“Take Thou My Hand, and Lead Me”

"TAKE THOU MY HAND, AND LEAD ME"
"Lead me, O Lord, in Thy righteousness" (Ps. 5.8)

     INTRO.: A hymn which asks the Lord to lead us in His righteousness is "Take Thou My Hand And Lead Me." The text was written by Julie Katherina von Hausmann, who was born at Riga, Latvia, in either 1825 or 1826, the sixth of seven sisters who were children of a teacher from a German background. When she was quite young, the family moved to Mitau where her father taught in the Gymnasium (preparatory school). However, Julie was educated by private tutors because she suffered severely from migraine headaches. Her father was on the town council, but following the death of his wife returned to Riga where he became ill and blind. In 1859 Julie went there to care for him until he died in 1864. She continued to live there for a while after his death and worked among the poor. A friend, Olga von Karp, saw some of her poetry and sent it to Gustav Knak, a minister in Berlin, who wished to publish it, but Julie consented only on condition that it be printed anonymously and that the proceeds go to an orphanage in Hong Kong. This text, in German "So nimm denn meine Hande und fuhre mich," was published by Knak along with others of her poems in Miablumen, Lieder einer Stillen im Lande in 1862.

     Two more volumes of Hausmann’s poetry were later published. Afterwards, she lived with one of her sisters at Biarritz, France, and then with another in St. Petersburg, Russia. Shy, retiring, and never strong physically, but an intellectually active woman, whose works include Hausbrot, a devotional study, she served as governess in private homes from time to time, and worked together as a teacher with three of her sisters for several years. After the other sisters’ deaths, she and still another sister moved to Wosso, Estonia, where Julie died on Aug. 15, 1901. The tune (So Nimm Denn) was composed by the German songwriter Friedrich Silcher (1789-1860). It first appeared in volume three of his Kinderlieder fur Schule und Haus published in 1842, set to the hymn "Wie koennt ich ruhig schlafen" ("How Could I Sleep Peacefully?"). The first use of this tune with Hausmann’s text was in the 1883 Grosse Missionsharfe published in Guetersloh, Germany.

     Several translations of this hymn have been made. The 1941 Hymnal of the Evangelical and Reformed Church used one made in 1912 by Rudolph A. John. The American Lutheran Hymnal of 1930 used one made probably around 1918 by Herman Breuckner, which is likely the most common translation, although modern Lutheran books, such as the 1978 Lutheran Book of Worship and the 1982 Lutheran Worship use a composite translation that "updates" the language (no "thees" and "thous"–or "hims" and "hers"). Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ , only two have included this song.  It appeared in the 1921 Great Songs of the Church (No. 1) using a translation made by the editor, Elmer Leon Jorgenson (1886-1968). Today it may be found in the 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forrest M. McCann with a translation made by Martha D. Lang, but no further information is available about her or it. Since Jorgenson’s version is the only one made by a member of the church of Christ, I shall use it.

     The song asks God to lead us by the hand as we journey through this life toward heaven.

I. Stanza 1 says that we need God’s guidance because we cannot walk without Him.
"Take Thou my hand and lead me, From day to day;
‘Not my will, but as Thou wilt,’ Teach me to say;
I cannot walk without Thee, One step, not one;
Where Thou dost go or tarry I follow on."
 A. The Christian should want God to take him by the hand and lead him: Ps. 27.11
 B. For this to happen, the attitude must be displayed, "Not my will, but Thine": Lk. 22.42
 C. The reason this is so important is that it is not in man who walks to direct His steps: Jer. 10.23

II. Stanza 2 says that we need God’s guidance because He has mercy and peace to give.
"Deep in Thy mercy fold me, In joy or pain,
Without Thy might to hold me I stray again;
Thy word of peace and healing, Thy guidance kind,
Surpass all sight or feeling–I follow, blind."
 A. We must obtain God’s mercy to be saved: Eph. 2.4-5, Tit. 3.5
 B. We must also hold to His might to keep us from straying: Eph. 3.16-19
 C. When we follow His guidance, His mercy and might will provide peace and healing: Phil. 4.7, Jas. 5.16

III. Stanza 3 says that we need God’s guidance because the path is dark and unknown.
"When darkness is the deepest, The path unknown,
Thy watch Thou ever keepest, Thou faithful One;
Take Thou my hand and lead me, Through all my way,
Until at last I see Thee In endless day."
 A. Darkness represents the sinfulness and evil of this world around us: Jn. 3.19-21
 B. However, even in the darkness, God keeps His faithful watch over us: Ps. 121.1-8
 C. If we continue to follow Him, He will lead us to the land of endless day, where there is no night: Rev. 21.22-25

     CONCL.: Interestingly enough, my first acquaintance with this hymn came in the late 1970’s from listening on the radio to a Piano Concerto written by Canadian composer Victor Davies. According to Davies’s wife, Lori, in a personal letter to me, the concerto was originally commissioned in 1975 by a Mennonite family in Winnipeg, Canada, to be dedicated to their father, a prominent Mennonite musician. Davies utilized a number of hymns drawn from the Mennonite Kernlieder, including this one. The concerto was then recorded and the music was adapted for the score of the film And When They Shall Ask, a docudrama about the Mennonite migration from Russia to Canada in the later 1800’s and early 1900’s. Since then, I have seen the hymn in Mennonite hymnbooks as well as other hymnbooks mentioned previously. It is a good hymn with a lovely tune which reminds me that as I travel through this world, I need to look to my heavenly Father and say, "Take Thou My Hand, And Lead Me."

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2 thoughts on ““Take Thou My Hand, and Lead Me”

  1. Thanks for your inclusion of this hymn together with your penetrating and tasteful commentary.

    My wife is from Sweden, and consequently my first awareness of the hymn was on a visit there. The tune hopped the Baltic, and the lyrics were translated 1917 by J. A. Eklund into Swedish as "Så tag nu mina händer och led Du mig"; it appears as No. 277 in PSALMER OCH SÅNGER (Stockholm: Libris/Verbum, 1987). After the Swedish experience I noticed the appearance of the hymn in GREAT SONGS OF THE CHURCH REVISED (edited by Forrest McCann and Jack Boyd) and later in an old copy of GREAT SONGS OF THE CHURCH NUMBER ONE (edited by Elmer Leon Jorgenson). As McCann observes on p. 590 of his HYMNS & HISTORY (Abilene, TX: ACU Press, 1997), the hymn appeared in GREAT SONGS OF THE CHURCH NUMBER ONE as No. 301 (1921 version) and as No. 339 (1925 version) and in GREAT SONGS OF THE CHURCH REVISED (1986) as No. 527. In HYMNS & HISTORY McCann discusses the hymn on pp. 275-276 and Hausman on p. 418.

    I have often thought that this hymn may make an appropriate wedding song – at least a translation like Jorgenson's, which nuances the third verse more optimistically than the original.

    Reply
  2. This hymn has been used as a closing benediction in the First Mennonite Church, Berne, Indiana, for as long as I can remember, probably for more than 100 years. It was originally sung in German. It is also used at funerals and on other occasions. At one time this church was the largest Mennonite Church in the world and during the 1950s had the second largest Sunday school in Indiana.

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