Shepherd of Tender Youth

(picture of Clement of Alexandria)


“…Our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep…” (Heb. 13:29

INTRO.: An old hymn which identifies the Lord Jesus as the great
Shepherd of the sheep is “Shepherd of Tender Youth.” The text is
generally ascribed to Titus Flavius Clemens, better known as Clement of Alexandria, who was born, possibly at Athens, Greece, sometime around A. D. 150 to 170. His birthplace is not known with certainty, but the sixth-century Epiphanius Scholasticus gives it as Athens, and the classical quality of his Greek supports this claim. His parents seem to have been wealthy pagans of some social standing. Nothing is known of his early life, but it is assumed that he received a thorough education because of his constant quotation of Greek poets and philosophers; some have suggested that he possibly had been a Stoic. After travelling in Greece, Italy, and Palestine, he settled in Egypt, where he became a
colleague of Pantaenus, the head of the Catechetical School of Alexandria who likely converted Clement to Christianity, and Clement eventually succeeded him in the direction of the school. Alexandria had a major Christian community that was noted for its scholarship and high-quality copies of the Scriptures. One of Clement’s most famous students was Origen, who became his successor as head of the school.

The surviving writings of Clement, a prolific author who penned at
least ten major works, form a trilogy: the Protrepticus (Exhoration to the Greeks or Heathens), the Paedogogus (Instructor or Tutor), and the Stromata (Miscellanies), in addition to a treatise “Who is the Rich Man that Shall Be Saved?” based on Mark 19:17-31, and a few fragments. The hymn beginning “Stomion polon adaon” (lit. “Bridle of colts untamed”) is usually dated around A. D. 200 and is taken from the closing lines of a poem that was appended to the Paedogogus where the poem sums up the main themes of the work, which was intended as a guide for Christians in their spiritual lives, and exalts Christ as our teacher and guide. In his writings, Clement sought to harmonize Greek philosophical traditions with Christian doctrine, and is sometimes credited with the development of “Christian Platonism,” which ultimately resulted in gnosticism. During the persecution of Christians by the Roman emperor Septimius Severus in 202 and 203, Clement fled Alexandria and sought refuge with Alexander, then bishop of Flaviada in Cappadocia. Later he went to Jerusalem, from which he may have taken a letter from Alexander to Antioch in 211.

Little is known of Clement’s later life, but possibly returning to
Alexandria, he died around A. D. 215 to 220. He is generally called “Clement of Alexandria” to distinguish him from an earlier post-Apostolic Christian writer known as “Clement of Rome.” The usual English translation was made by Henry Martyn Dexter (1821-1890). It was first done in prose, then in poetry, and was first sung in the Manchester, NH, church where Dexter became a Congregationalist minister. Later, it was first printed in the Congregationalist, which Dexter edited, on Dec. 21, 1849. It is not so much an exact translation as an expression of the sentiments stirred in Mr. Dexter by his reading of the original. Some modern books alter the opening line to read “Shepherd of eager youth,” apparently taking the word “eager” from a later translation of the same text made in 1939 by F. Bland Tucker. Several tunes have been used with Clement’s poem, but most of our books have one (Kirby Bedon) which was composed by Edward Bunnett (1834-1923). It was first published in The Congregational Church Hymnal of 1887.

Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, the song appeared in the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 edited by E. L. Jorgenson; the 1963 Christian Hymnal (with a tune by William F. Sherwin usually associated with Hugh Stowell’s hymn “Lord of All Power and Might”) edited by J. Nelson Slater; and the 1965 Great Christian Hymnal No. 2 edited by Tillit S. Teddlie. Today it may be found in the 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forrest M. McCann; and the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand.

The song offers praise to Christ as our Lord and King while it asks Him to be our Shepherd and Guide.

I. Stanza 1 calls Christ our Shepherd
“Shepherd of tender youth, guiding in love and truth
Through devious ways:
Christ, our triumphant King, We come Thy name to sing,
Hither our children bring To shout Thy praise.”
A. It was prophesied that the Messiah would be as a Shepherd: Isa. 40:11
B. Godly parents will want to bring their children to Jesus, by raising them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, just as did certain ones in Christ’s day: Matt. 19:13-15
C. Many modern editors do not like the phrase, “To shout Thy praise;” it has been altered to read, “To join Thy praise” or “Tributes of praise,” but the idea seems to come from the day of Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, where the children were “crying [shouting] out in the temple and saying, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!'”: Matt. 21:15-16

II. Stanza 2 calls Christ our Lord
“Thou art our holy Lord, The all-subduing Word,
Healer of strife;
Thou didst Thyself abase, That from sin’s deep disgrace
Thou mightest save our race, And give us life.”
A. Peter proclaimed that God had made Jesus both Lord and Christ: Acts 2:36
B. He is also identified as the “Word”: Jn. 1:1
C. Yet, though Lord and word, He abased or emptied Himself by coming in the likeness of men to be obedient to the point of death that He might save our race: Phil. 2:5-8

III. Stanza 3 calls Christ our High Priest
“Thou art the great High Priest; Thou hast prepared the feast
Of heavenly love.
While in our mortal pain, None call(s) on Thee in vain;
Help Thou dost not disdain, Help from above.”
A. Jesus is a High Priest after the order of Melchizedek: Heb. 5:5-6
B. He has prepared for us the feast of heavenly love: 1 Cor. 5:7-8
C. Therefore, we can come boldly before His throne and He has promised grace to help in time of need: Heb. 4:14-16

IV. Stanza 4 calls Christ our Guide
“Ever be Thou our Guide, Our Shepherd and our Pride,
Our Staff and Song;
Jesus, Thou Christ of God, By Thy perennial Word,
Lead us where Thou hast trod, Make our faith strong.”
A. We must look to Jesus to guide or lead us as a shepherd guides or leads his flock: Rev. 7:17
B. The means by which He does this is His perennial word; the term
“perennial” has apparently given some hymnbook editors trouble because various ones have change it to “eternal” or “enduring.” But “perennial” simply means “lasting or active throughout the whole year, continuing for a long time, becoming active again and again, perpetual,” and that certainly describes the word of God which “lives and abides forever”: 1 Pet. 1:23-25
C. As our guide, He leads us in the way that He has trod, having left us an example that we should follow in His steps: 1 Pet. 2:21-23

V. Stanza 5 calls Christ our King
“So now, and till we die, Sound we Thy praises high,
And joyful sing;
Let all the holy throng Who to Thy church belong
Unite to swell the song To Christ our King!”
A. Jesus Christ is worthy of the praises that we show to Him: 1 Pet. 2:9
B. The original of lines 4 and 5 read, “Infants, and the glad throng Who to Thy church belong.” Some have suggested that this hymn was intended (perhaps by Clement, and quite likely by Dexter) to accompany the “dedication” of children. These lines were undoubtedly changed to avoid the possibility that people might think that infants are lost in original sin, need to be baptized (sprinkled) to be saved, and are thus part of the Lord’s church (also, the alteration seems to fit the music better). It is true that this is a common denominational concept without scriptural foundation, but to be honest the text of the song says nothing
like that. In fact, there is a distinction or separation, “Infants
(comma–one group), and the glad throng Who to Thy church belong (another group),” which does not necessarily imply that infants are part of the glad throng which belongs to the church (although one could argue that since infants are safe they do belong to Christ’s universal church until they actually reach that age where they transgress themselves and become guilty of sin). Both infants, who are safe, and the church, which is saved, should praise the Lord. In any event, we can agree that it is in
the church that glory should be given to God through Christ Jesus: Eph. 3:20-21
C. The reason for this isi that Christ is our King: Rev. 19:11-16

CONCL.: This text is one of the earliest Christian writings in use
as a hymn outside the of the New Testament itself. It vies with “Hail, Gladdening Light” as “the earliest known Christian hymn.” It is certainly the oldest one to date whose author is believed to be known. This life is a journey that is often difficult, and as fallible human beings they way is not in ourselves to direct our footsteps. The fact is that like sheep we often go astray. Therefore, we need to look for guidance from Him who is our “Shepherd of Tender Youth.”


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