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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 restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.  Psalm 23:3 

“He Leadeth Me” by American Joseph Gilmore (1834-1918) was birthed out of a particular struggle in American history. This hymn was composed in 1862 during the Civil War, a time of upheaval and insecurity. The author was preaching at First Baptist Church in Philadelphia soon after his ordination.  Gilmore’s states “I set out to give the people an exposition of the 23rd 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.’ Psalm 23:2, ‘he leadeth me beside the still waters,’ became the theme of the song.” The famous gospel song composer William Bradbury (1816-1868) included these words anonymously with his own tune in his collection The Golden Censer (1864). Bradbury is credited with adding the third line to the famous refrain (his faithful follower I would be). 

Joseph H. Gilmore, the son of Joseph A. Gilmore, governor of New Hampshire, received his education from Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island (1858), and Newton Theological Seminary (1861) where he taught Hebrew. An ordained Baptist minister (1862), Gilmore became a professor after serving churches in Philadelphia, New Hampshire, and New York. A prolific writer for newspapers and periodicals, Gilmore also authored three books in his academic field: The Art of Expression (1876) and Outlines of English and American Literature (1905), as well as a book of poetry, He Leadeth Me, and Other Religious Poems (1877). 

Nearly every hymn is birthed from a personal experience and/or an encounter with a particular scripture. In the case of “He Leadeth Me” it comes from Psalm 23 – scripture nearly every one of us can recite or are at least familiar with. He restores my soul. The definition of restore is “to bring back”. Other translations use refresh or renew. That is what God does for each of us – refreshes and restores our souls!  For me, the how is answered in verse 2, “he makes me to lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.” God restores and renews me in the quiet, intimate places. It’s in those places that I find true rest and peace. Early in quarantine I thought I was having more quiet time and intimate time with God. Upon reflection, my fears and need to feel busy were actually keeping me from that time.  In these days, I am trying to find still waters – to renew and refresh. I went up to Lake Junaluska a few weeks ago. I participated in a few days of prayers and reflection with some fellow church musicians.  For me, it’s hard, and really takes some intentionality.  But the restoration that comes from slowing down is immeasurable.  The virus is by no means gone but we seem to be trying to get back to normal – whatever that is now. As you do, try to include more renewal time. God will lead us in paths of righteousness – and supply all the needs we have along the way.  

He leadeth me, he leadeth me, 
by his own hand he leadeth me; 
his faithful follower I would be, 
for by his hand he leadeth me. 

“He Leadeth Me”, arranged by Benjamin Wegner. You heard this arrangement sung a few weeks in worship. The choir has also sung it. I think it is a beautiful setting of the text. 


Posted by Stephen Mitchell with