“THE LORD’S MY SHEPHERD”
“He shall feed His flock like a shepherd” (Isa, 40:11)
INTRO.: A hymn which encourages us to look to the Lord as our Shepherd is “The Lord’s My Shepherd” (#s 375/292 in Hymns for Worship, #s 73/74 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text is an anonymous rendering of Psalm 23. The singing of hymns in the English language owes its existence in part to the fact that 21-year-old Anne Boleyn had snared with her dark eyes the heart of 41-year-old King Henry VIII of England, since this love affair was the first link in a chain of events which led to England’s break with the Church of Rome. Until Parliament voted to end ties with the Catholic Church, all religious services in England were in Latin, but the “Great Rejection” helped clear the ground for change. To establish a new ritual for the English Church, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, by the stroke of his pen, jettisoned the old plainsong tunes with their Latin words. In 1549 the original Book of Common Prayer was written, the first official religious document in English. This substituted English for Latin as the official language of the Anglican Church, which in turn led the people to sweep away many other traces of Roman Catholic custom. But what would they sing? Where better to turn than the Bible’s own “hymnbook,” the Psalms? Therefore, in 1549 there appeared a little book of nineteen Psalm paraphrases in English published by Thomas Sternhold. It was entitled Certain Psalms, Chosen out of the Psalter of David and Drawn into English Metre.
This was the beginning of a seemingly endless procession of metrical Psalters which were originally intended primarily for private devotions but ultimately found their way into the worship of the churches. After the death of Sternhold, a friend of his named John Hopkins took Sternhold’s paraphrases, added 31 of his own, gathered still others from friends, and in 1562 published the entire Psalter with the title One Hundred and Fifty Psalms of David in English Metre. The second notable Psalter to appear in the sixteenth century was published in Scotland. When the Scottish exiles who had fled the persecutions of Mary returned from Geneva, they compiled a Psalter taking selections from the Geneva book, using 76 from Sternhold and Hopkins, and making new renderings of their own. This work was first published in 1564 and underwent many alterations in subsequent editions. Perhaps the most widely used of the Scottish Psalm paraphrases is their version of Psalm 23, often attributed to Francis Rous or Rouse, a Cornishman who was born at Dittisham, Devon, in 1579, the son Sir Anthony Rous of Halton and Sir Anthony’s second wife, Philipa Colles, daughter of Michael Colles and Mary Graunt. Rous was educated at Broadgates Hall, Oxford, and the University of Leiden, graduating from the former in January, 1596-97, and from the latter thirteen months afterwards. While at Oxford he contributed a sonnet to Charles Fitz-Geffrey’s Sir Francis Drake: His Honourable Life’s Commendation (1596). In imitation of Edmund Spenser, he also wrote a poem in two books, entitled Thule, or Virtue’s History (1598). In 1601 he entered the Middle Temple as a Presbyterian lawyer, but soon afterwards retired to Landrake. For some years he lived in seclusion in Cornwall and occupied himself with theological studies. The theological works that made his name famous were Meditations of Instruction, of Exhortation, of Reprofe (1616); The Arte of Happines in two volumes (1619 and 1631); Diseases of the Time attended by their Remedies (1622); Oyl of Scorpions (1623); and Mystical Marriage (1635). He was also a versifier of the Psalms, and his work, with some modifications, was adopted by the Parliament and Church of Scotland for use in public worship, a position which it held almost exclusively until the middle of the nineteenth century. Obviously, Rous lived too late to have arranged the original, but he may have helped to revise it for the 1646 edition. The form with which we are most familiar comes from the Scottish Psalter of 1650 published in Edinburgh. Actually, the exact wording of the various stanzas is taken from seven former versions. The first line comes from the pen of Zachary Boyd (1585-1654). The second line comes from a Psalter produced by Rous in 1643. Most of the other lines come from a metrical version of the psalm produced in 1639 by William Mure (b. 1594), or from the old 1564 Psalter which contains the work of William Whittington (c. 1524-1579).
A follower of Oliver Cromwell, Rous took a leading part in Parliament; he was elected to Parliament for Cornwall in 1604 and 1656; for Truro 1626, 1640 (twice) and 1654; for Tregony 1628; and for Devon 1653. In the 1628 parliament he took part in the ferocious criticisms of Roger Mainwaring. In the Long Parliament of 1640 to 1641 Rous opened the debate on the legality of William Laud’s new canons and presented the articles of impeachment against John Cosin. When the Westminster Assembly was set up in 1643, he was nominated one of its lay assessors, and he took the Solemn League and Covenant. He was chairman of the committee for ordination of ministers and a member of the committee of appeals. He was appointed for the visitation of the University of Oxford, and he was sworn of the Derby House Committee. He was Speaker of the House during the Barebones Parliament of The Protectorate. In 1657 he was offered a seat in Cromwell’s House of Lords, but did not take it. He obtained many offices under the Commonwealth, among them that of provost of Eton College. At first a Presbyterian, he afterwards joined the Independents in 1649. A debate was initiated by Rous in a brief pamphlet of April, 1649, in which he argued that allegiance could be given to the Commonwealth even though it were acknowledged to be an illegal power. In early 1652, he served on the committee for propagation of the gospel, which framed an abortive scheme for a state church on a congregational plan. When the Barebones Parliament dissolved itself, Rous was sworn in on Oliver Cromwell’s council of state. In 1654, he was on the committee for approbation of public preachers; he was also one of the committee appointed in 1656 to discuss the question of the kingship with Cromwell. By his wife Philipa (1575-1657), he had a son Francis Rous the younger in 1615, who was known as a writer and a doctor. Rous died in January, 1659, at Acton.
The Scottish paraphrase of Psalm 23 has been set to many tunes, including one (Evan) composed in 1846 by William Henry Havergal; another (Balerma) composed by Francois Hippolyte Barthelmon; still another (Wellshire) composed by George Smart; and yet another (Brother James Air) composed by James Leith Macbeth Bain. Some of our books have an alternate tune (Crimond) composed in 1871 or 1872 by Jesse S. Irvine and arranged by David Grant. The tune (Orlington) which most of our books use was composed by John Campbell (1807-1860). It first appeared in 1854. This is not the same individual as the author of the Psalm 121 paraphrase “Unto the Hills,” John Douglas Sutherland Campbell (1845-1914). Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church for use in churches of Christ, “The Lord’s My Shepherd” has 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 1959 Majestic Hymnal No. 2 and the 1978 Hymns of Praise both edited by Reuel Lemmons; the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch; the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater; the 1965 Great Christian Hymnal No. 2 edited by Tillit S. Teddlie; 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 edited by Forrest M. McCann; the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat; the 2009 Favorite Songs of the Church and the 2010 Songs for Worship and Praise both edited by Robert J. Taylor Jr.; and the 2012 Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs edited by Steve Wolfgang et. al.; in addition to Hymns for Worship and Sacred Selections.
While the hymn is taken directly from Psalm 23, there are other passages of scripture which talk about the Lord as our Shepherd and describe various qualities of His being a Shepherd.
I. According to stanza 1, the Lord is our Shepherd
The Lord’s my Shepherd, I’ll not want.
He makes me down to lie
In pastures green; He leadeth me
The quiet waters by.
A. Jesus, who was God in the flesh, said that He is the good Shepherd: Jn. 10:14
B. As a shepherd brings his sheep to green pasture for food, so Jesus provides for our spiritual food: Jn. 6:35
C. And as a shepherd leads the flock by the quiet waters, so Jesus enables us to have living water: Jn. 4:10, 13-14
II. According to stanza 2, He restores our souls as we return to Him
My soul He doth restore again;
And me to walk doth make
Within the paths of righteousness,
E’en for His own name’s sake.
A. He restores our souls as the inward man is renewed day by day: 2 Cor. 4:16
B. This helps us to walk in the paths of righteousness: 1 Pet. 2:24
C. This is for His own name’s sake in that as our Chief Shepherd, His goal is to give us a crown of glory: 1 Pet. 5:4 (cf. Jas. 1:12)
III. According to stanza 3, He guides us through death’s dark vale
Yea, though I walk in death’s dark vale,
Yet will I fear none ill;
For Thou art with me; and Thy rod
And staff my comfort still.
A. Some suggest that “death’s dark vale” could refer to any dangerous situation, and this is quite possible, but we all also experience the death of loved ones and contemplate our own coming death: Heb. 9:27
B. Yet, for the Christian, there is nothing to fear in death: Matt. 10:28
C. The reason is that our Shepherd will lead us through death just as He led Israel through the wilderness: Ps. 78:51-53
IV. According to stanza 4, He protects us from our enemies
My table Thou hast furnishèd
In presence of my foes;
My head Thou dost with oil anoint,
And my cup overflows.
A. The Good Shepherd keeps His sheep from strangers who seek to lead them astray: Jn. 10:1-6
B. He anoints the sheep’s heads with oil, a symbol of His protective power: 1 Jn. 2:24-27
C. As a result, their cup overflows or abounds, representing the fullness of God’s blessings upon them: Phil. 1:9-11
V. According to stanza 5, He will lead us to dwell in God’s house forevermore
Goodness and mercy all my life
Shall surely follow me;
And in God’s house forevermore
My dwelling place shall be.
A. As we follow the Shepherd, His goodness and mercy in turn will follow us because He is the source of every good and perfect gift: Jas. 1:18
B. God’s house here likely refers to His eternal dwelling place in heaven where Jesus is preparing us a home: Jn. 14:1-3
C. The Good Shepherd of the sheep will make us complete to live with Him in everlasting glory: Heb. 13:20-21
CONCL.: We may not approve of Henry’s affair, divorce, and remarriage from a scriptural perspective, but it is amazing how God’s providence works in mysterious ways, because if it hadn’t happened, we might all still be singing Catholic Mass in Latin. One would hope that this great hymn is never relegated to the “children’s songs” section of hymnbooks but will always be sung by God’s people because of its simple truth. The 23rd Psalm is for many people one of the first Bible passages learned as children and often the last repeated before entering “death’s dark vale.” It is comforting to know that the God who is our Creator and Redeemer is also our Shepherd who will guide us. I must listen to God’s word for directions in my life and determine to follow His will because “The Lord’s My Shepherd.”