Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah (Cwm Rhondda)

Rhondda Valley (Cwm Rhondda), Wales, early 20th century

What else would I feature in the first post on this blog but Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah (in some traditions, "Redeemer" is substituted for "Jehovah"), from whence comes the title of this blog: Songs of Praises. Few other Christian hymns are as rousing, exultant, and full of praise for our Savior and Lord as this one.

The text was written in the Welsh language in 1745 by William Williams Pantycelyn (1717 – 1791), Wales' most prolific and influential hymn writer. It was translated into English in 1771, and ultimately put to the tune Cwm Rhondda (the Welsh name for the Rhondda Valley, pronounced coom rontha) in 1907 by John Hughes (1873–1932), organist of Capel Rhondda in Hopkinstown, who had been asked to write a tune for the inauguration of the chapel and its new organ. The hymn has since been translated into scores of languages, and has come to be so closely associated with the Welsh people--who prize great singing above almost all--that it is now an unofficial "national" anthem sung at rugby matches as well as in church. The hymn has been described, quite rightly, as "a belter of a hymn that defies one to sing it quietly."

William Williams (left) and John Hughes (right)

Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah alludes to the Israelites' journey through the wilderness from from bondage in Egypt to their deliverance into the land of Canaan, their needs on the way being supplied by our Heavenly Father (for example, through manna or "bread of Heaven," and the pillars of fire and cloud). The hymn likens this journey and the relationship between God and His children to that of the Christian's pilgrimage on earth and on to Heaven, the "verge of Jordan":
Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah [or, Redeemer]
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.

Lord, I trust Thy mighty power,
Wondrous are Thy works of old;
Thou deliver’st Thine from thralldom,
Who for naught themselves had sold:
Thou didst conquer, Thou didst conquer,
Sin, and Satan and the grave,
Sin, and Satan and the grave.

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.

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!
Lord, I long to be with Thee!
So eloquently this hymns speaks of our dependence on the Lord for spiritual sustenance, guidance, protection, and ultimate victory over Satan, sin, and death. He is indeed the "Bread of Heaven," and our "Strong Deliverer." How helpless and hopeless we are without Him, how unconquerable we are with Him!

Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah has long been a great favorite in the United Kingdom and British Commonwealth, especially in Wales. It has been said that in the trenches of Flanders during World War I, it was sung so melodiously by the Welsh soldiers that nearby German soldiers also took it up. The hymn was sung, in Welsh, in the Academy Award winning film How Green Was My Valley (1941), It was sung in English at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, on September 6, 1997, and again at the wedding of her son Prince William, Duke of Cambridge to Catherine ("Kate") Middleton, now Duchess of Cambridge, on April 29, 2011.

Here is a magnificent rendition (of the best-known three stanzas) by the congregation and choir of the Morriston Tabernacle Chapel in Swansea, Wales. How they make the rafters ring!

When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee;
and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee:
when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned;
neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.
~ Isaiah 43:2

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic video, of one of the most AWESOME hymns ever written!!! It gives me chills when I listen--and also moves me to tears. It is also said that Welsh soldiers in the First World War sang this hymn, just before 'going over the top', to give them courage. WELL DONE!!!