"THE LORD MY SHEPHERD IS"
"The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want" (Ps. 23:1)
INTRO.: A familiar hymn that is based on the 23rd Psalm is "The Lord My Shepherd Is" (#364 in Hymns for Worship Revised, #72 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written by Isaac Watts (1674-1748). It first appeared in his book The Psalms of David, Imitated in the Language of the New Testament, and Applied to the Christian State and Worship of 1719, and is the third of three different paraphrases, one long meter, one common meter, and this one short meter, that Watts provided for Psalm 23. The common meter version, beginning "My Shepherd will supply my need," has also frequently been used as a hymn with an American folk tune. The composer of the anonymous tune (Magnolia) which most of our books use with the short meter version is usually left blank or identified simply as "Unknown." Hymns for Worship attributes the arrangement to Ralph Harrison, who was born at Chinley in Derbyshire, England, on Sept. 10, 1748.
Harrison was the son of William Harrison, a dissenting minister. After being educated at Warrington Academy, a school under the auspices of the Unitarians, he became an Independent minister and began preaching at Shrewsbury in 1769. Then, in 1771, he moved to preach at Cross St. Chapel in Manchester. His textbook, The Rudiments of English Grammar, came out in 1777. His first volume of Sacred Harmony–A Collection of Psalm-Tunes, Ancient and Modern, was published in 1784, and he co-founded the Manchester Academy, where he was a classical tutor, in 1786. The arrangement of the minuet from Thomas Arne’s Artaxerxes as a hymn tune, most often associated with Anna L. Barbauld’s "Again the Lord of Light and Life," was made by Harrison. Harrison also composed a tune (Warrington) used with several hymns, notably in our books with Lyte’s "Sweet Is the Solemn Voice That Calls."
The second volume of Harrison’s Sacred Harmony was issued in 1791. He seemed to have exerted a rather considerable influence over various independent hymn collections of his time. His death occurred at Manchester in Lancashire, England, on Nov. 4, 1810. However, the attribution of the arrangement to Harrison is most likely an error, perhaps due to the fact that Great Songs Revised uses another tune (Cambridge) for "The Lord My Shepherd Is" which was indeed composed or arranged in 1784 by Harrison, because the anonymous tune used in most of our books first appeared in an 1858 hymnbook entitled Jubilee which was compiled by William Batchelder Bradbury (1816-1868). Sometimes, Bradbury is listed as the composer.
Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, "The Lord My Shepherd Is" appeared in the 1921 Great Songs of the Church (No. 1) and the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 both edited by E. L. Jorgenson; the 1948 Christian Hymns No. 2 and the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 both edited by L. O. Sanderson; the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater; the 1965 Great Christian Hymnal No. 2 edited by Tillit S. Teddlie; and the 1978 Hymns of Praise edited by Reuel Lemmons. Today it may be found in the 1971 Songs of the Church, the 1990 Songs of the Church 21st C. Ed., and the 1994 Songs of Faith and Praise all edited by Alton H. Howard; the 1978/1983 Church Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard; the 1986 Great Songs Revised (with the Harrison tune) edited by Forrest M. McCann; and the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; in addition to Hymns for Worship, Sacred Selections, and the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat. All except Great Songs Revised use the Bradbury tune.
The hymn presents Jesus Christ as the great Shepherd.
I. Stanza 1 reminds us that Jesus is the Shepherd who supplies our needs
"The Lord my Shepherd is, I shall be well supplied;
Since He is mine and I am His, What can I want beside?"
A. Jesus identified Himself as the good Shepherd: Jn. 10:11-13
B. Our Shepherd has promised to supply all our need: Phil. 4:19
C. We have the assurance that He is ours and we are His since we abide in Him and He in us: Jn. 15:4
II. Stanza 2 reminds us that Jesus as our Shepherd feeds us
"He leads me to the place Where heavenly pasture grows,
Where living waters gently pass, And full salvation flows."
A. The Shepherd calls the sheep by name and they follow Him to the pasture: Jn. 10:2-4
B. He provides them with living waters: Jn. 4:14
C. However, it is not physical food and water but that spiritual sustenance that leads to salvation and eternal life which He gives: Jn.
III. Stanza 3 reminds us that Jesus as our Shepherd guides us in the right way
"If e’er I go astray, He doth my soul reclaim,
And guides me in His own right way, For His most holy name."
A. All we like sheep have at one time or another gone astray: 1 Pet. 2:25
B. The Shepherd goes out to seek the lost lambs who have gone astray: Lk. 15:4-7
C. And He guides us in His own right way: Ps. 73:24
IV. Stanza 4 reminds us that Jesus as our Shepherd walks with us
"While He affords His aid I cannot yield to fear!
Though I should walk in death’s dark shade, My Shepherd’s with me there."
A. The Shepherd walks with the sheep to aid them and protect them from danger: Jn. 10:14-16
B. Therefore, we have nothing to fear: Heb. 13:5-6
C. We have His promise to be with us always: Matt. 28:20
V. Stanza 5 reminds us that Jesus as our Shepherd protects from our foes
"In sight of all my foes, Thou does my table spread;
My cup with blessing overflows, And joy exalts my head."
A. We have many foes in this life, especially our great adversary the devil: 1 Pet. 5:8
B. However, our Shepherd spreads our table and causes our cup to overflow, symbolic of the wonderful spiritual blessings available in Him: Eph. 1:3
C. One of these spiritual blessings is joy in a world of sorrow: Phil. 4:4
VI. Stanza 6 reminds us that Jesus as our Shepherd will take us home to His eternal fold
"The bounties of Thy love Shall crown my following days;
Nor from Thy house will I remove, Nor cease to speak Thy praise."
A. The Shepherd’s sheep receive the bounties of His love: Eph. 5:2
B. They shall never from His house remove because He will provide an entrance into His everlasting kingdom: 2 Pet. 1:11
C. Nor shall they cease to speak His praise becauswe He is able to grant them eternal life: Jn. 10:27-30
CONCL.: I have never understood why all of our books from the twentieth century contain only three stanzas of this song based on Psalm 23 (that is like just reading the first three verses of the Psalm and forgetting the rest), unless some early editor had room for only three and everyone else just copied from him. I have been told that some books published for use in churches of Christ during the nineteenth century did have additional stanzas. Watts sought to take the Psalms of David and give them a uniquely New Testament application in his paraphrases. He wrote, "’Tis not a translation of David that I pretend, but an imitation of him, so nearly in Christian hymns that the Jewish Psalmist may plainly appear, yet leave Judaism behind." Thus, we understand that for us the application must be made to Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, when we say, "The Lord is My Shepherd."