This week a friend reminded me of the importance of context within storytelling, for when we understand the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, we better understand the words before us. The idea of context got me thinking about the hymns we are sharing in this Come and See journey through the Gospel of John. By themselves the dates songs were written and the places they originated from may mean little if anything to us. We rarely recognize a hymn writer’s name, and yet, the details surrounding these timeless songs of praise can enrich our understanding and love for the words before us.
savior, like a shepherd lead us
The details of this week’s hymn, Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us, are perfect examples of the importance of context. Initial research on its author, Dorothy A. Thrupp, yielded little more than her birth year (1779), where she lived (an area outside London), her ministry (writing hymns to teach biblical truths to young people, including this one in 1836), and the year she died (1847). But when we look at the political, social and religious happenings at that time in England, we better understand why Thrupp was passionate about writing songs rich in biblical truth for young people.
Thrupp quietly released Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us into her community at the beginning of the Victorian era as other writers such as Charles Dickens and Jane Austen garnered a much broader recognition. Thrupp’s words reached few at the time. They were simply and humbly published in a hymn book for young people at a time when people gravitated toward romanticism and mysticism in religion, social values, and the arts. This author wanted to remind people of the unchanging character of Jesus.
The first stanza speaks of Jesus’ watchcare and reflects the theme of John 10:1-18 and Psalm 23, showing a sin-scarred world that Jesus is the Good Shepherd:
Savior, like a shepherd lead us, Much we need Thy tender care; In Thy pleasant pastures feed us, For our use Thy folds prepare: Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus, Thou hast bought us, Thine we are; Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus, Thou hast bought us, Thine we are.
The second stanza reminds us that the “Guardian of our way” from Matthew 18:10-14 seeks us when we go astray:
We are Thine, do Thou befriend us, Be the guardian of our way; Keep Thy flock, from sin defend us, Seek us when we go astray: Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus, Hear, O hear us when we pray; Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus, Hear, O hear us when we pray.
The third verse declares Jesus’ mercy and grace:
Thou hast promised to receive us, Poor and sinful though we be; Thou hast mercy to relieve us, Grace to cleanse, and pow'r to free: Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus, Early let us turn to Thee; Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus, Early let us turn to Thee.
Finally, the fourth verse encourages us to seek the loving Shepherd’s best for us:
Early let us seek Thy favor, Early let us do Thy will; Blessed Lord and only Savior, With Thy love our bosoms fill: Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus, Thou hast loved us, love us still; Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus, Thou hast loved us, love us still.
Thrupp continued to release one truth-filled song after another but ever so humbly and often under the pseudonym D.A.T. or without a byline at all until her death on December 14, 1847. Thirteen years later American William Batchelder Bradbury wrote the music that we now associate with this hymn. The melody often stands alone as an instrumental piece, which we’ll hear in today’s link to the Fernando Ortega version. We encourage you to re-read all four stanzas as you listen to the melody and remember the unchanging, amazing character of our Jesus.
— Jaime Sherman