptych.com. Again, thank you for the post.

  12. Judy Gates says:

    There are many hymns I do know from growing up in an Assembly of God church. However, some of the very old ones like this one, I am not familiar with. But, during the last 10 years or so, I have bought old hymnals at flea markets, etc. I use them often as a devotional and find them to be so precious. They teach, uplift, bring comfort, point me to the Cross, tell a story…………… Of course, I am 61 years old. Maybe if I was 31 and in this present culture I would not see the that the hymns as a precious treasure. Maybe that is why I love it when a band updates some of the precious hymns. Re-presenting them to the young adults that they can relate to. Thank you for your post.

  13. Phil Allcock says:

    If you watch Wales play rugby at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, you’ll hear 80,000 voices belt this out. The people of Wales may have rejected the gospel by and large, but it shaped much of their culture and boy do they still know how to sing those hymns!

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (PCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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