He Leadeth Me


"He leadeth me: O blessed thought!
O words with heavenly comfort fraught!
Whate'er I do, where'er I be,
still 'tis God's hand that leadeth me."

🎵 He Leadeth Me 🎵


I have had the great hymn He Leadeth Me stuck in my head for what feels like weeks. "Stuck" doesn't quite capture it, because it is less like an annoying sound and more like the rain we've had that, to me, is pleasing, relaxing, and staying for longer than I expected. I researched the hymn this morning and found an excerpt from its mid-19th century author, J. H. Gilmore. He said this, somewhere:

"I set out to give the people an exposition of the Twenty-third Psalm, which I had given before on three or four occasions, but this time I did not get further than the words, “He leadeth me.”Those words took hold of me as they have never done before, and I saw in them a significance of which I had never dreamed.

It was the darkest hour of the Civil War. I did not refer to that fact— that is, I don’t think I did—but it may subconsciously have led me to realize that God’s leadership is the one significant fact in human experience, that it make no difference how we are led, or whither we are led, so long as we are sure God is leading us." — A Hymn is Born; Bonner; 1959, Broadman Press

That line, "It was the darkest hour of the Civil War" stands out to me. While I feel a kind of 'cold civil war' has materialized in America, at least since 2016 (easily argued to be much, much longer), He Leadeth Me was penned when Americans were firing .58 caliber slugs at each other, charging with bayonets fixed, and fertilizing the fields of the South with human bodies. Truly, a dark, dark era in our country.

Even so, the author of this hymn leaned on this truth:

"For You are my high rock and my fortress;
For Your name’s sake You will lead me and guide me."

— Psalm 31:3 ESV

And the verse this song was inspired by:

"Yahweh is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters."

—Psalm 23:1-2 LSB

As with anything, the durability of something is measured not by relaxing pressure on the thing, but by the pronounced increase of pressure on it. We would say good steel is that steel that is strong, unbending, and fixed. We would say a person with "nerves of steel" can endure intense pressure without cracking or retreating, even when their countrymen are shooting slugs at 1,400 feet per second at them.

Both steel and those whose nerves are made of it are like parachutes on a dandelion, cast away at the slightest breeze, when compared to the mighty right hand of God.

It is the Lord God, Omnipotent (one of Sproul's favorite titles) who fashioned the laws of chemistry, physics, and thermodynamics that enables steel's existence, and it is the Good Shepherd who led his flock through the valley of death that was the Civil War. Any strength in man that is commendable by virtue is due to the leading and gracious intervention of God.

And in our lives, today, what else has proven itself to be steadfast and unrelenting in its pursuit of the people of God than the "goodness and mercy" of God? Nothing else, not by a long shot.

David ended Psalm 23 with words of great comfort—the kind of comfort that makes a person quiet with its depth:

"Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord

— Psalm 23:6

Our Lord leads us, O blessed thought! And today's hymn ends:

"E'en death's cold waves I would not flee, for thou, through Jordan, leadeth me."

Post Script

You see that word the ESV translates as "follow" in Psalm 23:6? I think the LSB made a better decision in translating it as "pursue." Elsewhere in the Old Testament, that Hebrew word is mainly used to describe the aggressive pursuit of an army or person towards their target. David, ever the poet, uses this word paradoxically to portray the intensity of God's pursuit of us. Lord, what is man that you are mindful of him; the Son of man, that you care for him?!

Here is a snapshot of its usage:

Post-post Script

How I've felt this week with this song in my head.

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