Since I am presently in Wales, the ‘land of song’- choral singing and congregational hymnody, in particular - I share one of my favourite hymns, appropriate for the Lenten season.
Be thou my guardian and my guide was written by the Tractarian cleric, The Reverend Isaac Williams, who was born at Cwmcynfelin in Cardiganshire in 1802. His first curacy was served in Gloucestershire, close to John Keble’s parish at Fairford, and was followed by curacies at the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford, under John Henry Newman, and at Littlemore. Williams was a prolific writer, responsible for Tracts 80, 86 and 87 of Tracts for the Times, and was the author of many devotional and catechetical works, and a translator of Latin hymns from the Parisian Breviary.
The hymn below is most commonly sung to the tune ‘Abridge’, composed c.1770 by Isaac Smith. By way of context, Williams’ biographer, writing in 1907, says the following of the collection in which this hymn is found: ‘Hymns on the Catechism was written at Bisley and published in 1842. Its object was strictly practical; it was intended as “an aid towards following out that catechetical instruction which is so essential a part of the church system”. It cannot be said that these hymns are likely to be so attractive to children, as, for example, those of Mrs Alexander, but they are suitable for congregational, or at any rate, for Sunday school use, and one of them, “Be Thou my Guardian and my Guide”, has found its way deservedly into most collections’.
176 years on, and in every Anglican - and Ordinariate - context I have known, the following hymn remains, deservedly, part of the repertoire.
Be thou my guardian and my guide,
And hear me when I call;
Let not my slippery footsteps slide,
And hold me lest I fall.
The world, the flesh, and Satan dwell
Around the path I tread;
O save me from the snares of hell,
Thou quickener of the dead.
And if I tempted am to sin,
And outward things are strong,
Do thou, O Lord, keep watch within,
And save my soul from wrong.
Still let me ever watch and pray,
And feel that I am frail;
That if the tempter cross my way,
Yet he may not prevail.
Fr Lee Kenyon