Hymn Story: Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah

Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah was written by William Williams Pantycelyn.

William Williams Pantycelyn

Williams was born in Carmarthenshire, Wales in 1717. He was the son of John and Dorothy Williams. His father was a prosperous farmer. He grew up as an Independent and Calvinist.

He intended to be a doctor, but upon hearing Howell Harris preach he became a Christian.  He abandoned his desire to pursue the ministry.

In 1744, he devoted himself to Methodism, after several misdemeanors against the Church of England.

He wrote the text to Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah in 1745, writing the words in Welsh. He would become the most famous hymn writer of Welsh Methodism, but it is unknown why he chose to write them in his native language. Maybe because there were few good hymns in the Welsh language and the Welsh love to sing.

The song refers to many of the difficulties and hardships he experienced as a traveling minister along with imagery from the books of Exodus and Joshua, in the Old Testament.

The original hymn was six stanzas and published in 1762 in Williams’ collection of hymns entitled Caniadau y rhai sydd ar y Mor o Wydr (Songs of those upon the Sea of Glass).

In 1771, Peter Williams {no relation} translated the first, third and fifth stanzas into English. The following year, either the author or his son John, retranslated the third stanza, translated the fourth stanza and added a new English stanza which incorporated Christ.

Before Moses led the Israelite’s across the Red Sea

Most modern day hymnals only publish the three stanzas translated by Peter Williams. Some translations use the word Redeemer in place of Jehovah.

The hymn is often paired with the Welsh tune CWM RHONDDA  composed by John Hughes in 1907. “The original Welsh text has often been paired with the mid-nineteenth century tune CAPEL Y DDÔL.”

William Williams wrote over 800 hymns, both in English and Welsh. He is said to have traveled 100,000 miles to preach and sing his songs and often drew crowds of 10,000 people.

Williams died on January 11, 1791.

The hymn was sung at the 1997 funeral of Princess Diana and the royal wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton in 2011.

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