1 Guide me, O my great Redeemer,
pilgrim through this barren land;
I am weak, but you are mighty;
hold me with your powerful hand.
Bread of heaven, bread of heaven,
feed me now and evermore,
feed me now and evermore.
2 Open now the crystal fountain,
where the healing waters flow.
Let the fire and cloudy pillar
lead me all my journey through.
Strong Deliverer, strong Deliverer,
ever be my strength and shield,
ever be my strength and shield.
3 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 sing to you,
I will ever sing to you.
Psalter Hymnal, (Gray)
|First Line:||Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah|
|Welsh Title:||Arglwydd arwain trwy'r anialwch|
|Author:||William Williams (1745)|
|Translator:||Peter Williams (1771)|
st. 1 = Ps. 48:14, Ps. 73:23-24, John 6:31-35, Ex. 16:4
st. 2 = Ex. 13:21-22, Ps. 28:7
The great circuit-riding preacher/poet William Williams (b. Cefn-y-Coed, Carmarthenshire, Wales, 1717; d. Pantycelyn, Carmarthenshire, 1791) wrote the original Welsh text "Arglwydd, arwain trwy'r anialwch"–"Lord, Lead Me Through the Wilderness." It was published in his Alleluia (1745) and in his Caniadau (1762) with the title, "A prayer for strength to go through the wilderness of the world." Translated into some seventy-five languages, Williams's text has become universally popular in Christendom (and with the tune CWM RHONDDA, a favorite at Welsh rugby matches).
The English translation by Peter Williams (b. Llansadurnin, Carmarthanshire, Wales, 1722; d. Llandyfeilog, Wales, 1796), which began "Guide me, O thou great Jehovah," was published in his Hymns on Various Subjects (1771). That first stanza is still in use, but the remaining stanzas come from William Williams's own translation, which he prepared for The Collection of Hymns Sung in the Countess of Huntingdon’s Chapels (1771).
Pilgrimage is a much-used metaphor in Williams's texts. "Guide Me, O My Great Redeemer" draws on images from the Exodus story in the Old Testament: "bread of heaven" (Ex. 16), "crystal fountain" (Ex. 17), "fire and cloudy pillar" (Ex. 13:21-22). But the New Testament, Christocentric focus of the text is equally clear in the repeated final line of each stanza: Jesus is the "bread of heaven" (or "bread of life," (John 6), the "rock" who is our "strength and shield" (1 Cor. 10:4), and the victor over "death … and hell's destruction" (Rev. 1:18). Thus the change from the original “Jehovah” of the first line to "Redeemer" makes eminent sense.
William Williams and Peter Williams were contemporaries with a similar background. William Williams is usually considered to be the greatest Welsh hymn writer of the eighteenth century. He had begun to prepare himself for a medical profession, but the course of his life was altered when he was influenced by the ministry of Howell Harris, an evangelist associated with George Whitefield. Williams began to study for the ministry and in 1740 was ordained a deacon in the Church of England. After being refused ordination as a priest because of his evangelical beliefs, he joined the Calvinist Methodists in 1744. He became an itinerant evangelist and for the next forty-five years served as a leading figure in the revival movement in Wales. Williams's evangelistic preaching was greatly aided by his hymns, which were sung with great enthusiasm at revival and "society" meetings. Known as the "sweet singer of Wales," he wrote about eight hundred hymn texts in Welsh and over one hundred in English. They were published in Alleluia (1744), Hosanna I Fab Dafydd (1754), Hosanna to the Son of David (1759), Y Moro Wydr (1762), and Gloria in Excelsis (1771).
Peter Williams was converted to Christianity by the preaching of George Whitefield and was ordained in the Church of England in 1744. His evangelical convictions soon made him suspect, however, and he left the state church to join the Calvinist Methodists in 1746. He served as an itinerant preacher for many years and was a primary figure in the Welsh revival of the eighteenth century. After being expelled by the Methodists in 1791 on a charge of heresy, he ministered in his own chapel during the last years of his life. He published the first Welsh Bible commentary (1767-1770) and a Bible concordance (1773); he was also one of the annotators for John Canne's Welsh Bible (1790). In addition Williams published a Welsh hymnal, Rhai Hymnau ac Odlau Ysbrydol (1759), as well as Hymns on Various Subjects (1771).
As a hymn of pilgrimage and prayer for divine providence; for various services and occasions on the Christian journey, including Old/New Year and the Easter season (given its Exodus theme).
--Psalter Hymnal Handbook, 1998
Arglwydd arwain trwy'r anialwch. W. Williams. [Strength to pass through the Wilderness.] This was published in the firstedition of the author's Alleluia , Bristol, 1745, in 5 stanzas of 6 lines.
The first translation of a part of this hymn into English was by Peter Williams, in his Hymns on Various Subjects (vii.), Together with The Novice Instructed: Being an abstract of a letter written to a Friend. By the Rev. P. Williams, Carmarthen, 1771, Printed for the author.
W. Williams himself adopted the translation of stanzas i., ii., iii. and iv. into English, added a fourth stanza, and printed them as a leaflet as follows:—
"A Favourite Hymn,
Lady Huntingdon's Young Collegians.
Printed by the desire of many Christian friends.
Lord, give it Thy blessing!
“Guide me, 0 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.
"Open now the chrystal fountain,
Whence the healing stream doth flow;
Let the fire and cloudy pillar
Lead me all my journey thro*:
Strong Deliv'rer, strong Deliv'rer,
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:
I will ever give to Thee.
"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!"
This leaflet was undated, but was c. 1772. During the same or the following year, it was included in the Lady H. Collection, 5th edition, Bath, W. Gye, No. 94. Stanzas i.-iii. had previously appeared in The Collection of Hymns. sung in the Countess of Huntingdon's Chapels in Sussex. Edinburgh: Printed by A. Donaldson, for William Balcombe, Angmoring, Sussex, No. 202. This is undated; but Mr. Brooke's copy contains the autograph, "Elizabt. Featherstonehaugh, 1772," the writing and ink of which show it to be genuine. We can safely date it 1771. It was repeated in G. Whitefield's Psalms & Hymns, 1773; in Conyers, 1774, and others, until it has become one of the most extensively used hymns in the English language.
There are diversities of text in use the origin of which in every case it is difficult to determine. The most widely known are:—
1. Where the 6th line in each stanza reads respectively, "Bread of heaven," "Strong deliverer," and "Songs of praises," the arrangement is from the Lady H. Collection, 1771. This form is given in nineteen out of every twenty hymnals which adopt the hymn, including Hymns Ancient & Modern &c.
2. Where the 5th line reads respectively, "Lord of Glory," "Strong deliverer," "Lord and Saviour," the text is from Cotterill's Selection, 1810 to 1819, where it is changed to the plural throughout.
3. Where the 5th line reads respectively, "Of Thy goodness," "Strong Deliverer," and "Grateful praises," the changes were made in Hall's Mitre, 1836.
4. The original, with the omission of lines 5 and 6 in each stanza, thereby reducing it to 8 7's, given in many American hymnals, appeared in the Prayer Book Collection, 1826.
In addition to these there are altered texts, as follows:
5. Guide us, 0 Thou great Redeemer, in Morrell & How, 1854; Scottish Episcopal Hymn Book, 1858, and others.
6. Guide us, Thou whose Name is Saviour. By J. Keble, re-written for the Salisbury Hymn Book, 1857, and repeated in the People's Hymnal, 1867, Sarum, 1868, the Hymnary, 1872, &c.
7. Guide us, Jesu, Holy Saviour. In the Parish Hymn Book 1863-75. This is Keble's alteration of Williams, again altered.
8. Guide us, 0 Thou great Deliverer. In the English Hymnal, by J. A. Johnston, 2nd ed., 1856, No. 167.
9. 0 Thou Great Jehovah, lead us. This form of the text is in Kennedy, 1863, No. 639.
10. Guide us, O eternal Saviour. In the Calcutta Hymn Book, 1862, No. 102.
This hymn in one form or another has been rendered into many languages, but invariably from the English. These translations included the Rev. B. Bingham's rendering into Latin, "Magne tu, Jehova," of the 3 stanza arrangement, given with the English text, in his Hymnologia Christiana Latina, 1871.
--Excerpts from John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology (1907)
The notion of “the unknown” is not an idea we’re overly fond of. Part of us would love to know how the future plays out - what to prepare for, what to let go because it won’t be successful anyway. C. S. Lewis alludes to this desire in Prince Caspian, in this conversation between Lucy and Aslan. “Please, Aslan!” said Lucy, “am I not to know?” “To know what would have happened, child?” said Aslan. “No, nobody is ever told that.” “Oh dear,” said Lucy.”
Not knowing what the future holds brings a certain uneasiness to our lives. And yet, in a strange kind of way, there is comfort in the fact as well. Whatever happens to us or our loved ones is out of our hands; we simply couldn’t know anything about it if we tried. There is a common phrase: “Let go, and let God.” In this hymn by William Williams, we are given the words to express our prayer that God would guide us as we walk through a life of unknowns. At the end of her conversation with Aslan, Lucy, her head previously buried into Aslan’s mane, suddenly sits up and says, “I’m sorry, Aslan…I’m ready now.” Let us pray that we are always ready to go with God wherever He takes us, songs of praises ever on our lips.
The original text of this hymn was written in Welsh by William Williams, a circuit-riding preacher, in 1745, and given the original title, “A prayer for strength to go through the wilderness of the world.” It has since been translated in seventy-five languages. It was translated into English by Peter Williams (no relation) in 1771. Most modern hymnals now use the first verse of Peter’s translation, and the last two from William’s own translation into English.
William often used the metaphor of “pilgrimage” in his hymn texts, and this is no exception. The general theme of the song is an allusion to the Israelites’ journey through the desert to reach the Promised Land. There are a few textual differences between versions. The editors of the Psalter Hymnal changed the name of God in the first line from “Jehovah” to “Redeemer,” to reflect the change in modern scholarship that does not accept “Jehovah” as a credible name for God, since it stems from a mistaken medieval interpretation of the Hebrew names “YHWH” and “Adonai.” Another difference is found in the last two lines of each verse, where different words are used to construe the same sentiment. For example, some hymnals, such as the Psalter Hymnal, read, “Feed me now and evermore,” while most others read, “Feed me till I want no more.”
CWM RHONDDA was composed in 1905 by John Hughes. Austin Lovelace writes that its 87.87.87 meter invites “enthusiastic participation” (Anatomy of Hymnody, 74). It should indeed be sung in a stately manner, but, as Jerry Jenkins writes, though this hymn was meant to “be sung at full power in a corporate setting…it can also be whispered reverently for profound personal impact” (Hymns for Personal Devotions, 52). Though the meter invites robust singing, the words also invite prayer. Make sure that the tune doesn’t become choppy and blunt, but that you glide through the melody, allowing the words to be expressive. Jeremy Casella, a singer-songwriter from the Indelible Grace community, has a new tune for Williams’ text that underscores the prayer within the text.
Alternative Harmonization for Organ:
Alternative Harmonization for Piano:
This hymn of pilgrimage can be sung at various times during the year as a prayer for divine guidance and providence. Some examples of services where this hymn might fit are New Year’s Eve, Commissioning services, or the Easter season (given the Exodus theme). It could function as a prayer of invocation or a hymn of response after a sermon on God’s guidance in our lives. It would also be a beautiful hymn for communion, especially given the repeated line, "Bread of Heaven." In the same vein, it could work as an ending for a service - now that we've been fed with spiritual food, we ask that God would guide us as we go out from this place.
For a contemporary worship service you may want to use the choral anthem Step By Step with Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah.
Laura de Jong, Hymnary.org