Back when I was Pastor of the Mordialloc Presbyterian Church, part of our worship each week was to sing three hymns chosen by the Congregation. Our organist was a lovely Christian lady named Gwen who could play most of the hymns in our hymn book on sight, and I knew how to sing most of them, so it worked pretty well. It also meant each week I never had to worry about being told that the Congregation didn’t know the hymns we sang on any given Sunday.
One Sunday before the service I was talking to Ila, who told me that she wanted to sing the hymn with ‘songs of praises’ in it. Somehow or other I worked out that she was referring to ‘Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah’.
Apart from the fact that it is set to the great tune Cwm Rhondda, the words are a magnificent set of biblical theological expressions of faith. The amazing skill with which the experiences of the people of God in the old Covenant are recognised in the life experiences of the people of the new Covenant, and then personalised in expressions of daily faith are beautiful to behold.
As I have mentioned before some contemporary songs seem to be unable to sustain a metaphor from one half of a line to the next, or simply string a few Christian words like ‘blood’, ‘cross’, and ‘veil’ together with no context, and then repeat them a few times.
Here is a song in which the name of Jesus is not mentioned and yet the Gospel is ever present. Bread of heaven, the crystal fountain, the fire and cloudy pillar, the crossing of the Jordan river and entering the promised land, all biblical pictures of the work and person of Jesus. Did I mention the tune is great as well?
Here is a typical version of the words. Wikipedia and Cyberhymnal can provide you with background history on the original Welsh versions and extra verses that have fallen from modern usage. But this is the version I know, so that’s what I’m posting here.
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.
Open now the crystal fountain,
Whence the healing stream doth flow;
Let the fire and cloudy pillar
Lead me all my journey through.
Strong Deliverer, strong Deliverer,
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 deaths, 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.
These days it is impossible to assume that everyone would have heard this hymn, so here’s a genuine Welsh Choir singing it. There are a few lyrical differences, but it’s a room full of singing Welsh people, how can we pass that up? (All the men are even wearing ties.)