“Walk Beside Me”

“Show me Thy ways, O Lord; teach me Thy paths, lead me in Thy truth, and teach me” (Ps. 25:4-5)

     INTRO.: A hymn which asks the Lord to show us His ways, teach us His paths, and lead us in His truth is “Walk Beside Me” (#701 in Hymns for Worship Revised). The text was written by Katharine E. Nash Purvis, who was born probably sometime in the early 1840s, most likely in Pennsylvania. I have not been able to find out much information about her. She was the daughter of a Methodist minister in Pennsylvania’s Wyoming Conference. After graduating from Williamsport Dickinson Seminary in 1860, she married and continued living in Williamsport where she was a member of the Mulberry St. Methodist Episcopal Church and became a vocal and instrumental music teacher at the seminary of the Methodist Episcopal Church there from 1884 to 1888. Hymnary.org credits her with 25 hymns. Later, she was an invalid for the last several years of her life and died on Oct. 23, 1907 (some sources give the year as 1909).

     The tune for “Walk Beside Me” was composed by James Milton Black (1856-1938). Black is best remembered perhaps for the song, “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder.” Many sources list Purvis and Black as the originators of the song “When the Saints Go Marching In.” It is true that they produced a song that appeared in the 1896 Songs of the Soul No. 2 entitled “When the Saints Are Marching In,” but this is not the same as the traditional song which was played by many New Orleans jazz bands beginning around the end of the nineteenth or the beginning of the twentieth century. The precise origins of the folk song are not known, though some researchers believe that it came as a spiritual from the Bahamas and migrated to the mainland where it was used as a funeral hymn by African Americans of the South in the 1800s. It is thought that maybe Purvis and Black were influenced by it in their hymn, of which various sources say, “Very similar to the contemporary song, the latter is obviously a derivative of it,” and that the two “bear an uncanny similarity.”

     “Walk Beside Me” was copyrighted in 1896 by Black and first published that year also in his Songs of the Soul No. 2 which he edited for Curtis and Jennings of Cincinnati, OH. Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, it appeared in the 1960 Hymnal edited by Marion Davis; and the 1964 Songs for the Shadows edited by Morris Lynwood Smith.  Today it may be found in Hymns for Worship. It was not in the original edition but was added around 1992 in an arrangement by the editor, R. J. Stevens. When the Revised edition was published around 1995, a different arrangement by Stevens was used. Then, when the type was completely reset, around 2005, still another arrangement by Stevens, who now changed the time signature from 3/4 to 4/4, appeared. I happen to like the original better.

     The song asks the Lord to walk with us during the morning, noon, and evening of our lives.

I. Stanza 1 talks about the morning of life
“Walk beside me, O my Savior, While life’s morning sky is bright.
Grant me now Thy loving favor; Flood my path with heavenly light.
Whether good or ill betide me, Whether skies be dark or clear,
Ever stay so close beside me, I may know and feel Thee near.”
 A. Morning is often used poetically to refer to the younger years of one’s life: Eccl. 12:1
 B. Especially when we are young we need to be taught to walk in the heavenly light of God’s word: Ps. 119:105
 C. Through the rest of one’s life, both good and ill will appear, and sometimes the skies will be dark while other times they will be clear, but the young person who has learned to stay close beside the Savior will have His help to bear whatever burdens life may bring: Ps. 55:22

II. Stanza 2 talks about the noontide of life
“When the noontide’s glowing splendor Brings its weight of toil and care,
May Thy love, so pure and tender, All my heavy burdens bear.
In a weary land, provide me Sheltering rock and cooling spring;
When the tempest rages, hide me Underneath Thy folded wing.”
 A. Noontide is used to refer to what we call the “prime of life” which brings a weight of toil and care: Ps. 90:10
 B. It is when we feel that we are in a weary land that we can look to the Lord as a sheltering rock and cooling spring: Isa. 32:2
 C. And when the tempest rages, we can seek His protection underneath His folded wing: Ps. 63:7

III. Stanza 3 talks about the twilight of life
“When the twilight shades, descending, Warn my soul that night is near,
With the hues of sunset blending, Let the light of heaven appear.
Through the valley, Savior, take me; Close my eyes when night shall come.
Then bid angel voices wake me, Sweetly singing, ‘Welcome home.’”
 A. The twilight of life is a warning that the night is coming when no man can work: Jn. 9:4
 B. But as we approach the valley of the shadow of death, we can look to the Lord to be with us: Ps. 23:4
 C. And we can look forward to hearing the angel voices welcome us home: Lk. 16:22

     CONCL.: The chorus seeks the Lord’s presence to take away our fear.
“Blessed Savior, walk with me; Take away all anxious fear.
Ever stay so close beside me, I may know and feel Thee near.”
Walking is such a simple task that most of us take it for granted and are reminded of what a blessing it is to be able to do it only when we have contact with someone who cannot walk. Throughout the Bible, the idea of walking is used figuratively of how we live. We can either walk with God, and He with us, or we can walk our own way without Him. However, if it is my desire to be received into His eternal presence, I must live in such a way that I tell Him, “Walk Beside Me.”


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