Since You are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of Your name lead and guide me. (Psalm 31:3)
A year or two back the volume set of The Calvinistic Methodist Fathers of Wales landed on my doorstep like two hardback bricks. Freshly translated from Welsh, they record the extraordinary growth of Christianity in that nation between 1735 and 1850. The pages are studded with the names of the great preachers whose sermons were tightly used of God. Shining bright are Howell Harris, Daniel Rowland; Griffith Jones of Llanddowror, Howell Davies, Peter Williams, David Jones of Llan-gan and William Williams of Pantycelyn. Enough to stir even the coldest Welsh heart!
It was Howell Harris - who hailed from just the other side of the Black Mountain - who was the great driving energy of this revival of religion, and its most widely travelled preacher. Whilst preaching in his home village of Talgarth, standing on a tombstone in the churchyard, there was a young medical student named William Williams listening closely. He felt that he was “apprehended as by a warrant from on high” and left his medicine for a life of preaching. Over the next forty years it is estimated he travelled some one hundred thousand miles on horseback in the service of the gospel, and penned over eight hundred hymns. Those around him knew him as the “sweet singer of Wales”.
His best known hymn is “Guide me O Thou Great Redeemer”, which is well stocked with imagery drawn from the Exodus. The Hebrews were led from bondage in Egypt by God appearing as a pillar of cloud and fire. Spies were sent into Canaan, but they recoiled for fear and the people refused to go into this promised land. So it was that this great multitude wandered for forty years in the wilderness. During this time, they were fed by Manna from heaven and at a time of great thirst, water flowed as Moses’ staff struck a rock. After his death the children of those who had left Egypt reached the river Jordan - the border with Canaan - and were led across by Joshua.
This hymn praises the God who fed, watered and emboldened his people. It is a prayer that we will trust him to do the same for us.
Guide me, O Thou great Redeemer, pilgrim thru 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 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.
When I tread the verge of Jordan, bid my anxious fears subside;
Bear me thru the swelling current; land me safe on Canaan’s side:
Songs of praises, songs of praises, I will ever give to Thee.