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Music is the language of the spirit. It opens the secret of life bringing peace, abolishing strife. Kahlil Gibran
As we discussed earlier in this blog series, many of the great hymns of the Church were composed during times of renewal or revival. It’s no coincidence that when the Spirit of God is moving in the midst of God’s people, breathing new life into worn-out souls, that same Wind is stirring men and women to song, bringing forth a fresh melodic hymn to the Lord. So it is with today’s classic, which dates back to the days of the Welsh Methodist revival in the mid-18th century.
William Williams was born at Cefn-y-coed, near Llandovery, Wales in 1717. Williams’ plan for his life was to study medicine, but he quickly abandoned that idea at the age of twenty as he was powerfully touched by God’s Spirit. Howell Harris, a well-known travelling evangelist of the day, was stirring up the people of Talgarth, a small community in central Wales. So one Sunday morning, Williams decided to go over to the churchyard and hear Harris’ preaching for himself. The evangelist was standing on a flat tombstone, warning all who came out of church that day that there was much more to following Christ then just sitting in a pew. Williams heard the message and decided that he needed to give the remainder of his life to the Gospel, and from that point forward, became obedient to his call, believing the country of Wales to be his parish. Over the next forty-three years, Williams traveled over 95,000 miles serving as a circuit rider/preacher for the cause of Christ!
Before he died in 1791, Williams wrote 800 hymns, all in Welsh, and to this day, he is known as “The Watts of Wales,” referring to the great English hymn-writer, Isaac Watts. Other church historians call Williams, the “Sweet Singer of Wales” or the “Poet Laureate of the Welsh Revival”…this circuit-riding preacher/poet who knew the power of music to bring a spoken message to life. In 1745, William Williams composed the text to a new revival hymn he entitled: Arglwydd, arwain trwy’r anialwch (Strength to pass through the Wilderness). As he traveled across Wales, this hymn became one of the more familiar songs of the revival that was sweeping across the countryside at the time. By 1771, Peter Williams, a fellow Welsh revivalist (no relation to William Williams) translated the hymn into English, changing the first line of the song from “Lord, lead me through the wilderness” (which is the literal translation of the Welsh version) to the words we now sing: “Guide me, O Thou Great Jehovah.”
William Williams embraced this English translation and his revised text appeared in a collection of hymns published and dedicated to Lady Huntingdon, the countess from Wales who contributed vast sums of money and support to George Whitefield, the great revivalist who came to America on seven different occasions, sparking what was to become the First Great Awakening across the pond. Here’s Williams & Williams’ English translation, as it first appeared in leaflet format in 1772:
A Favourite Hymn, sung by Lady Huntingdon’s Young Collegians.
Printed by the desire of many Christian friends. Lord, give it Thy blessing!
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.
Open now the chrystal fountain,
Whence the healing stream doth flow;
Let the fire and cloudy pillar,
Lead me all my journey thru.
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.
Songs of praises, songs of praises,
I will ever sing 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!
My prayer: Father God, William Williams’ powerful lyrics remind me of how the Holy Spirit comes with a “new song” of faith whenever there is a move of Your Spirit amongst a people hungry for more of You. As a fellow sojourner with Williams, may I, too, ask You, O Great Jehovah, to lead and guide me…for Your name’s sake. Amen.
My questions to ponder: In Williams’ last verse, he speaks of “musing on my habitation, musing on my heav’nly home.” What might it look like today, for me to take a bit of extra time to “muse” on the wonders of God’s heaven that awaits us on the other side? How might the fruit of such musings “fill my soul with holy longings?”
So what is God speaking to you today as we ponder together 30 Great Hymns of Faith?
Between now and Easter 2016, we will be sharing with you this blog series we call Thirty Great Hymns of Faith. In order to keep all 34 blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our Thirty Great Hymns of Faith home page for ease of use. ENJOY!
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