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HYMN 40 Guide me, O Thou Great Jehovah

Updated: Apr 17, 2021

Welsh: Arglwydd, arwain trwy’r

Exodus 13,16-17;

William Williams

Text: William Williams (1717-1791) Tune: John Hughes (1873-1932)

1. Guide me, O thou great 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.

2. Open thou the crystal fountain

Whence the healing stream shall flow;

Let the fiery, 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.

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 give to thee.

I will ever give to thee.

Tr. Peter Williams (1722-1796)


My dad, in a somewhat foggy kind of dementia, was like a boy that night. We had taken

him to Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis to hear the Augsburg Masterworks Chorale sing

Mozart’s Requiem. He thrilled to it. It all came back to him, flooding him with good

memories, a sweet moment to treasure. Two months later, as we stood around him

singing hymns he loved, and still responded to, he would tread “the verge of Jordan” and


When we hear familiar music, we are brought back, subconsciously, to the many times

we have heard it before, and the many associations we have with it. This hymn, the one

hymn from Wales that is popular around the world, has such associations for many of us.

It makes me remember the wife of the bookstore manager at Luther Seminary, Mary. She

had a Welsh heritage which she promoted at every opportunity. She was especially fervent

about the Welsh songfests, Gymanfa Ganu, at which singers gather to sing Welsh hymns

in four parts. This is a major song in the repertoire.

She had taught her two daughters the Welsh and English versions so they could sing it by

heart. They disliked the revision from Jehovah to Redeemer and never would sing

Redeemer, substituting Jehovah every time.

Very late one night, in February, 1986, Mary, on a lark, had taken her daughters, Naomi

and Rebekah, to see the Ice Palace on Lake Phalen—she liked to do things like that. The

road was icy and a semi jackknifed in front of them. Naomi, their older daughter, was

killed instantly. Mary lay unconscious for some time, but recovered. The hymn, which of

course was sung at the funeral, always brings that tragedy back to me as I substitute

Jehovah in her memory.

It must be something like that for the British royal family. This hymn has been sung at

their grand public events for some time, like the funeral of Queen Mother Elizabeth.

It was a key hymn at the memorial service for Diana in 2007. Not surprisingly it was

sung at both Prince William’s and Prince Harry’s weddings. The many textures of their

experience with the hymn are overwhelming to feel as we watch them during the various


The hymn uses the imagery of the Exodus pilgrimage to describe the Christian’s daily

journey forward. Led by a pillar of fire and a cloud, we receive bread from heaven, water

from the rock. God guides us until we stand on the verge of Jordan, waiting to be brought

over to Canaan. The hymn helps us pray for the Lord to guide us in our pilgrimage

through the wilderness and at the end. On the way, as we sing, memories flood over us;

every moment, whether sweet or tragic, is present all at once. As we grow older, there are

more and more such moments; they go deeper and deeper. No wonder sometimes we can

barely sing.


Written by Wales greatest hymn writer, William Williams, this became almost a national

anthem for the Welsh. Williams, who was ordained a deacon in the Anglican Church,

was refused ordination as a priest because his theology had moved toward Methodism

and its revivals. He suffered for this the rest of his life. Translated into English by Peter

Williams, also involved with Methodism, the version has been sung boisterously at

Rugby matches, in addition to many solemn and national celebrations or memorials. The

tune by John Hughes has been the favored one. Other texts also are associated with it, but

this one takes special place. Cwm Rhonndda, the name of the tune, meaning the Valley of

Rhonndda, is the name of a place in Wales.


Diana’s memorial service 2007

Kate and William’s wedding

Massive choir/congregation

Michael Ball at Wembley

Swansea choir

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