At about 4:00am on Tuesday, February 10, 2009 while pulling the night-shift in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) watching Charlotte, Toby was suddenly awash with emotion. He felt the need to listen to the following hymn. This was a hymn that he remembers from school, they also used to sing it before rugby matches!
Fortunately he had this hymn on his iPhone that night, a version sung by Westminster Abbey Choir. The sung words are “Guide me, O thou great Redeemer”, but the meaning of the hymn is no less the same.
He played it a few times, and then got up and went to Charlotte’s bedside and gently stroked her hair while he sang this hymn to her. It said everything that he felt at that time as he called out to God, our “Strong Deliverer”, asking him to “Be thou still my strength and shield.”
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 now and evermore;
feed me now and evermore
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 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.
Text: William Williams, 1717-1791; trans. from the Welsh by Peter Williams and the author
Music: John Hughes, 1873-1932
Tune: CWM RHONDDA, Meter: 87.87.87
The hymn describes the experience of God’s people in their travel through the wilderness from the escape from slavery in Egypt, Exodus 12-14, being guided by a cloud by day and a fire by night, Exodus 13:17-22 to their final arrival forty years later in the land of Canaan, Joshua 3. During this time their needs were supplied by God, including the daily supply of manna, Exodus 16.
The hymn text forms an allegory for the journey of a Christian throughout their life on earth requiring the Redeemer’s guidance and ending at the gates of Heaven (the verge of Jordan) and end of time (death of death and hell’s destruction).